For boys who like boys who like joysticks!

Archives:

« E3 '11: Hands Off: Kinect Star Wars | Main | E3 '11: Nintendo 3DS Hands On Roundup »

E3 '11: Interview: Jordan Thomas On XCOM And Homosexuality

e3 xcom interview.png

Yesterday I wrote about XCOM's gameplay, but that wasn't the only thing that intrigued me about the 60's alien invasion game. During the game's E3 demonstration Jordan Thomas, XCOM's narrative director and the creative director of BioShock 2, made reference to a character "discriminated for his sexuality," and my ears perked up like corgi that just heard someone say "bacon."

One of the most often repeated, if utterly foolhardy, arguments against gay characters in games is that their sexuality is never a relevant detail to the plot. So I was more than a little curious and delighted to hear a developer put such a strong emphasis on a character's homosexuality in the game's second public showing. Thankfully, Thomas was gracious enough to sit and chat with me about the character of Dr. Weir, and how social commentary is a natural partner for the videogame medium.

"Weir is an Australian," Thomas began. "He's not a citizen of the States, although he came there to study particle accelerators, and already found himself an outsider on that grounds alone simply because of the paranoia of foreigners that was prevalent in the mid-century."

"But on top of that, he is also a closeted homosexual. He has both a sexual and a political opposition to the elite of the country, which are still very conservative - very focused on America as the best and the brightest - and he doesn't fit their paradigm. It is hard for them to acknowledge that one of the best scientists in the world is, in their minds, deviant. So he's struggled with that for a long time."

"But all of sudden this alien invasion hits and they need him and they have to put it aside. But then you see those tensions come to bear in the base. There are characters who don't like working with him. They are people of their time. And so you'll see different positions represented amongst the core cast. But he is - he is a man with true grit. He's able to weather it pretty well, and the player kind of gets to decide where they fall on that continuum. You can basically decide how to treat him."

Of course, homosexuality wasn't the only civil rights movement making headway in the 60's, and XCOM will explore other socio-cultural tensions of the time.

"As a narrative guy, it's the reason I'm excited to work on the game. The setting was chosen very specifically because I feel that the socio-cultural tension was about to come to a head. It was an old America and a new America kind of locked in a mortal combat, and it was very interesting for me to start exploring what was going on at the time."

"Agent Barns, for example, the African American guy who runs the agent operation and recruits for you, he was working COINTELPRO in the FBI - and that was a bureau program to run surveillance on the American people, not known by anybody - and Dr. Martin Luther King was his assignment. He was supposed to infiltrate that movement and discredit King by finding evidence that he was Red. He didn't find anything, and he was asked to fabricate it. He refused, and was almost going to be kicked out by J. Edgar Hoover and his cronies, but at that time the alien invasion happens and XCOM snaps him up."

I commented that it sounded like XCOM was really more of a 60's period piece that happened to use aliens as a catalyst to bring out the social climate.

"As a narrative guy, absolutely. To both mutate and express the inner conflicts of the period."

After the complex portrayal of BioShock 2's brute splicer, I am eager to see if Thomas and the team at 2K Marin can have lightning strike twice with a depiction of homosexuality that may hit closer to home for many gamers. But if they can pull it off with even half of the enthusiasm and passion Thomas had while describing it to me, then XCOM could be one of the most earnest examples of a gay character in a game yet.

8 Comments

vfig said:

“Complex portrayal of the brute splicer in Bioshock 2”? All I recall of the brute splicer—and I played it only a few months ago—was a larger, tougher opponent, who dealt more damage and took more. Was there more to them?

NaviFairy said:

If you hid and listened to the brute splicer talking to himself, he talks about the player in such a way that suggests a stronger attraction than just wanting to bash your face in.

Jordan Thomas later confirmed it in an EDGE interview,
"The backstory of the Brute splicer is that he’s extremely confused about his own sexuality and has elected to mask it with violent bravado – splicing up stronger and stronger to appear more traditionally masculine.

"...he’s very clearly closeted and desperately wants to connect under all that rage. Without the associated shame, born of that time period and his East End upbringing, he’d probably never have become a splicer at all."

g_whiz said:

This sounds fascinating. The use of the Dr. Weir character seems interestingly reminiscent of Alan Turning (horrible story, I'd reccomend reading up on him if you havent).

The use of the FBI agent seems genius too. There were a great many honest, decent Americans that were quite simply "too other" to be treated with respect or trust. Being a minority of any sort meant you had to sit out while the white straight males ruled the roost. I'm glad things are changing, looking back at how probable the treatment of Dr. Weir and Agent Barnes could have been makes me sad.

Gamescook said:

YESYESYES I am going to preorder instead of waiting! It just takes ONE example of inclusion like this to get me to pony up for a first-day purchase.

Limeade said:

It sounds... potentially interesting. I'm not sure that making someone's sexuality be a plot point, particularly when it revolves around discrimination (and you have the choice on how to treat the Dr.? Like to discriminate against him as well? That'd be awful, imo), but I'd really need to see the story and how it is handled.

The 'funny' thing about the argument of not including gay characters because sexuality is never relevant to the plot is that the same can/should be said about heterosexual characters as well. The reality is that nearly all stories and plots have people talking about romance and lovers and/or plotpoints dealing with their significant others. Explicity or implicity, sexuality is almost always present and made relevant.

player66 said:

I was in one of the demos for XCOM at this year's E3. I hope this isn't just lip service, but yes there was a prolonged emphasis on Dr. Weir (and others') sexuality, politics, race and gender weighing heavily on their backstory and the context of their place within the game. Thomas referred to XCOM taking place within the "powder keg" of 1960s American culture and also he referred to Dr. Weir (and others), due to the circumstances of the invasion and each of their unique abilities and expertise as being the new "Belle of the Ball." Quite a lot of vivid imagery and hype. I have high hopes that they will live up to these expectations. *fingers crossed* I wasn't disappointed with nearly any of the story/character elements from Bioshock 2. I hope XCOM delivers a compelling and deep gameplay systems and not just a good story with a complex cast of characters.

Fred said:

Done. They have a future buyer. Def on my future buying list (right behind Mass Effect 3)

Chris said:

.....What?

.....I.....Just.....What?


Okay, I will give 2k this: it looks like it might be a decent game.

What I dislike, however, is their choice to use the XCOM brand when it has NO RELATION TO XCOM IN THE LEAST.

I am curious as to how much they'll dwell on these things. are they going to define the character entirely(bad) or are they going to be a little more amture about it and just have it as one aspect of the character?

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

Twitter Feed

Recent Comments

Chris on E3 '11: Interview: Jordan Thomas On XCOM And Homosexuality: .....What? .....I.....Just.....What? Okay, I will give 2k this: it looks like it might be a decent game. What I dislike,...

Fred on E3 '11: Interview: Jordan Thomas On XCOM And Homosexuality: Done. They have a future buyer. Def on my future buying list (right behind Mass Effect 3)...

player66 on E3 '11: Interview: Jordan Thomas On XCOM And Homosexuality: I was in one of the demos for XCOM at this year's E3. I hope this isn't just lip service,...

Limeade on E3 '11: Interview: Jordan Thomas On XCOM And Homosexuality: It sounds... potentially interesting. I'm not sure that making someone's sexuality be a plot point, particularly when it revolves around...

Gamescook on E3 '11: Interview: Jordan Thomas On XCOM And Homosexuality: YESYESYES I am going to preorder instead of waiting! It just takes ONE example of inclusion like this to get...

GGP Mailing List

Are you gay and working in the games industry? If you are interested in networking with other folks like you within the industry, try joining the Gay Game-Industry Professionals mailing list. Click here for all the details!

Links

The GayGamer Store

  • Help support GayGamer by purchasing your items through our store!

All rights reserved © 2006-2010 FAD Media, Inc.