Gays in the military

Oh, my friends. It’s been some time since I had a moment or two to craft a blog post for you, but today I really, really just saw something that made me get on here and share my thoughts with you.

So Gamestop had a sale a few weeks back where a number of PS3 titles I’ve been thinking of picking up — Disgaea 3 and Valkyria Chronicles — were down to $20, so I went and grabbed them. Having basically plucked the ripe fruit of Final Fantasy XIII and devoured it in what I would call record time, I was in need of something for occasional diversion. One of my students in Digital Games and Representation played Valkyria Chronicles last quarter and after reading his paper (and, uh, getting massively spoiled on the game) I decided to pick it up. However, Disgaea 3 charmed its way into my PS3 first, so I didn’t really get a chance to play around in VC until today.

Oh boy. Where to start.

Now, I am not very far in the game, so this is relatively spoiler free. So far, the premise seems very prototypical Japanese game/anime about war: unlikely pacifist is thrown into role of military commander and his/her focus on non-military, peace-related things ends up being the key to winning the combat, so that peace can return and we can all realize that war is bad. If you’ve ever seen a Gundam series, for example, you realize I just described the plot of at least half of them to you right there.

The player’s in-game surrogate is Welkin Gunther, said not-quite-but-close-enough pacifist. After his hometown is basically destroyed by The Empire (not kidding) and he pulls a tank out of his ass to escape (also not kidding) he becomes the leader of Militia Squad 7, via said tank, the Edelweiss (still not kidding). One of the first things you do as commander is pick from a semi-random, pre-generated list of militia “recruits” to form your squad. These recruits have first and last names, distinct looks and personalities, and belong to a class of soldier. When I got around to the Lancers — rocket-wielding anti-tank infantry — I was presented with this (naughty language in video):

Yeah. I mean… yeah. Let’s just be fair: the guy playing sounds like a jerk, and yes that is John DiMaggio doing the Gay Bender voice. But yeah. That’s Jann Walker, Anti-tank rocket-wielding infantry. He’s got a crew cut, a lisp, and an RPG and he isn’t going to take your shit.

This random quirk seems to come from Valkyria Chroniclescore game mechanic of “Potentials,” where each solider has a list of personality traits that can affect their combat stats. Jann, for example, has the Fancies Men potential: he wants guys to notice him, so his stats improve (not kidding) when he’s around other male units. He also has the Largo Lover (or something similar) potential that increases his stats around storyline character Largo, another Lancer who looks like this:

 

Largo from Valkyria Chronicles

Would your stats increase next to this guy? Mine might. A little. (Image courtesy gaygamer.net)

Right. And lesbians, don’t think you’re left out. Dallas Wyatt is a female character who has the Fancies Women potential (see above, then invert the genders) and Alicia Lover (Alicia being a female storyline character). However, she also (for some reason) has the potential Man Hater, which lowers her stats when she’s around men. To really throw a capstone onto it, she’s an Engineer: a class that fixes tanks in the field. With power tools. Again, the guy playing the game in this video? Super winner (and more naughty language in video):

I just… yeah. His reactions to this stuff are priceless. I mean, not to make the blog post more about him than the characters, but really… just awesome stuff.

So to recap, Militia Squad 7 has two possible gay members. A gay man with a phallic rocket launcher, a drag queen’s worth of verbal sass, and a crush on a bear… and a power tool-wielding lesbian from an all-girl’s school who just hates guys. I haven’t encountered him, but apparently there’s a bisexual character named Ted who’s a comedian and showoff. And… a masochist who gets off on pain, and a sniper who just hates people, period. Right.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. These are stereotypes. They are also stereotypes with a distinctly Japanese flavor toward homosexuality, where the butch takes a backseat to the femme raised in an all-girl environment whose lesbianism just comes from her lack of exposure to men, and gay men are not super-feminized, but rather are too masculine: they obsess over muscles, manliness, and brotherhood. If you’ve ever heard of the Cho Aniki games — one of which is available in the US via, of all things, Wiiware — then you’ve experienced that Japanese gay stereotype in an oblique way:

 

Gay laserbeams from bodybuilders' heads. Yeah.

Not gay at all. (Image courtesy Wired)

However, what I find less interesting than the stereotypes are two things: the game’s treatment of them mechanically, and the reactions I’ve read through some quick googling.

Now, I don’t see much mention of Dallas as an Engineer; I get the impression that because they’re so specialized and not focused on attacking, that Engineers don’t tier very well. Jann, on the other hand, is a Lancer and specializes in blowing things up.

In fact, Jann is apparently super good at blowing things up:

I can’t tell if that guy’s the same guy from the previous two videos, but if it is: heh. All I can say is “heh.”

From all accounts I’ve read, Jann is one of the best Lancers in the entire game, second only to Largo and, depending on who you ask, Audrey. Who is a good reminder of this: the stock of Lancers available to me on my playthrough included typical butch guys, Jann, and a somewhat elderly-looking woman named Yoko who promised she would do her best.

Her best blowing up tanks, guys.

Now, comparatively, look at two things. Check the comments on any of the Jann videos I linked above, via their actual YouTube pages. Then check out this thread on Gamestop’s forums for the game, as well as this thread from the Gamefaqs forums, and finally the discussion on this rpg.net thread.

What gets me about these audience responses is that they’re so diverse. You’ve got a smattering of the standard idiots who not only can’t use Jann because he’s gay, but blatantly say that even thought they know he’s mechanically excellent they can’t use Jann because he’s gay. But interestingly, you also have people who use him because of his stats despite his sexuality (or their distaste for it), people who thought he was funny/amusing and then were surprised by how good a Lancer he was, and people who embrace both halves, loving both his character and his stats.

This is why I’m so divided about Jann. The stereotype, of course, frustrates the [eff!] out of me. I really wish it didn’t need to be that way. But on the other hand, the game takes that personality thing and turns it into a benefit. It turns out that being gay and loving big bearish Largo helps Jann to be amazingly good at his job. The other members of Squad 7 don’t rag on them, don’t abuse them… they accept it, they embrace it. Largo might not reciprocate those feelings romantically, but his dialogue in combat with Jann proves that the two are at least friends (the same with Dallas and her crush Alicia). That’s an amazing thing.

I am sort of sad that Dallas’ in-game role of support makes this less tenable for her; she doesn’t have moments of awesome where she obliterates a tank in one shot, for example. I also feel like her Man Hater Potential is a serious smack in the face. Gay men are okay with women, but lesbians have to hate men? Evokes images of the man-hating lesbian that are outdated, silly, and pointless… which the game then mechanically enforces by penalizing you for not keeping her around women only.

However, is it possible that despite his lisp, his drag queen vocabulary, and his totally over the top muscle obsession (thank you Japan), that Jann Walker in some small way is helping straight gamers to adjust to being around gays?

I don’t really know one way or the other. I think it’s a very complex issue, but it is one worth exploring.


7 Comments

  1. Aaron April 4, 2010 2:57 pm  Reply

    I had Dallas and Ted available in my playthrough and used both regularly. Didn’t see Jann, but I only had one Lancer other than Largo in my party of 20. I found out quickly that the game rewarded speed over all else, so I stuck to mostly Scouts and Snipers to finish battles ASAP for the EXP/gold advantages.

    Dallas: You’ve pretty much got this one nailed. The man-hating stereotype is pointless, but the penalties for having her around men really don’t mean anything from a gameplay perspective. As you mentioned earlier in the post, Engineers don’t do a whole lot in combat; there’s nothing they can do offensively that Scouts can’t do better. The only reasons to take an Engineer are to heal tanks and to disable mines, and I don’t remember any Engineer being better at that than any other.

    Unfortunately, you’re also right in that my previous sentence means that there’s no reason to use her over anyone else, just like there’s no reason to use anyone else over her.

    Ted: They really play up more of the comedian and showoff in Ted rather than the bisexuality aspect. A lot of his lines are along the lines of “thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week”, calling attacks “punch lines”, and referring to enemies as “critics” and “hecklers”. From a Likes Men / Likes Women standpoint, he acts more obvious around women than he does men – unless the male character listed under “likes” gets KO’d, at which point he loses it.

    I don’t remember seeing anything irritatingly stereotypical about Ted. Then again, I’m not sure I’d recognize bisexual stereotyping if I saw it.

    I hope you enjoy Valkyria Chronicles. I had a lot of fun with it – it was well worth the $30 I picked it up for a while back. Then again, I am a total sucker for TRPGs, as you are well aware.

    • Cy April 4, 2010 6:40 pm  Reply

      Lesbians wielding power tools! now that’s classy. Will she cut you?

      • Todd April 4, 2010 9:12 pm  Reply

        She’ll do you one better: she’s got a rifle.

        True story: I went and spoiled myself a bit. In the ending it’s revealed that Jann (the gay guy) leaves the army to take care of children in a rural town, where he is very popular and gentle with the kids.

        Dallas, on the other hand… her crush (Alicia) marries Welkin, so she gives up and re-fixates on another female member of Squad 7, becoming an obsessive stalker. Again.

        How’s THAT for messages about sexuality. Gay men: nurturer/caretakers. Lesbians: PSYCHO STALKERS WITH RIFLES.

        • Terry Rosen September 28, 2011 1:25 pm  Reply

          No joke,

          One of my closest friends is a lesbian, and she’s my roommate.

          And in a bar fight? Stereotype or not, I want her watching my back.

          Seriously. No joke. Ass-kicking machine. With a turbo. Buddhist too, like me.

          :)

          -T

    • Terry Rosen September 28, 2011 1:29 pm  Reply

      Aaron,

      yeah, you didn’t notice a bi stereotype cuz there really isn’t one.

      We wish there was. There never will be. Because people are different. Even straight males are different, go figure. The stereotypes allow us to pretend that a group of people have something in common, when they really don’t have very much in common.

      So, the stereotypes don’t get us very far, you know?

      Except, having one allows us to ‘identify’ or acknowledge that someone exists. And without one, we can pretend that they don’t.

      -T

      (bi the way – I found your post very positive, empowering, meaningful and validating. Thx)

  2. Terry Rosen September 28, 2011 1:23 pm  Reply

    Hiya,

    (I just wrote an email to you through GAMBIT concerning A Closed World.)

    I loved this post, I have not played the game. I’m bi, but only been out for about a year. I’ve been exploring the issues, from both outside and in, for a while. My personal opinion prompts me to disagree with one facet of your blog entry.

    The man hating stereotype.

    Before I go there though, let’s cover another stereotype. A mostly true one, but still. Guys want a 3-way with 2 girls, girls don’t necessarily want a 3-way with 2 guys, they’d often prefer one with at least one more girl. Why? Girls are hot, soft, sexy, etc.

    To recap, recall the long-held marketing logic of using sexy women in ads. Women will want to BE that woman, and men will want to have sex with that woman. NOTICE: the opposite does NOT hold true. We do not see ads with sexy men with the opposite logic.

    Why? Because our culture treats men and women differently. We view them differently. Overall we do anyway.

    Men, walking down the street holding hands are NOT straight. Ask anyone. But women? Who knows? There’s some doubt.

    Men are more about conflict, Alpha-maleness, who can be louder than the next cave-man?

    Women ‘may’ actually better at social skills, measuring emotions, interacting with people about their feelings in order to make a social bond more cohesive.

    Gay men love women because they (gay men) are loveable, AND women are loveable. (misspelling on purpose).

    Gay women love women for the same reason.

    Straight men aren’t even intimate enough to hold hands in public (except for handshakes).

    Women will hug you on a lark.

    In our culture women are more intimate, sensitive, meaningful (emotionally), and men or more distant, hurt, macho, (add adjectives here, you know you’ve got em).

    Lesbians have a man-hating stereotype because men suck. At being intimate. Men do not accept people who are different, AND they have to say so. Women may not accept you, but at least they have the sensitivity to lie to your face about it. ;-)

    -T

  3. The Champions January 9, 2013 11:14 pm  Reply

    [...] Taric because he brings a powerful support toolset to the table. This has some resonance with earlier statements I made about Valkyria Chronicles‘ gay anti-tank lancer Jann Walker – part of the great thing about Jann (and Taric) isn’t just that they’re gay (or, you know, [...]

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