Games should be fun for everyone: In response to the 'Gay Drake' backlash

Games are not inclusive.

Games pander to a very specific demographic: 18+ heterosexual males. This is not debatable. The landscape may be changing, but for the most part triple AAA mainstream games are engineered to speak to a particular group of people.

At the same time, games primarily function as escapism. They’re meant to be–as much as I dislike this being the case–fun. Most people do not play games to face the complications or problems of real life. You pick up a controller to feel empowered, to be the hero, to save the world. Wanting games to fulfill that type of power fantasy, to be wish fulfillment, to allow us to escape is understandable. Personally I’d like games to be more than that, but at a baseline level, we can all probably agree that they should be, if nothing else, at least fun.

Here’s the problem. Games are not always fun for everyone. Where the average joe can slip into the shoes of any burly space marine saving the world from chest high cover and monochrome hues, the marginalized slip into fantasy lands that continue to uphold the same prejudices and issues they have to face on a day-to-day basis.


Mattie Brice speaks to this sentiment eloquently in her article over at the Border House, but I feel it’s worth reiterating in light of a recent controversy: whether or not Naughty Dog’s Drake should/could be gay. I’m not sure that Drake himself ‘should’ be gay; I certainly agree that a gay protagonist in general in a mainstream triple A game should be something that happens. Ultimately it’s up to Naughty Dog to decide what to do with their IP.

But could Drake be gay? Yes, he most certainly could, and having high profile characters like him be queer would help in creating an environment where games can be fun for everyone.

Now, I could speak to a lot of brash, illogical, and frankly disgusting arguments as to why Drake can’t be gay that come up in the comments of the Gamasutra article, or in Jim Sterling’s article. For instance: why do we even ‘need’ gay characters? That one is easy: we just plain need to become more inclusive, and when ESA statistics show us that the demographics are shifting, one cannot in good conscience continue to uphold the argument that “it’s just business.” Mind–that should never, ever be an excuse; at best, “it’s just business” should be a lament. And let’s not kid ourselves, either: the male 18-30 something demographic is a pretty ‘small’ audience to limit ourselves to.

You’d think that you don’t need to justify why we should have gay characters, but looking at the comments in the articles, apparently we do. How ridiculous is that? A sexuality has to be justified? Not well written, not nuanced…justified? When was the last time you saw heterosexuality as something that had to be justified before people thought it was okay to include? Thinking about it like that, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that people feel that having a gay character is the same as having an agenda pushed down our throats.

Even worse are the ‘Well, I don’t mind it as long as it’s not in my face or anything’ arguments. The only good gay is the invisible gay, you see. But hey, I sympathize a little; I wish my demands for the complete and utter silence and invisibility for a group of people I dislike could be met, too. That way we’d have no bigots in the comments of articles like these.

Laughable are the arguments that it wouldn’t work from a narrative perspective. Personally I find the idea that we might destroy the very sophisticated and delicate writing of a video game hilarious, especially when you consider that the Uncharted games were not conceived in terms of narrative. Uncharted 1 was originally a fantasy game, completely different from the Uncharted we now know and love, and was changed to be a shooter to meet market demand. For Uncharted 3, in particular, the developers wanted to make a game that took place in the desert, a game that allowed them to render and play with sand. I’m not trying to belittle the writing of the franchise–it’s very strong, as far as video games go. But let’s not pretend like we’re committing high narrative sacrilege when games are often conceived by the developers as they go along, sometimes literally around little pebbles of rock.

Beyond that, yes, it’s entirely possible for Drake to be gay despite his characterization and actions up until that point. Here’s the thing about heterosexuality: it is outright assumed. Just because you assume a character to be straight, however, doesn’t make that character straight. It just makes you presumptuous. Sexuality doesn’t always look like what you expect it to look like. So Drake’s slept with women before. People have heard of beards, right? Alternatively: Drake could be bisexual. And let’s not pretend like we haven’t seen or heard of cases of men masquerading as straight, either. Reading the comments of the Gamasutra article, who can blame them for such a farce, really? Most importantly, it’s entirely possible for someone to have not come to terms with their sexuality for that long. I say that as someone who didn’t really come to accept that I was bisexual for twenty years; I could have easily gone another decade or two without accepting it.

Lastly: it’s not as if Drake has the most consistent characterization to begin with. The Uncharted games are famed for ‘ludonarrative dissonance’, a term that describes a disconnect between gameplay and narrative. Drake is characterized as a charming, boyish everyman. The Drake you play, however, is a terrifying killing machine. The Drake you come to know is not a Drake you would expect being capable of these things; this fact is outright stated by Naughty Dog themselves at the end of Uncharted 2, when the villain poses the idea that he and Drake are not so different. Frankly that’s more of a fundamental, jarring misstep in characterization than “suddenly” turning Drake gay could ever, ever be.

From a narrative standpoint, there’s no strong argument as to why Drake couldn’t be gay. He could. I will concede that it would probably have been more meaningful for this hypothetical revelation to have been planned from the start. That’s also not nearly as good as constructing a triple A game that has an openly gay (ideally well-written) character as the lead from the get-go. When we’re so scarce on marginalized characters, though, I’ll take what I can get.

At the end of the day, we need a ‘Gay Drake’. I don’t mean that we need to make Drake himself gay, but we do need leading, main characters of marginalized groups. I can wax poetic as to all the progressive reasons why we need characters like that, I can spend time arguing why it could work, despite all the arguments against it–and I have–but there’s a simple, straightforward reason that I think any and every gamer should be able to understand, that every gamer should be sympathetic to. Having a wider spectrum of represented groups and lifestyles makes it easier for everyone to become immersed in the games they play without being pulled back into the reality we want to escape from, and thus makes it easier for everyone to have fun.

We can all agree games should be fun for everyone, right?

20 Comments

  1. Mason

    I’m certainly not against it but I’m not sure your justification for why we need it is strong enough. Like you say, it’s not necessarily something that needs to be justified, if an openly gay character is in a game because it fits the story that’s perfect, that’s how it should work, but from your story it sounds like you’re saying we need to make a specific point of including them, but…I just don’t think they should be shoehorned in to try and make it more inclusive. That almost seems counter intuitive.

  2. Jim

    ~ The Ballad of Gay Tony ~

  3. Daniel

    we get it, you’re gay…that’s fine have fun. sotp pushing for everything else to be gay as well, you chose your lifestyle so deal with and stop expecting others to change everything to suit you.

  4. pawel

    GTA4 dlc “Ballad Of Gay Tony” had Tony :)

  5. Der Meister

    Mason makes a good point. Having gay characters play a (leading) part in games is perfectly fine, as long as it fits the story. It would not be right to force them into a story just for the sake of having them. The writer of the article says most triple A mainstream games are aimed at 18+ heterosexual males. Let’s elaborate on that. In my opinion most triple A mainstream games are aimed at 16-26 year old heterosexual Caucasian Anglo-Saxon males with modal physical and mental abilities.
    If a publisher is to include gay people in a game, it has to be because he can. Not because he should. Otherwise the same point can be made for characters of different age categories, the female sex, non-caucasians, non Anglo-Saxons and people with lower or higher physical or mental abilities.
    Sure; for a lot of these categories there are already characters one could point out that publishers include in their games. Overall they are still widely under-represented however.
    Apart from that I’d be very curious to see a gay character in a game. I hope developers/ publishers will be able to present a balanced character, and move beyond the stereotypical ‘queen’.

    • I agree in regards to characters of different age, sex, etc. This was just grounded in light of a recent controversy, is all.

  6. Ramunas Jakimavicius

    I think a perplexing part of this puzzle is a lose-lose situation that can crop up. Pardon the crudeness of the wording, but I wonder how developers and writers would go about determining if a character is “gay enough”. You have cases like Bully, where both homosexuality and bisexuality are an option for the player character. They’re marginalized rather than equalized since the “gay options” are more limited than the heterosexual options, but IIRC there’s nothing in-game that scolds or praises the sexuality chosen. I think this is commendable since it’s a depiction of homosexuality that doesn’t just resort to stereotypical depictions of flamboyancy or “hard gays”, but I wonder where one might “draw the line”. Some players could be repulsed by the inclusion of homosexuality to any degree, while others could think that the bisexuality is only a comprise and that the player character is not “gay enough”.

    Personally, I think a good solution is to avoid shoehorning in a trait. I think a character’s sexual and/or romantic preferences should be treated with as much normalcy as anything other trait instead of being their defining trait. This idea leans more towards an “invisible” implementation of sexuality, but I think it’s still nuanced from it. There’s nothing wrong with using sexuality as a focal point where it matters (e.g. dating games, social games), but I don’t think it needs to played up where it’s irrelevant to the narrative or gameplay.

  7. Me

    Torchwood. That is all. Thank you.

  8. Mason, it might be helpful to look at the issue as a systemic problem. Drake (apparently) being straight, in and of itself, is not a problem. The problem is that every single video game character is straight or assumed to be straight until proven otherwise. That second part is a cultural issue much larger than video games, but the first part is something that can be solved by game developers deliberately choosing to make games about queer characters. There is a LOT of cultural inertia behind heteronormativity and it will only take people actively working against it–because they care about inclusivity, or about reaching an under-served audience, or they want to tell their own stories, or whatever reason–to change that. It’s a systemic problem that is not any one individual’s fault, but it will take individuals working against the system to create change.

  9. MonkeyMonday

    The only problem I have with your argument is the implication that games aren’t fun for gay people unless they’re playing with a gay protagonist. That’s simply not true. I know plenty of women who love many games with male protagonists, and plenty of men who love many games with female protagonists. The point being, in order for a person to have fun with a game it has to be a fun game – it shouldn’t matter if the character shares the same sexual preferences as yourself. In fact, I’d argue sexual preference shouldn’t even factor in to most games, it’s generally meaningless to the game as a whole. I agree with the argument up to the point of saying there is room to explore the topic in games. But to imply that games can’t be fun for everyone because there is no “gay Drake” equivalent is a pretty silly argument.

    However, in games that do explore sex and sexual themes (even if most do so in a pretty ham fisted way), I agree that there is room for some gay leading characters. I’d point out though that it’s been done a few times already. The first that comes to mind is Poison from the Final Fight games. Then there are the leading ladies in Fear Effect, one of the characters (can’t remember his name) in Enchanted Arms, some serious gay undertones to El Shaddai, etc… then there are the Bioware RPGs, Mass Effect and Dragon Age, both of which allow you to play a gay character and in the case of Dragon Age, even if you play straight, at least one of the characters in the game is gay regardless (and he’s easily one of the most entertaining and well written of the characters in my opinion).

    • Latches

      This.

    • Facilitation of fun is what I’m talking about though certainty some people get put off completely–just like some people might not notice or can enjoy it.

      Nobody is talking in absolutes here!

  10. Carl

    “At the end of the day, we need a ‘Gay Drake’. ”

    No, we dont. I’m far from a homophobic person, but acting like we NEED to have homosexuality in video games is ridiculous. Yeah, it CAN be there, games like Mass Effect have let it happen if I’m not mistaken, but there doesnt need to be a poster child of gay characters in video games.

    I dont understand why we need a game character whose identity will probably revolve around their sexuality just for the sake of having a gay character.

    Maybe if done right, a gay main character would be a good thing, but we dont NEED that. It would have to be done RIGHT.

    • Latches

      And this too.

    • I’m not sure what gives you the impression that I want a poorly made gay character.

  11. Latches

    Diversity is always a good thing. I know it, as a minority and victim of racism, and many others do as well. Ive stated to both my friends and on other forums that we need more meaning in games and that games have evolved into media that could influence thinking just as much as any news program or documentary. This is especially true when you look at games that promote and tout realism.

    Now, its true – very true, that games sexualize women and its both stupid and completely unnecessary. I dont understand, however, how you can equate such an important topic as the treatment of women to the topic of homosexuality. It just doesnt have the same weight. Whatever you consider homosexuality to be – a disease, mental disorder, natural state of being, whatever – its still nothing compared to the topic of womens rights or even civil rights with regard to RACE or RELIGION.

    I mean what do you want? Rights for gays? Alright. What else? Are you going to pull what they pulled to put Israel where it is today? Jews “deserve” they’re own country so its okay to destroy millions of Palestinian homes for the sake of their desires. No one in their right minds – knowing the humanitarian nightmare that is the Gaza Strip – would say the Israelis are right to do what they’re doing. Gays arent a race. They’re an idea or, if thats offending, they’re just another group of human beings that think sexuality is more important than anything else. Might as well give nudist their own country right? Or the KKK, right? Most people in the world learn how to just live and BE among the rest of humanity.

    Anyway, my point is that there are far more important issues to tackle than being gay or the representation of gays in games – of ALL things. Gay make up a small minority of gamers. I mean – women arent even representing properly yet and you’re shoving THIS down our throats? Hell NOTHING is represented properly in games – not parents, families, children, love, hatred, pain, racism, success, pride. NOTHING. Do you think every guy wants to be equated to Drake? Do you think we all find ourselves out to be confident charming and courageous young men? NO! Most definitely not. Many straight and intelligent guys have self esteem issues while other have issues with fear and leadership. We WANT to be better, we WANT to be considered men but oft find we might just be outside the “norm”. Games SHOULD be fun for “everyone” but they should also be taken for what they are – games.

    p.s. I read that other article too, the one by Mattie, and while I would like to say much much more I will say that it was a wonderfully articulated, sculpted and eloquently stated whine. To be short. Im sorry, thats harsh, but true. I wont discount ALL of the article. There was a lot of good but that didnt overcome the whining tone of the rest.

    • There are many other issues, definitely some bigger than others, this was just grounded in a recent controversy, that’s all. My not writing about them doesn’t equal ignorance in that regard, I just kept this relevant to the thing that spurred it/topical. I’m not shoving anything down anyone’s throat.

      But I think just because there are bigger issues doesn’t mean this should be ignored. Ideally, we provide a safe space for under represented groups, lifestyles, peoples and will mature to tackle serious subjects. You aren’t really responding to this inasmuch as you are deflecting, here.

  12. gunstar

    The negativity Microsoft has built in the gaming community has gone too far. Its 2012 and westerners are still at it. Microsoft will pay for this.

  13. Jim

    Hmmmmm, stop complaining – and make a game yourself!

  14. Poobah

    There’s nothing wrong with Drake being gay. There is something wrong with a STRICTLY hetero-normative society. People are gay, folks… there’s no reason to be offended by someone wanting a gay main character in gaming. It’s not like gay people are offended by all presumptions of their being straight, that’s just the way things work. Remember this though, things change. Hopefully, someday, everyone can be cool with everyone and acknowledge that yes, there is a group of people that the majority of our society doesn’t always cater to or understand.
    Be aware.