Only a handful of mainstream video games feature gay characters. Bob talks with Samantha Leigh Allen, a transgender writer and academic, about some of the commercially successful games to include LBGT identities.
BOB GARFIELD:If, as Parkin says, the Sims kiss hasn’t led to a flood of gay characters and relationships in video games, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of gay video game consumers. While there has been a renaissance in LGBT independent game development, many of those consumers don't find their lives represented in mainstream titles. Where is the “Will and Grace” of video gaming? Samantha Leigh Allen writes about sexuality, gender and video games for Border House, a blog about games for the marginalized gamer. Samantha, welcome to On the Media.
SAMANTHA LEIGH ALLEN: Thank you for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me about the independents. There are a lot of titles out there.
SAMANTHA LEIGH ALLEN: Yeah, around in 2012 there was this sort of queer games renaissance. Anna Anthropy’s game Dys4ria is often sort of hailed as, as one of the central games in that movement.
VOICE: Mm, mm…
SAMANTHA LEIGH ALLEN: It’s a game where you play through Anna’s experiences on hormone replacement therapy as a transgender woman, and sort of around Anna there came up this whole scene of queer and transgender game designers who made games about marginalized experiences that weren't getting represented in mainstream games.
Sort of on the other side of that fence you have mainstream game development, where you have large titles with budgets in the tens of millions of dollars, sort of massive games with fully- realized worlds. The story on LGBT inclusion in those games is a little bit different.
BOB GARFIELD: There’s one title, Mass Effect 3. Tell me about it.
SAMANTHA LEIGH ALLEN: Mass Effect 3 is an action roleplaying game by BioWare, which is a Canadian developer, owned by Electronic Arts, which is one of the major video game publishing houses. In Mass Effect 3, you have the option to engage in gay romances. You can play as either a male or a female protagonist, and for each protagonist there are gay options.
BOB GARFIELD: And it can sound something like this.
[CLIP/MUSIC UP & UNDER]:
KAIDAN: It's been an unforgettable few years. You were always so focused on the work back then. The mission was everything.
SHEPARD: It's true. I'll never know what I missed…. You're exactly what I need right now.
BOB GARFIELD: And, and what’s the effect of content like this on the LGBT world?
SAMANTHA LEIGH ALLEN: Queer gamers flock to this content because it's so refreshing to finally see yourself, your desires, your romance reflected in high production value content. And so, the tipping point that we’re starting to see now are mainstream games like Dragon Age: Inquisition.
BOB GARFIELD: With a character who is gay in the script. It's not the choice of the user.
SAMANTHA LEIGH ALLEN: Saying, no, we’re gonna unapologetically put LGBT content in our games, and you should engage with it and enjoy it.
BOB GARFIELD: And there’s another game called Gone Home, which particularly intrigues me. Can you tell me about it?
SAMANTHA LEIGH ALLEN: Gone Home is a game in which you play as a young college-aged girl who goes home, walks around her house and learns through environmental context a story about her younger sister. Over the course of the game, you learn that your younger sister has been involved in a gay relationship, and struggles understand what that means for her, what that means for her friendship, what that means for her relationship with her parents.
[GONE HOME CLIP/MUSIC UP & UNDER]:
KATE/NARRATOR: I don’t get Lonnie sometimes. Like her band and our zine and her hair and everything are all anti-authority. And watch her in Ger-ROTC. She’s doing drills in perfect formation, following orders, no question. And there’s all this stuff in the news about “Don’t ask, Don’t tell,” like she’s [LAUGHS] going to join the Army and then have to – lie, about who she is?
SAMANTHA LEIGH ALLEN: There was a tremendous response to Gone Home from game developers and critics because it got so many Game of the Year awards. Plenty of mainstream straight male gamers have played it, and learned something about an experience that’s not their own and, at the same time, you have folks like myself who’ve played it and seen their own experiences represented. And so, we have this sort of common touchstone now, going forward.
BOB GARFIELD: As opposed to the game Tomodochi Life which has explicitly prohibited gay characters.
SAMANTHA LEIGH ALLEN: Yeah, in the press release that accompanied that decision they said, we’re trying to create a playful alternate world, we’re not trying to make any political commentary. People who are in gay relationships [LAUGHS] in their lives are saying, LGBT lives are not a political statement, they’re a social reality.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Samantha, thank you so much.
SAMANTHA LEIGH ALLEN: Thank you so much for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Samantha Allen writes about gender, sexuality and video games. Her writing appears regularly for the gaming blog, Border House, and also in Salon, Huffington Post, Paste and Polygon.