Monday, June 6, 2011

Lestopian Future

I've made no secret about the fact that I'm a girl gamer. Ever since I was a little girl and my sister and I got a Super Nintendo for Christmas, I've loved video games. I'm also not going to deny that I spent far more time than any sane person should playing World of Warcraft when I was in high school; I didn't have many friends and school work came easy to me, so escapism seemed like a good use of my time. One thing I've noticed over the past fifteen years or so of being a girl gamer (way back to when I was 6) is that the world of gaming is slowly evolving to start including more and more populations who formerly went ignored in favor of appealing to the straight, white male demographic. Being a lesbian, I've been thrilled that some games, even though they're still a small minority, have decided I'm worth appealing to. It's time to take a look at the gay-gamer-girl options I'm happy exist.

Bioware (a Canadian based game developer--go figure they're into equality) is a shining beacon of hope for stories and diversity in a world of video game studios who are still hurling themselves at the straight white males of the world. Their two primary series that have gone above and beyond in appealing to gay girls are Dragon Age and Mass Effect. More than just gay girls, these series appeal to women, gay men, bisexuals, and other ethnicities as well. They recent came under fire for some of the choices made in Dragon Age II, specifically the many gay options in the game, and dealt with said criticism from the straight white male population with remarkable flare and eloquence. This isn't to say they have a perfect track record in diversity options, as they seem to want to flee from or put an Astrix next to the gay and lesbian options in games. Mass Effect 1 had a "mono gendered" romance option, which was to say all members of this society were "female" but then immediately removed this character as an option in Mass Effect 2 really only offering hetero options again.

If you have to have just one gender, isn't this a good argument for women only?

The Mass Effect series really has brought a lot of new, interesting, and diverse options to the table when it comes to the audience appealed to. They represent handicapped people well with a pilot who has Osteogenesis ably voiced by Seth Green, African Americans are nicely represented by Captain Anderson voiced by Keith David, and the aforementioned lesbian romance option Liara T'soni. I think in general Bioware has gone the direction of diversifying their appeal to women by including romance options in their role playing games. I may not know much about men, but it would seem loving romance wasn't necessarily intended for them. I'm going to be 100% honest here, even if it ruins some of my cool cred, but I have the dopiest girl-crush on Liara knowing full well she's a fictional character in a video game. I applaud Bioware's boldness in including her, even though she's technically "mono gendered" and all but vanishes in Mass Effect 2 without purchasing a downloadable content pack. I felt like her inclusion, along with the ability to create a female protagonist who can romance her within the game, was a wonderful step forward in appealing to lesbian gamers.

Sure she's a religious zealot, but with red hair like that, I'll get past it.

Bioware really doubled down on their appeal to gay gamers of both genders in the Dragon Age series. Romance options within the first game included one female/female and one male/male in addition to the other hetero choices. Considering the homophobia within the gamer community and the fetishizing of lesbians by straight males, I thought the inclusion of Zevran as a male/male romance option was downright revolutionary of Bioware in a mainstream, highly distributed game. To quote Morgan Webb, "If you don't like gay elf sex, don't have gay elf sex." I love that they did it and defended it tooth and nail when the inevitable attacks came rolling in from the straight male gaming population who felt threatened by a gay male option. The lesbian option, who I again have an enormous girl crush on, is Leliana. The reason she comes in second, despite having the fucking sexiest French accent, is that she's entirely fanatical about the religion within the game, which is a barely veiled commentary on Christianity (specifically Catholicism of the Renaissance era). Not getting along with Christianity in general, the whole "good Chantry" girl Leliana had a religious overtone I just couldn't ignore, even with the red hair and blue eyes.

In the age old question of pirates vs ninjas, I always pick pirates because of her.

In Dragon Age 2 (I won't be talking about the Awakening expansion pack because it was both awful and included nothing gay or straight, which was a HUGE mistake in my mind) Bioware really took things one step further and basically made every romance option available to both genders. This has to be the singularly best option they could have taken. Rather than telling the gamer that their options would be limited by artificial constructs within the game, the developers let the players decide who they wanted regardless of gender. Of course, this blew up the homophobic/sexist gamer world, but Bioware stuck by their guns, and said it was the right move, and they were right. In ironies of all ironies, my favored relationship in this game was with Isabella. It's ironic because I'm pretty vocal about my disinterest in bisexual women (and she's extremely overt in her bisexuality) mostly because I feel promiscuity with males leads to STDs which I'm terrified of (and there's little to no doubt Isabella likely had tons) yet something about the saucy, sarcastic, sexually-charged pirate captain really drew me to her despite all the flaws that would repulse me in real life. I guess I figured my character's herpes would only be a lifelong problem for the 40 hours of play time during the game. This isn't to discount Merrill, the other lesbian option, who has large green eyes and a soothing Irish accent. Surprise, surprise, most of the male gamers who played Dragon Age 2 didn't like Merrill's lack of enormous breasts and her facial tattoos or Isabelle's aggressive sexual posturing and liberated feminist views of female sexuality, which leads me to believe, these two characters were at least partially designed for gay-girl-gamers.

Jade Empire makes every little lesbian girl's dream come true: marrying a Ninja Princess.

When I first started passing around this idea of lesbians in games and how much I appreciated Bioware for Mass Effect and Dragon Age, I was told there were protean version of these things in their earlier games. Under advisement, I checked out Knights of the Old Republic, which apparently contained the holy grail of nerdery with lesbian Jedi. The game was fantastic on its own and held up well despite being 8 years old. The relationship was far more about feelings, involved nothing even implied sex-wise, and did indeed include two lesbian Jedi. Apparently Jade Empire, another Bioware game only slightly newer, continued along this path of open options, and included the staple for the Dragon Age series of having a female character open to both genders. The gameplay itself was on the monotonous and irritating side and leaned heavily on the idea that all American gamers aren't into Asian culture, but the romance of Silk Fox aka Princess Sun Lian was remarkably forward thinking and deep considering the game came out in 2005. Seeing the evolution of the lesbian storyline option in Bioware's games really made me appreciate exactly how far they've come.

There is of course The Sims series, which allows for gay, straight, lesbian, and bisexuality at every level with the utmost customization (I also played far too much Sims 2 in high school). But this is less remarkable as the design of the game is an electronic version of "playing house" that we all did as little girls and thus the target audience really feels like it was supposed to be for women. There's no winning, no losing, and no competition in the game, which gives it an entirely casual game feeling and the largest audience for casual games are the ladies. This feels less remarkable than Mass Effect (hybrid shooter) and Dragon Age (fantasy RPG) as those two genres of gaming are dominated by games for straight men. Still, the Sims series of games should be applauded for including equality when they were striving to make the most customizable game possible.

With how many Blood Elf men are gay, lesbianism seems almost like a necessity.

I did mention World of Warcraft earlier, and, as with the Sims, so much of the content is user created/alterable since it is an MMORPG with players from all over the world interacting, so gay and lesbian are two things that can and do exist in the game; however, this isn't something the developers really intended, nor is it something Blizzard has been all that tolerant of. In the early days of the game (released in November 2004) several gay themed guilds (male/male) were deleted by Blizzard simply for being gay themed. Considering I was probably one of a tiny handful of lesbians who played the game, lesbian themed guilds tended to be actually populated by straight men and they too suffered from deletion. In general, Blizzard's history with the gay community isn't very friendly, so while there are gay gamers who play and try to include gay content in World of Warcraft, it's generally not encouraged or supported by either Blizzard or the gaming populace within WOW. I've heard, but never actually experienced, that City of Heroes (a super hero themed MMORPG) is far more welcoming and tolerant of their gay community, but I can't say for certain that's true. Online gaming in general tends to be people by the immature, homophobic, and sexist young men of the world; this is a demographic shifting away from the stereotype of what a gamer is, but it's also the slowest to do so. I won't even talk about what goes on with Xbox Live, but let's just say, being a gay or woman there is not recommended.

The charge for equality in gaming is really slow and kind of has all its hope right now resting on Bioware. Gay and lesbian gamers are an audience worth having though, and I think Bioware is wise to appeal to us as we have little else pointed in our direction. We're a little more than 10% of the population and we tend to have more disposable income per-capita than our straight counterparts; the gaming industry as a whole would be wise to put this together and start making a concerted effort in the direction of gaming equality.
In Sim-land there is no homophobia.

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