New video games are somewhat akin to the feeling you get on Christmas morning staring at all of the wrapped goodies under a tree. The excitement is tangible. You cannot wait to get home and start playing with your new purchase. You think of all the hours you will spend getting all the achievements, quests completed, and how the story unfolds.
If you are reading this, then you probably enjoy video games. If you are here because the title caught your eye, then you may be wording or in support of games being more inclusive of the people who play them. Either way, the question is the same, do we need LGBTQ inclusion in video games?
Why do people play video games?
Picture it, Brookhaven National Laboratory, October 1958, a physicist William Higinbotham, created what would be dubbed the first video game. He created it because most of the exhibits at the Brookhaven National laboratory open house were rather dull. He felt that an interactive “game” would grab people’s attention more and show how science has relevance in society. This game was much like the early video game, Pong. And thus, gaming was born.
There is no one true answer for why people play video games. Unless you count escapism. Many people play for the freedom and ability to explore worlds that aren’t their own. Even more play for the safe risk-taking abilities. You can make any decision, the game allows, and if it fails, you have your save point to return to. Well in some games. Some play for the aspects of building relationships. MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role playing games) allow us to connect with people from all over the world. We can share thoughts and words while we join them on quests. And for others, it’s a safe place to allow us to be who we are without fear of judgment or any other repercussions.
Everyone has hardships in their lives and those same people often need a way to unplug from them and feel like they have some control in situations where they may not see that same control in their world. This isn’t about self-love or self-respect, you may or may not be at that level, yet. It is purely about getting away from the pain you endure in your life on a daily basis.
Inclusion in video games
Let’s admit it, the days of Pong, Pacman, and Galaga are far gone. Those were days where you were a blip on the screen or a ship, there were very few instances of “real people.” Enter games like The Oregon Trail and Pitfall, to name a few. Here you were introduced to people and how they were placed in situations. Those people, in their 16 bit coding, for the most part showed a white character. These characters were flat, they had no backstory or personality. They were simply beings used as avatars to tell their story. And it was “THEIR” story.
Would it surprise you to find out that the first black video game character happened thanks to Sega’s Arcade release of Heavy Weight Champ in 1976? Even more so, earlier characters of color were often portrayed as verbally aggressive and extraordinarily athletic and on the far worse side of that scale, they were shown as being brutally violent, criminals, and sexually promiscuous. White characters, on the other hand, were classed as the heroes of the game. Anyone of color was left to only be in a sports video game.
By 1986, more characters of color started to appear. Sega released Narc and Chase H.Q. you could choose to play a black character, but only in two player mode and for the second player ONLY!
The first gay character happened in a game call Moonmist in 1986. The only way you find out about it is that a woman appears to be upset with her girlfriend. Even better, the girlfriend is marrying a man. It wouldn’t be until 1988 when Nintendo released Super Mario Bros 2, that a transgender character would take the screen.
Enter Birdo, a red ribbon wearing dinosaur that preferred to be called Birdetta and thought of themselves as female. In later iterations of the franchise, Birdo would be recoded to be more ambivalent sexually.
Why is inclusion important
There has been massive growth in the inclusion of all people in the video game industry. And that is amazing. The gamer community is made of people of all colors, sexual identities, and gender presentations, so why should video games be any less inclusive?
This isn’t about forcing people to accept some symbol or manner of dress style. It isn’t about writing a game that specifically caters to LGBTQ people, that can be done by LGBTQ game developers and people would support it. It isn’t about making everyone accept LGBTQ people, it is about fair and equal representation of us as a group of the human condition.
The world can be a hard place for many people. If you are a LGBTQ youth that is living under your parents roof and have to hide who you are for safety reasons, having an outlet where you can be yourself without fear of reprisal is paramount for coping. It creates a safe place for you to make the choices you would like to make in real life, play with dress styles to find what you like, and to be free to be you.
In games like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect, you can play as a queer person and make choices that would reflect how you would like to act in real life. Those choices can unlock the ability to have are deeper relationship with NPCs. In some games, going so far as to date or marry them. Those two games, specifically, had characters that were coding to react only to specific types of characters. Let’s look at Dragon Age: Inquisition.
2014, Dragon Age: Inquisition had a main character called Dorian. Dorian was a powerful wizard who helps you save the world from a demon army. What you also learned is Dorian was from an established and powerful political family and he trained under the best to become a wizard. Dorian, through choices in dialect, starts to reveal more about his life. Once you have created a connection, he can become a romantic option for you, regardless of your gender presentation. The catch to this all is that Dorian will only kiss or marry a man. The game itself progresses along just like normal, if you don’t unlock that option. It’s all about choice and how you play. Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure in video game format. If you were a straight male player that did not interact with Dorian in that manner, it didn’t make the game any less enjoyable for you.
This is what is meant by inclusion. It also goes further than that. Being able to make a character appear as a representation of who you want to be can be freeing. To be able to make the choices you want in a game and not worry about the hatred you experience in real life allows you time to decompress and work on your own esteem issues or how to navigate those situations. It’s also about being able to tell and share queer stories. It is an avenue for queer game developers to make a story that can be played by anyone and be able to take something from it. It is about feeling a connection to something beyond your struggles. It can give you a means to feel more confident in your life.
How inclusion helps
The real world often fails to provide LGBTQ people with safe opportunities to express their gender and sexuality, the virtual world of video games can become a sanctuary or a foster world of sorts. A study done in 2013 that was published in the Atlantic stated that people who can openly express their identity are less depressed than those that repress it. This makes them less likely to commit suicide than their closeted counterparts. Video game avatars become LGBTQ gamers lifelines, of sorts. It is a much needed coping measure for some.
LGBTQ gamers aren’t asking for every game to have a queer sex scene. Nor are most of them asking for queer story lines to be the dominant line. It is only asked that we have an ability to make choices and interact with people, in game, like we want to in real life.