Between two pixels

Welcome to the another edition of Fanny Fridays (shamelessly inspired by Grant Morrison’s Lord Fanny character from The Invisibles). These weekly posts examine the mirror of gender and sex that occurs between our culture and videogames.

Not surprisingly, the issue of gay marriage has been on my mind this week. It saw me go from the contact buzz that was Chicago on the eve of November 4th to the devastating crash later that evening when looking at Proposition 8 in California and two similar measures in Florida and Arizona. This then had me thinking on similar issues in games.

I don’t believe in the institution of marriage as it relates to government, which is why my reaction to Tuesday evening’s events caught me by surprise. That being said, given the opportunity to marry in games, I normally take it; games don’t traditionally depict marriage as something that the state recognizes (we don’t have to sign legal documents to validate these marriages), but something that is an extension of love or a profit to our characters. So, imagine my disgust when I realized in Sims 2 that Denis Sim could have a civil union with his partner–not a marriage like his heterosexual sims. I promptly quit the game and refused to play it for months (yes, I’m a Sims junkie). While it is a step in the right direction, it seems a woefully misguided one. Especially as it would appear that this would just put more work on behalf of the programmers; they put in more work to leave me feeling insulted.

However, gay marriage in games has been happening for quite some time, in varying degrees. In reading the linked to Gamasutra article, I was reminded of my experiences with The Temple of Elemental Evil, and then Fallout 2. Both Dene Carter (from Fable) and Tim Cain (from Fallout) had interesting ways of presenting how this option came to fruition in their respective games:

“It was not so much a question of overt inclusion as a reluctance to remove something that occurred naturally in the course of creating our villagers’ artificial intelligence. Our villagers each had a simple concept of ‘attraction to the hero.’ We’d have had to write extra code to remove that in the case of same-sex interactions. This seemed like a ridiculous waste of time.” –Dene Carter

In a slightly different vein, prompted by the inclusion of actually being able to choose the sex of one’s character:

“A big part of the ‘Fallout’ series was that we wanted it to be as open-ended as possible. We had no way of knowing whether you were going to be a man or a woman, so we decided to write all the different dialogue combinations.” –Tim Cain

The option of marriage seems one that would more frequently appear in an RPG. These games tend to provide choices and customization of one’s character. Therefore, this often includes the option of choosing one’s sex and then creating AI for character and NPC reactions to each other; one has to put in more work to be exclusive. Placing restrictions that don’t make much sense would create a jarring reality. You mean I can’t marry this person who is attracted to me? Oh. Wait…

It intrigues me that in these games, we rarely see a government mandate on marriage. Usually we spend our time pushing forward to somehow woo our beaus. While I’m sure there are many players that take their options and choose the more advantageous one, there is also the glimmer that we can either make a decision as a reflection of our own desires, or to further the story as we see fit. In Fallout 2, this is laced with a certain sense of humor. A farmer has a son and daughter; regardless of your sex, if you sleep with either one, you are forced into a shotgun wedding. While the father was slightly offput for a moment when my male character slept with his son, he insisted that I not impugn his honor. There is a small ceremony, but in the great wastes, nothing truly holds you to this wedding other than your own honor (and the possible loss of karma if you kill them all).

From a conversation I had with Corvus, Fable 2 takes this a step further: not only can you have hetero- and homosexual relationships and marriages, but each NPC has a sexual preference (including bisexual). This is a step beyond even the Sims, where every person is defaulted to a bisexual status. There are even some who take offense to same-sex relationships in Albion v2.0 (though Corvus assured me this was the exception, not the rule). I have to say, this has me both intrigued and actually solidly swung the game into a must-buy. Therein lies the groundwork for an actual culture and system where love and relationships have meaning, rather than either a linear progression or blank slate in which everything is possible, giving no weight to the actual choices. In reality, I have had to tell females that I have no interest in them, and been told the same by straight men. This happens.

That being said, I feel fairly safe in saying that it may be a while before we have a non-queer targeted game that presents us with a homosexual protagonist who is either already in or is pursuing a relationship. Kratos can have his family and King Graham can search for his queen, but we have not yet reached even sexual maturity in videogames, let alone being able to portray a gay relationship out of which one cannot opt. Which is where the problem ultimately lies. One can often accept a heterosexual marriage or relationship, even when it does not proffer a hint of on-screen sex, because that sex often begets children. There is also the fact that a heterosexual relationship can be seen as purely platonic by some. In contrast, gay sex is ultimately considered hedonistic and sinful, and a gay relationship automatically brands the issue with sex. Now we’ve introduced the concept of marked/unmarked into the politics of relationships.

This is not just games, however. Will & Grace brought gay characters to a non-niche audience, but made them safe and without relationships that actually were portrayed on screen. Brokeback Mountain was acceptable as a film in which the relationship was not allowed to be pursued and ended with both parties being ‘punished’ (all too common in LGBT films). Given these examples, I’m actually surprised that games have made even more progress than other media mainstays when we’re often considered puerile man children whose bigotry is heard across Xbox Live speech. Here’s to hoping Sims 3 doesn’t cram a union down my throat again.


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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One Response to Between two pixels

  1. Scott Juster says:

    I didn’t know that about marriage in the Sims. How disappointing.I wonder how much the “civil union” decision was influenced by business and economics? Perhaps EA forbade Will Wright and co. to have gay marriages, for fear of public outcry, or that big “family-values (read: bigoted)” retailers like Wal-Mart wouldn’t carry their game?Things get dicey when art and capitalism are intertwined so closely…

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