As some of you know June is Gay Pride Month across the US, and many cities have been powering through parades and festivals, celebrating LGBT people in all walks of life. Even Gawker author (and my Gawker crush) Rich Juzwiak has taken part by producing an interesting list of queer cartoon characters. So I'm here with the same idea and little queer game history. Think of it as Gayme History 101:
Video games are no stranger to controversy, accused of being the root of gun-violence and misogyny for the better part of their short history. But more often than not the art form is used as a force of good, and progress has been made towards better image representations for all both in and out of games. Big name titles feature gay and lesbian characters are help push understanding and sympathy for LGBT issues in the gaming community and the general population, but it hasn't always been that way...
The earliest LGBT portrayals weren't always (read: ever) positive. Famously, Mario baddy Birdo "thinks he is a girl" and would prefer to be called "Birdetta" according to Super Mario Bros. 2's manual, and even to this day Birdo's gender has been veiled with inconsistency. Nintendo has had a history of censorship for many of it's games in the 80's and 90's. In the American releases for games like Dragon Warrior III, Nintendo censored out touchy subject, including a gay bar. Despite some censorship, other games in the 80's and 90's had portrayals of LGBT characters. Developers took more open approaches like Sega's 'Streets of Rage 3', depicting a stereotype of the effeminate, campy gay, clad in leather and pink.
As we progressed LGBT characters and situations became more realistic in their depiction. 'Final Fantasy VII', had a scene where the player was given an option of a date between four other characters. One was a male character, and if chosen, the resulting scene was somewhat comedic and lighthearted. Though not positive on it's face, it lacked negative stereotypes, and still stands as a generally non-offensive gay scenario in a very popular game. Gay people in gaming were starting to be represented more and more realistically as society evolved.
The first big, positive portrayal of modern LGBT themes came with hefty backlash. When EA released 'The Sims' in 2000 it allowed players to create same-sex relationships between it's Sims and even have them adopt children, calls for bans and a higher rating were made. EA pushed the envelope more with 'The Sims 2', allowing for joint unions, then The Sims 3 broke all the molds by allowing relationship and marriages of any kind by any adult characters. Despite widespread acceptance 'The Sims' still sees opposition. In Russia The Sims 4 received an 'Adults-Only' rating for it's depiction of same sex relationships, running afoul of their 'Gay Propaganda' law.
The inclusivity of the original Sims game could be one of the cornerstones in building a gay friendly gaming community, one that many stand beside. Even though there is still some push back from staunch opposition groups, most gamers can say that LGBT inclusion in gaming is a good thing. The doors had been opened for LGBT characters in game media, and we are reaping the benefits of it today.
Keep an eye out for part two coming soon! This is of course a very abbreviated (and hopefully well researched) history of queer representation in gaming. If you have anything to add, please do so in the comment section!