(It has been 4 years since I posted this. Since then, some of the information below has become outdated. For example, I can now think of a handful LGBTQ+ protagonists in gaming. Admittedly, one of those is the protagonist of a gay dating sim. Still. Progress! Looking forward to seeing more representation in the future, too!)
I’ve got a challenge for you. Without searching around on the internet, or asking anybody else for help, name one – just one – openly gay gaming protagonist. Don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be anybody special, or anything; the only requirement is that the character is out of the closet and is a leading character in a videogame. Easy, right?
No, actually. That’s not easy at all. But let’s make things simpler for you. What if I ask the same question again, only this time I allow you to search around on the internet, and ask anybody that you like for help? Now can you name an openly gay gaming protagonist?
You see, the problem here is that unless you happen to be somewhat knowledgeable when it comes to obscure, eastern videogames, then the odds are that you still can’t answer my question – even with the internet at your disposal.
Note: before anybody tries to argue that their characters in Fable / Elder Scrolls / Fallout / Dragon Age / Star Wars etc…are gay, may I just point out that those particular protagonists are designed to be blank slates that the player can project themselves onto. That’s the whole point of that particular sub-genre of RPG. The protagonists represent the ones controlling the game; they are not, however, their own pre-constructed characters with their own thoughts, ideas, morals or story arcs. Don’t get me wrong, now – it’s great that LGBTQ+ people are represented in these games in such a way – but that kind of protagonist doesn’t really count at all towards what we’re discussing here, because the player is actually taking the place of the protagonist.
The thing is, it struck me recently that I have never played a game where I have been placed in the shoes of a homosexual hero. And something kind of seemed weird about that. Gay protagonists don’t exist in western gaming culture. Or, if they do exist, then they are most certainly not out.
That’s not to say that there are no gay minor characters in gaming, of course. Just take a good look at the Metal Gear Solid series, the Street Fighter series; look at Earthbound / Mother, Indigo Prophecy / Fahrenheit, Canis Canem Edit / Bully, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, etc…from the 1990s to the 2010s there have been gay minor characters dotted about all over. It’s just a shame that none of them are very important.
Note: I haven’t mentioned bisexual or transgender characters here, but the same rules apply. They occasionally appear as side characters – Vamp in Metal Gear Solid is bi, Birdo from Super Mario Bros 2 is Trans – but they do not appear as protagonists.
Now, just to be clear: the unspoken decision to dis-include LGBTQ+ protagonists is stupid and mean. But I see where it comes from. I mean, does anybody remember the hate mail that Bioware / EA received, simply for including the option to marry the same sex in their recent Mass Effect and Star Wars games? Just imagine if they were to make a game where the main character was gay no matter what the player did; that the protagonist’s story, at some point, might revolve around or be affected by their sexuality; that, hell, the character’s objective might be to save their same sex love interest. Imagine for a moment: a story about a male knight saving his prince, or a female knight saving her princess. It’s a sweet idea, but those same critical fans who spoke out against virtual gay marriage – and probably a portion more gamers – could act out against any company that tried it on. They could boycott, and that could result in a loss of profit – all because somebody wanted to show a little courtesy towards a small portion of the target market.
So does that mean that developers shouldn’t bother including gay protagonists, then? Hell no. Courtesy is important. More important than the money in some executive’s pocket, at any rate. Everybody involved in the gaming market needs to feel like the industry wants them there. It’s only fair, and it only makes good sense. Yes, there’s an underlying risk that moving forward on such an issue could result in losing support from certain groups, but this is one of those times when money needs to be taken out of the equation for the sake of equality.