Tuesday, June 26, 2012

So, how would you 'translate the gay experience' into video games?

If you have a few minutes this morning, and if you're at all interested in the subject of gay characters and storylines in video games, you may want to check out an interesting article that was published at 1up.com yesterday.

The article in question, which was written by Cassandra Khaw, focuses on how designer, developer and writer Robert Yang thinks the "gay experience" can be translated into the gaming sphere.

A few choice quotes for those of you who may be unsure as to whether or not you want to click on the link above:

* Yang says one reason developers should include gay characters and storylines in their games is that "if I can't escape from reality through video games, [heterosexual people] shouldn't either."

* While talking about BioWare's games in particular, Yang quips that "sex is the result of talking to an NPC, saying pleasant things to them, then watching some barely PG-13 dry humping. I doubt that's how most people think of sex. Sex is one of the most compelling interactions in the realm of human experience, and the best we can do is a cut scene that you get by (easily) manipulating others?"

* As for how Yang would like to see developers deal with this topic: He shares, at one point, that instead of saying "this is how [LGBT] relationships are," game makers would say something like "this is how a transgender person dealt with body image at this particular time and place." A good game about relationships or sexuality, he adds, "will actually question how it goes about abstracting it."

Do I agree with the assertions Yang makes in this article? For the most part, yes. Although I can understand, somewhat, why many developers and publishers continue to shy away from making games that feature, say, openly gay protagonists, I think only the most disingenuous person would argue that's the only option for the folks interested in creating more LGBT-friendly titles.

Personally, I'd be happy if developers began by spending a bit more time thinking about who will play the games they make. Maybe if they realized that some of the people who buy and enjoy their products are gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or transgender--or, hell, even straight women or folks of either gender who aren't white--they'd find it much easier to make all-inclusive games.

Those are just my thoughts on this topic, though; what are yours?


Kimimi said...

We definitely need a wider variety of people from all races/preferences/cultures both in games and making them. However for whatever reason most (not all, of course) games still struggle to represent a straight white male as anything other than a He-Man style power fantasy, so I don't think there's much hope for the immediate future :/

Bryan Ochalla said...

Sadly, I agree with you, Kimimi :( How can we expect game devs to do a good job of portraying LGBT people -- or straight women, or people of any gender who are not white -- in their wares when they rarely do a good job of portraying straight, white men in them?

I do hold out hope that things will improve, though. It may take a while -- OK, a long while -- but I think we'll get there (or get close to 'there') eventually.

Marcus said...

I find this statement gets me thinking a lot, although not just about LGBT people: "sex is the result of talking to an NPC, saying pleasant things to them, then watching some barely PG-13 dry humping."

This is a very true statement and it is true across the board. Every sexual interaction in games seems to fall into this trap of being a reward. A minigame. Something that isn't truly meaningful for the player. I really wish it could be because it isn't impossible. Films and books can do it and so games should be able to just as well.

If anything, I think that a lot of the reason we mostly get short little scenes that flash around is because developers are scared of their game not getting an M rating. So, like how some films will self censor to get a specific rating so are games (since you can't even have AO games on store shelves - no one will stock them). It's a shame but if we want to move forward with sex in games we're going to have to overhaul the ESRB to get it more in line with film regulation, or something else since the MPAA has its own problems (such as giving same-sex scenes in films a harder time than straight ones).

I was trying to think if any games have a sex scene which I felt was meaningful and I came up with Killer7. It's not necessarily a sex scene, you can't really tell what it is, but it is an abusive scene and it was scary. Even though you only see it for a brief moment it really scared me and as such has stuck with me for a long time. Granted, I was 15 at the time, but still. It kind of reminds me of the impact that the "famous" scene in Blue Velvet had on me. So, to me that shows that films and movies are not so far apart in the way we react to them so meaningful (and positive) sex scenes in games should be completely doable. Developers just need to stop dodging around the ESRB or something.

That has nothing to do really with gay or straight relationships in particular but that line just got me talking, lol. Overall though yes we need more experiences showcased in games because everyone plays games. Even if it were true that only straight guys played games they would still benefit from seeing other experiences. It's often through media that people will "learn" and familiarize themselves with others different from themselves.

Bryan Ochalla said...

Hey there, Marcus! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think your comments are very relevant, by the way, as they look at the issue of how relationships and sex, in general, are addressed in games.

Like you said here, and as Robert Yang suggested in the 1up article, currently relationships and sex, in particular, in games aren't handled well at all. At best, they are stilted and awkward, IMO.

I do think game devs could do a better job of depicting them, although I'm honestly not sure how they can or will go about doing so. I guess this is an example of how it's easy to be a critic -- when you don't have to put your words into action, etc.

Anyway, I wouldn't at all be surprised to learn that the ESRB is at least one of the things holding back game devs when it comes to depicting relationships and sex on screen. I also have a feeling, though, that many devs just don't have the ability to depict these things in a game with any sort of depth or nuance. Thankfully, I know SOME devs are capable of such things, so I guess we'll just have to wait for them to step up to the plate, so to speak.

I think that's what we'll have to wait for when it comes to depicting and including LGBT characters and storylines in games, too. People like Yang and Anna Anthropy and Christine Love and others are leading the way, of course, but others eventually will have to step up, too, and show how they think this kind of thing should be done.

Hopefully we won't have to wait too long for them to do it, although I have a feeling we will...

Viewtiful_Justin said...

This is a huge cookie of a topic, and I think I might take a tiny nibble and say that even BROACHING the topic is pretty innovative for 90% of the gaming world. Personally, I'd love to see the option to marry whomever you choose in a Harvest Moon game, or to pursue romantic exploits with any gender of NPC in an RPG (which there have been great strides in, recently) or even something as banal as making a character gay and NOT a stereotype, even if it's not a focal character. If video games treated is as no big deal, maybe it might help others to realize it's really no big deal.

Viewtiful_Justin said...

*treated it* Damn you, not proofreading!

Bryan Ochalla said...

Justin: Oh, I agree that even broaching the topic these days is still pretty innovative. Also, I think any dev that broaches the subject -- even unsuccessfully -- deserves praise at this point. Well, as long as they don't broach it in an offensive or hateful way, of course.

I also agree with how you'd like to see some game devs tackle this subject in their wares. It really can't be that difficult to make it so your male Harvest Moon character can marry another male, can it?

Finally, I, too, think sometimes treating LGBT characters and storylines and issues in games in a somewhat nonchalant manner would be a good thing.

I personally wouldn't want this to always be the case, as I'd love to see some overtly "gay games," but once in a while would be OK -- and likely would help some people (straight gamers, especially) acclimate to such a possibility.

Unknown said...

Video Games are a huge part of our culture these days. Like movies before them, games are not only sources of entertainment but they are also becoming conversation pieces for more intellectual and controversial topics.

The way I see it the best way to get something accepted into society is to normalize it. Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony does this remarkably well. The fact that the protagonists' boss was gay was briefly mentioned but not focused on. Being gay was just normal. At the same time the game was breaking the stereotype that to be homosexual is to be a coward. Tony didn't like violence, neither do most normal people, but when necessary he wasn't afraid to get blood on his hands.

Of the 5 or so games you expect to find in a typical straight white males gaming collection, Grand Theft Auto is one of them. So to see Rockstar know their audience and attempt to show them another side of the LGBT community is fantastic.

I think other game developers and publishers could take a page out of Rockstars book.

The breaking stereotypes page I mean not the blowing up grannies with cocaine-propelled-prostitutes page.

Retr0gamer said...

I think writing in videogames needs to get an awful lot better before developers should approach relationships and sex let alone gay relations. I've found the sex scenes and how to reach them in Bioware's games and Heavy Rain to name some examples to be frankly embarassing. There's a few games that do it right like Catherine and a handful of indie games but really they are exceptions to the norm.

There's too many people in the industry that think they are good writers when really they should working with people with real writing experience. Look at what that did for Earthbound and Mother 3 and also Ken Levines output, he started as a failed film scriptwriter.

In terms or gay relationships being well represented in games all I can think of is Kanji in Persona 4 and it's not really indicated if he is gay or not or if it's just an identity crisis he is going through.

Bryan Ochalla said...

John: Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I agree, for the most part at least, that normalizing LGBT people is one direction for game developers to go, especially for "the masses." Personally, I'd also like to see some games that are more "in your face" and perhaps aimed directly at the LGBT community, although I know such games are likely to be few and far between (at least for the near future).

Bryan Ochalla said...

Retr0gamer: I agree with you, too. I think the right writers would need to be involved for this to be successful. Like I said earlier, some LGBT game designers and devs have been able to produce interesting and thoughtful results, so it's clear it can be done, but you need the right people involved.

MattMyx said...

Part of the problem with sex, gay straight or otherwise, in games in general is it has little to do with the actual "game" part. Even in heavily story driven games "sex" is an indicator of "success" on the player's part for navigating a preset "relationship" challenge. Merely part of story and nothing else.

Someone will have to come up with a game that has really good reason for you to "play" through a sex scene for reasons other then titillation for a sex scene to be more then just widow dressing or a hallow attempt at pushing the "envelope".

The interaction part of a game is what separates them from other all media and as such the rules are quite different and still being written for that matter.

Bryan Ochalla said...

Very interesting insights, MattMyx. Thank you for sharing them!

Given what you said in your first paragraph, especially, I wonder if one possibility is that maybe games should shy away from sex scenes?

Or, maybe us gamers just need to be patient with game devs that choose to include them in their games -- you know, until they figure out a better way to depict them and to include them within the fabric of their games.

Personally, I'm more interested in seeing game designers, developers and writers get better at dealing with and depicting relationships in their games.

Unfortunately, perfecting that isn't going to be any easier than perfecting gaming sex scenes, is it?

J said...

Absolutely i agree with what you say at the end--why must it always be a fukn marky mark hetero hero with blonde or brown hair. Every game that is lauded as daring and innovative ultimately bores me because it boils down to very conventional storytelling tropes, the struggle of the very specifically heterosexual white boring hero, and there's always a distancing for me because of it. Heavy Rain Uncharted Silent Hill Bioshock i'm fucking looking at you

Bryan Ochalla said...

Ah, you and me both, J! It certainly would be nice if writers and designers would move away from such tropes as much as possible in the coming years. Sadly, I don't have much confidence in that happening :(