Gaming, Government, and Sexuality, an Unlikely and Necessary Trio
Alright, this is a bit of a doozy post, so bear with me. As the title implies, this post will talk about LGBT topics, so if those topics are a source of discomfort for you, fair warning has been given. Everything here is my opinion and my thoughts, and it is not my intention to insult or flame anyone, only to present MY thoughts.
So without further ado~ Gaming, Government, and Sexuality. These are not subjects often intertwined all together… if ever. Sure, government and gaming have run into one another now and then, as well as government and sexuality becoming a hot issue in regards to marriage equality. However, looking at all three together is another thing entirely. A thing that, at its core, is about games as a tool for social progress, because the government alone is not enough.
Again, let me make something clear really fast; I don’t intend to in any way suggest some sort of gay social coup d’état. My intention and hope is to see games help normalize homosexuality, a facet of society that is still considered socially unorthodox, and even socially hated.
Recently I had the opportunity to work at the Maryland State House, and I happened to be there during the fight of the decade; the passing of a marriage equality bill. I heard a lot of moving speeches and a lot forceful debate, all in an effort to make Maryland the eighth state to legalize same sex marriage. By the end of the experience, however, I came out with a feeling that, really, the fight has just begun. (don’t worry, the games are coming!)
Simply put, for all the lobbying and debating the government does to make a single, powerful law, it is not enough to ensure real social change. Law can not kill prejudice. What’s more, there are still 42 states that have not made progress in marriage equality, as the majority of this country is steeped in a conservative belief that true love is dependent on gender, or at the very least, that separate but equal is OK. Separate but equal is inherently unequal, and love is a personal emotion that can only be judged from within. Nobody but individuals can hold it in judgment.
Ultimately, however, this is an issue rooted in the people. This is not about “good” people and “bad” people, it’s about the way people feel about homosexuality, something that is largely foreign in many people’s lives, or a simply viewed as wrong. The real goal is that, eventually, homosexuality will not be an uncomfortable subject. One day people will not be scared to express their same-sex emotions. One day, in every part of the world, a gay or lesbian couple can hold hands in a public park without a single scrutinizing glance from anyone else, because what they have is perfectly fine.
This is where games come in. A few weeks ago I wrote about my idea for an MMRCG, or Massively Multiplayer Reality Changing Game, to show how a new genre of video game could have real world effects. Well, the same can, and even has been done, with existing video games and social change. Nothing large scale, mind you, but perhaps that’s exactly what’s needed for this issue. In order to “normalize” homosexuality, it needs to be displayed in a normal context. Suffice it to say, the media (games, books, TV, etc.) plays a huge role in this process. If being gay is a perfectly OK thing in the media, people will be more willing to accept it that way in reality as well. Not “Gay is Good!” Not “Gay is Bad!” Not “Gay is Different!” But “Gay is OK.”
Unfortunately, the majority of the gaming industry has had little in its history to help. Quite frankly, stereotypes and corporate themes of homosexuality as a NoNo or a crude joke in video games has been prevalent in the industry since the beginning. The typical trend has been blocking anything mildly suggestive regarding homosexuality from being sold, or worse; using sexuality stereotypes to make jokes. The best example of this unfortunate corporate attitude? Look no further than my beloved World of Warcraft, and the parent developer: Activision Blizzard Inc.
In 2006, a European guild was recruiting on the basis of providing a gay friendly social atmosphere in WoW. The guild leader, however, was soon banned from the game because her recruitment was considered harassment of sexual orientation. Furthermore, Blizzard said, “We have determined that advertising sexual orientation is not appropriate for the high fantasy setting of the World of Warcraft and is therefore not permitted.” Words like “homosexual” and “transsexual” were also filtered in the profanity game chat for which Blizzard stated such language often led to “harassment,” but not the words “gay” and “faggot” which are too often thrown around with all the finesse of the Hindenburg in AND out of gaming. The harassment rule was in place to protect the straight population, not the LGBT community.
Finally, in regards to stereotypes, WoW has the ever so haughty blood elves. A race that, while respectable and rich in story like the rest, also has the male elves say things like “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?” The blood elves do, at the very least, suggest stereotypes that aren’t particularly useful, and once again portray gay as a joke.
For the record, Blizzard has since allowed gay friendly guilds to recruit after the issue went public, as well as removed “homosexual” and “transsexual” from the filter. They have made it clear they are not ”anti-gay” or anything of the sort. Still, the gaming industry needs to move forward, and things like this just slow it down.
Recently, however, there has been a force on the rise doing, well, exactly what I think the gaming industry should be doing; presenting homosexuality as a valid, no-big-deal option. By doing so, games become a force for social normalization of homosexuality, they help create the public image that homosexuality is an existing and valid feeling and lifestyle.
Games such as Bethesda’s Skyrim and the Fable franchise have taken big steps in this direction. Both games allow players to marry anyone they wanted to within the game, including characters of the same gender. To this end, both games’ developers have stated that it shouldn’t be a huge deal; it’s simply a choice players should be able to make, it’s just that simple. No stereotypes about gay relationships, no “better or worse”, no hesitation that it will cut sales or cause outcries; the option is there because, for the player, it should be. Just as in reality, the option should be there for people. The soon to be released BioWare title, Mass Effect 3, also allows the player the option to have a relationship with a character of the same gender, stating:
We let players take on a role and really immerse themselves on how they feel they want to be playing the game, be true to that. Be true to your ideal of a game of choice.
as well as:
There’s something about the tonality and how we present it, we don’t kind of snicker and make fun of it. It’s like a serious part of a serious game. The game itself obviously has humorous elements, but the actual relationships are dealt with in a mature and very adult way.
So yea. What they said.
The upcoming MMO Guild Wars 2 also demonstrates this attitude in its own way through the Sylvari, an elf-like race whose romantic feelings are described as being unlimited by typical gender roles, and are capable of feeling love and passion towards whomever they feel they should. It’s OK to be a gay Sylvari, and it’s no big deal.
When people play in a game that portrays this idea, and when there are a lot of games that portray this idea, people start to accept the idea. When people start to accept the idea in media such as games, they start to slowly accept the idea in real life too. Thus, games can make a real world impact simply by being progressively passively OK with the gay.
Let’s tie it all together. While I was working in the State House, I decided to do some research on this very matter regarding sexuality and gaming. This was the result:
“Your page is blocked due to a security policy that prohibits access to Category Games”
The above quoted text was received after I tried to access WoW Insider, Joystiq, Massively, and like, every other informative site “Category Games.” The power behind this censorship was the Maryland Legislative Library I was researching from. Now, I don’t want to make a big issue out of a single, relatively small incident. Still, how can we make progressive social change if our government (at least state government, federal is at least catching on a bit) still refuses to consider gaming as little more than a silly pastime worthy of being censored? Games are bigger now than any other media industry.
Gaming is no joke, just as homosexuality should not be considered a joke in games. It is not our government’s place to hold an old and false mentality that games don’t matter. It is our government’s place to do everything it can to be an effective force for the good of society, and be indiscriminate towards that goal. If games are a way to help the very goal people in the government are fighting for, it seems blatantly foolish to ignore them. Law is only half the battle. The other half is the people, and games that give players the option to love as they wish can help win that struggle.
The government, at least in Maryland and eight other states, is trying to make social progress and change. Social progress and change, however, relies on more than just stone cut law, it relies on the people’s feelings. Games can play a vital role in helping change those feelings.
Ding! You’ve leveled up! Please see your local librarian for training.
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