Below is a research paper that I wrote for one of my classes and I thought it was a very interesting topic. I have decided to share it here and see if anyone gives any feedback on the points I make in this paper.
Invisibility of Queer Identities in Modern Games and Interactive Entertainment
Today’s video game industry is bigger than it has ever been in the past and is continuing to grow at a massive rate. Within such a huge industry, is everyone in the queer community represented in the gaming world? If a player does not have the option to play as their true identity in a social simulation game, for example, can they truly express themselves or are they limited to the items and experiences of a heteronormative game world? Although there have been massive improvements, the majority of games avoid sexuality and focus on binary gender identities (Shaw 7). The gaming industry should be more accepting of all identities in the LGBTQA+ community by including more identities into their games, avoiding gender stereotypes, and by exploring more queer themes.
The gaming industry should start with being more accepting of various gender and sexual identities. They can do this in several ways. First, they should stop censoring characters that are LGBTQ between the Japanese and American releases of the same titles. Very positive characters that join the player and find acceptance are censored out of the game by making them either only the gender they identify as at birth or only the new gender identity that they are now claiming, denying the player part of the game’s narrative. We miss the transition, which often times contributes to the development of these characters. There is a clear example of this in the role playing game Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. One of the protagonist’s sidekicks, Vivian, is a transgender woman in the Japanese, Spanish, and French releases. However, in the English, release all references to her gender change have been removed and new dialogue was placed in order to cover this missing content. In the Japanese version, her sisters don’t approve of her and decide they want nothing to do with her anymore. As a result, the protagonists allow her to join your team on your adventure and everyone in your group fully except her for who she is. This struggle is never seen in the English version and part of the story that the original developers intended to be told in the game was completely lost to a huge majority of the American audience. Teich states that we don’t see transgender individuals, we see past them. If we do see them, they are a series of questions. However, if games include more transgender stories like Vivian’s, I believe that we can challenge this view and open up more discussion about this issue, allowing for more people to have more answers on this topic and continue to explain it well to others, answering all the questions.
In addition to removing gender transition narratives from games, developers can stop making the majority of LGBTQ characters villains. While there is nothing wrong with making a specific person an antagonist, the majority of games make queer characters out to be evil and therefore the player projects negative views onto these personalities (Game Theory). These include Birdo from Mario games, Flea from Chrono Trigger, Poison from Final Fight, Alfred Ashford from Resident Evil, and Mary Maggie from Banjo-Tooie, who are all either confirmed in game, by the developers, or generally accepted by fans of their games as transgender women. On top of that, many of these characters are also portrayed with some type of mental illness, making them aggressively bipolar or mentally insane (Game Theory). This may make players draw a conclusion that being queer is a disability. For example, the main character Trevor in Grand Theft Auto V, one of the bestselling video games of all time, is not only depicted as bisexual, but he is also bipolar. We need positive role models of LGBTQ characters in order to show the diversity and the success of the community. By making the few queer characters in games be perceived by the players as negative, developers may indirectly be producing these feelings in players. These players may then share these thoughts outside the games when they meet real queer individuals, especially if this is the only exposure they have to the entire queer community.
Avoiding gender stereotypes is a huge progressive step that needs to be taken, but this idea also brings its own challenges. We haven’t always placed people on a scale or into categories because it supposedly makes it easier to understand people. Halperin states how our views of male homosexuality specifically have evolved over the past centuries from then having no link at all to a man’s masculinity and seeing more feminine traits as being more of a “womanizer”, to now where we are today with a negative social stigma as a deviant behavior. Video games have often portrayed women in a stereotypical way as well, ever since Mario was saving Princess Peach from her castle (Shaw). She appears helpless and has no weapons or amour to defend herself from being kidnapped. In contrast, Princess Zelda from The Legend of Zelda game series is portrayed with armor and using a sword. While she has been kidnapped in some games, in other games she can defend herself and help the main character Link beat the final boss in several of the games in the series. In arguably the most popular game of the series, she disguises herself as a ninja man by the name of Sheik and travels around the game world helping the main character in several ways progress through the story. This makes what Butler wrote about how gender is a performance particularly visible. Zelda dressing up as a man shows how all genders can be repurposed and reenacted, and how we all act out our genders every day. Games like Minecraft avoid gender altogether by making all the characters genderqueer, since they never are specified to be male or female, and all the player and animal models are exactly the same. The creator ofMinecraft, Markus Persson, stated this was done to appeal to more players by not alienating one gender and to not over sexualize the game, as he wanted players to focus more on adventuring then the genders of all the human characters.
Games could give players deeper experiences if they were open to exploring more queer themes. This would include having a game where the main protagonist is a member of the LGBTQ community and as part of the game, they sort through issues that relate to discovering and defining their own identity. There are several games that are out currently that have a queer protagonist, like Ellie in the Last of Us, but this is not discussed much in the game at all since you are focused more on killing this species of mushroom people. Games likeMass Effect and Fable allow you to eventually enter into a same-sex relationship, but it is more of a side event and not a big part of the game. Fable forces you to play as a male character and therefore your character is limited to being straight, gay, or bisexual if you marry, divorce, then remarry a different gender then you originally married the first time. Mass Effect has even shown that it is more approving of lesbian women then gay men because in the second game it doesn’t allow two men to be in a relationship (Game Theory). This challenges part of what Adrienne Rich stated in “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”. Rich states that heterosexual dynamics stay in place as long as women don’t want to be lesbians. You can play as a woman in Mass Effect and the game still makes all of the other side characters straight for the most part, making the world heteronormative therefore not truly challenging heterosexual dynamics. Players never get to experience witnessing same sex relationships of other characters unless they are initiating it for themselves. By simply putting more queer characters into these games, it would largely increase visibility.
This concept is also seen in The Sims, which was the first major game to allow for same-sex relationships. While some applauded the move by Electronic Arts to include same-sex marriage, some disapprove. Nintendo required Electronic Arts to remove same sex relationships before they could be released on the Game Boy and Nintendo DS systems. It is speculated this is because of Nintendo’s huge young audience on those systems, and that they feared a backlash from parents if it were to be included. This is an example of compulsory heterosexuality and Butler states how it makes it so that we think of any sexuality other than heterosexuality as a failed copy, otherwise known as homophobic discourse. Nintendo did this again when they didn’t include gay relationships in Tomodachi Life, a life simulation game similar to The Sims released in 2014. When the public displayed outrage for the lack of the feature, Nintendo had to say that they could not release a patch to fix this part of the game. Inside the queer community, Warner argues that the state legalizing same sex marriage is a regulation of sex and it supports homonormativity. This can easily be applied to The Sims and Tomodachi Life, in that both Nintendo and Electronic Arts are regulating sex in their games, limiting it in some releases, and push for the rest of the game to be homonormative, where the sims raise a family and do everything that a heterosexual couple would do, except with two sims of the same gender.
One positive example of a game that explores queer themes would be Coming Out Simulator 2014, which was developed by a 19 year old Asian-American indie game developer from California, documenting his coming out experience to his parents. It shows how when the player does come out of the closet to his parents, he is instantly put into a new closet of stereotypes and expectations by his parents based on the identity that the player chooses for him to come out as (Sedgwick). This can be seen in how the player’s parents in the game react to what the player chooses to say. The game gives several options for the players to come out in different ways, and with each way, the parents can react differently. For example, if the player tells the Mother early on, then she works the conversation in order to ask if you are the bottom and questions if you are the woman in the relationship. However, no matter what the player chooses, the Dad is always unaccepting. This illustrates that no matter what you say, it can be harder for some people to understand the community and process some of their own internalized homophobia that they may not have thought about until this point. They are then faced with the task of confronting it head on in order to fully accept the player’s character as who they really are.
In conclusion, we have made some progress in the representation of LGBTQ characters in video games since their inception in the 1980’s. However, there is still progress that can be made that will allow this media to be more representative of various human characters and more relatable to queer players that are usually stuck with male, cisgender, heterosexual protagonists. While some may say it is not a huge deal to have LGBT characters, it would be a great way to inform heterosexual players and those who don’t identify as queer about issues that affect our community that they may have never been exposed to or ever heard about. By portraying queer characters as villains or with mental disabilities, you are allowing the players to have negative views of the character and by extension making some players who may not know any other LGBT people, putting negative views of the entire community, doing it a huge disservice. The way the queer community is portrayed in games needs to change for people to have a more positive and accepting view of everyone in it.
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