Diversity is Not a Stock Photo
Who’s to say that Gordon Freeman is not a homosexual? What about Link? The Cole Train? Queer. Miles Edgeworth? Gay. Claire Redfield? Lesbian. Lara Croft? Dyke.
I was watching Extra Credits today at the Escapist Magazine, where they’ve tackled the issue of diversity. Overall, their approach was pretty hackneyed and anemic. Diversity is good. Gaming stereotypes need to go. You know, this sort of thing.
I have nothing against diversity itself. What bothers me how people tackle this theme. Hell, our very own About Us section is an attempt to poke fun at the overstated notion that everything needs diversity and what that really means is that people need to get along with black people, Asians and a Latino every now and then (by the way, can you tell what group I’m part of?). That was how Extra Credits handled the issue. It defended that there is no gender diversity in videogames because the only kind of women who fit are the Lara Croft stereotype which litters the medium, and that there was no diversity of sexuality. The number of “realistic openly gay” characters was limited to 1 character: Kanji Tatsumi from Persona 4. Extra Credits then proposes two very elegant solutions for achieving gender and sexuality diversity: drop the boobs; get some more homo/bisexual characters – a solution not unlike placing a stock photo at your company’s website showing how “diverse” your team is.
Well, I’m here to defend boobies and the notion that it is possible that your favorite game character of all time probably is already gay.
The answer for why Superman has muscles is simple. He is idealized. That why so many other super heroes have perfect six-packs, a chest large enough to rent space for a billboard and a costume so adherent to emphasize these muscles, it’s a wonder they can move at all. If muscles for superheroes are fair game, the equivalent for superheroines, big boobs, slender silhouette and possibly lower back pains in the future, are also fair game.
Women in videogames have ridiculous bodies sure, but so do the men! The problem is not just gender diversity per se, but also protagonist diversity: there are too many superheroes in videogames. Nathan Drake can probably withstand more bullets than Batman! Lara Croft fights dinosaurs! The reason for this is quite simple: superheroes are people of action and action is the main thing videogames have to offer. Action sequences are what videogames do best as they were the first things they learned. What we need are more games with less action (so leave my boobs alone!). More games like Phoenix Wright, Hotel Dusk and the gun-less segment of Half-Life 2‘s introduction. It’s not by accident I love these games, and that I anxiously anticipate Dinner Date: they are different – and diversity is holier than a flaming taco in the desert, right?
To Extra Credits’ credit, they go a little beyond the issue of diverse sexuality (but just a little), by making use of the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test is a shallow, but easily applicable method to gauge feminism in a medium: for something to pass there must be two (preferably named) women, talking to each other about something other than a man (Graham now would jump in to exclaim that Dragon Age: Origins would pass that test – and he would be right). But before you think that passing this test would solve the problem of women stereotypes in games, let me call your attention to the fact that most Barbie games would easily pass that test, while discussing shoes.
As for the sexuality diversity, Extra Credits ask us why there are so few gay characters in videogames while snidely dismissing Mass Effect‘s Female Sheppard as well as the dudes from Army of Two because they don’t count (why not?).
But the thing is that since sex â€“ or even romance â€“ in GENERAL is badly handled in videogames, there is rarely a point in defining a character’s sexuality in the first place. Extra Credits end up answering their own question: why add a bi/homosexual character in a game just for the sake of it? Why is it even an issue of a random character’s sexuality when neither gameplay nor plot doesn’t do anything about it? What makes one think that the once-silent Samus, the bear-fighting Zangief or the inappropriately topless Liquid Snake are heterosexuals in the first place? When the sexual orientation has no consequence in the rest of the game stating one’s sexuality is as superfluous as saying Marcus Phoenix likes Macs when there are no iPads in Gears of Wars.
My colleagues brought up the theory that a lack of ‘role models’ could damage a person’s psychological perceptions of themselves, similarly to what was discovered to happen to children in the experiments performed in the Brown Vs Board of Education case. But the thing is that, unlike skin color, sexuality isn’t something one can perceive just by looking at someone. Some degree of intimacy must be involved. So there is nothing in the way of establishing a character’s sexuality when his actions does not prove otherwise except one’s own personal bias. In fact, if we assume the hypothesis that people in fact do tend to project oneself onto game avatars to be valid, I’m willing to bet that there is a chance someone could project that 100% of all silent protagonists that are gay or lesbian. The issue of affecting one’s psychological perception is much more evident in the issue of unrealistic portrayals of women (and men), but in this case the problem is not the character per se, but what the game requires him to do. Sure, I could have a chubby middle aged woman instead of Rayne in BloodRayne, but that wouldn’t be consistent with the rest of the game and, therefore, wouldn’t be believable.
Extra Credits demanded less boobs and more believable gay characters, but what we need is more games that justify the need for non-superheroes and gay characters. The issue of diversity won’t be solved by adding these sorts of characters if they aren’t believable to begin with, regardless of whether that character is a homosexual Adonis or a flat chested woman. In fact, the chance for ruining a game’s immersion and relying on countless other stereotypes will increase if we follow Extra Credits’ suggestion.
We don’t need to ask for diversity in our games, but rather we need games that ask for diversity. There is a difference.
Update: Oh geez! I forgot about Alice Wake, from Remedy’s Alan Wake. Now that was a woman with a er… natural type of beauty.