Welcome back to yet another edition of GLBT History in Video Games. We started our journey with the 1980s, which had a very limited pool of characters to choose from, and as such, they were not incredibly representative of GLBT communities and the language used to describe these characters (e.g. traps, transvestites, etc.) was incredibly problematic. The 1990s weren’t really all that much better, with incredibly stereotypical representations of gay men, bisexual women, and trans individuals in particular. Earlier this week, we covered the first half of the 2000s. Because the piece was getting a bit lengthy, I figured it might be a good idea to split the 2000s into two pieces, one covering 2000-2004, and this one, which will cover 2005-2009. So far, the 2000s have been the best decade for representations of GLBT communities, but it’s still problematic on a number of levels. While we did see promise in a few games, we also still saw a lot of misrepresentation of GLBT communities, especially gay men, lesbians, and trans individuals. Still, over all it seems like there’s a chance things are getting better in the video game industry, at least as far as representation goes. This time, we’ll continue building on the sociopolitical context of the 2000s to see if that trend continues.
We left off with that uncomfortable title Drakengard, so it only feels right to start off with the sequel. Drakengard 2 was marginally less screwed up than the first one. This time, though, instead of featuring a pedophile (who again, I’ll argue doesn’t truly belong in this list but wanted to address nonetheless), it features an enemy character, Yaha, who traded the ability to enjoy sex for insurmountable beauty that can charm both men and women. He’s in love with Urick, who rejects him. In a boss battle, he says to Urick, “You must have known that I saw you as more than just a friend. Right, Urick?” and, “When I became a pact-partner, I was so happy. With this power, I knew I could finally have you. How tragic that you rejected me then… You were the only one who wouldn’t be mine.” When Urick defeats him, he says, “When a crystal is damaged, it loses its luster. I too…was damaged…a long time ago… My luster…taken from me… Urick, I’m glad that we could meet one last time. I will never forget you…” Yaha is an interesting character because he has lost the ability to gain pleasure from sex, so his feelings for Urick are likely not influenced by a sexual desire, which is the standard characterization of anyone who isn’t heterosexual but especially anyone who identifies as a gay man. This sounds more like unrequited love (to use the term loosely, since we don’t know exactly how Yaha feels) than unrequited lust, even though the motivations still don’t seem all that healthy.
In 2005, Eidos Interactive released their sequel to Deus Ex, Deus Ex: Invisible War. According to a FAQ:
As a male character, you’ll be able to take part in a mini-mission here. There is another NPC in the same area whose name is Lionel. He is a musician who is trying to speak with the culture minister. If you’re male, both the culture minister and Lionel will send you back and forth with messages. Eventually, the culture minister will give you the option of being his “chamber boy”, and if you accept, he’ll give you the keycode to his penthouse. This eliminates some work on your part later on. If you are a female character, you won’t be able to be the “chamber boy”, and you’ll have to buy the keycode off Lionel, or find an alternate way in to the minister’s penthouse.
Also from 2005 is Radical’s Crash Tag Team Racing, which includes Doctor N. Gin, who is not new to the series by any means. It’s in Crash Tag Team Racing that his personality starts to be portrayed as more insane and effeminate. He will randomly burst into giggling or screaming fits, similar to how bipolar people are stereotypically portrayed. More relevant to the purpose of this article, however, is that his effeminate personality leads him to also be interested in things like fuzzy slippers and ballerina outfits, the latter of which he states makes him look as pretty as he feels. In Crash of the Titans, released in 2007, he makes contradictory statements about his feelings for women, stating at first that he likes them and then saying, essentially, that they disgust him. This is more light-hearted than the portrayal of Resident Evil’s Alfred Ashford, but in a sense they’re two sides of the same coin that links sexuality, gender identity, and mental health.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon gave us a scenario where the main character, Raidou, engages in battle with Binbogami and Yakbyougami, two effeminate and masochistic enemies. Binbogami actually eggs Raidou on, insinuating that Raidou might be expressing his feelings for Binbogami by treating him coldly and comparing it to people teasing their crushes, as seen here. You’ll also find cross-dressers in the Mannen-Cho location. In the 2006 title Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, there is a female student NPC who has a crush on Mitsuru Kirijo, one of the main female characters. The student has romantic fantasies about Mitsuru and even threatens your main character with revenge after saying she has pictures of Mitsuru in a bathing suit, if the main character is lying.
Jade Empire is BioWare’s first dedicated attempt to including same-sex relationships. In this RPG, the main character, if male, can have a romantic relationship with the female characters Dawn Star or Silk Fox or the male character Sky; if female, she can romance either Sky or Silk Fox. Atari’s Indigo Prophecy also came out in 2005 and featured a stock market follower, Tommy, who identifies his “special someone” as a he and will make comments about homophobia in the workplace and gay acceptance. He’s actually an important character in the sense that, without his knowledge of the stock market, you can’t advance in the game.
In 2006, From Software gave us Enchanted Arms, featuring unrequited same-sex love. Makoto identifies as a woman and is interested in men, rather unashamedly flirting with one of the other main characters, Toya. There’s also a scene where Atsuma asks Raigar if he’s interested in women; Raigar is embarrassed, leading other party members to question his sexuality as well. The game attempts to treat this scenario in a light-hearted rather than insulting manner.
Some people believe that Brother Mark in Broken Sword: The Angel of Death is gay due to some of the things he says to the main character, George. For instance, George comments that Mark looks too young to be a priest, to which Mark responds, “Well, thanks. You don’t look too bad yourself.” In addition, anytime George wants to talk to him by asking if he can spare a minute, Mark replies, “For you, George, any time,” despite the fact they just met. He won’t tell George why he became a priest and seems to think that everyone is not who they appear to be, which plays into his seeming fascination with undercover work. Nico, the other main player, seems to think her “feminine wiles” wouldn’t work on someone like Mark, but you can’t really tell if she means she thinks he’s gay or because he’s a priest-in-training. I’m honestly not entirely sure on how to feel about Brother Mark, as something about him just feels off. The guy is obsessed with an actress, to the point where he has a car that he claims was used on the set of one of her movies. As to whether the implications of his being gay are strong enough to say it’s likely, I don’t know. The guy seems more shifty than anything else.
The 2006 Rockstar Games title Bully features optional gay content. The game features a mechanic that allows the main character, Jimmy Hopkins, to kiss both male and female characters in order to gain health, and if he romances them, they will help him fight. One of the girls in the game alludes to Jimmy kissing boys by saying, “I’m like Helen of Troy, but you seem more interested in boys named Troy.” Bully: Scholarship Edition added an achievement called “Over the Rainbow,” which the player can unlock by kissing a boy twenty times. This obviously sparked debate with your standard sides: some people actively liked having the content available for those who wanted to utilize it, some people didn’t want even optional content like that in their games, and some people didn’t see what the big deal was since it was optional content. Towleroad even suggested, tongue-in-cheek, “They always say the most virulent bullies are using violence to mask something in their own character. Apparently that theory hasn’t been lost on Rockstar.”
One of the three main characters of Baten Kaitos Origins for the Nintendo GameCube, Guillo, is a magical puppet that speaks simultaneously with the voices of both a man and a woman. The character is gender neutral throughout the entire storyline due to having been infused with the powers of both a male and female sorcerer. Guillo has a masculine personality, but wears high heels, has breasts, and uses a rather feminine victory pose where it holds one hand on its hips and the other to its face. Many fans use male pronouns when talking about Guillo, but official material uses the pronoun “it,” presumably since it’s technically a sexless puppet. Guillo doesn’t appear to be sexualized in any manner despite having a more feminine physical appearance and mannerisms, and it doesn’t appear to be insane, either. Both of these traits tend to be ascribed to trans characters, so it’s interesting to see a character with neither. It’s also one of the few times we see a trans character as a hero.
On the other end of the spectrum regarding inclusion of GLBT characters is Lord of the Rings Online, an MMO published by Turbine, Inc. and Midway Games in 2007. The developers had planned a feature allowing players to get married, but they wound up dropping it because of the possibility of same-sex and inter-species marriage. The game was attempting to be very true to the world Tolkien had created, so Tolkien scholars and other experts actually went through every aspect of the game, right down to the color of the squirrels, to make sure it was authentic and to please a rather nitpicky audience. Initially, they had decided that marriages would be allowed if an example could be found in the books (e.g. humans and elves, but not dwarves and hobbits), but this proved to be very complicated. The same-sex marriage issue was also troublesome because Tolkien was a very devout Christian—a conservative Catholic at that—and while his stance on gay rights isn’t known, the odds are not in the GLBT communities’ favor. Nik Davidson suggested that Tolkien and his friend C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, had very different world views from the developers at Turbine. In the end, Turbine wanted to make the most authentic Lord of the Rings experience possible, so they decided to leave marriage out entirely instead of having to deal with every single possibility individually.
In comparison, the first Mass Effect game was also released in 2007, and your character, regardless of sex, can romance Liara T’Soni, an ungendered alien that appears feminine. If your character is male, he can also romance Ashley Williams (female human); if female, the other option is Kaidan Alenko (male human). This created controversy when neoconservative blogger Kevin McCullough fabricated ridiculous statements about what these relationships meant. In the game itself, any intimate scenes hint at sexual activity through quick cutscenes. According to McCullough’s statements, however, “Mass Effect can be customized to sodomise whatever, whomever, however, the game player wishes,” and claimed that the next step was actually raping characters in games. This was blown terribly out of proportion, perhaps in an attempt to get page views. The most controversial part of Mass Effect‘s sexual content would probably have to be seeing Liara’s butt twice in one of the quick cutscenes, which, compared to some of the other content in games, is actually rather tame.
Liara’s race, the Asari, is ungendered. Liara refers to herself as “not precisely a woman” and explains that the Asari have no concept of gender differences. They can also procreate with other races and are actually encouraged to; procreation between two Asari is seen as a waste because “nothing is gained.” The Galactic Codex: Essentials Edition 2183, a book included in the Mass Effect Limited Collector’s Edition, states the following: “While Asari have only one gender, they are not asexual like single-celled life—all Asari are sexually female.” In the case that two Asari mate, the “father” is the one who does not give birth. It’s interesting, then, that in a sense, there are no gender differences in Asari culture because they all appear to be women, but at the same time there’s no problem with calling an Asari “father.” It’s unclear as to whether the Asari themselves actually employ the use of “mother” and “father” or whether that’s used solely to aid communication in discussions with other races.
2007 also gave us Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, which features a character, Heather, who joins your army to “meet all the pretty girls.” Note, though, that this line is said to have been removed from the North American and PAL scripts. If Nephenee recruits her, the conversation looks like this:
Nephenee: …Uh, hello?
Heather: Argh, whaaat?! Do you need something?
Nephenee: Hey, y’all best… Er… You should be careful hanging around here like that. I reckon you should clear out of here while you’re still in one piece.
Heather: Aww, that’s so sweet of you! What’s your name?
Heather: Nephenee… What a cute name. I’m Heather. Pleased to meet you.
Nephenee: Pleasure’s all mine. So it’s Heather, huh? You gonna get outta here, then?
Heather: Well… It looks like an uphill battle to fight. I bet I can help out.
Nephenee: But you…
Heather: Don’t worry about it. I’m the type that likes to help nice country girls like you.
Nephenee: Um…like me?
Heather: That’s right. Don’t worry about it. Tee hee… This is turning out to be a great day.
Nephenee: Uhhh… Yeah…
On the other hand, if Brom (a male) recruits her, the conversation goes as such:
Brom: Hey, pay attention.
Heather: … …
Brom: Aw, heck, I hope I ain’t shoutin’ at a deaf girl… CAN YOU HEAR ME?!
Heather: …Knock it off, already. What do you want, you old hick?
Brom: …Oh, sorry ’bout that. They call me Brom, by the way… How ’bout you?
Heather: …Excuse me? Are you trying to get lucky or something? Give it up, you smelly pig farmer. There’s no way I’m having anything to do with you.
Brom: No, no! It’s nothin’ like that at all! I got myself a darlin’ wife and a whole passel of kids, and I love ‘em ta death.
Heather: So… What do you want?!
Brom: See, I believe ya just went and stole something from one of these here youngsters in the village. You did quite a job at it, I might add.
Heather: Were… Were you watching?!
Brom: Now hold on a spell… I ain’t preachin’ at ya, and I’m not gonna turn ya in or nuthin’. I was just thinkin’ that maybe ya could lend me a hand.
Heather: A hand? With what?
Brom: Well, me and uh… you see that girl over there with the long hair? We’re havin’ a bit of a tussle with some’a the young folk in the village… They picked a fight, but we don’t want anyone gettin’ hurt. I just thought maybe you could borrow some’a their weapons, so we won’t have to fight at all?
Heather: Huh… So that girl is a friend of yours? Hmmm…
Brom: Friend ain’t exactly the right word… Nephenee… We met when we fought together during the war. We’re kinda neighbors, so we hit it off. Durin’ the war, neither of us knew much about fightin’, so we helped each other out.
Heather: All right, I’ll help.
Brom: Whew, that’s great! That’s just swell of ya!
Heather: Hey, I couldn’t care less about you, but I can’t just sit back when a girl’s in trouble. OK, let’s go. We can’t leave Nephenee waiting!
Brom: Hey, hold up! Just wait a tick. What’s your name?
Heather: Heather! But as for you, hayseed… don’t forget the “Miss.” Got it?
Brom: Miss Heather, then. All righty. By the way… Could ya maybe slow down a touch? Huff huff huff…
If Heather is actually a lesbian, then she plays into another stereotype of sorts: the man-hating or at least man-averse lesbian. This type of character is really not fond of men and is sometimes actively malicious toward them, but is sweet to women, especially beautiful ones. The example above draws out this stereotype, with Heather assuming Brom wanted sex from her and insults him right away, calling him a smelly pig farmer and a hick. However, if Nephenee is the one to recruit her, she calls her a “nice country girl.” Quite the difference there.
Clive Barker’s Jericho features a character, Cassus Vicus, who is an obese, lecherous man said to practice cannibalism. He seems to be pretty aroused when the Jericho Squad confronts him and says it’s been a while since he’s tasted both sexes, which could be an allusion to either his cannibalism or his sexual conquests. The character is also said to be a fan of “blood orgies” and sadomasochism. Here again we see a connection of sin and non-heterosexual sexual preferences. Cassus Vicus is supposed to be a disgusting character, and he is. However, included in that portrait of disgust is his sex life (though on a personal side note, if it includes non-consensual sex, then it should be considered disgusting).
BioShock came in 2007, giving us Sander Cohen, who is openly gay. In the game, people refer to him as an “old fruit,” and there are several radio messages where Sander talks about Andrew Ryan, the game’s antagonist, as the man he once loved. Another player, Hector, remarks at one point, “The things that man had me do…” In another popular game, Abu’l Nuquod of Assassin’s Creed is an implied homosexual, stating that people don’t like him because he’s different. When he dies, he says, “Look at me! My very nature is an affront to the people I ruled, and these noble robes did little more than to muffle their shouts of hate.” Altaïr asks if the situation is about vengeance, to which he replies, “No, not vengeance, but my conscience. How could I finance a war in service to the same god that calls me an abomination?” Since his name means ”Father of the Money” or “Father of the Coins,” it’s also possible that he’s referring to how he lives so lavishly, though that context doesn’t explain why he would caress a male guard’s cheek during his rant.
Fable II, released in 2008, allows you to play as male or female and continues to offer the ability to marry men and women. There’s also a really interesting quest available in the game where the main character needs to find a suitable partner for a farmer’s son. Farmer Giles had been presenting female suitors previously, all of which Rupert had been wholly uninterested in. When your character talks to Rupert, he hints that he’s gay. You’ll then take the picture of Rupert that you have and go to the town market to find him a suitable date. The interesting part of the quest is the reward: you get ten morality points toward Good if you set Rupert up with a male and ten toward Evil if you set him up with a female. Either way, Rupert comes out to his father, saying he is gay and he hates farming. The father’s response is essentially, “All right, let’s move to the city.” This probably makes me the happiest out of anything we’ve covered so far. Here you see the issue of family acceptance being addressed and dealt with in an appropriate fashion. I especially like the idea of getting points toward Evil if you try “helping” him by finding him a female date.
The Shin Megami Tensei series has a few mentions so far, but we’re not quite done yet. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 also came out in 2008 and dealt with quite a few gender and sexuality issues. The school in the game celebrates a Cross-Dressing Day, which is done for fun rather than with any malicious intent. More importantly, however, is the idea of Shadows. Shadows in the Persona 4 world represent players’ “dark secrets.” For example, Kanji Tatsumi’s Shadow represents himself as homosexual: clad only in a towel, he runs around a sauna looking for men. Kanji’s secret is that women have always laughed at him because his parents taught him about sewing and related activities. Girls called him a freak because it was gender atypical, so he became a jerk and found he liked men better for not mocking him. The actual character is heterosexual, however. Naoto Shirogane is a girl who dresses like a boy because no one takes her seriously as a female detective. Her Shadow, however, wants to perform surgery on her to make her a boy because of shame over her gender, but she learns to accept herself and love herself as she is. She is also heterosexual. This is more of a statement on the male-centric society of Japan than it is a gender identity issue, and arguably, some of these criticisms could also be applied to the U.S.
In Fallout 3, you’ll meet two Ghouls, Carol and Greta, who have “adopted” a son, Gob. If your player is female, Greta will warn you to stay away from Carol. Both of these situations imply some sort of romantic relationship between the two, though some would argue that Carol “adopted” Greta the same way she “adopted” Gob, which could be evidenced by the fact that their relationship deteriorated after Gob came into the picture and got better after he left. Carol states that the problems came from Greta’s jealousy.
2008 also gave us Sega’s tactical RPG, Valkyria Chronicles. Valkyria Chronicles features three characters who indicate a preference for people of the same gender. One of them is Dallas Wyatt, a somewhat immature seventeen-year-old engineer who has a crush on Alicia, the heroine. After Alicia gets married, she is distraught until she falls in love with another major character, Rosie. Ted Ustinov is a bisexual sixteen-year-old scout who gets statistical bonuses when near Melville Young, Nancy Dufour, and Cherry Stijnen. Finally, Jann Walker is twenty-nine-year-old lancer who loves muscles, makeup, and kids. He has a crush on Largo and flirts with various men in the game. He’s rather effeminate, with a soft voice, and he likes to bake and watch kids. He even started a kindergarten in his hometown to help out the local children.
In 2009, BioWare released Dragon Age: Origins, which also allowed the player to choose his or her gender. It’s possible to have both same-sex sexual encounters and full-on relationships in the game, and like Mass Effect, there are some brief, safe sex scenes with no actual nudity shown. Out of the main party, the player’s character is the only character that has the potential for being gay; the two party members that can have same-sex attraction to the player will insinuate that they are bisexual. There are, however, gay NPCs, such as Wade and Herren, who own an armor shop. These developments caused some to argue that the straight male gamer was being marginalized, but BioWare shot those arguments down. In the words of David Gaider, “And the person who says that the only way to please them is to restrict options for others is, if you ask me, the one who deserves it least. And that’s my opinion, expressed as politely as possible.”
As I researched these games, I have to say I felt a lot better over all about these few years than any other segment of history we’ve covered thus far. The portrayals of GLBT communities, while still stereotypical–some more than others–are finally starting to branch out and explore other types of possible personalities. There’s definitely a lot to improve upon, however: we could really do a lot less with the idea that not being cisgendered or heterosexual should play into a description of someone’s unstable mental health; that all homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, and other sexualities are linked directly with an insatiable desire for sex; that a part of someone’s sinfulness is how much s/he has sex or who s/he has sex with; or that if you’re not heterosexual, that means you hate anyone of the gender(s) that you’re not interested in.
Still, we’re starting to see a lot more main characters identify as something other than cisgendered heterosexuals, and these characters are largely likeable. People like Liara. People like Guillo. People like Jimmy Hopkins. We’re also starting to see big companies like BioWare saying, “What? You don’t like this content? Then don’t utilize it. Not our problem. We’re not catering to just you anymore,” to those complaining about offering options for people who don’t want to play their games as heterosexuals. And it’s nice to see these developments come from both Western and Eastern companies. This is what progress looks like, even if it’s a bit slow sometimes.
Next week, we’ll be wrapping this up with a quick timeline of the games and characters we’ve seen since 2010 and where I’d like to see the industry go from there.