I first heard of Ultimate Gay Fighter through a friend’s Facebook post rather than any gaming news outlet, because do you really think that mainstream gaming outlets are going to bother with anything like this? I gave the trailer a look-see, wrote up a quick “this is a thing” post for Towleroad, and then forgot about it.
Except I didn’t. It stayed in the back of my mind, and the more I thought about it the more I realized that while this is a project with its heart in the right place, its execution is horrible. Offensive, even, in cases that can’t be defended with the whole “it’s a tongue-in-cheek satire.” The characters can be broadly categorized into “Good”, “Eh” and “Bad.” Let’s take a look…
Might as well get this started off on a positive note, even if it’s the smallest category, so let’s look at the good characters. First, Devon Devastation, the Voguer. Devon is pulled right out of Paris is Burning, capturing the essence of the 80′s NYC voguing scene perfectly. He’s got a great visual design that’s true to his inspiration, and the “gaytality” (sorry, I have to admit that I hate that term; can we please move beyond mimicking Mortal Kombat already?) of “You’ve Been Read!” is really, really funny.
Sappho Ethridge is another great one, playing into the butch lesbian cliché with love rather than mockery. She looks tough and competent without any hint of the “LOL uggo bull dyke” insult that many would use as shorthand for a lesbian character not designed to titillate. I had to snicker a bit at the scissor attack, too. The tragedy is that Sappho is the only lesbian character in the entire roster, and given that women make up roughly half of both the queer and gamer communities, this is a severe oversight. Every gay male stereotype is given its own character, but every lesbian stereotype is thrown together into a single token. Her love-interest seems to have been fridged as well.
Emo Elmo I’m a bit undecided on, particularly since I wasn’t aware that “emo” was a gay stereotype. However, he’s an interesting idea for a character concept and emo/hipster gays certainly do exist, so he gets bonus points for being some outside-the-box thinking.
For this category I’m including GoGo Gary, Ford Jacobs, and Carrie Cupcake. These characters are here because there’s nothing special about them, positive or negative, really. They’re all pretty obvious and uninspired, playing to mostly predictable jokes and punchlines (Gary summoning the tanning bed was a cute surprise, though) with nothing that makes them interesting and nothing that makes them terrible aside from their uniform blandness. The one exception for this category is Bardwell, who really deserves his own category of “Umm…What?”
Bardwell is the leather bear, two gay stereotypes that are rich for satire opportunities. His fists could turn into bear claws for a strong punch, dish out florentine flogging for an at-range attack, bear arms for a grapple, restraints for an immobilization attack…the list goes on. And instead we get a big guy in chaps who…punches with his nipples? He’s not a bad design – one of the more interesting ones, in fact – but he just makes zero sense in the context of all the other characters and setting. He feels like a rough draft for a Guilty Gear character, more than anything.
The characters here aren’t just bad, they’re really bad.
First is Timmy Spears, the Asian twink. As a white guy of European descent whose skin threatens melanoma outbreaks at the mere mention of sunlight, I can’t speak with great authority on gay Asian stereotypes and how they’re received by the gay Asian community as a greater whole. I do believe, though, that I’ve heard from a few of the ones I do know that the fey, boyish, twinky Asian is regarded as an insulting stereotype. Timmy would probably be less problematic if there were another gay Asian character that wasn’t an asexual Bruce Lee to balance him out. As is, he is the only representation and he is one that symbolizes the disregard, demasculinization, and desexualization that tends to get heaped onto Asian men.
There is so much wrong with Jacqlyn Daniels, the lone bisexual. Despite there being a “B” in the whole LGBT thing, bisexuals often get shunted to the side. It’s not uncommon to hear people, gay or straight, that bisexuals don’t really exist, or if they do then they’re just indecisive or greedy. Dan Savage speaks from time to time about “bisexual invisibility”, which is bisexuals blending in to either the gay or straight communities in response to the hostility dumped on their heads. Jacqlyn is the shorthand of all that hostility lumped into a single nasty stereotype. Her design is clearly modeled of the darker days of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, which is insulting enough in and of itself. It’d be like the only representation of a gay male in a game being modeled off of Liberace or Johnny Weir. Then you add the fact that Jacqlyn is perpetually drunk, which feeds into the insulting stereotype of girls who only make out with other girls when they’re drunk, or the “three beer queer” and you’ve got a character who is the embodiment of the attitude that there are no real bisexuals, just drunk straight people (or closet cases).
And now the big boy, Shawdee Killah. Yes, gay thugs do exist, and there are gay men who embrace the thug lifestyle. This is also not necessarily an insulting stereotype, and FX’s upcoming series Chozen shows that “gay thug” is an interesting combination that can be handled in good humor, even crude humor. But first is the fact that Shawdee is a black gay thug. Anyone who’s paid attention to race relations in the past century knows that African Americans have been given the short end of the stick (to put it very mildly) in media representation the overwhelming majority of the time, and the “black thug” is a particularly pernicious stereotype that takes a great deal of care to handle without feeding into casual racism. Fortunately Shawdee has Devon to balance him out a bit but then OH MY FUCKING GOD YOU PUT A NOOSE AROUND HIS NECK?! WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK?! Inbred rednecks lynching black people is not something from ancient history, it’s something that people alive today remember happening in their past, and threats of lynching and effigies are something still used as a particularly vile form of racially-motivated intimidation. Whoever on the staff of Handsome Woman designed Shawdee seriously needs to have his head extracted from his rectum.
So at the end of it all, you have two-and-a-half strong, inventive, creative characters; three-and-a-half boring, uninspired, or just confusing characters; and three characters who play into some of the absolute worst insulting stereotypes out there, utterly tone-deaf to the overall cultural context around them. Also, for a game that takes the time to include a bunch of G, a little L and a little B, there is a very noticeable absence of T. For as absent as gays and lesbians are in strong character roles, transgender folk simply do not exist in video games at all, Poison and Birdo excepted. This would have been an utterly perfect opportunity to give love to the trans community…but then again after the treatment of Jacqlyn and Shawdee maybe the trans community dodged a bullet.
When designing for a genre that lives and dies on its colorful and engaging characters, this is not a ratio that bodes well, particularly for a game that plans to go live in just over a month. Handsome Woman has the core idea of an awesome game going for them, but they honestly need to trash most of the character designs they’ve already done and go back to the drawing board because even the most mainstream of gaming sites will condescend to writing about a gay game if it means they get to talk about the scandal of a black street thug with the noose around his neck.