Marching for fake rights in video games

I’ll admit that I get frustrated when a video game offers a lesbian option for your protagonist but not a gay one. (And, for the sake of this write-up, “gay” and “lesbian” are two sides of the same coin, divided by gender).

I was thinking of this because of the Mass Effect discussions, one of the classic rebuttals of which is “It’s not a lesbian relationship, that’s a blue alien in whose species only one gender exists”. Well, if it looks like a blue woman, talks like a blue woman, and copulates like a blue woman … for all intents and purposes, it’s a woman. Who is blue. I did read a good argument about this, though:

Who gives a shit if there’s fag sex in Mass Effect[?]

A valid point and well made; can’t argue with that.

I really don’t believe that every game in which you have a relationship should have a “gay” option. This all really depends on the amount of role playing that you’re doing versus the level of role that is already written into the character. This is the quandary of Gordon Freeman: Alyx is plainly in love with him, but Gordon has never spoken. He performs the actions that you command him to, without personality. Where is the room for love here?

On the other hand, we’ve got characters who are too fleshed out to be gay: CJ from GTA: San Andreas, for instance, is a character with a storied past. As a player, you’re taking on a role rather than adapting a role to yourself. You can tell CJ what to do, but he’ll always act within the perameters not just of the game but of his established personality.

I dredged this article up from purgatory with news of the impending release of Bully: Scholarship Edition for XBox 360. You may remember that, in the original PS2 version, lead character Jimmy Hopkins could make out with selected male students. When Jack Thompson found out, he freaked out even more than he already was doing about the game. In Scholarship Edition, the making out with boys has been rendered into an actual achievement:

So, for people like me, who pursue achievements with a religious fervour, there is clearly only one thing to do: receive twenty kisses from the gents! Bwahaha! The choice has been taken away thanks to your friend (and mine), OCD!
I don’t understand quite what the point is in allowing Jimmy to make out with anyone in this game, let alone other boys, when it turns out that the story railroads the character into ending up with one particular girl anyway – but hey, it’s an illusion. I can’t rightly say if Jimmy making out with a guy makes any sense, having no experience of the game or the character, but it’s an interesting concept, and it’s nice that you’ve got the option. While it doesn’t make much sense to me, at least it proves that sexuality isn’t directly tied to personal characteristics, like my brief foray into the lipstick lesbian versus butch Batwoman question (incidentally that was before I became totally boring and self-absorbed, so I wrote that from a detached viewpoint).

Now, this whole thing isn’t an issue in something like Oblivion, where you play the most boring character in history. The only concession to gender ever made in the game, as near as I could tell, was infiltrating a gang of thieving vixens, either by pretending to be lured into their trap or by pretending to become a mmber of their group. The game has asked you to take on a role there, and it reinforces the idea that, despite the fact that you can change your appearance, choose your class and weaponry, you’re just doing a bunch of tasks. For all the “freedom” you have, you have to do something or you die of boredom.

With the advent of first person perspectives, the disconnect from the character is greater because you aren’t constantly aware of who you are. This is likely why Duke Nukem would speak so dang much. It’s why people can feel attached to Crono from Chrono Trigger (apart from the obvious: his being Jesus) despite his only having one line of dialogue – you’re allowed to witness his body language.

Customising your sexuality, I have realised, reveals the flaws inherent in video game roleplaying, and raises the Bioshock conundra once more: what is a video game if not a series of dead ends that can only be negotiated if you do what the game tells you to? The illusion of choice can only work within the perameters of a game where your character has a personality, and only then within the reasonable limits of what you can accept that the character would do.
In, say, Fable, or Oblivion, you don’t say anything. You create a life for that character, but that character is “you”. What does that mean? It doesn’t really mean anything, because, frankly, you are you. In a Player Versus Environment equation, you have to interact with that environment according to how the game was designed. In a Player Versus Player equation, you’re really only expanding the possibilities – perameters still exist and they’re something that we’re never going to escape.

So I guess that, if video games only ever provide the illusion of choice, surely they can provide a credible illusion of gays as well as of lesbians – and surely video gamer OCD can be harnessed to the benefit of, oh god … the gay agenda. I’ve cracked the code: we’re all doomed.

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