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Ga(y)mers: A Queer Look at the State of the Gaming Industry

I’m a gamer, and by that I mean I play videogames. A lot. Ask me about the industry and I’ll tell you my favorite game companies and we can discuss gameplay innovation, IPs, storyline, game engines, etc. I like my videogames, but I would like them a lot more if they would stop being so blatantly homophobic and heteronormative.

Bioware is one of my favorite videogame developers. They’ve consistently proven that they have an excellent grasp of how to make good games with incredible, immersive storylines. And they’re one of the first videogame developers to add gay, lesbian and bisexual storylines and characters into their games.

Image: Ranker.com

In the 2003 Knights of the Old Republic, Bioware originally intended to include a lesbian character, but after some disagreement with LucasArts (who held the license for the game), the character became bisexual. Even so, it was a breakthrough in the gaming industry and the trend would be continued in every major Bioware game since. The way Bioware treated same-sex relationships was good too, characters reacted no differently than they did with the opposite-sex. However, this seems to have changed in Bioware’s flagship series, Mass Effect.

Mass Effect 1 notably has no male same-sex options, and the female same-sex option is technically of an all-female alien race, so it’s not technically a lesbian relationship. Mass Effect 2 comes packaged with disabled scenes that make it clear that same-sex relationships had been on the table, enough that some of the scenes had been fully made and voice acted. It’s interesting that Bioware has chosen to forego what they’ve included in every other game they’ve made.

We should consider Bioware’s current position. In less than a decade, they’ve gone from a relatively unknown developer to one of the world’s leading videogame brands. What once went under the radar now gets to be blasted on Fox News and a “Family Values” group. They responded by mostly removing the offending content.

When asked about this decision, Mass Effect project lead Casey Hudson responded, “Everything new that we add still requires extra content. So we kind of pulled back and looked at where we had to draw the line in terms of how much content we make. We still view it as… if you’re picturing a PG-13 action movie. That’s how we’re trying to design it. So that’s why the love interest is relatively light.” While his first argument seems reasonable (though it’s interesting that Bioware had enough resources to start making scenes for same-sex relations but not finish them), his second is rather suspect. First, Mass Effect 2 is not a PG-13 action movie, it’s rated M and requires an ID to purchase. Even more importantly, a player can initiate romances with opposite-sex characters, but this apparently stays in the PG-13 category? Instead, same-sex romances by nature of existing automatically enter R rated territory?

Now let’s talk about Mass Effect 3. It just came out on March 6th and I haven’t gotten a chance to play it. But already, I’m seeing comments pop up all around the internet. Here’s one of the tamer ones from Metacritic, “Bioware figured let’s make the hero homosexual now in stark contrast to the first 2 games where he was normal.” In Mass Effect 3, there are new two romance options: one is a strictly gay option and the other strictly lesbian. (Just a reminder that they are options.) Almost immediately upon release, the internet was flooded with people who said they hated the game and that it “forced them to be gay”. Since I’ve never played the game, I searched around online and found an article titled, “How Hard is it Not to be Gay in Mass Effect 3?” on Forbes. Paul Tassi writes, “Conversations with Cortez [the gay character] take up about five minutes of the game so far, and homosexuality has come up for maybe ten seconds. Mass Effect teaches you to treat gays…like people. Cortez’s story of loss is quite sad, and there’s no reason you can’t console him without either of you taking your pants off.”

Still, many angry gamers don’t seem to accept the very existence of the gay storyline. Kevin Vanord, a senior editor at GameSpot describes the anti-gay perspective, “No matter that you can simply choose not to pursue that road if you don’t wish to. To this gamer, the answer is simple: Bioware must cater to him, and to him alone. It’s bad enough that the real world has to include homosexuals, but his games, too? Preposterous. Disgusting. Liberal. It’s the gay agenda at work, soiling the heteronormative power fantasy he’s been able to have up to this point.”

Greg Zeschuk, Bioware co-founder finds it surprising that having a gay option creates this much drama. “It’s surprising that people think it’s that big a deal,” Greg Zeschuk said. “If you’re creating this kind of content, it’s very natural to provide all the options.” Bioware is not an activist or progressive company; it simply sees the gay storyline as a realistic option to add into a role-playing game.

So in the end, all this controversy boils down to some more homophobia. It’s really sad that a simple five-minute romance storyline churns out this much spite, but it’s also a warning. Our fight isn’t over. As long as entire communities continue to hate even the existence of ours, we cannot become complacent. To Bioware, I applaud you for redeeming yourself in the eyes of gay gamers and giving much needed visibility to LGBT people, especially in the completely natural and unexceptional treatment they give the gay romance arcs. The videogame industry needs more portrayals of gay characters like those in Mass Effect, where a gay character is just as regular as a straight character, and no one is any more exceptional (credit william). Only through building this visibility can we eventually come to a point where being gay can be perceived by everyone, to be as normal as being straight.

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