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Where Did Makoto Go?
Posted on Monday, July 7 2014 @ 16:07:54 Eastern

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.


Meet Makoto.
 
Like any character from an RPG, Makoto has his own quirks to stand out in his game, Enchanted Arms. For Makoto, he is a support character who uses the element of Light for most of his spell casting, along with a saxophone as a conduit. He is also impulsive and often acts upon it, throwing logic into the wind.
 
He is also gay. Annoyingly, flamboyantly gay.
 
So much so, Makoto is an extremely divisive character in the gaming world. Some see him as arguably the breakout star of Enchanted Arms, the character that was able to provide good comic relief in a fairly light-hearted RPG. Others, however, view him with repulsion because of how he represents the gay community and homosexual characters in video games themselves. 
 
I admit, I am in the latter category, with Makoto essentially feeling like a stereotype: an ultra-feminine, campy gay character who essentially rounds out the cast to forcibly add diversity to the game. 
 
Unfortunately, Makoto has the distinct honor of being the first male, playable homosexual in gaming, an honor that could have been a triumph all the way back in 2006, but instead was met with harsh criticism over time, and for the right reasons.
 
But why bring up Makoto? After all, Enchanted Arms is a modest hit at best, only memorable for being the first RPG on the Xbox 360 console and for including Makoto in the cast. Makoto is far from the first homosexual to be featured in a video game either; with gay video game characters showing up as early as the mid 1980s, both accidentally and on purpose. Makoto, though, is the last gasp of something that was present in gaming at the time: the stereotype of gay men. 
 
Eight years later, that battle is won.
 
Well, that’s a loaded sentence. In truth, the fight for LGBT rights around the world continues in many countries, cities, states, and homes, and represents different struggles many gay and lesbian people have. That is the real life struggles many in the community face today, and we should never downplay them. However, acceptance in the gaming world has been won, if recent trends show anything about it.
 
We have come a long way from the same-sex marriages in Fallout 2 or Temple of Elemental Evil. We are past the debates regarding the genders of Birdo and Poison, and we certainly can see the good and bad that gay characters represent in the world of video games. The years since Makoto have been very kind to the LGBT community, with the likes of clever, non-stereotyped characters of all genders and sexualities to grace the gaming screen. We now have a plethora of diverse roles that break the stereotypes Makoto represented for gay men, from the flawed Gay Tony to the confused Kanji Tatsumi. Companies like Naughty Dog, BioWare, and Bethesda are leading that charge in different ways, and it’s a good thing.
 
That fight is over. The battles were long and hard, but regarding representation in a video game, it was well worth it. For every Kanji, Bill, and Traynor out there, there is enough hate and slander and ignorance to go with them. Yet for all their hate, their words are hollow due to the rising tide that has continued to gain ground since the late 2000s, and that too, is a good thing. Characters like Sera and Dorian from BioWare's next RPG, Dragon Age: Inquisition, represent the changing tide of gay characters. They are no longer defined by their sexuality anymore like Makoto, and anyone thinking otherwise will be in for a shock when the game plays on-screen. 
 
So where did Makoto go? 
 
A curious question I guess, considering the obvious shift in the gaming demographic the past few years. Perhaps it's best not to even search for Makoto anymore. He is after all, a specter of the past, a ghost that doesn’t exist. However, it is easy to see where Makoto is hiding today, if we really search for it.
 
See, what Makoto represents is stereotyping, yes, but not the stereotypes for those outside the gay community anymore. It is the kind of anti-gay, homophobic hate that is still touted against the community as a whole, and it is something that seems to be a social taboo in the gaming culture as of late. Simply put, the problems Makoto represents are now rarely found in the video games themselves, and while this is a good thing, it has become the focus of the fight for actual equality, which is not productive in any way.
 
What do I mean by this? Well, we have hundreds of instances of homophobia perpetuated within the game community towards the gay community. Blizzcon 2011 came under fire when Blizzard aired a clip of Cannibal Corpse front man George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, going on a rant that called alliance players “emo cocksuckers" who should “slit their wrists.” Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel has made anti-gay comments regarding homosexuals and same-sex marriage. Jamie Durrant would go on to sue Lionhead studios for sexual harassment because he was gay and felt uncomfortable in the workplace due to this fact.
 
By the way, these are the open examples we know about. Countless others, both working in the industry or just playing video games, are harassed every day. If the statistics spoken about at the EA Full Spectrum Event last year are any indication, roughly 50% of those who work within the industry are still in the closet out of fear of reprisal and hate. Add to this the casual use of the word “gay” or “***got” when playing video games over the mics or in the text chat, the LGBT community has a long way to go before achieving full acceptance. 
 
Yet it bothers me very much that, despite the efforts made by many within the community, and the journalism world for that matter over the past few years, it feels like the greatest fear of all is just another Makoto to contend with. We have seen this happen several times under the watchful eyes of activists and journalists everywhere, to the point of annoying persistence. 
 
Take, for example, Michael Patrick. Patrick is a first-time game developer who created Ultimate Gay Fighter, a throwback to the crude, '90s Mortal Kombat titles chock full of gay stereotypes. Patrick, who is gay himself, argued that the point of the game is for comedic effect, not to make a statement of any kind. 
 
“It’s not meant to be hateful,” says Patrick. “If you allow yourself to make fun of a stereotype in a way that isn’t cruel, I think you diminish the power of that stereotype. I’m gay, and although I’m not a stereotype, I have stereotypical traits. Why not laugh at that and enjoy it?”
 
Despite the well meaning intent of Ultimate Gay Fighter, many critics exhibited disdain for the title because of its stereotyping. People such as Mattie Brice, Todd Harper, and Toni Rocca are among the most notable to rightfully object to the game, mostly for the same reasons regarding the kitsch approach to stereotyping. Yet, Ultimate Gay Fighter, despite the laundry list of problems it may present in its execution and comedic quality, is still not the new Makoto. Parody, good or bad, is judged based on how clever it is, and bringing attention to Ultimate Gay Fighter over this fact is not defeating, but rehashing, a battle that’s already won.
 
In fact, Ultimate Gay Fighter is just one example of what feels like a misguided attempt at exposing the problems with the gaming community. For every article regarding Tomodachi Life, Dorian’s sexuality, or transphobia in GTA V, it feels as though the wrath of the LGBT world is slowly but surely losing where its actual focus should be, and that is the real world. These issues have become the new Makoto in name only, while bigger fish are waiting to be fried. 
 
Efforts such as the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign and the EA Full Spectrum Event represent a more positive approach to showcasing change within the gaming community. More and more, it is imperative for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people to be open about their sexuality while working in the gaming industry. People like David Gaider, Lucian Soulban, Tim Caine, or Jen Havens are, or were, able to openly work on video games without question of their sexuality. Why can’t others buck the perceived trend of gaming culture and eschew what is expected of them? Gaming culture is harsh, and oftentimes unfriendly, but is not invulnerable to actual change. It all starts, of course, from within.
 
Let us focus on these lofty problems, so slowly and surely, comments regarding sexuality will recede completely. It will certainly not change overnight, but if the first steps of awareness within the gaming community are taken, then perhaps the pipe dream of a curse-free chatroom will be less of a dream and more of a reality. A lofty goal indeed, but one that is possible the more aware we as a culture are to the diversity around us.
 
What’s more, why can’t game journalists start to recognize this, either? I understand the passions and oftentimes necessary zeal needed to point out stories such as those above, but if characters like Dorian or Ellie are any indication, Makoto will never come back again as the ugly stereotype he has become. It is more prudent to finally push forward and change the culture at large, instead of focusing on the small screen. The LGBT community needs to stop asking where Makoto went, and now draw their attentions to the next battle to be fought. Makoto may return every now and again, both for good or for ill, but it will be a short visit before he realizes he overstayed his welcome. 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of GameRevolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article, posted earlier in July 4, has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick Tan
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