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Video Games and Their Portrayal of the LGBTQIA+ Community


O P I N I O N – V I D E O  G A M E S


Fairuz Shams


For a long time now, mediums like books, video games, and movies have been serving as outlets for ideas, philosophies, beliefs, and contemporary issues to be brought forth to the consumer amidst its primary intention of providing entertainment. This happens because these mediums carry a powerful reflective ability that can effectively influence its consumer’s opinions and ideologies. And arguably, the medium that has the most potent track record in that context is video games. 

Now, video games are a relatively younger medium, especially when compared to books, movies, or TV shows. However, video games have easily been on par with the influenceability of these other agencies because of how easily it can engage the consumer. A video game allows the player to engage with it when they want to, without losing any of its ability to entertain. As a result, any form of content that may prove jarring to the player in another forum. They don’t feel the subliminal pressure of needing to finish it on their own volition since the game practically continues by itself while the player simply sits and plays when they feel like it. This is a big reason why it’s easiest to represent and show something in a video game that might not be as easy to put in something like a movie or tv show or book. And this, along with enormous popularity, has turned video games into a pioneer industry in terms of representation and exposure of contemporary ideologies and issues, along with diversity.

Now, video games serve as a platform where people are exposed to new elements through entertainment. Any one video game can attract any type of player, depending on what the creators put in their game. And while the entertainment part is what usually stands as the primary reason behind who plays what type of games (see, multiplayer games), the messages, ideas, and narrative presented also serve as an attraction for a fanbase. Many people like a good story and all the narrative elements it brings. And a new element thrown into that mix can more often get them to think rather than polarising them. And this ability to present something new without killing the audience response has made it an industry that triumphs over any other entertainment industry in a lot of countries.

Now, as the medium for representation it is, the community that video games have connected with the most is the LGBTQ+ community. While it is a fact that video games started their portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters like any other medium — through ridicule and portrayal as comic relief — it is also the medium that changed course faster than all the others. The first LGBTQ+ characters introduced and portrayed in video games were never explicitly identified. For example, a 1986 game called ‘Moonmist’ which was about a detective investigating ghosts in a castle, featured a scorned lover who is now thought to be the first lesbian character in a video game. But the very first official LGBTQ+ game was made in 1989 with the advent of the internet (or the World Wide Web according to contemporary speech), called ‘Caper in the Castro’. It had other contemporaries alongside it including a game called ‘Circuit’s Edge’ which featured a gay character and a trans character, and a 1992 release called ‘Gayblade’. Now, all these games with LGBTQ+ portrayal are examples of the thriving niches of the video games industry in the 80s and 90s, but there was still little to no representation of the LBTQ+ community in big companies like SEGA, Nintendo etc. 

And following this train of eventual inclusion, developers slowly started to include LGBTQ+ characters in their characters. But this inclusion was very maximal in terms of execution, with the character either bordering on caricature or having extremely subtle clues as to their orientation. But these tropes in making were diverted into nonexistence with the advent of the late 90s and 2000s. The video games industry started to change with both developers’ and consumers’ tastes. Some genres began hibernating, some started changing and new ones emerged. And the massively popular genre that surfaced back then is the role playing genre. The genre that gives you the ability to choose your own character and your own adventure. And the creative blank slate that this provided for developers allowed the changing mindsets regarding the LGBTQ+ community won by previous decades’ struggles a platform to be manifested on. And the game that ended up giving the player the ability to act out their orientation was ‘Fallout’ back in 1998. It allowed players to marry characters of the same gender as their avatar. After that came the ‘Sims’ series, ‘Dragon Age’ and ‘Mass Effect’, all of which are now considered platform definers in terms of genre-breaking and inclusivity.

With the studios coming forward and creating such products, portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters started changing from a discreet character hidden away in a small section of a game to larger and fully-fleshed characters that actually play a part in whatever the plot of the game is. Then came 2013’s ‘The Last Of Us’, a critically acclaimed widely popular game that had one of the main protagonists be LGBTQ+ without having said orientation take over the impact they have on the plot of the game, in short, somewhat of a ground-breaking portrayal. And alongside it was ‘The Walking Dead: Season Two’ with their portrayal of an LGBTQ+ couple, again, without having their orientation taking over the cruciality to the game’s plot. And with these titles, the portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters has reached a high that has no signs of slowing down any time soon.

All of this has been a massive upliftment for the LGBTQ+ community in real life. With contentment and appreciation for nuanced portrayals being a given within the community, it has also helped other people understand and perceive without misconceptions or stigmas. And the acceptance of LGBTQ+ portrayals has also helped other industries with their portrayal by becoming a green light and something of a guide for nuanced and layered portrayals. Overall, video games have been a positive and accommodating platform for the LGBTQ+ people by being a precursor to their portrayal in fiction and media while forging a path for other mediums to take in terms of doing the same. 

 


Fairuz Shams would rather solve non-existent crises in the middle of the night than get a good night’s sleep.

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