Submitted by on 18. February 2011 - 10:57
It’s clearly not the first time I stumbled over the assumption that the mainly heteronormative depiction of gaming characters causes “severe disconnections between player and avatar if the player identifies as a minority”.1
So maybe this seems “logical” at first, but the weird thing is that I can not really relate to that. The character might be male and hetero – as long as he looks good, I don’t have a problem with that. After all, most of the cultural products I consume now (and consumed in my childhood – books, films, plays) usually feature heterosexual couples. The world would look pretty bare if I set aside every medium that does not involve (exclusively) a minority.
So, instead of keeping the question “How does a girl gamer feel while playing as Mario, a stereotyped Italian male plumber in Mario Sunshine? How does a gay gamer feel while playing as Jack and being forced to marry a girl or live alone forever in Harvest Moon?” purely rhetoric, it might be time to ask people exactly that. Do they feel disconnected? Can’t they play a game because the main character isn’t gay, or female, or black? Or do they accept those figures as stand-ins, purely metaphoric representations to deal with the game mechanic, just as a board game token? As parts of a story, where the characters just happen to be male and straight? Or are they even able to transform those characters so they fit their own world view?
After all, the sheer number of slash fiction and images available on the internet featuring almost all of those normally “heteronormative” game characters in any possible combinations seems to suggest exactly that. The characters can behave in one way on-screen – but they are free to be filled with stories and assumptions off-screen. And this seems to be exactly what is happening.
Exactly those people that should feel “offended” probably invest the most time in those characters, by not just playing the games, but by inventing stories involving them, and creating fan art – that, obviously, might not exactly be canon … but then again, who says that the consumers have to stay slavishly within the canon? It would be wrong to think of fans as just consumers – they are always creators, too.2