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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Dwellings On the Revisioned Tomb Raider

Say hello to the new Lara Croft.

Say hello to the new Lara Croft.

Lara Croft was one of my childhood heroes. I absolutely adored her, and it’s not hard to see why – she’s beautiful, intelligent, rich, and most importantly of all, a brunette (represent). That said, there’s a lot of reasons not to like her. While I may have been able to look past these faults as a kid, she’s also a blatant sexual objectification of women, she destroys precious artifacts wherever she goes, and, depending on how you play, kills endangered animals without a second thought.

Needless to say, Lara and I have a complicated relationship. As an adult, I’m still terribly fond of her – I even dressed as her for Halloween in 2011. However, this maturation adds conflict to the matter; a girl can’t understand the many negative aspects of Lara’s character, but a woman most certainly can. It’s of little wonder, then, that I was thrilled to hear that Square Enix was pairing with Crystal Dynamics to remake the famous franchise with a new goal in mind: to make Lara Croft a dynamic and accessible character to all genders.

You go, girl!

You go, girl!

At first, this was purely delightful news, but it soon became evident that the new Lara came with a new reality. Every day, women face the risk of rape and sexual assault. Most of us don’t let it rule our lives, but it’s a constant presence in the back of your mind when you’re walking alone at night or stuck in a strange place by yourself. You have to be careful, and you have to be smart.

Lara Croft is not the former.

Kudos goes to the developers for taking on such a difficult subject. Rape and sexual assault are, unfortunately, a reality for all of us, but it’s rarely handled well in media. At best, it is a clumsily portrayed “gimme” used by producers to stir up emotional toil in its female audience, but, in actuality, mostly serves to alienate us, whether we are victims or not. To put it bluntly, it’s generally a bad choice.

The emotional weight tied to such a violating experience is something to be respected. I, myself, have never gone through such a thing, but one doesn’t have to be a survivor of rape or sexual assault to understand this concept. Thus becomes my wariness: I love Tomb Raider, but I don’t want to see the game ruin itself by mishandling an emotionally loaded scenario.

A screencap pf the infamous scene from the 2012 trailer for the newTomb Raider.

A screencap of the infamous scene from the 2012 trailer for the new Tomb Raider.

“But wait!” you say, “There isn’t actually any rape in 2013’s Tomb Raider!”

It doesn’t matter. The implication is there, the threat is present, and it’s something that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have both addressed directly. If you’re intent on disbelieving this notion, please take a few moments out of your day to view the controversial trailer below.

It’s troubling, to say in the least. How can a video game possibly cover something like this? Can it be done properly?

Tentatively, I’m going to say yes. I’ve mentioned before the rape scene from General Custard’s Revenge, which is what I think a lot of gamers are expecting from the newest installment of the Tomb Raider franchise, but perhaps a touch less cartoony. This is 2012. The game is coming out in 2013. Personally, I have high hopes for Lara Croft; Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have an admirable goal, and they’re trying to approach an underlying subject that was fumbled in the series’ past with insipid come-ons from male members of the cast.

There are going to be offended parties, regardless, and it would be incredibly insensitive of me to say that they’re wrong. Everyone responds differently to such emotionally charged subjects, regardless of sex and experience. Someone is going to be hurt, and therein lies an important dilemma – is it right to put this in a form of entertainment? It has been done well before in films (Deliverance, The Girl with the Dragon TattooIrreversible), which indicates to me that there remains a chance for this game to pull it off.

It’s all about respect and treatment of the subject matter. If 2013’s Tomb Raider can manage to handle the (very real) dangers that Lara Croft faces as a young, attractive woman alone in the wilderness, it may just set a standard for the industry that has yet remained untouched.

Finding Self-Confidence in a Previously Male-Dominated Industry

Women have been creeping slowly into the video game industry since its infancy. While it originally was a boy’s playground, women now comprise 47% of all gamers (thanks to ESA for the statistics), a fairly respectable number. Unfortunately, the time it took us to invade the lockers of gaming has resulted in a conflicted response from the pre-existing player base, particularly in MMOs.

The aforementioned is the focus of countless social studies, many of which I’ll admit are much more in-depth and informative than what I’m writing to you today. However, I write this not out of study, but of experience, like many female gamers do today. What we discuss is a common trend that needs to stop, and it will on two conditions: that women begin to stand up for themselves when harassed online, and also that the male playerbase raises their voice against the boys that initiate such interations. An excellent article written by Ernest W. Adams (an employee of EA) takes on a male perspective of sexual harassment online, and I feel what the author states therein is all too true for the opposite sex.

That said, there are plenty of men online who behave with dignity and respect towards women. Out of the many conversations I’ve had in MMOs over the year, the majority have (fortunately) been nothing but pleasant. However, there remain to this day the players that never truly got beyond the stage where the gaming industry was a men’s clubhouse.

The worst experience I’ve had, personally, was in a guild I briefly joined in World of Warcraft. The guild attracted a number of men from the latter faction; they would repeatedly harass women in the guild for naked pictures and digital sexual favors until they caved and provided them. This is exactly what we need to avoid doing. Women, if you’re reading this, don’t ever devalue yourself to these children – at the end of the day, they’re just faces on the Internet, and they certainly aren’t worth your dignity.

What have your experiences been? Opinions from either side of the fence are welcome here; although this blog focuses primarily on the female experience, it would be excellent to hear from men as well.