Category: Sexuality in gaming

So let me tell you about the time I annoyed David Gaider at a major gaming event.

As many of you know, I spoke at GaymerX2 this July, as did Mr. Gaider who — if you didn’t know — is one of the head writers at Bioware and a major creative force behind the Dragon Age series of games. Bioware presented a number of panels at GX2 this year, including one called “Building a Better Romance” that was about creating and developing in-game romances. Considering that this is often considered Bioware’s oeuvre, and that as a developer they’re known for being the rare AAA entity striving for queer inclusion on this angle, it was a topic of some interest. This was, notoriously, the panel where they announced that Iron Bull, in the upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition, would be romance-able by either gender.

Anyhow. So when they allowed questions, I decided I wanted to ask this team about the subject of what I was terming “Hawkesexuality:” the idea that the romance options in Dragon Age 2, with the exception of that toolbox Sebastian, were generally speaking always available to your created avatar (whose family name is Hawke), regardless of what gender you chose when creating them. To me, there was a question here about representing the sexuality of characters that I wanted to know their thoughts on.

So up front, let me tell you that many of the issues I’m about to discuss, Denis Farr has also talked about on The Border House back in 2012 — I absolutely recommend reading his piece. I’m going to cover some of that ground too, but in an additional direction.

Their responses are a thing I’ve been meaning to write about for some time and am only now just taking the opportunity to do. For the details, follow after the break.

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So to continue what appears to be an accidental series of blog posts writing about Gearbox Software’s Borderlands games, I wanted to get something down on paper regarding the newest title, Borderlands the Pre-Sequel. Now, if you follow my writing and Twitter and such you probably already know that I recently reviewed the game for Paste Magazine. My verdict, which I will summarize for you here, is that Pre-Sequel hews pretty close to Borderlands 2 but has enough new gameplay features and narrative/comedic elements to keep my interest.

Also, one of the things I mention in the review is that Pre-Sequel includes a number of queer lady characters, way more than I am used to encountering in stuff made in the AAA dev space for sure. Not that this is a particularly high bar to clear; I have a hard time thinking of explicitly queer women in games full stop, let alone in big industry titles — a number of Bioware characters come to mind, and of course there’s [SPOILERS] the recent The Last of Us DLC and Gone Home. But by and large when we get queer characters at all, they tend to be men. So I was pretty happy to see queer ladies with varying degrees of story importance appear in Pre-Sequel.

Borderlands the Pre-Sequel's Janey Springs

Borderlands the Pre-Sequel’s Janey Springs

This is Janey Springs (I’m vaguely grateful that the folks at 2K Australia didn’t run the ball all the way down the field and name her “Alice”). Janey lives on Elpis, the lone moon of Borderlands‘s typical setting of the planet Pandora. She’s a black marketeer, junk salvager, tinker, amateur childrens’ book novelist, and a lesbian. She’s also one of the first major NPCs you meet in the game, and the first one you meet after actually arriving on Elpis itself. For players who’ve gone through Borderlands 2, she serves a similar early-game feature to Hammerlock in Liar’s Berg, taking you through a series of quests that introduce you to the nuances of Pre-Sequel‘s mechanics and quirks before settling in to being an intermittent presence for the remainder of the game. Interestingly enough, both Hammerlock and Janey are queer characters, something I literally realized while typing the previous sentence.

Janey presents an interesting opportunity to talk about how Pre-Sequel represents queerness in its world in a way that draws on multiple approaches to doing so (compared to the “background” approach I’ve previously written on). While this post is primarily spoiler-free for Pre-Sequel, I’m gonna add a cut anyway just in case. Thus, more about Janey after the break!

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So there’s this thing that bugs me about being gay and I imagine it bothers a lot of other people on the queer spectrum, too. It mostly comes down to: when do I want being gay to “matter?” The problem is that there are two answers to this which are concurrently true —

  1. Always
  2. Never

Doesn’t seem helpful, right? But let me put a few more words into those list items and it might become more clear.

  1. Being gay is part of my whole identity, and I can’t shut it off, and it had a huge impact on my formation as a person, so yeah, it always matters. It’s always going to be there.
  2. There is usually a point in every day where I just want to not have to deal with the bullshit that being queer in the modern world can provide.

Can you see the dilemma? I don’t think it’s resolvable, nor does it really need to be. I think this paradox (can we name it after me? Can it be the Ladyboss Paradox?) mostly informs how we approach creating content. You just need to understand that these two poles exist and try to be aware of how your content falls in the field.

How does this relate to both recently-released Watch Dogs and Transistor, you might ask? Well, check behind the cut for the explanation. NOTE: spoilers for Transistor in post.

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So earlier today on Twitter, Denis Farr and I were discussing how mages in the Dragon Age universe have a lot of queer readings, especially in the sense of political queerness in the 70s/80s. In the process I mentioned that I got a similar vibe from the much-maligned cast of Final Fantasy 13, specifically the relationship between “fal’Cie” (power supernatural beings in the setting) and “l’Cie” (e.g. the heroes of the game). In keeping with a drive to shorter stuff more often, I figured I’d delve into that tonight.

REMINDER: This blog is a no-FF13-hating-for-the-sake-of-hating zone. If you don’t like the game and aren’t interested in criticism of it don’t roll up in here telling me about how it’s awful, I’m awful, and especially not how Final Fantasy is dead. We’ve already covered that ground. So my rule is: if you’re going to read/comment on this, do me the favor of backing your assertions up with examples instead of inarguable affective things like “it’s awful.”

Right. Ground rules set, let’s begin. Spoilers for FF13 and FF13-2 follow: (more…)

Alright. So thanks to a gift from Maddy Myers, I went home. I had no plans to buy the game, mostly because “mansion games” (thank you Robert Yang) or “first person experiences” (thank you Cameron Kunzelman) aren’t my thing. I don’t really enjoy point and click adventures, or games where you progress by turning over every little thing until you discover the tiny clue that opens the secret staircase on level 5 that leads to the Haunted Donut Shop or whatever. I find them hard to engage with since I get little feeling of mastery from drudge work, and the payoff is almost always narrative information that I could easily read off a wiki page.

Now, before the pitchforks and torches come out, I am saying the game is not in my strike zone, NOT that the game is inherently bad. Please don’t roll up in my comments telling me how I’m an awful human being for not liking mansion/point-click games. I am begging you.

Right. That’s out of the way.

So the whole point of this genre, as I said on Twitter, is to find narrative things out through a carefully-crafted obsessive-compulsive disorder simulation. By necessity, discussing it without revealing any spoilers thus becomes impossible and has very real potential to deeply affect the game experience even for people who normally don’t have a real problem with spoilers (like myself).

Thus, vague impressions? Interestingly put together, ventures into territory not frequently touched by mainstream AAA games. Cohesive. This is the same response I had to Kentucky Route Zero and that seems pretty apt, all things considered. As I said on a recent Gayme Bar podcast, I found KR0 to be engaging but not necessarily fun/enjoyable. Gone Home made me feel similarly. I was pulled through it by powerful inertia but I wasn’t having a strong emotional response either way.

If you want to know more — SPOILERS ABOUND AHEAD — then check after the cut:

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Right so last night Riot Games researcher and smart guy Davin Pavlas and I had a discussion about Kanji Tatusmi, one of the main characters of Persona 4. Specifically we discussed some of the ways in which his personal story is interpreted along both sexual orientation and gender presentation lines, and along the way I aired a particular grievance I have with the way that Kanji is interpreted as a character.

If you want to skip this entire blog post you can get the gist from this Twitter thread of my convo with Davin but if you’re here for my typically verbose breakdown of something that gets on my nerves, grab some popcorn and let’s start.

(Spoilers for Persona 4 and Persona 4 Arena to follow, FYI)

Now, I am pretty sure most people with an interest in the topic of Kanji and P4 have seen this video:

What I want to tell you is: this video makes me want to punch a wall until my hand falls off. Here is why:

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So, a few things happened, and I wanted to bring them up.

First, game journo/critic/maven Patricia Hernandez gave my post a write-up on Kotaku which is humbling/gratifying. While I’m not normally a proponent of ignoring comment threads — I think that sort of sweeps them under the rug as “not real” somehow when I firmly believe they’re badges of the times — I would suggest skipping those if you agreed with me in any way, and rubbing them all over your body if you thought I was wide of the mark.

I did want to share one of the best, most Bingo card-iest of them, though hilariously, I think the last comment is actually spot on, just not for the reason this individual thinks:

Bingo!

Bingo!

The second thing I wanted to call attention to, however, is a blog post that a college friend of mine, Kristin Bezio, posted her own riff on this topic. In particular she discusses my argument that Taric being a powerful, good-at-his-job character was essential to create buy-in, and she agreed, expressing it thusly:

In short, the only way to eliminate the kind of bias and bigotry that generally accompanies the inclusion of gay, minority, and female heroes (player-characters or otherwise) – and the inevitable screaming we hear from the “probably straight white cismale gamer audience” about corrupting their precious male power-fantasy games – is to make them valuable. Basically, we need to see in videogames the same things that we want to see in the real world: if you’re good at your job, then it shouldn’t matter whatelse you are, whether female, gay, lesbian, African American, Asian, Hispanic, atheist, Muslim, or covered in purple and orange tattoos.

I don’t necessarily disagree; in fact I argued for the same principle. But I do want to point out something relevant to both Kristin’s and my stances on the matter, something that came up during the “Moving forward in queer game studies” panel I was part of at the AoIR conference this year: we need to be careful about the rhetoric of “we’re worth market share so you could include us.” We saw this a lot with TV in the late 90s/early 00s: “gays are a good target demo, they are faithful consumers of our material, so we need to include gay themes.” The problem is that the unspoken flip side of this is “once they are no longer an important demo, we will abandon them.” It moves the imperative for inclusivity from a moral or social imperative — “the right thing to do” — to a purely economic one. I don’t necessarily have a problem with economic imperatives, mind you, because they are terribly effective… but not always in the long term.

We need to make sure that we frame this desire for inclusivity along multiple dimensions. Be upfront, use the economics. Say “Hey, you’ve got an LGBTQ audience. Give them some love and they’ll support you in the short term.” But we ALSO need to argue that “Hey, you’re a media creator and like it or not, you have a role in (re)producing culture. Including a wide range of characters and themes in your work is a responsible thing to do, as well as being economically in your benefit.”

Right. So out of deference to a colleague, I’ve backburnered this because I didn’t want to interfere with his ability to attend and speak at this year’s Games for Change Festival. That said, if you’re reading this, then I’ve already watched him give his speech and now all bets are off.

This is the story of some serious mistreatment from the organizers of the Games for Change festival. For a number of reasons I won’t name names about what has gone down, but I feel like this story needs telling… after the break. (more…)

A very small post for you — a number of people at PCA who came to our gender and sexuality in Bioware games panel asked if I would send them the slides from my talk on same-sex romance options. (Those links will probably be broken in about a month! Enjoy them while you can!)

Anyhow, I thought the most expedient way to make the slides available was to PDF them and upload for your viewing pleasure, so click here to view said slides in PDF form. Read in good health!

Also, PDFs don’t involve video, so if you’re curious, on slide 15 I showed the first few moments of this: