It had never really occurred to me before stumbling across an article on Nintendo’s Tomodachi Life,to consider the role the LGBT community plays within the video games industry. It was only when this matter was brought to attention through Nintendo’s apologies surrounding the lack of possibility for same-sex relationships within this game that I really thought about video games as an expression of these ideas.
Nintendo recently issued a statement of apology after they were criticised for ignoring the possibility of same-sex relationships in the English-language editions of their life simulator video game Tomodachi Life and were unable to change the game. This exploded a whole can of hate from Nintendo fans and saw Nintendo once again under fire from gay rights organisations.
As sad as it is, I can’t remember ever playing a game which included features of homosexuality and it’s perhaps even sadder that before this day I hadn’t even noticed the absence from my gameplay experience.
GLAAD CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis suggested that Nintendo “catch up with peers like Electronic Arts, which has been inclusive of LGBT gamers for years”. Unfortunately it was not always easy for EA to incorporate such themes into their gameplay seamlessly and often LGBT content is subject to furthering the normalisation of heterosexuality rather than homosexuality, leaving the homosexuality to be considered a gimmick, censored or plain ridiculed. EA came under fire after introducing LGBT characters into their games in the first place with comments plaguing forums and message boards because apparently the inclusion of this facet of reality is “another clear example of the gay agenda in a place it doesn’t belong” according to one particular individual. Because obviously the very real “gay agenda” (whatever that means) has no place in a representation of the real world. Because why should video games, now an established art form (see Video Games vs Art), be exploring ideas and themes that need to be explored and addressed in the 21st century? Because how little credit can we give these new generations of gamers that we can’t even trust them with an understanding of homosexuality as commonplace? Because that’s what it is – a fear of pissing off the young, white, heterosexual male gamer who is obviously the only reachable market. (Sarcasm over).
So I took it upon myself to take a pre-revision look at the changing levels of inclusion of the LGBT community in the video games industry, which ended up becoming a trawl through an irritating amount of tedious game changes throughout the 90’s – I apologise to my exam grades in advance.
– In 1992, Nintendo refused to sell Dragon Warrior 3 on any system until Enix removed a gay bar…
– Later in 1992, minor enemies who happened to have been written as homosexual in Final Fight for Sega CD were censored…
– Streets of Rage 3 featured a gay villain wearing Village People attire (because why not) who was removed and a transsexual villain was changed simply into a man with long hair losing so much character depth and making the whole ordeal a lot less interesting.
Bioware have, in a way, led an LGBT gaming revolution, taking charge with LGBT relationships in Dragon Age, Mass Effect and Skyrim which all seem to take the significance of openly gay characters in their stride as just another facet of character. From what i’ve heard it sounds like I need to get playing Mass Effect 3. The fact that Cortez’s sexuality is laid so bare right from the start of the game maps some pretty hefty progress since the days of ironing out a gay bar. Dusty Everman, writer of the relationships featured on the game, pretty much sums the game’s refreshing nonchalance up when he says “I believe that by the 22nd century, declaring your gender preference will be about as profound as saying, ‘I like blondes’ – it will just be an accepted part of who we are”. The homosexual relationships are given just as much time, effort and exploration as the heterosexual – they are normalised through comparison and similarity which is possibly one of the most exciting steps i’ve seen in the video games industry in a long while.
We basically need more of this, and with motivated producers within the industry itself, a sophisticated audience and the correct representations the games industry can wake up to the change in attitudes that it now has to face. Games are drawing more and more upon mainstream culture and are now viewed as a modern art form thanks to their inclusion in Bafta categories however in the words of Spiderman – with great power comes great responsibility. As the sincerity of their authenticity and opportunity for creative expression grows, games are beginning to explore essential social issues that need to be addressed. As homosexuality is normalised in mainstream culture, it will follow that it will be in the art that surrounds that culture – with video games sadly trailing behind film, literature and music.
“Imagine the impact games could have… for gay people to enter fantasy worlds to make homes and hold hands with partners of choosing regardless of gender, they move beyond the passive world of television into the active world of gaming, heightening the impact” – Luis, A Ubinas – Electronic Arts’ Full Spectrum awareness event in New York.