While there has been some notable improvement lately, video games have not historically done a fantastic job of representing queer identities (or really anything other than “straight white dude”). The days of overt homophobia and extreme stereotypes are mostly behind us, but to put it bluntly, LGBTQ+ gamers usually take what we can get in the representation realm. Sometimes, that means playing as a gay character with very little actual identity beyond a statistic on a character sheet. In many cases, it means there is a female character who can be romanced by any gender of player character but basically is just gay or straight depending on your play-through, rather than a realistic portrayal of a bisexual woman. In an increasing number of cases, an NPC (usually one you can’t romance) is presented as canonically gay, but this either comes off as tokenization or even as baiting. It acknowledges that queer people exist within the world of the game, but doesn’t really allow queer gamers to roleplay authentically, unless you count “one dimensional flirting with that person I have no chance of hooking up with” as an authentic roleplaying experience.
As the trend towards inclusiveness increases, we often see developers either avoid defining a character’s sexuality if it doesn’t directly come up in gameplay or taking a “let’s just make everyone pansexual so players can make their own canon” approach (like many Bethesda and Bioware games). While there is actually something to be said for that second approach, particularly in an open RPG where making your own story is the point of the game, there is also something to be said for explicitly defining those identities and making players deal with the reality of not everyone on earth being bi/pan.
Note that the female version of the char is featured in the promo art. (image via Wikipedia)
The debate over the portrayal of sexuality in games has been going on for quite a while (anyone remember the controversy surrounding Juhani from KOTOR 1?), but gender is only just starting to get addressed along these lines, and finding solid representation of BTQ characters is often much harder than finding LG representation. Recently, Dragon Age 3 took a bold stance and allowed players to define not only their sexuality but their gender identity. The success of that game and the fact that the inclusiveness certainly didn’t hurt sales has opened some doors, and developers are starting to cautiously move towards them.
The recently released Torment: Tides of Numenera falls squarely into that category, exploring these concepts in a way that’s actually inclusive but not quite taking it to the level of DA3 in terms of how that is done. Like much about Torment, it’s a solid step in the right direction if not quite a running start.
Over the past few months, I’ve gotten really into Dungeons & Dragons, a role-playing and story-telling game that relies on improvisation and dice. A game of D&D is led by a Dungeon Master who provides a fantasy world for the players to interact with, and together, they build a story. I discovered D&D through Critical Role, which is a weekly livestream showing a group of people playing the game. It’s quite unlike any other media content I consume, as it doesn’t have a team of writers and is largely improvised. Moreover, it started as a private home game, so it wasn’t even initially created with an audience in mind (although the players did make the decision to continue their game instead of starting a new one for the broadcast).
However, since it started streaming two years ago, it has become quite a phenomenon, inspiring people to play D&D and to create. I wrote about the show several weeks ago while I was still frantically trying to catch up and as such didn’t really stop to think much about anything. I was very excited, for instance, about the mere fact that the show includes LGBTQ+ representation. Since then, I’ve finished catching up and had time to reflect on and look at this representation a little more critically. While Critical Role does have characters of differing gender identities and sexualities who are portrayed with care and respect, some of the actions of the players show a lack of consideration towards the LGBTQ+ characters and the people they represent.
While I consider myself an anime fan, I only count a surprisingly few anime titles among my all time favorites. One that definitely makes the cut is FLCL. It is almost impossible to explain what exactly FLCL actually is (though our own BrothaDom made a truly valiant effort); the show is legendarily rumored to be a byproduct of writer’s block, spawning from a handful of unfinished ideas that some anime all-stars had been batting around. While that may be at least somewhat apocryphal, it certainly explains much of the show’s signature production style. One interpretation for it all that I cannot help wanting to explore, however, is that the entire story is a parable about adolescent sexual and romantic coming of age.
Quiet moments like this have more raw emotion than the apocalyptic action scenes.
Much of the plot is directly and explicitly just that: a coming-of-age story. It can be argued, though, that the more grandiose and surreal main story arc is all one giant metaphor for this as well. In addition to the protagonist Naota, almost every other key character (primarily the three women in Naota’s life: Haruko, Mamimi, and Eri) also deals with these themes and the extraordinary events that happen to them are all viewable as metaphorical (and/or metaphysical) extensions of those emotional struggles.
As the YA sci-fi and fantasy genres become more and more of a driving force in pop culture, FLCL is worth revisiting (again) for what it says about some of those same themes. It tells a complex and deeply layered yet easily relatable story about the nature of romantic and sexual self-discovery in a way that validates the emotions that young people (and everyone else) look to explore in this type of fiction; not only that, but it does so in a way that treats them with a sincerity that mainstream YA fiction sometimes tends to handle with melodrama and/or trivialization.
Trigger warning for underage sexual relationships below.
Black History Month is moving right along, and while everyone is out there quoting Martin Luther King Jr. or incorrectly talking about Frederick Douglass, I think it’s important that we look at issues surrounding our Black women, as well. Luckily, we’re slowly but surely getting more Black girls and women in our media! Unfortunately, from looking at depictions of Black girls and women in media, such as last year’s scandal over Riri Williams, it’s easy to see that Black (and darker-skinned) women tend to be more sexualized in nerd media than their white (and fairer-skinned) counterparts. This creates a culture where darker bodies are seen as inherently more sexual, and thus more acceptable as targets of objectification and sexual violence.
Moana was several different brands of delightful, but one aspect that captured my heart is that it draws its inspiration from mythology rather than from fairy tales—something Disney hasn’t really done since Hercules, and something that gives its heroine a very interesting dynamic. The movie features the trickster god Maui as one of its main characters and incorporates other elements of Polynesian folklore, but I was especially interested—and pleasantly surprised—to see that Moana herself has quite a traditional mythical hero’s character arc.
She is a leader, chosen by nature and destiny, who sets out on a quest surrounding an important magical object, where she ventures through the realm of the supernatural and tangles with gods. When it’s over, the balance of nature is restored and she returns to her people as a wiser and more capable ruler. It’s a quintessential hero-king quest narrative, which, incidentally, is also a quintessentially male narrative. But without so much as a shrug, Moana gives this archetype to its female heroine and sends her on her journey.
When I first watched Star Trek: The Next Generation as a kid, I was struck by how strongly I connected to the characters. For many of us, I think, it was one of the first shows to really inspire. Not only as a bold continuation of Roddenberry’s vision for the future, but as role models for how to live our lives. Picard, Data, Dr. Crusher, even Wesley all served as early examples of what we aspire to be and how to start living up to that aspiration. But as I grew older, I realized that one character in particular was causing me to think about gender roles and romance in ways I wouldn’t fully understand for years: Lt. Commander Geordi LaForge.
“Oh crap, Picard’s got that ‘I need you to violate the laws of physics’ look on his face again.”
In rewatching those episodes, I have come to understand the character of Geordi LaForge as, among other things, a parable about how easy it is to fall prey to toxic masculinity and how genuine confidence and respect rather than bravado and entitlement are the keys to avoiding it. This was something that takes years for many people to understand, and fortunately, we have years worth of TNG to see Geordi’s masculinity evolve as he begins to understand these things as well.
If you haven’t already heard, Blizzard Entertainment revealed to the world last month in their holiday comic Reflections that Lena “Tracer” Oxton, the mascot character for itsacclaimed multiplayer game Overwatch, was a lesbian. Given how omnipresent she is in the game’s marketing, it was awesome to see this first step for queer representation within the game’s universe.
Within the statement that followed the comic’s release, in which they clarified that Tracer’s particular flavor of LGBTQ-ness was the L, Blizzard also confirmed that Tracer would not be the only character in Overwatch who identified somewhere within the alphabet soup of non-hetero sexualities. This, of course, led to immediate speculation about who else in Overwatch was queer.
My guess? All of them. We flock together. It is known. (via visitantlit)
In these discussions, Aleksandra “Zarya” Zaryanova is a frequently heard name. Indeed, Zarya’s bulky build, pink hair, and overall aesthetic seem to fit the common idea of what a butch lesbian looks like. That, however, is exactly where the discussion becomes tricky.