Thoughts On Sexuality and Diversification in the Gaming World

Although interesting, Barret was a mixed bag when it came to the representation of African Americans.

Although interesting, Barret was a mixed bag when it came to the representation of African Americans.

The past decade has seen quite a change in the gaming industry. Whereas the standard hero was once a strapping white male with similarly archetyped comrades, developers have been exploring race and sexuality as of late. Little by little, video games are becoming more reflective of the real world and its populace.

One particular company that comes to mind is Bioware, which, despite recent losses (the outrage in response to Mass Effect 3‘s ending, SWTOR‘s decline), has become a key entity in the industry when it comes to diversification. Taking a look specifically at the Mass Effect series, Bioware created characters that were bisexual (asari may be monogendered, but come on), lesbian, gay, African American, Japanese, and finally, one individual of Hispanic ancestry.

That’s a hell of a cast. Typically, such inserts often have the feel of a Burger King kid’s club, where minorities and alternate sexualities are included solely as tokens. In Mass Effect 3, that isn’t the case – the universe it takes place in is incredibly diverse both in race and species, making non-white, GLBT members a natural addition to the cast. It’s a great step in the right direction for making video games more accessible to more people of all races and sexualities.

Furthermore, Bioware is to be commended for their defense of the GLBT community. They have, in the past, outright decried players who complained about homosexual and bisexual options in the game. Go ahead and read the whole post by David Gaider – it’s worth a look.

Final Fantasy VII was an earlier game that included an African American cast member, and though we all love Barret for the right reasons (his story was much more complex and emotionally involved than the average Final Fantasy character), he had a lot to work on. Square Enix made the mistake of making Barret’s dialogue stereotypical. Aside from Cid Highwind, who still had better grammar, Barret was one of the only characters in the game that had a colloquial (some would call it Ebonics) dialogue. It made him stand out, and not in a good way. Even so, he was one of the most unique and recognizable African American character of the ’90s (in regards to games), which makes him an important figure in this discussion.

Contrastingly, take a new character over a decade later – Sergeant James Heller, from Prototype 2. James Heller is a man who has goals, a past, ambition, and personality. When I played Prototype 2, I had a blast listening to Heller’s quips about his surroundings. It was also a relief to see a minority as the protagonist of the game, rather than a side character. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a mainstream game yet that does the same for the GLBT community, with the exception of games in which you can create your own avatar (mostly, courtesy again to Bioware).

It’s inarguable that the diversification of video games is a great thing for the industry. Racism and homophobia have a way of subtly interfering with any form of media, whether it be in the deliberate placing of a character fitting the “type” or in the distinct absence of any such individuals. Addressing race and sexuality well by putting thought and time into these characters is an excellent advancement for video games as a whole, and makes them feel much more true to life.

Now, what kind of character would you like to see starring in the next generation of video games?

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