A few months back I finally gave Enslaved: Odyssey to the West a go, and found myself enjoying it, with caveats. What really made the game for me, though, was imagining Monkey, one of the protagonists, and the one you control, as a gay man.
There wasn't any one thing in particular that made me think this, and I don't see it as demonstrably provable--it's just that the game never dispelled me of that notion either. Given his exaggerated hip swagger, it recalled nights in various clubs, or walking down Halsted during Market Days in Chicago. Which is to say, it had that certain male sexuality that people like Calvin Klein have worked to bring into the mainstream; which is not to say it is exclusively homosexual in nature, but it is from where I was coming when approaching this particular game.
So how did the game actually play out?
Well, what amused me is that there seemed some vague plotline about how Monkey and Trip were actually developing something. I say vague because I know in the tradition of these things, I am supposed to believe that the obviously dripping feelings they were exchanging were indicative of a possible romance.
I saw it more as a close friendship, as I have had with many friends, regardless of their sex.
Which meant that the concern Monkey shows allowed for a friendship that was endearing in how he interacted with Trip. It began to read more as if I was a big brother to Trip (at least in size), and she was an antagonistic sibling who was a bit forceful in her way of getting me to help her.
Now, this is all without having played the DLC, so I am not sure if anything is codified in that particular piece of narrative. Even with the race against Pig, it felt like I was protecting a woman I figured would not be interested in his advances (even if only because she was a bit more focused on her family right then, and didn't want that distraction).
So, did that change the game? As ever, the answer is yes and no.
For me, it did change how I saw Monkey, because many of his motivations had a different appeal, particularly in regards to Trip. I could just have easily seen those had I decided that he was any shade of sexuality on the spectrum and a romance was not budding. It was just the shorthand that worked in my particular instance.
On the other hand, while the game does not dispel this notion, it doesn't wholly support it either. There is something to be said about symbols and what they can mean. Of course, this can be the particular appeal of this medium, right? It's interactive, and if there is nothing to dispel the notion that a given person is gay or bisexual (after all, just because you're in an opposite-sex pairing at some point, doesn't mean you're exclusively straight), I can imagine that world. Unless the game is authored to the point where I have absolutely no say, or no role to play, and can only advance the story in the proper motivations, I do get to imagine what is going on. Why am I doing these things? What are the boundaries of a particular friendship?
Which is not to say I plan on being content just applying this to all future playthroughs: it's just as important as ever that scripted experiences that acknowledge sexuality outright can be made. Now to be really interested, let's see how such interactions actually affect the gameplay in some way.