Applying terms like tolerant or open-minded seems outmoded in the 21st century, as accepting someone’s sexual preference is pretty much a case of simply being a decent human being. Oh for a time when we can count ourselves like the Asari from Mass Effect, who in addition to rocking sapphire-blue skin, didn’t give a damn about the genitals of the person they fell in love with, their mono-gender species rendering them ‘conservative yet convivial’ towards other races and genders. The Asari’s attitude towards gender could be the reason why they ‘favour compromise and cooperation over conflict’.
There’s a long way to go, but LGBTQ* characters in gaming are gradually seeing their fair share of representation. Doctor Samuels, from Borderlands 2, is a female scientist in the Pandora Wildlife Exploitation Reserve (yes, you read that right) and has a wife, which is casually mentioned by the grade-A douchebag Handsome Jack when he threatens various acts of violence against her wife if she doesn’t follow his orders. Even Handsome Jack, the homicidal arrogant narcissist, doesn’t make a derogatory comment about a lesbian relationship. So here’s something I never thought I’d be saying: be like Handsome Jack.
Providing players with the choice to play LGBTQ* characters has been used in Fallout, where you can choose perks which allow you to chat up your own sex for either combat boosts or additional dialogue choices. But it’s in Skyrim where same-sex marriage comes to the fore, as you can marry any race (even the scaly Argonians), and any gender. But what makes Skyrim’s inclusion of same-sex marriage commendable is the Bethesda Marketing strategist Pete Hines’ refusal to make a big deal out of it or exploit the inclusion of same-sex marriage for a pat on the back, which is exactly the kind of attitude one should have towards equal representation in gaming. On Twitter Hines quashed any rumours of same-sex marriage being hushed up, saying that it wasn’t ‘hush hush, just not making a huge deal out of it. You can marry anyone […] doesn’t matter what you’re playing’.
Gone Home is also worth a mention here, for paying testament to the courage it takes to come out. As you wander through your old home you pick up scraps from Samantha Greenbriar’s journal, your little sister. She documents, almost without realising it, gradually falling in love with Lonnie DeSoto, a girl in her class who abandons joining the army so they can be together (no points for guessing why being a private in the army in 1995 might be some impediment to their relationship). Beautifully written and acted, in particular where Sam recounts the heart-breaking conversation with her parents telling her it’s just a phase, that she ‘just hasn’t met the right boy yet’, Gone Home really makes you feel Sam’s vulnerability but also her confidence as she remains true to herself.
Dragon Age: Inquisition’s transsexual character, Cremisius ‘Krem’ Aclassi, was designed using input from the trans community, but there are instances where the community can do more harm than good. Namely, the Tumblr community lashed out at Fire Emblem Fates as Soleil, a bisexual girl, is given a magic powder which makes her see all women as men and all men as women to get her to practise talking to women confidently, as her adoration of women is such that she often faints when speaking to attractive girls. This results in Soleil falling in love with the male protagonist, saying it doesn’t matter whether she fell in love with him as a man or as a woman, what matters is the person. Some Tumblr users sensationalised this to infer that she was trying to be ‘cured’ of homosexuality, when really it was portrayed as a way for her to gain confidence when talking to women; to stop her from fainting when she talked to ‘cute girls’ and really, enabling her to court some lucky girl without feeling weak at the knees.
LGBTQ* representation in gaming has come a long way, but there’s still improvements to be made. Nintendo’s recent decision to allow same-sex marriage in Fire Emblem Fates paves the way for equal representation for everyone in the gaming community, hopefully other gaming titans will follow suit. Perhaps as gamers we should begin with ceasing the assumption that a character is straight just because nothing has been said to the contrary.