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Not a media trend, nor PC bullshit: female heroes and same-sex relationship options in gaming

Not a media trend, nor PC bullshit: female heroes and same-sex relationship options in gaming

“Of all the things you could talk to the developers about, of the sequel to possibly one of the most amazing RPG's created, and you chose gender equality? Not to downplay gender equality but, Penny Arcade, I am dissapoint. Fracking politics is infecting everything.”

The above comment was posted to our story about Torment: Tides of Numenera, and I typed out a long response before deciding to simply write a longer article.

Why should gender equality and same-sex couples be an issue in role-playing games? That's actually a really good, and important question. This is an important subject, and worth exploring, especially when the developer brings up the issue of gender equality and how it fits into the game's world.

The whole thing really struck home to me because when I play a game, with rare exceptions, the hero looks like me. I'm a straight white guy. Video games are usually made for me, and demographically I'm guessing they feel like they're made for you as well. The problem is I've talked to so many people who tell me that they've played little to no games where the hero looks like them. When it happens, it's remarkable.

Gaming enjoys a diverse group of players in terms of gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, but we have heroes who are predominantly white, male, and straight. I don't see any problem with asking, since the idea of social norms changing over time was brought up, about the appearance of same-sex relationships in the game.

This isn't a “media trend,” it's part of the reality that the world is changing, and same gender marriages, relationships, and families aren't rare, hidden, or anything to be ashamed of. Seeing that reality reflected in our games is a good thing, and self-funded indie games, especially role-playing games, are in a unique position to provide that sort of content for a very large population that isn't being served by most games.

Imagine growing up and only playing games where you see same-gender relationships. Nothing else. You would long for a game that reflected your own desires, reality, and experiences. I always think it's amusing when people say we beat this drum too hard, or that they're tired of this “politically correct bullshit.” It usually tells me that there's a guy on the other end of the comments who doesn't really understand, or empathize with, what this situation is like for so many gamers. They don't see a problem, because they're taken care of. Games are aimed at them. The problem is how many people we leave out, and that doesn't have to be the case in games, especially in games like Torment.

There is another aspect to this discussion that's just as important, but we're actually working on a longer story about it soon, so I'll leave it be for now. I think it's shameful how behind video games are in this area, however. I miss the days when fantasy and science fiction pushed social boundaries, and instead we're faced with a video game industry that actively pushes developers to remove female heroes. Even Bioshock Infinite pushed Elizabeth, arguably the most interesting character in the game, to the back of the box. The front features, to the shock of no one, a white guy with a gun.

But this homogeny is why it was such a big deal when that modded version of Donkey Kong was created to allow the guy's daughter to play the hero. Because we so rarely see games where little girls get to play as someone who looks like them, and then do heroic things.

Creating reactive games that allow you to be male, female, straight, or gay is a good step to making games more welcoming to a larger audience, and being socially responsible. It doesn't even have to impact your game; if you don't want to see that content, don't go looking for it.

On the other hand, if you're worried that a man or a woman of the same gender might speak or interact with you with romantic intentions in a game's world, I can't stress this enough, and I hope you take it in the proper spirit: Get the fuck over yourself. If you're worried about unwanted sexual attention in your video games, ask some women how they feel in comic book stores, video game stores, or even just random bars. What you're scared of encountering in your entertainment is the daily reality of many, many people. If you're gay or transgender you can add the fear for your physical safety into those social interactions. If those interactions are something you only have to worry about in a video game, you have little to nothing to complain about.

The reason you've seen this issue pop up again and again is that games are getting better, and they're doing a better job of exploring more subjects. As that happens, it's natural to remark upon, and criticize, the industry's lack of care and outright hostility towards female players and characters, and LGBT issues.

This is a natural, and healthy, thing to write about and discuss, and that conversation will only get louder. If it bothers you, don't click on these articles. If you think it's not a problem, try to see things from the point of view of those who understand why it's a problem. And this is a problem, no matter how many people try to dismiss it by calling it politics. It's not. It's not even fairness. It's merely asking games to mirror the reality of people who play them, and to represent our world, with all its beautiful and messy diversity and the full spectrum of sexual orientations.