Why Aren’t There Any Gay Protagonists in AAA Games?
Posted on Tuesday, December 17 @ 14:48:28 PST by Paul_Tamburro
There has been an ongoing debate regarding gender representation in the gaming industry ever since it was shockingly revealed that it wasn’t just humans in ownership of a penis who enjoyed playing a video game or two. When industry figureheads finally came to the realization that perhaps they should finally represent females in their titles, they did so by producing hyper-sexualized protagonists such as Lara Croft and her pyramid-shaped breasts, thus sparking another debate regarding how women should be portrayed in the medium.
But times they are a-changing. It’s now the tail-end of 2013, and despite there still being a lack of female leads, notable progress is being made. Lara Croft’s much more realistic makeover in this year’s critically acclaimed reboot shows that a female protagonist needn’t be ill-proportioned in order to generate sales, as it shifted four million copies worldwide and was the UK’s biggest release of 2013, before being inevitably surpassed by Grand Theft Auto V. The deuteraganist Ellie from The Last of Us was another prime example of how a lead female character can be portrayed successfully in a triple-A game, with her and grizzled misanthrope Joel’s burgeoning relationship being one of the most engrossing and downright heartbreaking ever featured in the medium.
But although the gaming industry is making strong strides towards realistically representing both men and women in its titles, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community is still almost completely overlooked in AAA games. Thus far, the most well-known representation of homosexual relationships has been in Mass Effect 2 and 3. In Mass Effect 2, those who opted for the female Commander Shepherd could choose to let her engage in a homosexual relationship with an NPC, and in Mass Effect 3 the male Commander Shepherd could do the same. While this marked a huge step forward for the LGBT community, as BioWare had represented them in two of the biggest games of their respective years, they were still only options available to the player and weren’t at all intrinsic to either games’ narrative.
At this year’s GaymerX, a Kickstarter-funded convention for the LGBT community, Mass Effect publisher EA held a panel in which they spoke of how their continued efforts to make their games more inclusive is due to them understanding that they have a broad and diverse audience. Dragon Age, another high-profile EA series, has also allowed players to let their characters engage in same-sex relationships, which inspired some suitably pathetic protesting attempts by homophobic mouth-breathers. However, speaking during a panel, EA’s David Gaiter said the following:
Say a fan said on the forums they weren't going to pick it up because they were offended… another fan would say they bought the game because they heard it had that feature. That's the sort of language companies listen to." He also went on to add that the inclusion of same-sex relationships had no effect on the sales of the game “whatsoever”. But what if an AAA game made the homosexuality of its protagonist unavoidable in its narrative? Would it find an audience outside of the LGBT community?There is no escaping that heterosexual males are still the target demographic for AAA games. Though I am a straight man, I’ve never really been enticed by shooty-shooty-bang-bang games that usually command the biggest budgets, but I respect that there are many who do not wish to broaden their palette and are therefore content with being presented with a gun and an enemy terrorist over and over again. However, the players of these FPSs aren’t solely 16- to 24-year-old men, nor are Nintendo games strictly “for kids” and mobile games played exclusively by women. These stereotypes are enforced by the incredulous and vocal minority, who refuse to believe that anyone within their age group would take joy in playing anything other than M-rated shooters or sports games. They’re the gaming equivalent of a father who would forbid his son from playing with a Barbie out of fear that it would somehow “turn him” gay.
Unfortunately, those with the least to say usually shout the loudest, and therefore the ludicrous beliefs upheld by these people have been listened to by publishers and developers. However, their tight grip on the creative direction of big-budget games is slowly slipping through their greedy, little fingers, as evidenced by some of this year’s biggest releases. Games such as The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite, whilst still being violent enough to satisfy the blood-baying masses, both displayed a level of emotional maturity in their narratives that we rarely see in one AAA game per year, let alone two. Even Beyond: Two Souls, despite its many flaws, was a hugely anticipated big-budget release that still enjoyed a decent amount of sales despite being a plodding sci-fi drama with a mediocre Metascore. This, combined with the surprising success of thoughtful PC indie games such as Gone Home and The Stanley Parable, serves as a good indication to publishers that there’s a market beyond the boisterous loud-mouths who dwell in comments sections.
With the gaming industry making strong strides towards a more inclusive future, it’s only a matter of time before we see an honest-to-goodness homosexual, bisexual, or trans protagonist, whether it be from EA or another major company. There will be protests, as there always are when any medium moves further and further away from the beliefs upheld by the bigoted old guard, but this is now less of a probability and more of an inevitability. This is going to happen, and when it finally does, it’ll not only prove to be a huge step forward for the industry, but considering gaming is regarded as a male-dominated arena, it’ll be a giant leap forward for the LGBT community, too.
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