Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Pacman gay?

Slate has an interesting article about gender roles in video games, particularly the outing of gay characters that has taken place over the past couple of years. With gay marriages in The Sims 2 and lesbian plotlines popping up in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, it's looking like it's only a matter of time before character setup screens will include a sexual preference option in addition to gender, race, and skills.

For years, the reverse has been true: Gay gamers have had no choice but to play as straight characters. Ian Wilson, one gay player I talked to online, says one of his favorite games is Metal Gear Solid, except for the parts where his character has to interact with women. "They're always trying to hit on you," he says. And it's true: In most games, the romance plots are pure boilerplate, endless tales of square-jawed guys hooking up with attractive dames. This is why family-values critics have targeted the violence in video games but never complained about the sexual politics. The gender roles in games are practically lifted from Father Knows Best.

It never occured to me, playing any game, that gender roles were even an issue... I suppose it depends on the type of game you play, and the reasons you play them. I played the above-mentioned Star Wars game 4 times: male and female lead characters, light-side and dark-side of the Force, because the plotlines were so convoluted (this is a good thing, I abhor linear gameplay) and the computer characters react differently to you depending on who you are. When my female dark-side character started getting hit on by a female character in the game, I thought "hrmmm, never seen that happen in a game before", and continued with the game. The whole issue of sexuality in video games escapes me completely, because time spent playing video games can generally be characterised as time spent not having sex (unless you have a very accommodating partner), and I couldn't care less whether or not a character on the screen is getting laid or not. If 'Sleeper'-style cybersex ever becomes a reality, I might start paying more attention to the issue, but for now I see video games as puzzles and tests of skill, not a chance to explore alternate lifestyles.

Reading the reactions other people have to this 'issue', however, I see that it's not going to be quite so simple for some people, like the 'Straight, White, Christian and PROUD of it' gameplayer who is sick of having 'liberals' force such things on him... he'd been playing a game called 'The Temple of Elemental Evil', based on the original Dungeons & Dragons game of the same name, where a sideplot involved a gay marriage. The irony of a self-declared 'PROUD Christian' playing a game in the realm of evil and getting miffed about ANYTHING is just bizarre. I'll leave the psychoanalysis of our little Aryan friend to people with more training than I have, but seriously, if you're violently offended by little dots moving around on the computer screen, maybe you've got some perspective issues that need to be worked out.