Don't Expect A Gay Video Game Star Any Time Soon

Don't Expect A Gay Video Game Star Any Time Soon

It's tough enough getting women and dudes who aren't white into a starring role in a video game. So imagine how impossible it is to try and get a gay or lesbian character in the spotlight.

A seemingly pedestrian interview on Ubisoft's company blog last week got interesting when Lucien Soulban, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon's writer, was asked "As an openly gay man working in the industry, what do you think the odds are that we'll get a mid-30s stubbly-bearded brown-haired white guy with a raspy voice who is gay as a lead character in a AAA title?"

A joke question, perhaps, but to his credit, Soulban immediately reworks it, saying "I think the real question is, When are going to get a gay/lesbian AAA hero(ine) who isn't a one-off joke?"

"So when are we going to see that gay protagonist in a AAA game?", he says. "Not for a while, I suspect, because of fears that it'll impact sales. So either we'll see a bait-and-switch like the original Metroid with Samus Aran where we'll find out damn near after the fact (PS: And Dumbledore was gay), or it'll come out of left field with Rockstar, Valve, Naughty Dog or Telltale, perhaps. But when it happens, I hope it's a serious take on it and not played up for jokes."

Note that he's not talking about games like Mass Effect, where you can choose to be gay. Nor is he talking about a peripheral character, or some DLC. He's talking about picking up the controller and knowing that a blockbuster game's main protagonist was gay.

Soulban is of course right, at least as far his idea of how it would be viewed as a business decision. Publishers have enough trouble with women in lead roles in video games, and it's 2014. The mind reels at the bannable internet comments you'd see in response to a badass space marine preferring the company of other badass space marines.

But he also inadvertently points out the single biggest problem in that line of thinking. The warped perspective. Those suits are thinking of the sales having a major, playable gay character would cost them.

What's wrong with thinking of the sales it would create for them?

SHOCKINGLY SHORT INTERVIEW: LUCIEN SOULBAN [Ubisoft]


Comments

    Whaat? Dude, come on. Did none of you play Gears of War?

      Booooo

        Think about it. Marcus was very upset when Dom sacrificed himself, even trying to walk into an exploded gas station to get his corpse back. He was fairly quiet over his fathers death, especially after reuniting with him after so long. Who else can make you cry harder over your parents death then your life partner?

          This has interesting implications with my coop buddy that must be addressed tonight...

          That scene made me weep harder than when I rubbed my eyes after chopping chilies.

          1. Marcus clearly has feelings for Anya, as does she for him - GoW3 ending, hello?
          2. Dom was his bro, his bestest best bro. If my best bro died Inwoukd react the same way.
          3. Marcus loved his Dad, but at the same time was really pissed of with him over everything he did (not dropping any major spoilers).

      we will never see a gay protagonist in a game for 1 simple reason most of the people who buy game are straight [ normal ] the are not going lose money trying to pander to an almost non existent demographic

        Wow. Please be quiet and move to another country and take your ass-backwards views with you. You don't make a character to please the market, you make a character to tell a story. Whether they be trans/gay or whatever should not affect sales when done correctly.

          He's mostly right though. I mean aside from the bit where he obviously insulted gay people by insinuating they're not normal. While that's bad, please don't make an incorrect argument just based on the fact that the other guy is an asshole.

          You don't make a character to please the market

          Nope, sorry. Unless we're talking about EA with their incessant gay pride marketing, most producers will play it safe and have a straight character that the majority of the market will relate to. You will probably find that indie developers with less corporate assholes breathing down their necks will do this sooner than triple-A devs do. Until they do though, yes, developers, or at least triple-A developers, will be creating protagonists designed to suit the market.

          Last edited 06/03/14 9:35 pm

        "Nearly non-existent demographic" its not about being gay/bi/trans to play these characters. Its about conveying a story with a meaningful message and story; not just using these characters as stereotypes.
        Just because I am a straight white male doesn't mean I want all my influences in games or other media to be them. I for one am tired of seeing the same 30 something single white male lead character in every source of media and entertainment. Its disheartening to hear leaders in the gaming industry talking about the threat of losing sales for having female/gay/interesting characters as the main lead for telling their story.
        The sad truth is though that people (like you) are out there, dismissing the fact that people other than straight white males exist.
        Maybe we need to see a trend change in video games. Fewer stories about Stubbled white men and more stories about interesting characters with feelings and emotions (maybe some common sense and decency too would be nice)
        Mysoginistic, homophobic, racist and sexist themes are far too common in AAA titles.
        (Not to mention the 'Damsel in distress' trope)

        Last edited 04/03/14 10:04 am

        ...are you friggen serious?

          I think he's serious and it's a sound conclusion.

          Games want to make money, the bigger the game, the more money they want to make. A homosexual main character is absolutely going to be a barrier to widespread appeal.

          Personally, I'm a little tired of people on both sides being so fucking narrow about issues like this. The white majority sees any sort of effort towards inclusion as a radical shift in reality for them because frankly, day to day living is constructed entirely to suit the white majority. It freaks them out to no end and it's silly. Inversely, minorities (some of them extreme minorities) demand representation in the majority culture in ways that are equally puzzling and silly. This is a great example of it - companies are ALWAYS going to try to cater to the largest group of people and they are certainly not going to lead the way on social or justice equality issues. They are profit driven followers of markets. End of story.

          Spend less time worrying about if we will have gay video game characters and more time worrying about if we have gay M.P.'s

          The sad thing is I don't actually want to discourage people from advocating for something like more gay characters in media. In fact, I think the struggle is absolutely essential to keep progress going forward, but boy I would appreciate it if we could lose some of the asinine rhetoric.

        Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Willow ended up being gay. Admittedly she wouldn't play as main protagonist, but it's a good start.
        For a "straight" predominantly male audience, late teens to mid twenties, pretty lesbians should sell quite well.

    You mean like Ellie in The Last of Us? Or Commander Shepard if your took the character in that direction (ham fisted as it was)?

    Last edited 03/03/14 2:36 pm

      Note that he’s not talking about games like Mass Effect, where you can choose to be gay. Nor is he talking about a peripheral character, or some DLC.

        Pretty sure Ellie doesn't fall under the description of "Peripheral Character", she's the female lead and you spend a good chunk of the game playing as her. My mistake on the Shepard thing.

        Last edited 03/03/14 2:36 pm

          Yeah, but her sexuality never came up.

            See, this is the problem. The sexuality of a lot of male leads never comes up. Just because everyone assumes they are straight, everyone can just assume they are gay. Each to their own.

              So then why are we praising Ellie for it?

                Because it could possibly a statistic in a very dwindling category, hence people want to vent their opinion on it.

              Exactly. Why does it matter. Games don't need romantic subplots shoved in, so why don't you leave a character's sexuality ambiguous? And you don't need to stereotype an openly homosexual character with voice and fashion in this day and age anyway.

      I think that should be in spoiler tags personally, that was a very important and touching part of the game.

      Ellie wasn't gay in the Last of Us, not at all. Her sexuality was never brought up once.

      However the character of Bill, the mechanic, he was outright 100% gay all the way through. The best part? He was not stereotype flamboyant 'HELLO DOLLY' gay. He was straight up real life 'Im gay big fucking deal' gay. They merely mentioned he had a partner, Frank, who he had lost, made no big deal about it, noone cared, he was not a stereotype at all. Yes, he was a periphary character, but I think this is the best route to go when making a main character.

      I for one could not care, I'd play a game as long as the character is well written, as long as the game is good and as long as it's not wedged in there for being there's sake but at the same time, it could be something that's 'just there' and is not made a big deal of. What if the next inFamous had a character who lost his husband? Or she lost her wife and became enraged, going on a quest of vengeance? What if the next Assassins Creed had a man living in 1700s China, living a secret life with his boyfriend, keeping their relationship secret, then his partners killed by the templars, driving it forward? I mean it's simplistic, but it can add to the plot as much as 'MY WIFE WAS KILLED! MY GF WAS KILLED RAAAAGE!'

      *shrug* Just my two cents.

        In the DLC she kisses a girl and now everyone assumes she's gay.

          Ooooh ok. Maybe she's bi? Maybe it's a case of meh. Either way, she's a fantastic charavter in a game where sexuality was incidental. Naughty dog really handled it in a way noone had before.

          Going by how many little girls act, I guess we assume all girls under the age of 20 to be gay :P

          The connection between her and Riley is undoubtedly romantic, even if it is in a young teenage self discovery context. There was more there than just that one moment.

            Plus...with Ellen Page actually coming out as gay in the past week or so, it would surprise me even less.

              Ellie is not Ellen Page even if they look similar. Ellie wasn't even played by Ellen Page.

                Oh woops. I always confuse the two characters in Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls, mainly because I haven't played either.

    Most video game protagonists could be retconned to be gay, because the majority are completely asexual (in game). Who's to say that Marcus Fenix isn't gay? Or the rebooted Lara Croft?

    The problem with a lot of thinking about representations of minorities in gaming (and film and TV, while we're at it) is that so much characterisation is short hand, whether because of laziness, incompetence or simply because it is unnecessary to the story being told. Making a point that Master Chief 'prefers the company of other badass space marines' would be wildly out of place in Halo, just as much as him having any kind of romantic attachment would be.

    I would agree that a game that included meaningful sexuality is unlikely to include a gay relationship for a while, but there really aren't many of those to begin with. Seems to me that the most likely response from an exec to a dev pitching a gay protagonist wouldn't be "how will this impact the bottom line?" but rather "why are they having sex at all when there's platforms to jump on, cars to drive fast and big guns to shoot?"

    I have to admit, I'd find a Metroid-ish twist to be rather amusing. Have the hero trying to save his true love with an androgynous name. Get to the end and they're the same gender and live happily ever after.

    Seriously though, probably won't happen for a good while. We're still struggling to have female characters on box art. :/

      I actually have this fantasy that something like Blood Dragon would have done that at the very end.

    http://www.technobuffalo.com/2012/07/30/minecraft-steve-has-no-gender/

    In almost all games I don't see how the sexuality of the main character matters. Lots of games don't use the heterosexuality of the character to define them or move on the story. The problem I see is unless the game relies upon sexual orientation to make the game seem better or the game world more convincing it will always be an unnecessary addition that looks like is only there as lip service. (which is more offensive to me)
    For example, I couldn't care if the main character in Limbo was gay. Or if Mario is gay but he's just saving Peach as he is a monarchist with a conscious. Just like I don't think it mattered that Tony was gay in GTA4's Ballad of Gay Tony, there's no reason a straight nightclub owner won't be flamboyant and do things to excess in many similar ways.
    What a fictional character likes to do with their genitalia isn't often particularly important in regards to games and their mechanics for me to enjoy them.

      I agree with most of that, although not the Gay Tony part.

      The guy WAS gay, it was part of the character. Everyone else in GTA is a fairly developed character and plenty of them are open about their sexualities. I don’t see any reason why Gay Tony needed to be ‘Flamboyant Tony’ and dog-whistle around the idea that he was a homosexual.

      GTA broaches enough topics that it never felt like some kind of out of place political statement about sexuality. The dude was just gay.

        Yes, he WAS gay, but I still don't think it mattered. His being gay didn't change the story or what you could do in the game. If Tony was straight he could still own nightclubs and live a life of excess. I'm not complaining that he was gay, I'm just saying that really in context of the game it wouldn't have made any difference. Sure the script would have needed slight changes but the story as a whole would have been no different as his being gay wasn't the driver for the story. Which is why I'm saying it didn't matter in that game's context.

      I think what you'll find a lot of activists want to see is a protagonist written from the gay perspective where it DOES actually matter and isn't just an, "Oh, and I'm gay. Not that it matters, we have ALIENS TO KILL."

      Because, to a certain extent, having a sexual orientation which is so openly reviled in so many places, and more subtly discriminated against or joked about in others, can have an impact on how you live your life and the decisions you make. There's a lotta folks out there have to go through some serious soul-searching about their sexuality, confronting the fact that they might not be 'the accepted norm', and having to figure that out and deal with the changed expectations it brings up. Something straight folk like myself have never really had to deal with, ever. Some even deal with that by embracing the whole stereotype of identity and start behaving 'camp', making that a part of their identity.

      Whether you're of the opinion that sexuality shouldn't have much of an impact on how you see the world as you go about murdering aliens and solving crimes, or whether you're in the camp that says it should colour how the player views your experience, you're still going to get a fair number who are hungry for something they can identify with, which involves that degree of combative or marginalized social experience that they feel. Folks who want if not the experience of the alienation, then the impact it has on personality and perceptions, to be present in-game.

      If anything, I suspect it's more common for folks to feel even more strongly about 'identity issues' when struggling with your identity is something you've actually had to do. It would probably help explain why so many of us who've never had to go through that don't get 'what the big deal is,' about not relating to a protagonist.
      The folks I know who've been most passionate about identifying with role-playing characters are the trans folks who have daily issues with their own identity.

        You've basically just elaborated on my point.
        If you are going to make the protagonist gay then I think you need a valid reason to do so, not just "look at this game with a gay character!" If making them gay makes it more thought provoking and actually benefits the story, then great, if it doesn't do that then it's just lip service.
        Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see games with gay characters, but I'd be more insulted if they are there only as a point of difference that adds no value to the game.

    Ideally, shouldn't it not matter? Treating a lead character's sexual orientation as a selling point is silly.

      As only a selling point I agree, as an element of an interesting and complex character, it'd be a distinct positive. They'd lose sales and get negative press from screeching bigots for sure but I'm certain that it'd be pretty much compensated for by the positive press and associated sales from gay people who see something that finally represents them as something other than an enemy or a lazy single attribute caricature.

        Screeching bigots are the majority of the target market, I'd think.

          No, they're the loudest, that's the problem. How often do people really bother to take the time to write to a company and say they really liked something or they agree with something? If they like and agree with stuff they're busy enjoying the content but if something trips the trigger in the primitive mush these noisy idiots have instead of a brain, they spend more time and energy flaming, screeching and threatening than they ever would have if they'd just ignored it and gotten on with their sad little hate filled lives. I'm one of the most cynical arseholes you'll ever meet but even I am convinced that this gaggle of bigoted hateful syphilitic cockweasels are the overwhelming minority in our community.

          In many ways this situation is as much our fault as theirs, we haven't taken the time to praise people who do a good job and possibly suggest ways they can make things even better, relying on sales to communicate our satisfaction. We talk to each other all the time about why a particular game is great but how many times have the devs heard this? In so doing we've let the echoes of the screeching gibbon hatred chorus fill the theatre until its all the performers hear.

          You know what, I've just decided that any time I play a game I like, I'm sending the devs a tweet or email saying thanks and if appropriate suggesting areas where it might be improved. We should all do that.

            You make a compelling point sir, and I must say I do believe you.

            Although, I'm not sure the devs listen, or want to listen. It almost feels like "swathes of people praising and being happy about the game" is status quo. Negative feedback is simply expected, and only majorly concentrated amounts of rage warrant an investigation (e.g. servers down, game-breaking bugs). For example, ACIV released: devs were astounded that people liked it; released surveys asking what people want (more pirating...); then they go ahead and announce/leak a game set in a land-locked country. It's like they don't want opinions in order to improve the top margin - they only want feedback to improve the bad parts.

              Although I wouldn't put the blame on the shoulders of the devs as much as the publishers who pay the devs. They get Marketing around to take a look-see, who then say, "Woahwoahwoah, you're doing WHAT? A female protagonist? Jesus guys, you're killing us, work with me here!" then run back to the bosses who tap the devs on the shoulder to say, "Marketing doesn't like this, it's going to be harder to sell."
              "Why do we care about whether it's harder to sell if it's a better game?"
              "Because WE care about whether it's harder to sell and we pay your wages."

              Also, to be fair, I'm pretty confident AC5 was well underway before AC4 even went gold and started putting discs in cases. They wouldn't have known, but they might be thinking about the reaction to 4 to make an awesome 6, or at the very least, some kind of unrelated piratey game from whoever at Ubi can get siphoned off to work on it.

              Last edited 03/03/14 5:23 pm

    I'd make a gay, black, female, atheist lead character. I'm progressive as fuck.

      I think a Gay Female character would be tolerated a lot more than a Gay Male character.

        Hmm. You make a good point, especially if she was super-sexy. WAIT! How about a transgender person? That should outrage more people.

    I'd just love it if they casually made an existing character gay, not forcing it or anything, just like having a photo of a them and their partner in their locker or something. Like one of the Gears of Wars dudebros or something. The internet rage would be hilarious and would make it so easy to spot who needs to be blocked on twitter etc.

    Also while I appreciate comments like "gay or straight I couldn't care less" (which is something I wish everyone would feel), the fact you can still get bullied, treated as a second class citizen, or even put to death in a few countries for being gay means it's still an issue regardless of if it affects you or not. I'm not gay but I've seen the discrimination my gay friends have faced even in Australia and it's heartbreaking (eg a friend's step-parent basically rejected him after he came out).

    Last edited 03/03/14 2:43 pm

      Back when they were making Gears 3, I was really hoping that they'd make Baird & Cole a couple. They really kind of feel like one anyway and it'd be hilarious to imagine the head explosions when the bigot wankers got up to that point and all of a sudden every MP game would stop being entire teams worth of Cole

        Gives new meaning to the phrase, "Can't stop the Cole Train baby! Woo!".

    I could definitely see it happening, particularly in a game like GTA V which had multiple protagonists.

    The difficulty I guess would be making the character seem like a natural fit and not like it was a forced political statement, because that would annoy me. Games have a hard enough time portraying emotional motivations at the best of times, just look how many game problems are solved with guns, portraying a gay character without making it feel like a grandiose political statement, being relevant to the game AND without alienating itself from the straight-male crowd might be tough.

    Straight guys aren’t going to want to play a game that’s about being gay (however that would work) and games where sexuality is irrelevant (Halo, Gears of War) couldn’t have an outwardly gay main character without it seeming overly pointed.

    I don’t see any reason you couldn’t have a gay lead character in something like Walking Dead though. I do think it would impact sales to some extent (I’d guess that games where you play as a woman sell less too) but it wouldn’t stop me playing the game if it was good.

      The absence of gay characters is already a political statement. All media is political, regardless of authorial intent. When people say "I wasn't trying to make a political statement", what they actually mean is "I didn't think anyone would be offended, because I wasn't thinking very hard at all."

    Enchanted Arms had a transvestite as a supporting character, that's pretty close!

    I wouldn't say there have "never" been any playable gay characters, the known ones are just usually in the lesser known titles or in a party style situation. Fighting games tend to have at least one LGBTQ character in their line up (eg. Evil Zone, Guilty Gear, King of Fighters). RPGs also sometimes have party members that have different sexual orientations as well such as Enchanted Arms, Persona, certain Fire Emblem games and Earthbound. Then there other examples of playable characters in a roster having a different orientation (or at least experimenting) such as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

    It's a bit unfair to exclude player selected orientations as that is still catering for an audience that doesn't want to play a straight male or female. The other thing that is a little unfair is the fact that the character needs to be explicitly stated as gay. There are quite a lot of games that have no real indicators of sexuality nor any reason to state it, and even then, just because the guy gets the girl (or vice versa) it does not preclude them from being pansexual or bisexual.

    Last edited 03/03/14 4:29 pm

    What about GTA ballad of gay tony?

      I think Trevor 'any hole's a goal' from GTA5 might count, perhaps? Does bi count? Not that we saw any man-on-man action on-screen, whereas we did see him with the ladies.

        I am sure with enough moonshine Trevor could do anything

    If you want to make a gay character without frightening the prejudiced cowards out there, just do what J.K. Rowling did with Dumbledore and wait until the end of the story to out them. By that time, people have completed their journey with the protagonist and fear of lost sales are a non-issue.

    That business with Ellie in the Last Of Us DLC is a good example. People have already gone through a whole game with her and become invested in the character, so only a cretin would still be taking objection with learning her brain was buttered that side. Even if someone complains, they've already paid for the game and the DLC, meaning the publishers no longer have to pretend to give a shit about what they think.

    Im not bothered by the content of this article, but Plunkett needs some serious lessons in grammar and sentence structure.

    Also Leon Kennedy is a great example of a gay main protagonist.

    Last edited 03/03/14 8:22 pm

    Agree with the concept, but I gotta say, it made me wonder how many male or female player characters could be gay without gamers ever knowing.
    In many games sexuality or relationships are never touched on, even some story heavy games. How would we know the lead is gay, straight, trans or not, unless we're searching for stereotypical signs? Or there is an explicit reveal. Obviously, not every gay man is flamboyant and not every lesbian is more masculine than their straight counterparts etc etc. What if they're 'normal' in every sense?
    I'm curious what gamers would expect of a gay or lesbian main character's personality.

    I would probably be more offended if a game company made a gay lead character purely for the sake of having a gay lead character. That's what would piss me off to be honest. If it was organic, not a focus of the story / game (read, shoved in your face at every moment), and wasn't made a big deal of, then I wouldn't mind. Although I will state that I was a little angry that Dumbledore was gay. That seemed like it was just tacked on for the sake of it, which kinda irked me. Like, if you're not going to mention it in the book somewhere, don't tack it on outside of the book by saying "Oh yeah, Dumbledore was gay btw".

    I don't exactly play a game anyway wondering about if my character is straight, bi or gay in the first place, it means literally nothing to me, at all.

    Just in case my above ramblings came across as homophobic or anything, I should probably state I'm the furthest thing from homophobic.

    Didn't Fear Effect 2 : Retro Helix have openly gay main characters back in ye olde PS1 days?

      You and I have very different memories on how that relationship worked out...

        Scratching my head on this one. They were, weren't they?

        At least, until it all went to hell.
        Literally.

    Spoilers

    WROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG!!! So Ellie from the last of us is gay....

    Last edited 04/03/14 3:38 pm

    The discussions on this page make me want to see a game whyere the aim is to explore your character's gender, randomly-generated each time, in a roguelike environment where you encounter different people each time and by listening to your character's thoughts during various encounters and discussions.
    Thoughts?

      I'd play it if it was well made. Include both sexual orientation and gender and it could be an interesting thing to play

        I actually meant gender and sexual orientation, but my internal editor was off elsewhere.
        I was thinking done from the first person perspective, and with a written internal dialogue and speech choices, so it's all determined by how people treat you and your thoughts.

    Gone home?

    Also I'm pretty confident that Lara and Sam in the Tomb Raider could turn out to be gay.

    what about pac-man or Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland?

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