Dear Game Developers,
Hey there! This letter is a bit awkward, but please bare with me. There has been a lot of discussion recently about gender and sexuality in games. The Tomb Raider reboot has caused quite a bit of controversy with its implied threat of rape, Anita Sarkeeslan received a deluge of vile hatred for attempting to educate the community on sexism, female gamers are harassed openly at tournaments, and even members of your own developer community such as Jennifer Hepler are routinely taught just how many four-letter words the average message board poster can string together before they hit the character limit. All of this hatred and outward bigotry has got me thinking about how this applies to gay gamers and, more specifically, LGBTQ characters in games. I’ve come to this conclusion, one I hope you agree with – Please, don’t include gay characters in any of your future releases. At least not for the foreseeable future. If you have any of these characters in any games currently in development, please dummy them out or remove references to their sexual orientation. This might seem rash and completely out of left field but please, hear me out.
I like to think I am not easily offended. Hell, I’ve had issues with management at jobs because, if anything, I’m the one doing the offending. There’s a difference between being offended by posts gamers make on message boards or in the comments on news stories and being defeated by what they say. I can shrug of jokes about buttsex or lame claims about all Final Fantasy characters already being gay. But when commenters call gay people in general immoral, pedophiles, rapists, fags, worthy of being beaten to death, that’s not stupidity. That’s hate. Imagine if you were a young gamer who happened to be gay and you read an article announcing a character in an upcoming game would be gay, just like you! Someone you can relate to, someone who you can connect with in a way you cannot with overtly straight characters. This is a good thing, right? Now take that same situation and add the “fan reaction” to the announcement. Bile spewed out as if they were having a sale on it at the douche factory outlet store. An announcement that should mean something to a select group and be a non-issue to everyone else becomes a reminder to that gay gamer that they are different and worse, not welcome.
There seems to be an argument that exposing these misguided gamers to depictions of gay characters would eventually breed acceptance. The same acceptance that female characters and gamers have attained…oh, right, that first paragraph kinda blows that argument to hell. Society in general has grown more accepting of the gay community, but gamers are not society in general. We’re talking about a group of people who treat the changing of hairstyles on their favorite characters as tantamount to murder. No game developer is going to teach tolerance/acceptance through immersion. Video games are simply ill-equipped to cause that kind of change in most gamers. The only way they will learn is through experience in their own life, and, sad to say, when they grow up. I do not doubt that most of the gamers who have a problem with women/gays/racial minorities/too many colors in games are of a certain age. If they are all a bunch of 14 year olds, then we have to let life experience teach them. If these people are in their 20s and 30s, then there are deeper issues that prevent any sort of reasoning. That sort of bigotry has become ingrained by adulthood and unless your game is going to turn their children gay (it can’t, don’t advertise that on the box) and teach a tear-jerking lesson, best not to even try.
It would be one thing if the inclusion of a gay character was treated as a non-issue by developers and journalists, but it simply isn’t. Google “Mass Effect 3 Gay” and you’ll see massive media coverage revolving around Commander Shepard being able to “go interstellar” with other dudes and how this is a huge step forward (it isn’t) or the the downfall of the franchise (we all know how THAT turned out). Let’s take a look at the wedding of Northstar in Astonishing X-Men. Sure, we’re talking comic books, but the audience of each medium has a large cross section in the venn diagram of entertainment. The nuptials have been covered in the enthusiast press AND mainstream media. For what? It’s a fictional character getting married. Ummmm…you know people do that in REAL life all the time, right? But any chance to fall on one side of the great gay debate can’t be passed up. This is for a character who has been around for two decades and out and proud for almost as long with nary a mention on CNN. This is about press, because press means a higher awareness of your product. C’mon, you’re not exactly super subtle about this.
What about the gay gamers who will lack role models in their favorite games in favor of preventing an uproar from the larger community? Don’t worry about us. We’re strong. We also know that there are battles worth fighting, battles that will have much larger implications on our lives. I for one would rather be able to get married over seeing a gay version of Nathan Drake. And let’s face it, you guys have enough on your plates. The whole “journalists cheering on graphic brutal violence at E3 presentations” thing comes to mind. You all need to straighten out a lot of the tangles in the gaming community before you attempt to “tackle” social issues. So until such a time, please consider this one battle you don’t need to fight. Really, please don’t fight it…I don’t trust your army.