This week, there has been discussion about whether League of Legends character Taric should come out of the closet as a gay man (by Todd Harper, Patricia Hernandez, and Kristin Bezio). It is argued that having a character be openly gay, rather than ‘wink and a nod, maybe’ gay, would represent a positive shift in the game’s diversity. From what I gather about League of Legends, I suppose it probably would; but the assumptions underlying this discussion are not at all welcoming of diverse forms of gender and sexual expression.
I don’t disagree with the value of both fictional characters and real-life human beings coming out of the closet. I’ve benefited immensely from other people speaking and writing publicly about their identities and experiences. If there was someone like me on British TV, I would have a much easier time explaining my identity to my mother. But by assuming that Taric is gay, people are contributing to heteronormative assumptions from which I have only been able to escape in recent years, thanks to other people coming out and being public about their diverse gender identities.
Only because of other people coming out and speaking about their identities do I know that gender-variant people are not always defined by labels relating to sexual orientation. I’m not against coming out, but I am against the assumption that everybody will or should manage their social lives and personal identities in the same way. And even though I don’t play LoL, this call for an apparently feminine male character to come out as gay is deeply troubling to me as a genderqueer person.
The article "The Equal Opportunity Perversion of Kotaku" with a picture of young men cosplaying.
I just finished reading your article on Kotaku, “The Equal Opportunity Perversion of Kotaku,” a lengthier response than the one you gave me previously. In case you don’t recognize me, we had a conversation on Twitter about Dan Bruno’s recanting of his praise for the progressive development of the site. Your last paragraph originated from our discussion, and because you decided to take it to a public forum, I figured I would as well.
There is a reason I’m posting this at The Border House. A large part of our readership feels alienated by the content produced on Kotaku and deserves to have access to a dialogue with you that doesn’t require bearing the hostility your site is known for. To be fair, most gaming websites are hostile towards those who point out diversity related issues, and it’s easy to criticize you and Kotaku because you seem to know better. It’s a sucky position to be in, I empathize.
I remember the post that made me unsubscribe from Kotaku, before the good stuff started to roll in. Another gallery of naked women covered in video game accessories. It wasn’t because that post was SO offensive to me, but because I was TIRED of seeing articles like that over and over again. Seeing sexualized women isn’t bothersome to me unless I’m in a space that assumes I’m a heterosexual man, which is very, very often. Almost always when I check out my gaming sites.
What I am hopeful about is your willingness to discuss this issue. If there is something I’ve promised to my editors, it is a proactive outlook on solving the issues multiple identities have in the gaming community. However, I found both our conversation and your article little more than hand waving the issue, trying to be sympathetic while not actually committing to act upon the ideals you say to have.
Let me be clear, to both you and readers at The Border House: I don’t think censorship is a solution, I don’t think Kotaku has a civic responsibility if it doesn’t want one, and I’m completely fine with the expression of sexuality. What is problematic is the dissonance between what you describe as your ideals. The thing is, it’s actually NOT okay to have your cake and eat it too when it’s hypocritical to do as such. If you know that you’re adding to the misogyny and homophobia of a community that is extremely primed for it, how is that okay? You recognize that the columns about Japan rely on the “Asians are WEIRD” trope that is unhealthy, but you’re fine with it because it’s funny. The Male Gaze is mentioned and dismissed in the same breath, showing that you are aware it exists yet neglect to apply it to the kind of content Kotaku produces to explain why minority groups are turned off by the site. I don’t think you or any other writers are deliberately trying to offend anyone, but the intent to be generally open-minded to diversity doesn’t mean what actually happens is as well. How do you reconcile this? How do you tell people reading this at The Border House things are fine when you understand what’s going on is contradictory to what you know should be?
And what stung, both in our conversation and your article, was how you absolved yourself and Kotaku from doing anything by passing the buck to those who feel marginalized. Instead of aiming to produce a staff culture that shows their awareness and support for diversity issues through their content, you leave it up to those who feel unsatisfied to create that content for Kotaku. I don’t know how this is reasonable in any way. It sounds like Kotaku’s staff doesn’t want to do anything different, but still wish to come off as the good guys. That is having your cake and eating it, which is definitely not okay.
The problem is that Kotaku isn’t “equal opportunity” anything. You acknowledge that your staff tends to write towards one demographic and looks for content that falls into stereotypical expectations for what you’d find on a gaming. It’s the easiest thing to do, and doesn’t take nearly as much thinking as keeping in mind that there are more than the assumed immature young straight guy to pander for. That’s not equal opportunity. Equal opportunity would mean there is as much of a chance to produce content appealing for heterosexual men as it is for everyone else. And that’s not even recognizing the different expressions of sexuality for straight guys, just the mainstream one valorized by gaming sites such as Kotaku.
You misinterpreted me before; I don’t want to tag you with responsibility you didn’t agree to. However, it would show that you are a decent person when you are responsible for your own words and actions. If you “unabashedly” want to promote the voices and presence of minority identities in your community, then unabashedly do so. It’s fine if you don’t want to, but just say that.
I hope you can write back to me about this, and involve as many people as you can in this conversation. I would like to subscribe to Kotaku again, especially if more diversity-aware content becomes available. No ill will, just honesty with a wish for genuine, proactive change.
Robert Yang is currently an MFA student studying “Design and Technology” at Parsons, The New School for Design. If he’s famous for anything, it’s probably for his artsy-fartsy Half-Life 2 mod series “Radiator” that’s still (slowly) being worked on. You should play it; episode 1-2 is about gay divorce.
Jim Sterling: “Arcade Gannon’s sexuality isn’t a big deal, and that’s how videogames should play it.”
The argument that [all] gay video game characters should downplay their sexuality might be well intentioned, but is ultimately representative of the most dangerous kind of homophobia — a homophobia wrapped in intellectualism, appearing “tolerant.”
True, sexuality isn’t the only thing that defines a person — but for the vast majority of LGBT people, I would argue that it’s a crucial part of personal identity. To insist that effeminate gay men are “camping it up” and should just “be normal” is homophobia. That’s the same type of attitude that murdered Matthew Shepard — he would’ve been fine if only he didn’t act so damn gay around people!
Now, this thinking isn’t exclusive to homophobes; gay men discriminate against each other all the time. Some might brand me as “straight-acting” when (a) I’m not acting, and (b) straight men don’t have a monopoly on being more “masculine.” But then many gay men also discriminate against “feminine” men and imply they’re not “acting like real men” — whatever that means. So yes, everyone is guilty, there’s plenty of self-loathing to go around, blah blah blah.
But I digress. Perhaps my main point here is that the vast majority of adults on this planet have been known to care about sex.Sex is kind of a big deal — and thus, so is sexuality. Games aren’t exactly evolving as a medium if we always downplay this aspect of life — or worse, downplay it only for LGBT characters to make them seem more palatable for people who think gay sex is icky.
Not all video games have to engage meaningfully with sex (… although it helps) — but I would argue that there have to be some, at the very least, that do. Now, criticism without a solution is simply whining, so here I propose an alternate model for the portrayal of gay characters in media, a model that acknowledges — hey, some gay men like having teh gayz-zex:
In the animated show “The Venture Brothers”, the character Shore Leave is somewhat effeminate, unapologetically sexual… and hacks computers / is Brock’s slightly less blood-thirsty near-equal in terms of competence at killing people. (He’s amazing.) And in the Scott Pilgrim franchise, Scott’s roommate Wallace has absurd amounts of teh gaysecks but is still a supportive friend, mentor and accomplice. These gay characters are successful with their sexuality intact, while more or less circumventing the typical stereotypes.
Sex is a healthy, positive and important part of these characters’ lives. Prescribing some kind of “ideal gay” who doesn’t “broadcast it” is just as artificial, boring and negative as the stale stereotypes so often invoked in network sitcoms and those god awful reality shows on Bravo.
Insisting that difference along any lines, like sexuality (or race, in the case of Grace Holloway from BioShock 2) is “irrelevant” or “doesn’t matter” is a dangerous argument. I’m not sure what Western country you’re living in, but more often than not, being non-straight, non-male or non-white is going to affect your life in some profound way.
(Just off the top of my head in the US: gay marriage isn’t federally recognized, and so gay men don’t get spousal privilege in federal courts nor social security; the FDA thinks our blood is always permanently tainted with AIDS; we have to justify our fitness as parents more than anyone else, etc.)
You don’t ignore your difference; instead, you own it. Some might just keep to themselves unless asked — that’s fine. But to insist that everyone keeps it to themselves? Tyranny. For every silent shoegazer hipster gay who “you’d never think”, we also need a muscle queen dancing in a peacock speedo on top of a Ferrari. Because they’re gay too.
Again, I’m not saying every game has to be about sex (or am I?!), but here Sterling is proposing selective blindness and a glass closet for ALL gay characters in ALL games as a model to emulate. Yeah, stay invisible and don’t make a fuss! That always works.
So, to review:
1) All forms of media reflect back on some aspect of life.
2a) Video games are a form of media.
2b) Sex is a big deal in many peoples’ lives.
3) Some video games should address sex meaningfully.
4) LGBT people see sex differently than non-LGBT people.
4b) We should ignore that difference and only coyly imply that LGBT people might possibly maybe sometimes have sex lives, so as to avoid the mistake of portraying them as real people AND to avoid invoking a wildly exaggerated stereotype that has no currency today anyway. And thinking about gay sex is icky too.
5) ??? [...] hegemony! [...]
6) Thus, all video games should feature hardcore gay male pornography, though softcore will suffice if it’s a lower budget indie platformer. (Cactus, I’m looking at you.)
QED. Next blog post: I will broker world peace and prove whether P = NP.