Why Aren’t There More LGBT Characters in Video Games?

Playing as characters who reflect what or who we are makes us feel included in video gaming culture -- so why the lack of LGBT ones?


By Cheryl Tan

Over the years, you could say that the portrayal and inclusitivity of LGBT persons in games has increased somewhat, but how far have we actually come?

The Problem

Why is there an issue in the first place? Well, some people feel that if they are exposed to LGBT characters, the whole ideology of homosexuality will be forced down their throats and their rights to being straight are threatened. Doesn’t the following oppression from said people seem strange then? No video game company would just create LGBT characters to shove them down your face. Why should it matter if if a game character announces that they’re gay? It shouldn’t sway the players’ opinions or make them think any less of the game itself. And with all the heterosexuality in mainstream video games, wouldn’t it make more sense to be “threatened” by straight characters instead? But of course, seeing all those Nathan and Elena kissing scenes from Uncharted obviously isn’t counted as uncouth or “having the straight” shoved down your throat because it is the norm, the societal standard.

Credit: YouTube

Recently there has been an influx of LGBT characters being introduced into popular pop culture/ video games and people are not happy about that. This is because contrary to popular belief, gamers aren’t 30-year-old male virgins living in their mom’s basements, but your normal everyday kids and teenagers instead. It doesn’t matter what the M rating is on the video game, to many people, the exposure to such gay elements in video games is a conspiracy to turn all the 10-year-olds in the world gay. But what about games with firearms? What about the sex, violence and the crime committing in such games like Grand Theft Auto? Wouldn’t opposing such games make more sense than opposing something that is deemed natural to humanity?

Case Study on Violence in Video Games

Well, that was the case back when infamous anti-video-game activist and (now former) attorney Jack Thompson declared that if people played games like Bully or Grand Theft Auto, it would make them want to go on crime rampages and shoot up schools. In October 2003, Thompson filed a lawsuit in Tennessee state court on behalf of the victims of two teenage stepbrothers who had pled guilty to reckless homicide, endangerment, and assault — because they were inspired by the events in Grand Theft Auto III. Thompson also sought $246 million in damages from publisher Take-Two Interactive, Playstation 2 maker Sony Computer Entertainment America and retailer Wal-Mart but the case was later dismissed by the plaintiffs.

Credit: GTA3.com

However, Thompson then continued to oppose violence in later GTA games as well. In 2006, he tried to bar retailers from selling the game Bully and called out Bill Gates for allowing the game to be released on Xbox. After a viewing arrangement and demo of the game by Take-Two, Judge Friedman filed a complaint against Thompson, claiming he said things like “You missed the gay sex… I’m sure the voters are going to love that. Go ahead, Judge. File your bar complaint. Make my day.” Jack Thompson was later permanently disbarred and banned from practicing law but due to his campaigns, the Supreme Court did finally decide that games were protected by the first amendment (freedom of speech) on 2 November 2010, a big win for video game fans everywhere.

Fast forward to now, guns and violence are perfectly fine but insert a gay character into the gameplay and suddenly it becomes bad for children. People realised they couldn’t just fault violence because it wasn’t effective, so they turned towards the LGBT issues instead.

History of LGBT Characters in Video Games

The rise of the video game empire started gaining traction in the early 1970s — roughly around the same time as LGBT rights.

The earliest recorded LGBT character is noted in the 1986 computer game Moonmist, where a woman is seen to be angry with her girlfriend. It’s hardly a leading role—and the girlfriend in question is marrying a man—but she’s widely recognised as the first gay character.

One of the more prominent characters you might recognise (and one that is still around today in multiplayer rosters for Mario Kart and Mario Party) is Birdo—a pink, red-ribbon-wearing dinosaur from Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988). And in the original game manual, she’s described as such: “He thinks he’s a girl […] He’d rather be called Birdetta.” A transgender character coming from Nintendo (a company labelled as conservative in its references to gender and sexuality) is definitely surprising to say the least. Notably in 2014, Nintendo also apologised about their refusal to add same-sex relationships into life-simulator game: Tomodachi Life.

Credit: Mario Wiki

In 1998, Fallout 2 invited certain controversy after it featured same-sex marriage at a time when the thought of it becoming actualised in America wasn’t even a possibility. Developer Tim Caine (also one of the writers behind the Fallout sequel), who is openly gay and, as of 2012, married, said, “We kind of liked pushing boundaries a bit. Not always with violence. We wanted a game which is full of social commentary. So [same-sex marriage] was just another thing we were doing. I don’t even think anybody in the team really argued over it. We didn’t think ‘Oh my god, this an amazing thing.’ It was just ‘We’re going to cover every possible base here.’ And then we moved on.”

As we entered into the new millenium, gay rights were a topic of mainstream conversation, meaning the representation of same-sex domesticity in video games wasn’t too far away. Life-simulator game The Sims (2000) allowed players to customise the look, personality, aspirations and, (most importantly) the sexuality of their sim. Marketed as a sandbox game, players were given free rein to do whatever they wanted with their sims and luckily, the era in which The Sims came out was highly different to that of when Fallout 2 came out. To highlight this, EA released a special LGBT trailer.

Much more recently, we have Ellie, a main character in the award-winning video game The Last of Us. While Ellie immediately strikes players as solemn, brave, and mature, she’s also a little-known lesbian, whose budding romance with Riley is retold in the prequel Left Behind. This resonates with most LGBT folk today whereby there is no need to explicitly state your sexuality and mostly on a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ basis. However, some people were still infuriated about the reveal of Ellie’s sexuality ONLY in the DLC and felt betrayed that such a crucial piece of information was left out of the main game.

Credit: The Last of Us Wiki

Why Inclusitivity is Important

Many video games give players the chance to take on (or even create) the role of someone else entirely, be it a princess, a blue hedgehog or a soldier fighting in a war. And sometimes, playing as characters who reflect what or who we are makes us feel included in video gaming culture.

Representation certainly matters — the reason why some hate groups are so dead set against there not being any sort of gay content in video games whatsoever. Because the more the public is exposed to LGBT people, the more the notion of being LGBT becomes normalised. Remember Overwatch? Just because their special holiday-edition comic showed Tracer kissing her girlfriend, doesn’t mean that Overwatch is tainted forever, she doesn’t suddenly start doing ‘gay things’ or begin proclaiming her explicit love for girls. Tracer still exists as her normal self alongside the rest of the cast, just as LGBT people exist alongside you and I.

Credit: sggaminginfo

We should normalise the notion of there being LGBT characters in games. This will not only help to portray the community in a positive light but also to help those with misconceived perceptions understand and accept it. Just like there are humans who like seafood and those who don’t, it is normal for sexuality to be varied.

Summary

Statistically, it is impossible to ask for representation across all borders as LGBT people make up just a minority of the population; why some game developers might be worried that playing as a gay character could be a potential turnoff for straight gamers.

I still hope that one day the gaming scene will be able to progress far enough to have a truly openly gay protagonist in a video game, and only then would it mark a significant turning point for not only LGBT people but video games in general. Until then, I will continue cheering on the respective side characters and doing whatever I can to support LGBT-friendly series.