Over the years we had serious conversations regarding the portrayal of women in media, video games included. As time went by, writers and developers cared to incorporate strong female leads that contradict archaic stereotypes. The media as a whole is in a time where independent women are just as prominent as muscle machos but despite this relevant progress, it struggles with another minority group. People are aware we exist and the 21st Century is far too kind when compared to the 20th Century, but those who aren’t blinded by laws and cities that guarantee their well-being know that the LGBT community still has a lot to fight for.
Whereas some have their ripped abs and Grindr profile photo as top priorities, others struggle with oppressive governments and outdated societies that punish them for being themselves, sometimes going as far as penalizing anyone who tries to help. As shocking as it is, pretending there isn’t a problem so that people will start seeing us as humans doesn’t help. Some people have to be educated, and like it or not, a good way to do that is by introducing characters that pull the spectator out of their comfort zone. The hit reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race does a great job in humanizing and demystifying gay culture, but the same can’t be said about other shows or even films and, most importantly, video games.
Developers have been pushing the boundaries for a few years now. Games such as Dragon Age, The Sims, and Final Fantasy XIV do a good job at being inclusive, yet they don’t succeed in educating players. The developers and their lack of touch (or even the fear queer developers have to go all out with gay characters) are not the only ones to blame, however. Despite the increasingly positive reception of female characters, the community still backlashes at the portrayal of gay men, with many gamers even discrediting characters with a difficult past for being forced on players.
This sort of reaction is observed whenever developers don’t level with their straight male audience. Barely tackling social issues often results in negative feedback and the same is observed when games don’t meet unspoken criteria for the overall public. For instance, the Final Fantasy franchise was heavily criticized twice in the last two years—once for Mobius Final Fantasy and then again for Final Fantasy XV. The game community was less than pleased by Mobius‘s protagonist, Wol, and his default attire, which exposed a lot of skin. Square Enix quickly changed the design to be more protective, completely disregarding the fact that Lightning had far worse garbs to deal with in 2013’s Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (which by the way, wasn’t a problem for the general public). In the same fashion, 2016’s Final Fantasy XV was the target of scrutiny due to its all-male cast. Regardless of producer and director Hajime Tabata’s desire to tell a story about friends on a road trip, fans thought the lack of a playable female character was unacceptable.
So far 2017 seems far better than 2012 and the controversy surrounding Mass Effect 3. No, not the ending; the gay romance, a completely optional path that revealed the true colors of the general community then. Still, it’s difficult to be queer, struggle with a an obstacle-ridden society, and somehow not notice that the games community is far less progressive than we give it credit for. No one cares if a game has an obviously straight protagonist, whether they’re male or female, or if another title allows players to decide who their character will sleep with. Yet the thought of an exclusively gay protagonist provokes a stream of negative comments that muffle any reasonable arguments worth listening to. There hasn’t been such a discussion recently, but the insensitive comments made on my opinion piece about the representation of minorities displays roughly the same kind of negativity.
Dontnod Entertainment recently announced that they are working on a sequel to the critically acclaimed Life is Strange. The first season was notable for many things, including an established character that is both strong and a deviation of modern female protagonists. Whereas Lara Croft is just as independent and capable as Metal Gear‘s many iterations of Snake, Max is androgynous, introverted, geeky, and somewhat awkward. She’s a relatable character who fits just right into the supernatural struggles of Arcadia Bay. Not only that, but players can choose to spark a homoerotic relationship with co-star Chloe Price, give in to the persistence of sidekick Warren Graham, or kiss both of them goodbye.
The endings of the first season make it difficult to continue that specific story or even start something new with the previous characters. Considering that, it would be smart of Dontnod to come up with a whole new cast and setting. If the protagonist was an androgynous sexually ambiguous boy, however, how would fans react? Would they welcome an affectionate relationship with a Chloe-like guy? How would they react to a male character saying “I love you, you’re my best friend” to another man? The initial reaction to Final Fantasy XV‘s main cast showed us what the public thinks of “bromances” (a term that only exists to reassure masculinity), so can we expect any positivity from a less-than-manly and “boobless” Maxine Caulfield?
The video game industry lives in a dilemma. Developers want to change society’s perspective that this medium is meant for children. They want to provide thoughtful and impactful experiences that reflect their own thoughts and beliefs, yet the louder parts of the game community ask that they leave social and political commentary out of their games. This anti-progressive clamor has the opposite effect, as it only helps solidify the fact that the fight is not over. As long as there are people denying others their space, there’s change to be made.