A controversial topic with a simplistic answer.
I suppose every generation faces its social challenges. For our parents it was the civil rights era. For our grandparents it was women in the work place. Today, there’s no doubt that same-sex equality will be considered the defining issue of our time. While artists have used their medium to comment on social problems facing the culture of the time for generations (via music, painting, films, etc.), video gaming hasn’t exactly been a soap box utilized in this way in the past.
However, the tide is shifting as of late, and gaming has increasingly started to bring this subject to the forefront.
While some would still consider this taboo, others consider it a complete non-issue. In fact, there are those in the industry today that are “out and proud,” while in the past this kind of thing would have resulted in a loss of opportunity. Even today, whether you’re working in gaming, films or simply your local 7-Eleven, being an openly gay or lesbian employee could sometimes mean you don’t have a job come Monday morning. Although, there are signs of improvement. David Gaider is a lead writer at BioWare and is also gay. There are those who would immediately ask how his outlook differs from that of a straight developer, but Gaider doesn’t see it that way. “I don’t think of myself as a ‘gay developer.’ I’m a developer who happens to be gay.” He says. While games like Mass Effect have already tread this ground in the past, the recent hit The Last of Us also ventured to push the envelope a bit, calling into question protagonist Ellie’s sexuality by its conclusion. Naturally, this became the focus of the character for some, but Director Bruce Straley asks “…who cares?’ A good character is a good character and that’s what we’re after.”
While I understand the rational of making something so common it subsequently removes the taboo, we’re not quite there yet.
The fact is, there are those who simply don’t want to see these kinds of issues interjected into their gaming. Right or wrong, it’s simply the world we live in (at least in the U.S. anyway). Some cultures are much more liberal on the topic, while others are far less tolerant than in our country. My point is that gaming is a completely different animal than say film or poetry. It comes with a strong commitment financially (with game prices almost tripling the cost of a single trip to the theater), not to mention the significant portion of time and energy that gamers will take away from their daily lives to devote to it. This results in the feeling that they have more of a right or “say” in their game content. If they happen to feel opposed to the issue, they are going to react more strongly than they would a movie, where turning the channel is a much simpler option.
So what’s the solution? Ignore the problem and hope it goes away?
Of course, the answer to that question is no. No one deserves to be ignored, especially if they feel their voice is not being heard. By the same token, beating someone over the head who doesn’t share your viewpoint is probably not going to do much for the sales of your next multi-million dollar game release. I suppose the answer is to allow the market to dictate content. Instead of preaching, look at what people are buying. Games with gay and lesbian themes are on the rise and have increasingly become more successful. There really is no better measuring stick to gauge the shift in the culture than the almighty dollar. The consensus is that people truly seem less hung up on this than they used to be. Plus, game developers aren’t as innocent as they let on either. As much progress that’s been made, they know there’s still a taboo attached to this same-sex issue, and they exploit it. It’s highly doubtful that lesbian scenes like the ones we saw in Mass Effect 3 were to make a statement, but more likely to gin up hype. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but let’s be real here. So, ( spoiler alert )…when you see Ellie kiss Riley at the end of The Last of Us , you may find yourself asking, “…whoa, is she gay? Is she bi-sexual?”
In that moment, a better question to ask might be,“…do I really give a shit?”