For anyone who hasn’t heard, just under half of America plays video games, and that kind of mainstream acceptance would never have happened without some fresh blood. After so many years marketing to straight, white men, the video game industry is finally opening up to a wider audience. Video games don’t carry the stigma of a private club anymore, and the video game community now encompasses people of every race, social class, gender, and sexual orientation.
And if gamers are diverse, then in-game characters should be too. On-screen diversity makes everyone feel welcome, and shows people of all stripes that they’re welcome to join the gaming community. That’s why it’s important. Representation isn’t a conspiracy or some kind of political statement; it’s basic human decency.
Unfortunately, some developers haven’t quite caught on yet, and they don’t always give in-game diversity the attention that they should. So, yes, it’s a big deal when an AAA studio makes an effort to make its games more inclusive, and that’s why NetherRealm Studios deserves credit for making Mortal Kombat X’s Kung Jin the series’ first gay character.
Even better, NetherRealm Studios handles Kung Jin’s “coming out” perfectly. Kung Jin’s sexuality isn’t a major part of his story; in fact, it’s only alluded to twice. The first time, thunder god Raiden briefly tells Kung Jin, “Self-loathing has always been an unfortunate part of your make-up.” Later, when Kung Jin says that he can’t join the Shaolin monks because “they won’t accept” him, Raiden answers, “They care about only what is in your heart; not whom your heart desires.”
That’s obtuse, but intentional: Mortal Kombat X cinematic director Dominic Cianciolo praised fans for “picking up on the subtle exposition contained in Kung Jin’s flashback.”
And why shouldn’t it be subtle? After all, Kung Jin’s place in Mortal Kombat X’s plot isn’t as the “gay character,” he’s a character that just happens to be gay. Kung Jin is a reformed thief, an archer, a monk, and a member of the Special Forces Unit. His sexual preference is a part of his character, but it’s not the only thing that defines him. That’s how it should be.
Homosexual representation in games still has a ways to go, but it’s getting better. Ellie from The Last of Us is a strong example of a queer character who wasn’t defined by her sexuality, and BioWare has always been fairly progressive regarding gender, race, and sexuality. Mortal Kombat has always handled gender and race fairly well, and it’s nice that they can now add sexuality to the list, too.
Mortal Kombat X is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. It’s coming to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 later this summer.