I've been pleasantly surprised with BioWare's progressive attitude with Dragon Age. Granted, Mass Effect had an option for same-sex romance, but it always irked me that this was only an option for the female version of Shepherd. Despite the view that any gain -- however timid it may be -- is a step in the right direction, I couldn't help feel that it was nothing more than a cheap marketing ploy to appeal to straight men -- girl-on-girl action often manages to get an exemption from the otherwise sweeping condemnation of homosexuality, mainly on the grounds that "it's hot" -- rather than an honestly progressive move. Dragon Age won me over, treading into the far more murky waters of male-on-male sex and causing me to momentarily emerge from my cloud of cynicism -- something I am ever so reluctant to do. RPGs, dependent as they are on the player's emotional bond with his or her character, offer an ideal platform on which to spread a positive message -- a message that will reach a vast audience. No, we may not have been given a full blown "gay" protagonist, at least not on the order of games in which the main character is established as straight from the get-go, but it's another little victory -- one that we would be wise not to take for granted.
More from the soapbox after the jump!
Attitudes don't simply change on their own; as receivers and processors of information, exposure to media constantly colors our perspective. Recent decades have made some headway with gay subject matter -- Brokeback Mountain, Will & Grace, Queer as Folk, etc. -- fomenting in the collective unconscious the radical notion that behind the veil of stereotypes, of social subversion and the embrace of that most vile of sins, gays and lesbians are not the devilish caricatures so enthusiastically peddled by firebrand preachers and opportunistic politicians. The gay community, like its straight counterpart, is merely comprised of individuals trying to live their lives as best they can.
Despite the recent resurgence of crazy -- "The gay agenda" has long been an effective galvanizing tool for the reactionaries -- now as the national conversation begins to sound more and more like snippets from a schizophrenic's diary, one can rest assured: This ugliness will eventually pass. The old ways of thinking will die out with the minds that harbor them, and someday homophobia will find its final resting place alongside segregation, anti-Semitism, institutionalized sexism, and all the other vices that so usefully kept the Great Unwashed clawing at each others' throats. One day society will view homophobes and their irrational fears with the same contemptuous sneer we reserve for those of generations past who towed the racist line, using the same quaint, folksy traditionalism and intellectual derangement being channeled so effectively by the Becks and Palins of our era, and they will be right in doing so. Today it's considered reasonable to stand against equal rights for homosexuals. Fifty years ago it was considered reasonable to stand against desegregation. Fifty years prior to that, the notion that women should not be allowed to vote was a respectable and principled stance. Go back another fifty years, and you will arrive at a time when the enslavement of other human beings was considered a way of life. Such is the nature of social progress. It is slow-moving and clumsy, assaulted every step of the way by a gauntlet of small-minded jackals. And make no mistake, the heroes of the history books were once denounced as radicals and dangerous subversives who, in their blind fervor and callous disregard for tradition, would bring about the unraveling of the Great American Experiment. One might be tempted to marginalize the effect of a game like Dragon Age -- it is, after all, "just a game" -- but it's indicative of a larger and more significant trend. Slowly but surely, the "traditionalists" are finding themselves at odds with the zeitgeist. Their greatest fear shouldn't be the gay community and its supposed depravity; it should be the inevitable exposure of their so-called principled stance as what it is: Antiquated and irrational bigotry.
In the meantime, homophobia within the gaming community remains a problem. Everyone has heard the word "f*g" thrown around as a choice insult in the online realm, despite half-cocked explanations from online players/fourteen year old boys that it's simply a generic term (you know, just like the n-word carries no racial overtones), but the bigots will always have their hovel. Regardless, I'm hopeful about the future. I believe with all my heart that the issue of gay rights is making serious headway, and that this Renaissance of Crazy coming from the Right, in a way, should give us some hope. It is the desperate death wail of an aged beast, a brave last stand for the bigots, before social progress -- at the very least, official laws and and norms -- consigns them to the ash heap of history where they belong.
Here's to hoping.