With LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights being at the forefront of recent discussion as policy and law makers look to better provide rights otherwise not afforded based on sexual orientation of gender identity, questions are being asked at how queer people can be represented not just in courthouses, but in the media too. As a great deal of American people rallied to have DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a policy which excluded queer people from the military) and DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act, a policy which didn’t allow gay marriages or marriage rights to be recognised) repealed, as well as gay rights (marriage and other anti-discrimination law) victories across the globe, the support is clearly there for the acceptance of queer people. But, as we see this reflected in the inclusion of queer characters in television and movies, many are wondering why we have yet to see this transferred over to video games.
“So when are we going to see that gay protagonist in a AAA game?” is the very question that Lucien Soulban, the Lead Writer at Ubisoft Montreal (who also happens to identify as gay) asked in a recent interview on the official Ubisoft blog. Answering that question himself, Soulban said that he thinks that a gay video game lead won’t be seen “for a while,”, “because of fears that it’ll impact sales.”
However, when a gay character does take the helm of a video game, Soulban thinks that “either we’ll see a bait-and-switch like the original Metroid with Samus Aran where we’ll find out damn near after the fact (PS: And Dumbledore was gay), or it’ll come out of left field with Rockstar, Valve, Naughty Dog or Telltale, perhaps. But when it happens, I hope it’s a serious take on it and not played up for jokes.”
The concern that a queer character’s sexuality could be a punchline to a joke or perhaps that their identity wouldn’t be treated with respect (such as the character being a clear ‘token’ figure), is a pressing one for Soulban, who explains that “the real question is, “When are [we] going to get a gay/lesbian AAA hero(ine) who isn’t a one-off joke?” pointing to “Javier Bardem in Skyfall, his character’s sexuality was total shtick to satisfy one scene.” as a poor example of representation. Meanwhile, Soulban cited “Mass Effect II & III, or Fable III, or Dragon Age II” (games which all allow players to have same-sex relationships) as games that very much get it right, due to the way that “they’re introducing [gay characters] without much fanfare in an effort to say, Yeah, it’s there and pretty normal. Call it: We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re busy working.”
Soulban’s comments are off the back of recent comments by David Gaider, the Lead Writer of Dragon Age: Inquisition (who also happens to identify as gay), defending BioWare’s inclusion of queer characters, saying that “there’s an element where having a game acknowledge that you exist can be validating in a way most people never consider.” So perhaps with two key industry figures speaking out in support, we could see things change in terms of the lack of gay video game protagonists very soon.