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?
Robert Yang stumbled over a quote by Jim Sterling recently:
Jim Sterling: "Arcade Gannon’s sexuality isn’t a big deal, and that’s how videogames should play it."
... and it made him not exactly happy:
The argument that [all] gay video game characters should downplay their sexuality might be well intentioned, but is ultimately representative of the most dangerous kind of homophobia -- a homophobia wrapped in intellectualism, appearing "tolerant."
True, sexuality isn't the only thing that defines a person -- but for the vast majority of LGBT people, I would argue that it's a crucial part of personal identity. To insist that effeminate gay men are "camping it up" and should just "be normal" is homophobia. [...]
Sterling is proposing selective blindness and a glass closet for ALL gay characters in ALL games as a model to emulate. Yeah, stay invisible and don't make a fuss! That always works.
I must admit, that I'm pretty fed up by the mostly campy portrayals of gays in games (when they make they final cut, that is), so I would tend to go with Jim Sterling's advice when designing games myself right now, but yes:
For every silent shoegazer hipster gay who "you'd never think", we also need a muscle queen dancing in a peacock speedo on top of a Ferrari. Because they're gay too.
Go read the whole article, because it provides a balanced view on an important debate.
And it should be an issue.
Or: How Much Are We Letting Reality Getting Into the Way When Designing Games?
Yes, by now Robert Yang's article about the gay plot in Dragon Age has made the rounds elsewhere, but I think the issue is important enough to warrant publishing it here as well.
So, Robert Yang mods Dragon Age so his male character can play out the romance plot with another male character, Alistair – something, which only can be done by modding the game, even though the dialogue is surprisingly gender neutral. All is perfect, until ...
It's the age-old stereotype of the annoyed husband and the nagging wife, except the therapist clearly doesn't say "wife" or "husband." She says "partner." Other than the use of masculine pronouns for both spouses, the therapist's utterance of "partner" is the only word in the only line of dialogue in the entire game that directly suggests a gay relationship. There are no references to rainbows, Stonewall, Lady Gaga, Project Runway, Broadway musicals or how "beer tastes icky." Why, if you had happened to miss the word "partner," you may have missed the fact that "Handle With Care" is about a gay relationship at all.
You might have, as some players did, invented a female persona for your player character and assumed it was the same young "lady" dating Dylan from my previous mod, "Polaris." And then you would find out, whether from seeing the name "James" so often or from reading forum posts - that I had managed to "trick" you into playing as a homosexual male. Perhaps that made you angry enough to go to my website and, with the proud honor of being the first to post a comment on my work, you may have hastily written the following post: "Re relese [sic] the game without the GAY!"
My response, then and still now, is: "Why on Earth would I do that?"
Maybe because of the fact that there are almost no gay characters in the gaming worlds as a whole?