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Why the Representation of Minorities Matters

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The last decade has brought many changes to minority groups, notably to the Western LGBTQ community who started seeing a drastic difference on how our patriarch society perceives them. Sexuality and identity slowly became a more natural and recurrent topic, as did the discussion of black culture and how women are portrayed by the media. Yet, none of these groups managed to reach their desired utopias.

As a gay man, I see the change. I understand when people say we’re far better now than we were ten or fifteen years ago. But as many in the community, I don’t think it’s time to hang the hat and call it day just yet. Living in Northeastern Brazil, I’ve always had to be very careful when going out with guys. We could chat and look intimately at each other, but so much as holding hands would put our lives in danger. Although that’s changing, no one can say it’s completely safe to hold your partner’s hand in the middle of the street if they happen to be of the same sex as you.

Unfortunately, this reality is not exclusive to Northeastern Brazil and the struggle the LGBTQ community has with representation is not exclusive to movies, TV, and music. Video games are far more relevant now than they were ten years ago, but the industry is still plagued by many issues including its portrayal of minority groups.

“Why should I care?”

That’s usually the sort of question I see in discussions regarding minorities in video games. It’s far less common when the topic revolves around women and black people, yet alarmingly prominent when it involves gay people. Recently, we received a reality check with the news that Russia could ban FIFA 17 from the country should EA not remove the “gay propaganda” present as part of the Rainbow Laces campaign promoted by the Stonewall group. The general mainstream media sided with EA, a company known for its social inclusion. But scrolling down to the comments section of most articles and informative videos, we see different reactions.

Notes along the lines of “It seems Russia got more morals than our country. Homosexuality is wrong.” and “This is football, not a faggot propaganda.” aren’t difficult to find. Most people would say to ignore such behavior, to “stop feeding the troll”, but the fact it exists at all is part of the problem. Although the general public and the mainstream media are very supportive of the cause, discrimination is still a part of our lives. Sometimes people don’t even realize they’re being condescending when they say “we don’t care who you sleep with, but we find it sad that your identity revolves around sex.”, then using freedom of speech as an excuse for the offensive remark.

Everyone has problems no matter who they are or where they come from, but other complications may arise should the person not meet society’s standards. Black people are historically taken for granted because of their skin color and women are expected to behave a certain way due to their stigmatized social role. In the same manner, the LGBTQ community is supposed to hide their opinions and desires because they’re an insult to tradition. It’s important to stress that times are changing for those groups, that their situations are far better now than they were fifteen or twenty years ago, yet not everyone can say their problems are related to their skin color, their gender, or their sexuality.

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Ellie

We have seen a major change in how gay people are portrayed in the media with the aggressively flamboyant man and the extremely masculine woman being replaced by regular personalities and traits. That helps show how normal we are whilst being inclusive. However, not everyone welcomes the change of pace even when it’s meant to help others. Developers have been criticized for including emotional and intimate scenes between two men or by making an NPC be suggestive towards the player.

First released in 2013 exclusively for the PlayStation 3, The Last of Us is considered by many one of the most progressive games of its generation for how the character Ellie (Ashley Johnson) is presented. Players only came to know of her sexuality with the DLC ‘Left Behind’ in which she kisses her friend Riley (Yaani King), whereas in the base game that aspect is subjective. The bonding formed throughout The Last of Us and Ellie being such a regular teenager in both her personality and appearance triggered a very positive reaction in the DLC as players were already attached to her.

Ellie, much like Dorian Pavus (Ramon Tikaram) from 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition, is a great solution for the struggles the LGBTQ community faces as a whole. Video games are the only fully interactive form of media, allowing players to experience realities they might never encounter in their regular lives, such as being close to a gay person. This sort of bond helps educate those who would otherwise never know what minorities go through, but it fails at explaining why they should be more conscious.

The good, the bad, the ugly

At one side we have developers and part of the community making a change by helping minorities. At the other, we have those who don’t accept any sort of change at the claim that it will affect their lives directly. In the middle the confused dwell, unsure of what to think or why any of this should be their problem. But what isn’t there to relate? Why is change so difficult to accept when it won’t take any of your privileges away? If we forget about skin color, gender, and sexuality for a moment, most gamers have a very similar story.

For example:

There once was a boy with an angelic name who always felt left out. His family had a strong opinion on who he should be and the friends he managed to make would sometimes suppress him. He struggled with grades and was always concerned with how he behaved around others lest they’d be offended by his mannerism. After he realized part of what made him so different, his family went on to fight against his nature. People he met along the way, while generally supportive, would still refuse him any moment of glory because of how irrelevant his situation was to them.

And then he found out he could be anyone. Not by watching a film or reading a book, but by taking control over someone else in a video game. All his doubts and struggles seemed like distant thoughts for those two or three hours he would spend in front of the computer, but in the back of his mind a voice would ask “where do you fit in this?” Finally, he had the chance to play The Sims 2. One of the first things his cousin mentioned was that he could be intimate and even marry people of the same gender. After being constantly reminded that he would always play a supportive role, it was time to be the lead of his own story.

Video games were very important for that boy as they helped him understand empathy whilst giving him the opportunity to lead the narrative. They helped him experiment with his social skills and discover the person behind the issues and taboos. Part of what that boy went through is exactly what most other gamers face, be they male or female, black or white, gay or straight. And yet, a large portion of the gaming community can’t relate to his story solely because of their choice of partner in The Sims 2.

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A conundrum

The general public is perfectly fine with a black or a female protagonist. The inclusion of such characters in the leading role may sometimes cause a stir, but at the end of the day, they’re not as controversial as an exclusively gay character. Video game fans throughout the years have been praising the industry for including people of color and women in major parts, but just the thought of a gay character is enough to originate hurtful memes and offensive comments.

Despite Ellie being so well received after the reveal of her sexuality and the fact she’s the main protagonist of The Last of Us Part II, the general consensus is that gay characters other than her don’t deserve the spotlight. Dorian Pavus is a beloved asset, but some consider his sexuality to be forced upon players. Many fans of Rockstar’s Bully refuse to acknowledge that the ‘Scholarship Edition’ offers a relatively large selection of boys who protagonist Jimmy Hopkins (Gerry Rosenthal) can date. Yet, everyone seems on board with the idea that Overwatch‘s Zarya is lesbian given her nationality and manly build–despite the many pejorative jokes the latter triggers.

Developers are left at an impasse. Plenty of them wish to include the LGBTQ community just as much as they include other minorities, nevertheless that often results in a severe backlash and a possible impact on sales. Forcing ideas is not the solution, but forming a bond between player and character also doesn’t seem to do much for the long run. As the first triple-A title to feature an exclusively gay protagonist The Last of Us Part II could be a great help in addressing the issue, but its restricted release for the PlayStation 4 largely limits its transformative capability.

In the end, no one has all the answers. As much as companies try, they can’t reach or be understood by everyone. There are many ways to teach about empathy, respect, and why minorities matter, but that’s not only a developer’s duty. As long as players are open to discussing and understanding the stories they experience through video games, we should someday reach a point where arguments like this are no longer necessary.

Born and raised in Northeastern Brazil, Gabriel didn't grow up with video games as many of his colleagues did. However, his dedication and love for the industry make up for his late start in the gaming world.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Saul

    December 19, 2016 at 9:55 am

    why is bowser always kidnapping princess peach?

    why do monsters want to have sex with girls?

    btw gaybriel, how you handle your gay situation?

    • Gabriel Cavalcanti

      December 19, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      I suppose because back when Mario was a nameless character, women were largely seen as a trophy, an object of desire. I haven’t played Nintendo games in ages, so I have no idea if Peach became something besides the damsel in distress.

      Do they? o-o I don’t think I’ve played that or those games, or I missed that completely.

      What exactly do you mean by how I handle my situation? You mean how I deal with possible hardships triggered by my sexuality?

    • John Cal McCormick

      December 19, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      Please tell me you’re just not very good at spelling and you didn’t just seriously use ‘gaybriel’ as some kind of jab…

      • Gabriel Cavalcanti

        December 19, 2016 at 5:21 pm

        I’m so good at reading that I didn’t pay attention to that :/ So we’re getting to that level…

    • Oliver Rebbeck

      December 19, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      Perhaps when you graduate from primary school and learn how to talk to other human beings with the lowest modicum of respect, you’ll realise how immature you sound with the petty use of Gaybriel as some kind of insult. As to your questions I don’t get your point? Monsters are always after girls and we should all strive to be like monsters, because God knows they’re a beacon of integrity?

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Game Reviews

‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

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It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.


Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child

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Magic of Nintendo

Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.

The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.

The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.

 Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.

Super Mario Odyssey Wooden Kingdom

Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.

When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.

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‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.

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Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.

It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.

In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.

Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.

Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.

Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.

I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.

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