Video games in the early nineties rarely portrayed sexuality. Early examples such as 1973′s Gotcha by Atari or 1982′s Custer’s Revenge are crude and often marked by immaturity or worse, but it has acquired an increasing presence in the medium since the mid- to late-nineties. The usual cries sexism, pornography or objectification has come from the usual conservative or identity politics groups, and arguments that have been dead since the days of the Meese Report continue to snap at the heels of game in a largely ineffectual way.
Video and computer gaming continued to explore these concepts and eventually explored more varied themes as well as darker ones. Sometimes, it went into the utterly tasteless but, I would argue, not as frequently as did cinema; most of the time, it was a tasteful affair, even when the media portrayed it otherwise (Mass Effect is a famous example of this).
A different response gained the attention of games journalists recently. A certain gamer, Bastal, posted on the BioWare forum, claiming to represent “straight male gamers” and wrote about his problem with the fact that several male characters were flirting with him.
His complaint was shot down very quickly by David Gaider, a writer who worked on Dragon Age II. Gaider argued that the romance options were designed with as wide a group in mind and there are still options available to everyone, regardless of gender/sexuality combinations. This is all well and true, but I think a lot of Bastal’s critics ignored a fundamental flaw in Bastal’s argument that renders a lot of the debate moot.
Bastal speaks of the minority groups he claims are being excessively catered for as acting as if they have a right to such. He wrote:
The idea of privilege is ridiculous. The “privilege” always lies with the majority because if your goal is to make a game that will be liked by as many fans possible, then it makes sense to focus on that largest group. Why should one fan’s enjoyment be more important than five others? It’d more accurate to call “privilege” the idea that some minority group gets special preference for political points. If you really want to be all-inclusive, then I don’t see why homosexuals should get special preference while leaving other minority groups out.
The fact of it is that there is no should here. It’s BioWare’s game and they are under no obligation to make the game appeal to any individual or sets of individuals. They should try to make the game to their own design ethic and, ideally, should make it profitable. Metacritic user scores indicate they have have failed to impress people, but that is simply over the thought that the sequel was dumbed down.
They are, ultimately, a private company with with privately owned intellectual property. The privilege lies with whoever Bioware chooses to privilege in their games. For all this, though, I think the other reason that Bastal’s argument falls flat is there was probably no thought in the mind of the writers of really catering for gays per se. A long time before this, Fallout 2 allowed for homosexual and bisexual characters and suffered no such complaints largely because people will play different characters from themselves more often than they would try to create characters who are simply themselves projected into the game. If Bastal thinks these sexuality options were implemented to draw in homosexual gamers, I doubt he is entirely correct.
I take Mass Effect as my example here. I really don’t think that the inclusion of Liara was aimed at being inclusive and more at the idea that a fair number of people like seeing members of the sexually-preferred gender getting on with each other. If nothing was wrong with this then the idea that idea that there should be a wider palette in Dragon Age II definitely qualifies as acceptable.
On the other hand, some might complain that the prevalence of non-heterosexuals seems a little too high. Certainly, this criticism might appeal to me if every other character were throwing themselves at my feet (a criticism I do have for the staunchly heterosexual game The Witcher, which does get a little tasteless), but this is not what is happening. While the presence of such a high number of non-heterosexuals would seem unusual, it hardly breaks suspension of disbelief. There are a lot of background assumptions that can be made as to why this presence is there. They could be biologically geared more towards bisexuality in a way species not too distant from our own are in real life (I am speaking of our fellow hominidae, the bonobos) or cultural factors could come into play. It can be explained within the game world more easily that the fact that women in their sixties still have the body of an 18-year old.
The quick cap news
* The Battlestar Galactica Online beta is open.
* LittleBigPlanet shoes auctioned for Child’s Play, but you wouldn’t find that out via Fox News (see below).
* A new Dungeon Siege III trailer, as well as a preview for Dragon Age II.
* For fans of F2P games, Eurogamer reviewed Bloodline Champions, giving it a respectable 8/10. Also, Paradox Interactive announced the F2P MMORPG Salem, set in the early days of American colonialism.
It’s been a very interesting week for the first of my blog’s existence. The first item is that EA has closed three Warhammer Online servers, two American and one European, it is offering free character transfers off the closing servers.
In the PC v. console wars, there was talk of the effect console porting might have on Dragon Age II. On the other hand, despite not being a PC exclusive, Crysis 2 will be superior on the PC in every way according to Crytek. Quite frankly, if they can make the game stand out from the crowd in something other than its graphics, like perhaps gameplay, they will have made a superior product to the original as far as I’m concerned. There’s also a rumour that Battlefield 3 will be supporting extra features on the PC as well as the higher player limit.
Of the two big pieces of news, first we have the whole nonsense from Fox News. In service to their dark gods of hyperbole, Fox has attacked Bulletstorm on the grounds that it “ties the ugly, graphic violence into explicit sex acts: ‘topless’ means cutting a player in half, while a ‘gang bang’ means killing multiple enemies.” The fact that people at Fox think being topless is an explicit sex act almost worries me more than the fact that they won’t listen to the more rational arguments, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone; these are the people who think Bill O’Reilly is a journalist. The good news is that, apparently, if you pre-order Bulletstorm (made by People Can Fly, the makers of the excellent Painkiller) from the EA Store, you’ll get Shank for free. Fox have nothing to say on whether Shank will increase the likelihood of rape, so be careful.
Activision has cut quite a lot recently. There was news of job cuts at Vicarious Visions and FreeStyleGames as well as the killing off of Guitar Hero. This got expanded when the 2009 acquisition, 7 Studios, was closed down. This prompted Harmonix to encourage GH fans over to Rock Band. Not that Harmonix has had the best time of it, either. Activision Blizzard’s share price dropped 8% after reporting 2010 financial results on Wednesday.
That’s all for this week. A good weekend to all.