For the LGBT spectrum, media that portrays this group in a healthy and accepting way is rare. Despite LGBT having become an official demographic for marketing such media. Instead, media often goes the route of subtle ignorance. Though I will use the more common term on the internet at the moment, “guys being bros” and “gals being pals”.
One such media that is often criticized for the latter are video games. They are accused of being the most behind on the subject of intersectionality. Most good intersectional films are not blockbusters, but there are certainly more of them than there are of video games. Most of which have little to do with porn, again unlike video games.
Video games take that “guys being bros” term to a level of subtly that can leave many fans frustrated that the developers bothered to mention it at all. For those unfamiliar with the terms, they refer to instances in media when two persons of the same gender are referred to as platonic friends, when their actions and sometimes words say otherwise. This applies to mentions of a character’s sexuality as well, where mention of it could be very easily mistaken for bromance or heterosexuality, rather than actual romance.
More common film examples of this term in action are The Road to Eldorado, Spock and Kirk, or Sherlock and Watson. In video games, there are even fewer examples and the kind of subtly that borders on non-existence.
I would like to note that I do not use examples of strictly Japanese games because the reasoning there has everything to do with culture and any “gay reveal” is forced into subtly by an oppressive culture, though not by law. Unless you’re famous enough like Kojima and slip that into your otherwise highly masculine action game.
I argue that Western culture is less oppressive and therefore more relevant and guilty of using this subtle ignorance to appeal to a diverse audience. In the developers’ minds, this subtly allows the ignorant to remain so, and the deviant to feel included. This is wrong, we don’t feel included. It’s not even a step in the right direction, it’s proving that ignorance is, in fact, bliss.
As such, when we come across moments like the story mode in Mortal Kombat X, during a conversation between Jin and Raiden, it’s not a little frustrating. After a fight, as usual, Raiden beseeches Jin to join the Shaolin. But Jin turns away, saying that he can’t and that they wouldn’t accept him. Raiden counters his argument, stating “they care only about what is in your heart… Not whom your heart desires.”
Such a statement is so vague in its phrasing, it might as well not be mentioned. For all we know, Raiden could have been referring to some kind of forbidden love with a woman. However, that NetherRealms mentioned it at all in their game, speaks volumes towards Jin’s apparently deviant sexuality; even without their later confirmation of the fact.
This refers less to actions between two people and more to words spoken. NetherRealms doesn’t write Jin to say “but they won’t accept me because I’m gay” with Raiden replying the same. Or have Raiden actually say “they don’t care if you take men as lovers.” It is frustrating to say the least, that the creators were so vague that they had to come out separately from the game to confirm anything at all.
Another example to do more with actions, is in Firewatch, which I have spoken extensively about. In that editorial I explained why it was such a problem in that game, but now I am speaking of the broader context of all video games that do this.
Firewatch, though in second place to Jin’s admission via Raiden, strides right past the trope of token gay characters into meaningless filler content. There is no reason for it being there, it does not support the game’s themes at all, and it contributes nothing to the pool of intersectional inclusion in video games.
Assassin’s Creed II, however, is blessedly a little less vague and will perhaps make the issue a little more clear. I am referring, of course, to the “platonic” friendship between Ezio and Da Vinci. Besides the fact that he is Ezio’s closest friend throughout the entire game, there is even a moment in the game where the player has the option of hugging Da Vinci. This comes after fearing for the man’s life and the many bonding moments before that. It is far too easy to deny this and say that Ezio and Da Vinci are just guys being bros. No homo here.
Never mind that most historians are very sure that Da Vinci was gay. Despite this, the series (in all incarnations of Ezio) never comes out to say that these two had a relationship. Though Ubisoft does go out of their way to mention that Ezio never married and wrote very heartfelt letters to Da Vinci while the man was still alive.
These games may be a fantasy, but even for those not part of the LGBT spectrum, fans of Da Vinci who perhaps understand a little too well the experiences he went through for being gay, might have found it cathartic to know that maybe Da Vinci had a very attractive assassin to keep him happy. Yet Ubisoft insists on being vague and never mentioning it.
Nothing but platonic relationships here, but why? Why is it so necessary for video games to gloss over LGBT anything? There is no scientific answer to this, since homosexuality has been a part of all animal relationships since we existed. There is the theory of culture, however. Though the Japanese might have the excuse of being far more conservative, that being reflected in their civil law, Western culture is far less consistent.
We’re allowed to get married, it’s actually against the law to be discriminated against through any civil service like living accommodations, loans, employment, etc. Not that it still doesn’t happen daily, but at least the federal law has our back. A statement that reflects my next point perfectly: in the current Western culture of North America, it is more acceptable to be heterosexual than any other sexuality.
That said, LGBT folk are rising in visibility because of the aforementioned allowances in the law. As such, a lot of us might be under the impression that we have the right to be accepted, especially in the media we consume, like video games.
Sometimes the latter takes more than subtle implications, “whom your heart desires”, and an awkward no homo hug. These are barely half-hearted attempts to include the LGBT audience and it is not enough.
If capitalism is to rule our world, then let me point out that the LGBT demographic has become large enough to be considered in the marketing departments of these companies. Enough that even Mortal Kombat, the most hyper-masculine game I can think of, has a vaguely gay moment.
But that kind of subtle ignorance is not enough because allowing ignorance to run rampant with the cunning use of implications is unfair and toxic. It allows for a lack of confrontation with reality and general acceptance that LGBT people exist, We have the right to be the main hero of an AAA game as much as Geralt or Nathan Drake do.
Come out and say any of the many letters belonging to the LGBT spectrum, we want to hear it and we need to hear it. They are not terms to be shied away from.