The Appliaction of Alternative Sexuality in Video Games
In The Video Game Theory Reader we read that new forms of art can still come into existence, usually through the invention of a new technology, and that video games, just like cinema has grown to be a new form of art. “Things do change. New art forms do come into existence – not often – but, when you think back, there was a time when there were no novelists or poets or playwrights. Before the invention of writing there was only storytelling and oral ballads(1).” Since the inception of video games, there has been a progression from singular entities, to the dividing of genres, and to the decision of the masses of what games are good, and which are not. This progression is the same as with any type of art form. From this we can gauge the history of certain elements inherent to art, and see the development of the element. There were many games listed in The Video Game Theory Reader, which allowed the reader to know something about the progression of video games, but a question which it did not cover, or examples it did not use, is: How did homosexuality progress through video games?
To look at this progression let us start back in the 1980's, with the Original Nintendo Entertainment System. In one of Nintendo's premiere releases, Super Mario 2 the character known as Birdo, was a boss like character. In the original player's manual he was characterized as thinking he was a female. This character threw eggs as his attack power, and wanted to be a female bird named Birdetta. Apparently his conflicted sexuality is what made him mad enough to want to throw eggs at Mario.
The next example is from 1990 from a PC game called Ultima VI. This game was played in DOS or Windows 3.11. While playing as an avatar, you were allowed to proposition a character named Zoltan who resided north of the Trinsic city. If playing a male character, Zoltan would not object to sexual relations, but merely state, “Money is money.”
Further through the Ultima series another example of homosexuality occurs. While playing the avatar in Ultima VII, the choice was given to the player while traveling through the Buccaneer Isles to have a bed mate. This bed mate could be of either gender, and naturally the same gender as the player's avatar. This game was socially dynamic and every choice would influence the game play experience. So the decision to have a same sex bed mate, would contribute to further player interaction throughout the game.
The next example comes from Final Fantasy VII a popular role playing game released by Sony in 1997. In this game, the avatar named Cloud experienced several homo-erotic situations, if the player followed the story correctly. As the story goes, Cloud must rescue one of his teammates, Tifa, from Don Corneo, who is looking for a wife. His other team member, Aeris, offers the idea of acquiring items needed for dressing him as a woman i.e. wig, perfume, lipstick, etc. so he can slip into Don Corneo's place of residence, and rescue his friend Tifa. In his hunt for the items, Cloud goes to a spa where he has a choice of doors to take. By making the right choice, he wanders into a herd of men in a bathtub, where they wrestle him into their midst. While no homosexual implications are obviously stated, there is an undertone to the scene which can be taken as him enjoying the experience.
If Cloud acquired all the items, he and Aeris were let into Don Corneo's house where Cloud is chosen by Don Corneo over his two female teammates. The scene following shows Cloud entering Don Corneo's room, and attempting mildly to thwart his advances. There is then a blank scene where it is implied that Cloud and Don Corneo kiss. Directly afterwards, you see his teammates break in the door and Cloud pulls off his wig and uses his gigantic sword to take control of the situation.
Following Final Fantasy VII Sony released a game entitled Shadow Hearts: Covenant which debuted in 2004. In this game, Vampire Wrestler Joachim has to engage in implied homosexual activities to prove himself as a wrestler. Also in this game, the player character Gepetto uses a Marionette Doll of his late daughter Cornelia to channel his magic. For his puppet to gain new abilities, the player needs to find Stud Cards(2). The Stud Cards depict muscular, near naked, men reminiscent of art done by Tom of Finland, a prominent gay artist(3). These stud cards are traded to Pierre Magimel, a tailor that enjoys collecting the cards and who makes Cornelia Doll clothing in return.
Another example from 2004 is a game entitled Fable. In this game, while lacking any official viewing of sexual acts or character development, the player had the freedom to choose whether the avatar was gay, straight, or bi-sexual. The avatar could even marry a character of the same gender. The final example I have, although there are many more to choose from, has the return of Birdo in Super Smash Brothers. Brawl for the Nintendo Wii, released in 2007. In this game, Birdo returns as a male character who still desires to be female. Although unlike his original appearance, this time he is dressed in female clothing for the game.
By these examples, we see that homosexual expression in Video Games has been around for a long time, but it has often been hidden within the different games. The PC Video Game market has been the leader in the homosexual gaming experience, because initially it was seen as an adult medium. This allowed the games developed for PC to be less restrictive in their content. This content was not just homosexual, but also encompassed crude language, behavior, violence and sexual content. Some games, such as the titles from the Leisure Suit Larry series, were even labeled as soft porn adventures. Consoles were marketed more specifically for a younger audience, and content was more closely monitored.
Nintendo was one of the first companies to put into effect a Code which their games had to measure up to. “A developer had first to obtain permission from Nintendo in which Nintendo reserved the right to preview the games and demand changes before allowing release. This ensured that no game released for a Nintendo system had objectionable or offensive themes, as well as exercise quality control. This gave rise to a highly developed system of censorship. A game sold on a Nintendo system could not display or make reference to illicit drugs, tobacco and alcohol, violence against women, blood and graphic violence, profanity, nudity, religious symbols, political advocacy, or "sexually suggestive or explicit content(4)."
This does not directly include or mention homosexual content, but it is implied. This statement can be used throughout the video gaming industry. Even when we look to movies and other types of media we find that heterosexual norms have been expressed for a long time. The Video Game Theory Reader states, “One way it has been normalized is through media representations of the ideal heterosexual romance(5).”
Even though there isn't an actual video game specifically developed for a homosexual audience, there are still ways that programmers and developers have been able to include gay players into the realm of enjoying video games. Whether it is in the form of a cross dressing bird, a few possible homo-erotic cut-scenes, or the ability to play a character with the opportunity to sleep, and even marry a character of the same sex, gay players are still involved.
The future seems to have less and less restrictions to game designers and homosexuals as well. The possibilities of more homosexual content in video games, as well as all other media, are increasing. This inclusion of homosexual content could possibly be sped up as video gaming becomes more and more accepted as a legitimate art form. Although, many games produced now which contain homosexual content are labeled for teenage audiences or above. Hopefully we will soon see games where instead of showing a mom and a dad hug, we will see two moms. Maybe we will be able to play as a team of two male lovers, or the hero may need to save his male lover at some point. And most importantly, if the content is suitable for younger players, allow them to play the games, rather than labeling homosexuality as strictly adult content. Allow younger people to see that homosexual parents are merely different, not strange or less acceptable, than heterosexual parents. Hopefully, video games will be able to assist in the acceptance and tolerance of homosexuality, as well as other misunderstood minorities.
1.Wolf, Mark J.P., and Bernard Perron. The Video Game Theory Reader. New York: Routledge, 2003. pg. Viii
2.Stud Cards: gaygamer.net. http://gaygamer.net/2006/07/shadow_hearts_covenant_stud_ca_1.html
3.Tom of Finland Foundation Erotic Art Gallery. 2003 http://www.tomoffinlandfoundation.org/foundation/EAG/11/11.html
4.Wikipedia: LGBT characters in video games. 04-24-2008. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_characters_in_video_games
5.Wolf, Mark J.P., and Bernard Perron. The Video Game Theory Reader. New York: Routledge, 2003. pg. 174
6.Video Game Timeline: Wikipedia: LGBT characters in video games. 04-24-2008. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_characters_in_video_games