A Gay History of Gaming

26 Jan 2012

IGN's Keza McDonald has chosen to dedicate a large part of their gay history of gaming, an editorial devoted to cite examples of egalitarianism in video games and explaining why such depictions are important, to RPGs, including examples such as Fallout 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect, Dragon Age II, Fable. Here's a sampling:
Star Wars: The Old Republic's Juhani is unusual among BioWare's non-hetero characters in that she's exclusively lesbian, rather than swinging both ways according the player's gender and choices like Dragon Age II's many love interests. (In the original release of the game she could be a romantic interest for both male and female protagonists, but this was later altered in a patch). Generally, BioWare's love interests don't care much about your character's genitalia – though there was mild controversy over Mass Effect's girl-on-girl romantic scenes, it would be extremely difficult to argue that the affair between Liara and FemShep was designed for titillation. Sexuality isn't a big deal in BioWare's games, and in my opinion they've never tried to make a statement about it. It's just one more choice in a game full of choices designed to satisfy players' personal preferences, not much different from choosing your character's hair colour.

That's the response that developers themselves often produce when questioned on their games' gay characters. In Fable, a British-developed game, nobody really batted an eyelid when it was discovered that you could sleep with and marry whomever you wanted. When it was revealed that you could marry same-sex characters in Skyrim, Bethesda's response was an emphatic so what?. "Not hush hush, just not making a huge deal out of it. You can marry anyone," responded Bethesda's Pete Hines on Twitter, when asked why the issue had been "kept quiet".

BioWare made headlines when one player complained about gay characters in Dragon Age II, accusing the developer of "letting down their player base – the straight male gamer" by having support characters hit on the main character regardless of gender. To quote BioWare's rather heroic David Gaider, "the romances in the game are not for the 'straight male gamer'. They're for everyone." Gaider's full response – which you can read here - is a brilliantly balanced account of why catering for all types of players matters so much. "You can write it off as "political correctness" if you wish, but the truth is that privilege always lies with the majority," he writes. "They're so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance."