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When gay dinosaurs ruled the earth


Since everyone around here is allowed to pimp their writing from other places, and because Bill mentioned that I should as well, I’m hereby linking my latest Getting Some Play column from AfterEllen.com, wherein I attempted to tackle the whole bizarro “issue” that came from IGN writer Jack DeVries writing “Fake or Gay”, a blog post that pondered the sexuality of both Yoshi and Turok (you know, the Dinosaur Hunter).

Now, I don’t think the post was meant to be taken as seriously as it was — but the whole thing was incredibly bizarre. While I do encourage you to go over to the site and give it a read (its pretty brief), here’s the main take away from my post:

“While it seems a little silly that it took a post about digital gay dinosaurs to get people talking about the representation of LGBT characters in games, it’s at least good to see some conversation on the topic. My hope is that other queer game writers at major sites will get the chance — and have the courage — to approach the topic in the future.”

On the top of my wish list for the next decade in gaming are a few stereotype-free LGBT characters in mainstream, well-liked titles. What better way to show an increasing maturity in the industry?

Do I want all games to be all things to all people? Of course not. But I certainly do think minority representation in a mainstream, large-scale entertainment form is a valid, worthwhile topic. Even though DeVries went about it in a rather strange way, I would like to see the topic handled in the future (maybe just with a little less prehistoric camp involved).

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Danielle Riendeau

What I do for work: spend my days as the ACLU design/code/video ninja, write about games, make (tiny) games, teach digital media at Northeastern University. What I do for fun: all of the above, plus lots of running, fitness fun, filmmaking, outdoor exploration, world travel, sci-fi everything.

19 thoughts to “When gay dinosaurs ruled the earth”

  1. Back when I managed a big corporate record store that took used trade-ins, we had this guy come in that had this huge box of Judas Priest CDs. He was trading them because (in his words) he found out that Rob Halford was a “faggot”, and he didn’t listen to “faggot” music. Umm…OK, I guess he missed the leatherboy stuff, “living after midnight”, and all the gay subtexts in his lyrics and persona. And that “British Steel” is a freaking great record.

    What would happen if a big-name developer or publisher came out of the closet? What if someone like one of the Call of Duty creators came out said “yep, I’m gay, proud of it”? Would there be reactions like that? Certainly there are plenty of men and women working in games that are gay…do they feel that they can’t step forward because of the 18-25 hetero male attitude that has a stranglehold on gaming?

    But now, we have all of these ultra-macho “I’m so hetero” men and boys playing these ultra-homoerotic video games about male power and male camradarie, squirreling up anytime the idea of gay characters or themes are suggested in games, and engaging in what amounts to middle school locker room talk about being gay, what gays do, you’re gay, that’s gay, whatever. Because, you know, they have to prove to themselves that there’s nothing homoerotic about wrestling, football, Call of Duty, or whatever.

    It’s pathetic. In order for games to transition completely into the larger culture they have to embrace the possibility of _normal_ gay characters and situations that aren’t awkward, weird, or embarassing. Gay Tony doesn’t cut it.

    There is a huge issue involved however, and it’s that the heterosexual male ego is involved and with games that ego is closer to the medium than with books, music, or film, If the character that is “you” in a FPS, for example, is gay then that makes you vicariously gay in the context of the game. And that would cause rednecks and other insecure types to flip the fuck out.

    Of course, the irony is that if you completely transpose “African American” with “Gay”, then all of the sudden it’s racism, prejudice, and hate. But marginalizing gays in games- whether in the content or in the playing of them- is still completely accessible.

    And that’s one of the things that’s keeping games from moving into a larger position of cultural uptake. It is about increasing maturity in the industry, and demonstrating that games aren’t just for 18-25, foulmouthed boys.

    It’s sad that an article about Yoshi brought this up, that’s as pathetic as arguing about the sexuality of the Teletubbies. But what that does is that it gives people who are afraid to talk about it a safety zone- because it’s about a cartoon dinosaur, not real people.

  2. I’m glad this topic got a posting here. I saw a reference to the “Fake or Gay” article appear in the Twitter feed here on NHS, but I couldn’t find the original piece.

    When it comes to LGBT characters in mainstream, well-liked titles, I think Kanji Tatsumi in Atlus’ Persona 4 is a good place to start. His sexual orientation is actually relevant to his story — unlike Yoshi or Turok — and despite what *appears* to be terrible homophobic stereotyping early on, one of the game’s major themes is that society’s assumptions do not define who you really are. There was a real sense of resolution to his inner turmoil, particularly after completing his Social Link, and I felt like those nasty slurs were left far behind.

  3. I’d have far less respect for a developer if their staff decided they felt the need to wave a “gay and proud” flag about the place. I’m fine you’re comfortable with your sexuality, but I honestly don’t care if you’re gay, straight or the multitude of gray areas in between. I just want to play games. You feeling the need to tell me this extra crap is just wasting my time.

    If you want to put a gay character in your game, then go nuts. Slap that stuff in there. But for the love of God make it believable, and don’t force it down my bloody throat.

    The demographic isn’t the thing holding the placement of gay characters in games, in my opinion. It’s developers relying on stupid stereotypes to get the idea across. If it’s done right, it’s fantastic. If it’s done wrong, it can ruin the experience for everyone.

    Case in point for me, Irish characters. You want an Irish character, then get an Irish voice actor, or at least someone who can pull off an Irish accent, and not this weird American Irish voice that tries to go all Toura Loura and Faith and begora. Atlas from Bioshock is an example of a fantastic Irish accent. Ewan from Mercenaries 2 is….well……not. I’m on the fence about Irish in Red Dead. He leans into “bad” for his accent but “good” for his mannerisms.

  4. I applaud your great insight. And I definitely appreciate the irony in the fact that FPS games that “18-25, foulmouthed boys” play are very homoerotic. In your own words: “It’s a story about an all-male world where relationships are centered around displays of machismo and male prowess, and these relationships get broken by betrayal and interfering powers. There isn’t even a woman to save or a suggestion that any of these characters do anything in their lives other than oil their muscles and guns to impress other men.”

    Keep up the good work.

  5. Oh, I agree with you Labreya…but we’re so, so very far away from a social environment (at least in the US) where being gay isn’t even an “issue”, let alone one that would warrant less outspoken or reactionary responses. True integration doesn’t happen until there’s a gay character and his or her sexuality is no more a conversation point than the color of their socks- unless there’s a thematic reason, like the Persona example above.

    It’s a good point that games writers may not be either mature or skilled enough to convey character and personality without resorting to stereotypes…but if a big percentage of your audience are those 18-25 year old “fag h8ers”…whaddya do?

  6. Do you think they’d feel the need to hate on a character for being gay if it wasn’t rubbed in their face? You don’t make a huge deal about it and people won’t feel threatened by it. And yes, homosexuality does make people feel threatened. That’s something I feel the LGBT community needs to come to terms with more than the “straight” community.

    It’s not a bad thing to not like gay people. It’d be great of gay people could be treated just as everyone else, but at the same time a lot of the gay community expect to be loved by everyone which is just unfair.

    I’d say a lot of these “fag h8ers” wouldn’t be so aggressive if they weren’t forced by sections of society to accept something they just don’t like. A lot of people get demonized just because they’re not able to say “I’m not comfortable with this. I don’t like this.” without someone telling them they’re a homophobe. I’d be pissed as all hell at the LGBT community if I was in their shoes. They want me to respect their viewpoint, but they won’t respect mine? It’s the definition of hypocrisy.

    I’ve had religious people tell me I’m sick and a heathen for being an atheist. They are usually genuinely shocked when I say “It’s fine that you feel that way. Thank you for being honest with me.” because usually all they get is abuse back, and the aggression is a front perpetuated by bad past experiences. It’s just a defense mechanism because they’re in a position where they have to interact with something that makes them uncomfortable. Given the option to say “I don’t like this” usually breaks the routine of back and forth abuse.

    Yes, there will always be a few bad apples, but that’s life. That’s humanity. Some people just enjoy being mean. Best you can do is ignore them.

    I also think you put too much weight on this 18-25 homophobic demographic. You’re latching onto a vocal minority. I’d hazard that the reality is the majority of 18-25 year olds couldn’t give a damn. They just don’t care. They’re like me. They just want well written, well developed games that aren’t chock full of bullshit and stereotypes.

    You know what developers should do? Put on their big boy pants and make the games THEY want to make. Pitch the ideas THEY are comfortable with. Don’t try and cobble together something you’re just not comfortable doing just because you want to hit as many demographics as possible. An attitude like that gets us a world full of Ewan and not enough Atlas.

    Above all, both developers and consumers have to realise that it’s just as ok to NOT like something as it is to be comfortable with it. You just can’t please all of the people all of the time. People should be able to say if they don’t like something, and a lot of people who are uncomfortable with homosexuals just aren’t given that option. To me, that’s just as big an injustice as not portraying homosexual characters realisticly in a game.

  7. Lebreya, I’d counter your last paragraph with something Michael said above:

    “Of course, the irony is that if you completely transpose “African American” with “Gay”, then all of the sudden it’s racism, prejudice, and hate. But marginalizing gays in games- whether in the content or in the playing of them- is still completely accessible.”

    I don’t think a hateful viewpoint is a respectable one, period — by definition.

  8. I like the freedom and I really don’t understand how people can be uncomfortable with playing a gay character or feel that becuase there is a gay character it’s being “shoved down their throat”. It’s just a character and if I were honest I’d say that many of the characters I’ve played in games over the years were plain old bad people. Running over digital dudes for no good reason, shooting kids playing skipping rope since techno cop for the Genesis. So to make an issue out of playing a gay character (where there should be no moral judgement whatsoever) and to give a free pass to murder seems really odd to me.

    But I also think that Mike is overstating his case. Just because the men in a CoD game don’t ever hang out with women and spend all their time together in bortherly love doesn’t mean there has to be a sexual undertone to it. Oh, it’s fun to tease someone about it using some fancy rhetoric simply because you know their uncomfortable about it and it’s funny but in reality there is absolutely no reason to bring sex into the picture. It’s a problem I have with our culture these days, everything is about sex all the time. That volley ball scene in Top Gun is supposedly ultra homoerotic now. It’s just muscley men playin sports, why do we have to bring sex into it?

    As far as realism and stereotypes. To hell with that. I am sick of video games proving to me how realistic they can be and I don’t care about stereotypes either. Stereotypes can be used well, the writing/story decides how well it’s executed, not the notion that you’ve seen this character before. It’s all about context and I would be loathe to say that I would cut off any artistic device from a developer. Care about what your doing and make a good game, the rest should fall into place if you do that properly. They make warnings for a reason.

  9. “I don’t think a hateful viewpoint is a respectable one”

    Yet so many in the gay community get away with hating people who just aren’t comfortable around homosexuals. Funny, that.

    I’d also counter your counter by saying that I think some people just aren’t comfortable around black people. However they have to stay in the closet about their feelings because by opening their mouth and saying “I’m just not cool with this” they’re suddenly a racist and a monster. That’s completely supported by modern society. The paragraph you quoted is just as much a reflection on the people calling others a racists as it does people with racist tendencies.

    For the record, I do believe all people have some racial tendencies in them. Even if it’s not actively treating others differently, we all play favourites.

    They’re forced to hide their feelings away because society will take a big dump on them and treat them differently if they say anything. Sound familiar?

    To me, it’s on par with someone saying “I’m just not comfortable with spiders” and society going “I’m comfortable with spiders. Get over it! Jesus, whats wrong with you. Are you sick in the head?! You’re obviously a horrible person!”.

    The end game should be that everyone is able to cooperate comfortably. The guy who isn’t comfortable with gays, or black people or white people should be able to say “I’m sorry. If I act weird, it’s because you make me uncomfortable. It’s not your fault, it’s just my problem.” without getting abuse hurled at him. Maybe if he wasn’t treated like crap by the opposing side he’d be able to work to get over his issues.

    But hey, the other side is going to treat him like crap. Why should he go the extra mile to resolve his issue for assholes?

    As for the “marginalising gays in games is still accessible”, they’re marginalised because people just aren’t comfortable doing it, so they don’t. If they were comfortable with it, I’d say they’d go right ahead. Most other times, it doesn’t even matter. It’s not applicable in the vast, vast majority of games. Nobody needs to know if characters are gay if it isn’t important to the plot, and if it IS important to the plot either do it realisticly or don’t do it, and most developers don’t know how to do it realisticly. If most can’t even get something as simple as an Irish voice actor for an Irish character right, how are they supposed to manufacture believable, gay characters?

  10. “Tolerance for the Intolerant” is a terrible argument. Ignorance and bigotry are not protected rights. A person’s “discomfort” with the existence of gay people does not supersede their right to exist, their right to pursue happy relationships with one another, or their right to have those relationships recognized and protected by the government that represents them.

    You wrote above, “homosexuality does make people feel threatened.” Can you expand on that a bit? Speaking as a long-time and thoroughly vetted member of the group known as “People,” I can assure you that I feel significantly more threatened by a pot of boiling water than by the concept that some people are gay. Let’s start by exploring which one you’d be more concerned about having “thrown in your face.”

    Persecution of GLBT people inflicts specific, definable harms. At best, mocking their sexual orientation or gender identity serves to make them feel ashamed, as though they’re somehow aberrant or defective, deserving of scorn. At worst, the sort of “discomfort” you’re describing can fester to the point that it leads to violent hate crimes: assault, torture, and murder, all in the name of “teaching a lesson” or “sending a message.”

    Equal acceptance of GLBT relationships incurs no societal harm whatsoever. No one’s rights are infringed. Heterosexual couples will still date, fall in love, and get married, all completely regardless of whether or not the couple in the apartment next door is gay. The only “loss” is that small-minded bigots will be need to come to grips with the reality that their right to “feel comfortable” is insufficient reason to marginalize, denigrate, or demonize others.

  11. Yeah Lebreya, it wouldn’t be very cool if some black people were walking down the street and then somebody was like “You know, why do blacks always gotta rub the fact that they’re black in my face? I’m just not cool with blacks, ya know, and it’s ok to not be comfortable with something.” or “Why is this girl running around playing sports. Why she have to be all upfront with her women’s rights all that?”

    I want to note, NO ONE complains when heterosexual white males are in a game, and that the developers are pushing a hetero-white agenda. That’s ok. But if there’s a gay dude… god forbid. Someone has to make a post on bioware forums, because developers are obviously not catering to the hetero demographic.

  12. Yeah it wouldn’t be very cool if some black people were walking down the street and then somebody was like “You know, why do blacks always gotta rub the fact that they’re black in my face? I’m just not cool with blacks, ya know, and it’s ok to not be comfortable with something.” or “Why is this girl running around playing sports. Why she have to be all upfront with her women’s rights all that?”

    I want to note, _no one_ complains when heterosexual white males are in a game, and that the developers are pushing a hetero-white agenda. That’s ok. But if there’s a gay dude… god forbid. Someone has to make a post on bioware forums, because developers are obviously not catering to the hetero demographic.

  13. Thank you for that logical, respectful breakdown of the issue. And the bit about boiling water – good stuff

  14. People feeling threatened by homosexuality is like the spider phobia argument. It’s an irrational problem. I’ve had friends who literally just felt weird around gay people, and didn’t know why. If something you’re uncomfortable with acts in an aggressive way towards you (And yes, there are members of the LGBT community that slot into that “bad apple” catagory as well) I’d class that as “feeling threatened.” Wether the pot of boiling water is more threatening is besides the point. “Threatening” is subjective, and varies from person to person. There are some people who would rather boiling water to the face than a spider. I’d say there are some who’d rather the boiling water than have to be forced to come to terms with their issues with homosexuals at a speed they just can’t handle.

    Would you say that the best way to cure someones issues with spiders is to just say “Spiders have as much right to exist as you do!” and offer zero support? Because that seems to be the method of dealing with a lot of peoples issues with homosexuality.

    You say persecution of LGBT people inflicts specific, defineable harm. Would you like to add stupid stereotypes on that pile of persecution? Because that’s what you’ll get if you demand studios make gay characters more prevelant when they’re just not able to do it in a realistic way. You’ll end up with the gay equivelant of Ewan, a shitty, stereotypical example of what the developers were acctually aiming for.

    I never said that the acceptance of LGBT relationships WOULD cause sociatal harm. I also never said that a requirement of accepting that some people have issues with homosexuality is that homosexuals must be marginalised. All I said was that if people DO have an issue with homosexuality, there should be support to help them get over it. I don’t expect people to put the gays on one side of a wall for the sake of the homophobes on the other. I expect everyone be treated equally, and be given the chance to enter into a support system that will help them deal with their issues at their own speed. If it didn’t seem that was what I meant in my previous posts, then I appologize.

    Again, some people will be assholes, won’t want the help and will just hate homosexuals for the sake of it. Do I feel their needs have to be respected? No. If they’re going to be assholes, they can go do it somewhere else away from the rest of us.

    However, I think forcing people who may not be able to create a realistic example of a homosexual relationship due to their own underlying issues WOULD cause sociatal harm. It’ll cause more stereotypicaly wrong representations of the gay community to be generated, which will add more fuel to a fire that is finaly starting to burn the hell out. If the gay community respects that maybe the reason there aren’t many gay characters in games is because some developers just aren’t comfortable with putting them in, you’ll end up with better examples of homosexual relationships when they DO appear in games.

    Also, just to throw myself into the face of fire and be fair in this discussion, I feel very awquard around very effeminate, stereotypicaly flamboyant homosexuals. They just creep me out. Do I know why? Hell no. No clue. Does it make me a homophobe? I’ll let you answer that, but I don’t think so. Would I rather people work with me to get over this issue rather than being told “NOPE! You must accept it or you’re just a sick, horrible person!”? Absolutely, but that rarely happens. I try to explain the problem and get over it, and I get looked at like I grew two heads. I get demonized, marginalized and called small-minded while trying to get over my issues, mainly from personal experience by people supporting a community who should know damn well how shitty that feels.

  15. If that’s how you feel, I recommend you get that ball rolling against that “hetero-white agenda” and make posts on forums demanding more homosexual orientated games. You’ll get a lot of support, going by the discussion here. It might get things rolling in a direction you feel is better for you, and will help you enjoy games more.

    As for white hetero male leads in games, yes there are a lot of them, but I think the reason a lot of the characters are white, hetero men is because a lot of the developers feel comfortable writing realistic characters who are white, hetero men. Who knows, maybe most of the story writers and character designers are white, hetero men and they feel they can write a better story and design better lead characters if they can relate to them.

    Now, I could just as easily be wrong. All my posts are just my opinions.

    Also, I think it would be pretty cool if a person was able to say “I have an issue with black people, and I don’t know why. Is there someone I can talk to about this without being branded a racist?” and the response was “Well, we can find the underlying issue and resolve it” rather than “Deal with it, racist!!” but maybe I just have too much faith in thinking that maybe some people could get over their racist, sexist or bigoted tendencies if offered a helping hand rather than the cold shoulder and hatred.

  16. I’d never feel from the discussions here that there’d be any form of disrespect. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, and I’d never assume that was anyone elses end objective.

    As I said in my other posts, my views are my opinions, shaped by my experiances. I’m not looking for everyone to agree with me. I’m just highlighting that there are people caught in the gray areas on issues like this, and from personal experiance people in the LGBT community just ignore that. It could even just be from being Irish.

    I did sit down with my boyfriend and discuss this issue to get his opinion, and he told me how he went to a conference years ago on LGBT matters and tried to highlight how a lot of the LGBT community were getting too aggressive while trying to get reform. He was branded a total homophobe. Doesn’t make much sense to me since we’re both bisexual and in a long term relationship, but there you go.

  17. No one here… or anywhere is “demanding” that studios make LGBT characters. My post, and my point, is that I would love to see LGBT characters in games, as seeing positive representations of a group that has been largely invisible in this media would be a positive step for acceptance in the larger world. Am I demanding such a thing? Of course not.

    I’m going to go ahead and let you all know I wrote a 155 page Master’s thesis on LGBT representation in media, so it’s a subject I know quite a bit about. And i’m also going to go ahead and say I’m not terribly shocked to see that your ambivalent attitudes towards gay folks are what they are, given your “rubbed in people’s faces” comment juxtaposed with your ideas about people who hate being assholes.

    So, I’m going to assume, you think it’s ok when people are “honest” about their prejudices, and bigotry, and that people should get some kind of credit for publicly acknowledging these beliefs – or at the very least, not be attacked for holding such views. That is, to my mind, similar to saying “no offense, but you’re a complete moron” — it just doesn’t work that way, the “no offense” doesn’t magically cover your ass.

    I don’t live in a magical fairyland where I think all people love each other. But I do think that promoting mutual respect — genuine respect — is the most important thing I can do as a person, as a writer, etc.

    So, Labreya, I genuinely appreciate that you acknowledge having an awkwardness, and your desire to get over it. I get that there’s ambivalence here, I honestly do. I do hope that again, a sense of respect and context can be gained through these kinds of discussions.

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