When you’re not playing as a typical main character, some gruff bearded bloke, you’re playing as a rougher, tougher lumberjack man with abs of steel. But what if he had a cute boyfriend sidekick?
Whether it be that developers are scared of having any form of diversity in their shiny, new game to experience a precedented backlash from bigotted keyboard warriors, or that LGBT characters are ignored is unclear. Over the past couple of years, however, the amount of playable LGBT characters has steadily grown.
The aspect of choice is a major factor in defining a character’s sexuality in gaming nowadays, homosexuality is rarely forced on a playable character like heterosexuality is. In Undertale your decisions can determine whether two major characters in the game pursue a relationship. Bonus, the main character you control has no defined gender, thus allowing the player to interpret this for themselves.
Life Is Strange seemed to gain the biggest fanbase throughout last year. First released in October 2014, the five-episode series revolved around a time-rewinding student, Max and her old best friend, Chloe, with both characters implied as bisexual. Based on the players’ choices, in certain situations, they could further their relationship. Having this option turned a game that tackled taboo subjects while being filled with awkward teenage slang into a fan favourite. It even won a jury voted ‘Games For Impact’ award at The Game Awards in 2015. Life Is Strange is probably the strongest example of a game taking risks paying off.
Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division became one of the most hyped games of all time after a three-year period of trailers and gameplay. It ended up being one of the least risk-takey games ever, with obvious shoot-em-ups and saturated post-apocalyptic setting. The one slight risk they did take, according to an entire forum, was one of the doctors mentioning in passing that she had an ex-wife.
This is the part in The Division offending some gamers; apparently characters should never mention loved ones? pic.twitter.com/n5CUjZ9WKw
— end comment sections (@tauriqmoosa) March 13, 2016
Not only is it the fact that people took offence to this, but it’s that moments earlier, another NPC had mentioned that his wife was swallowed by the city or whatever. As soon as there’s a smidgeon of something a lil’bit gay in a triple-A game like The Division, there’s an ocean of people screaming heteronormativity-type things. Dr Kandel wasn’t even a playable character, yet this one sentence stirred up a great amount of controversy.
Pleasing the community always has a major sway during the development process, but how far can you go to cater for fans that can never be pleased? If an LGBT character features in a game, there are two ways to go about it. The developers can really drill it home, or it can just be implied in a subtle manner.
The biggest game of 2013, The Last of Us, featured a gay character. Unbeknownst to some in the first 15 hours of gameplay, it’s one of the two lead characters. It takes until the DLC, The Last of Us: Left Behind, a year later to reveal that Ellie is gay, as Ellie’s creator Neil Druckmann had always planned. The game sees her in a moment without bearded companion, Joel, with flashbacks to her time before him with her friend, Riley. Whether this wasn’t explicitly implied in the main game on purpose as a very sneaky tactic to avoid deterring its audience, or if it was put on the back burner to further the plot in Left Behind is debatable.
But it was one of the few AAA games that had an interesting DLC storyline, so it was most probably the latter. Nevertheless, The Last of Us is one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time and the fact that one of the two lead characters is gay was a big leap forward for video games.
The LGBT agenda has even spread to the monotonous Assassin’s Creed franchise. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate not only has one of the two playable characters being bisexual (and they’ve figured out how to animate a woman), but there’s a transgender character. Without cramming it down people’s throats too! Ned Wynert is described in the usual historical segment of the stealth/beat the shit out of everyone game, as a transgender businessman.
His gender doesn’t become a plot point, as he’s more of a quest-giving character and suave dressing soul. What it did do was incite a change for the staple title card of Assassin’s Creed from Ubisoft. “This game was developed by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs.”, was changed to, “Inspired by historical events and characters, this work of fiction was designed, developed, and produced by a multicultural team of various beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities.” Having Ned’s trans status as a matter of fact situation rather than something they tiptoe around is a commendable move for advancing with LGBT characters.
The keyboard warriors of the internet world will preach that social justice warriors are getting their way. But these characters only represent a small chunk in the much bigger world of heteronormative video games. It’s all well and good having LGBT characters in the background, but having them as a main, playable character would be even better. Just imagine playing as some kickass, lesbian treasure-hunter in a sequel to the Uncharted series or a trans guy soldier in the next Call of Duty.
LGBT representation needs to stop being a taboo in the gaming. If anything, all these main characters need to stop being white, bearded men with a troubled past dressed in a distressed flannel shirt. Games like Life Is Strange and Undertale need to be more of a thing. Their respective successes prove that taking a risk of upsetting the minority of the gaming community can pay off, with attracting an entirely different community. Impressing new masses is a lot more deserving of praise, than trying to oblige for the disgruntled few.