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December 16
2013

PBS Asks: Would It Matter If Master Chief Were Gay?

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Over on PBS’ new Game Channel, a gaming-centric Youtube series ala their popular Idea Channel (which I highly recommend for plenty of thought provoking nerdity), host Jamin Warren asks, “Are games ready for gay main characters?”

While the video paints broad strokes on the queer side of gaming that we here at GayGamer spend every day exploring, it nonetheless poses some very interesting points of discussion. The most interesting being the issue of player-avatar relationships and how that affects player perception of gay game characters versus gay television characters. It’s that direct connection between player and avatar that is the cause of the white cisgendered heterosexual mid-30s scruffy bearded power fantasy archetypes becoming the industry standard.

And while Warren makes sure to give a shout out to the ever growing gayming community (with shots of gaymer.org, r/gayming, and our pals Matt and Kayce from GaymerX), he ends his presentation by asking if the gaming world could handle a gay main character. Well there are already lots of games not just starring gay characters but lesbian characters, trans characters, and queer identifying characters of all kinds.

It’s just a matter of where you’re looking.

The AAA world offers the occasional moments of well done LGBT inclusivity (see: Bill) but cannot be relied on for anything revolutionary. It’s the indie gaming world where the big risks are being taken. Games like Mainichi, DragopolisDys4ia (which Warren does mention in another video), My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant, Ultimate Gay Fighter, and the recently funded Read Only Memories, to name a few, are putting people with non-heteronormative identities at the forefront.

I’d be curious to see Warren’s take on these titles, and his thoughts on the the queer indie games scene at large.

In the meantime, I’m going to catch up with the rest of his videos, which includes discussions on gaming-feminism re: Anita Sarkeesian and the relationship between player gender and avatar gender.

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About Sal Mattos

(Managing Editor and Writer) Sal lives in the beautiful city of San Francisco where he splits his time between playing games, watching copious amounts of television, and occasionally going outside. He has written for GayGamer and Gamezone. He studied creative writing and theatre at SFSU, and when not gaming can most likely be found on stage somewhere. You can keep up with him on twitter @salmattos

9 Responses

  1. avatar K says:

    I really don’t get these gamers who like… feel they need to /be/ similar to the game protag in order to play
    Like, I get it more in games like Mass Effect or games where you create the character, but like, general protags? You are not the protag…

    Bleh I don’t know. I guess I just hate this player-avater defence because it’s so stupid as an excuse for why the majority of protags are cishet white grizzly dudes and nothing else because

    -A) Everyone who isn’t a cishet white dudebro manages to connect and empathize with these protags just fine, so shouldn’t the opposite be true?

    -B) It is really just an excuse to not have better representation and it’s bullshit

    -C) You aren’t the player character anyway? Like, videogames are more about roleplaying than they are about You being in the game most of the time. Like, you’re not Booker DeWitt or Joel or whoever. You’re simply playing them, like an actor.

    I don’t know. It just seems ridiculous to me, and is more of an excuse to keep mainstream gaming just as straight, white and male as its ever been.

    • avatar Josef Burn says:

      That’s the thing. The excuse is absurd because it’s not how human apathy and connection works.

      I relate to Cloud because of the way his confusion between reality and fantasy (truth and responsibility) seeps into his identity, Lara Croft because of her sense of adventure and her thirst for knowledge, and Heather Mason because of her determination and love of family.

      Even when you’re playing a game like Amnesia, it doesn’t matter if the character is white or black or gay or female, the character is a relatable human in a terrifying situation that anyone can have empathy with. THAT is human connection, they don’t need to have the same identity as you, that has nothing to do with it.

  2. avatar AaronT says:

    I think the problem still comes down to that gamer base of insecure, immature, white males who DO in fact want to identify with a powerful and masculine avatar – when they aren’t playing as a female to engage in lesbian sex.

    I know that this so-called gamer base isn’t as large as it once was, but it’s still very vocal, and it still drives the marketing of most AAA titles.

    I was just thinking about this recently while reviewing some information on the Dragon’s Dogma wiki. This is a game with a wonky “romance” system meaning a lot of male gamers end up with a male love interest unintentionally. Reading through the notes on the wiki, every page dealing with a male NPC is loaded down with comments like “I got him as my romance so I had to murder him, vomit vomit no homo”

    For good or for bad, these kids still define how the big developer dollars are spent – it may be another generation before we can realistically expect a gay protagonist in a AAA title.

  3. avatar Josef Burn says:

    Straight white males are the most common main characters in any kind of fiction simply because in world culture they are the only group that are free from stereotypes or scrutiny. You don’t have to worry about how convincingly strong your SWM is, or how sexually confident, or how ‘not-racist’, SWM’s are free from all of this. When it’s a black character, people who mean well often ask “why?”, and I hate that, remember when Spiderman was mixed race and had a possible male love interest, the entire internet exploded with “UGH! THEY’RE JUST DOING IT TO BE POLITCALLY CORRECT IT’S SO OBVIOUS”, when in fact there was absolutely no point in the Spiderman storyline that focused on his race or sexual identity. So I guess he should have just been an SWM.

    In the eyes of todays culture anything other than a straight white male character needs justification. So if Master Chief were gay it would be just another depressing shitstorm.

  4. avatar Azthok says:

    I think Master Chief is the worst character to put in the title of an article like that, because imho Master chief is not even portrayed as straight. I feel like Halo has a strong “naive”, “idealistic” feeling to it, and it would be very different not only if MC was gay but also if he was portrayed as straight, because sex has nothing to do at all with Halo. I like a lot Halo also because of those things.
    Master chief is not the straight main character nor the queer gay character he is just the hero in the most “childish” way possible… imho he is what Nintendo would like Link to be or what many people say Link is/should be…

  5. avatar Lucas H says:

    It would matter to me, in the sense that I would be far, far more likely to play the game than I would otherwise (for the record, I played Halo anyway).

    I do not struggle to identify with various other types of protagonists – male, female, straight, black or white or asian. Like another commenter above pointed out, I identify with other qualities they exude(sense of adventure, strength, thirst for knowledge or – most importantly – a good backstory), and playing as other types of people provides a brief, fun sense of vicarious living as another person in a fantastical situation.

    However, to be honest, yes, it WOULD matter to me if Master Chief were gay. I would be excited beyond words. I might even ditch my plans to buy the PS4 and, instead, pick up an XBox1 (but…probably not, I’m a Sony fanboy at heart). I’m trying to think how to articulate WHY it would matter, but it really does boil down to, I think, identification and representation. Master Chief is a great hero.
    Now, all that being said, it is important to point out – there is no romance in Halo anyway. Right? Master Chief never, to my knowledge, had a love affair. I could be wrong, I only played a couple of Halo games. But they are all pretty straightforward sci-fi FPS, I believe.

    I think it’s much more awesome to have the option to be gay or bi in games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, or the option to hook up with dudes in trashy games like Saints Row (love that series).

  6. avatar Limeade says:

    Aside from the cishet white dudebro fanbase and the questions of ‘is the community/society ready for a gay protag’ and defenses the industry makes about what will sell well, the other angle to this issue is within the Developer Community itself. Cishet White Dudebro developers are still the majority that make up the our industry at large, and the ones spearheading the breadth of these projects and protagonist designs and decisions. Putting a cishet white dudebro they see in the mirror as the protag — or an idealized heroic fantasy version that they wish to see — is where a good deal of this comes from. It’s that angle of privilege, of default heterosexuality, and default whiteness.

    The industry landscape is changing very slowly, with more diversity over time, but it definitely is not making it easy on minorities trying to get into the business. In general, a woman has an incredible amount of misogyny and/or sexism and hostility to deal with throughout education and at the job.

    To answer the question: Yes, we are far beyond ready for a gay protagonist. The sooner we get queer men protagonists and women (queer and straight) protagonists saturating the market, the better off we’ll be. The only way to really change notions and antiquated ideas is to put it out there and have the public acclimate to it. The more it is out there, the more ‘normal’ it will seem until there’s a point where it isn’t even an issue. Just like how same-sex romances in games is becoming more ordinary/expected, the more it is out there as a given, naturalizing it, the less people will vocally outcry over it.

  7. avatar Butch says:

    It would not matter, the spartan to me is kinda gay i say this not as to cause offense to any one or the creator of the game, i say this because he is amazing in every way the game is epic, however i think he should be gay he would be much more fun for a start, he would make his warthog pretty in side and that, but seriously its a good thing the world needs more gay games definitely, or gay content that would force me to buy it i would not need to be asked to buy i just do it.

  8. avatar Daniel K says:

    Interesting post, and thanks for linking to the videos at the end.

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