Quiet Queers: LGBTQIA+ Invisibility in Games

There is a problem in videogames of LGBTQIA+ characters whose queerness is silent.

This isn’t to say that all LGBTQIA+ characters whose gender or sexual identity is only mentioned in-passing are inherently bad, or are examples of bad writing; sometimes, the most interesting, effective and emotionally-engaging way to state something about a character is to understate it.

The problem is that “invisible queerness” – queerness that is effectively absent in a text except for authors stating it outside of the text (e.g., Dumbledore in Harry Potter), single lines ad-libbed at the end of the text as an afterthought (e.g., Gobber in How To Your Train Your Dragon 2), or going utterly unspoken but hinted at through vague allusions, nudge-wink stereotypes and plausibly-deniable overtones (e.g, most queer characters during the first and second millenium CE).

So long as their queerness isn’t intrusive, or doesn’t require players to talk or think about queerness in any but the most basic terms, they’re lauded as being exemplars of the entire LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

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An Interview with Dani Landers of Studio Fawn

Dani Landers is one of the four members of Studio Fawn, the creative team behind Bloom: Memories, an upcoming game set in a strange and beautifully-crafted world designed to evoke feelings of adventure and exploration, as well as including emotionally-involving storylines using game mechanics and themes that the larger games industry tend to avoid. Bloom has already seen a very successful Kickstarter having met (and exceeded!) their target goal, and their continued progress in developing the game is documented over at the Studio Fawn website. Dani’s role at Studio Fawn encompasses game design, art, writing and marketing, and the world of Bloom stems from her own creative vision.

We caught up with Dani to ask her a little about her vision for Bloom,  her experiences as a game developer, and her thoughts on the contemporary games industry.
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It’s Hard Being Tomodachi With Corporations

Recently, an uproar tore out across the internets when Nintendo decided not to include same-sex relationships in their life-sim game Tomodachi Life; people were incensed, Nintendo issued a fairly standard apology, people were mildly more optimistic but also still kind of sore. In response, there have been questions, confusions and concerns from folk criticising the backlash against Nintendo, for various reasons.

Many have echoed Nintendo’s sentiment of “social commentary” by claiming that games are “just games”, they’re escapist fantasies, they’re entertainment, and as such, they shouldn’t serve any “political agenda”. But games are not just “escapism”, they’re not just frivolous forays into time-wasting in between reading “Ulysses” or “Animal Farm”, they’re not “just” anything – there’s an entire side to the games industry called serious games! Games, like any medium, like any artform, like any kind of entertainment – both reflect the culture that created it and influences that society’s perspective. As Anna at BorderHouseBlog notes, choosing to abstain from “social commentary” on an issue IS social commentary — any action in a politically-muddied situation is political action. Similarly, Nintendo’s initial decision not to include same-sex relationships – and their subsequent decision not to – did not happen in a vacuum. They happened in an industry already hesitant about, if not inimical to, LGBTQ representation, in a culture where LGBTQ people are already marginalised, poorly represented and discriminated against.

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Queer Mechanic #6: Relationships

Relationship mechanics have become enormously popular in recent years, to the extent that it”s not uncommon to see forum threads of speculation about whether certain characters in games can be “romanced”, guides for the optimal way to romantically engage with Love Interests (LIs), or discussing the difficulties inherent in romance options in games. The creation of engaging and interesting romance options and mechanics is something that’s vital, timely, and, most importantly, wanted.

Nonetheless, implementing romance options isn’t as easy as just rubbing one character on another until hearts pop out (…figuratively speaking). For example,the complexity of the sexual politics involved in Dragon Age: Origins alone is staggering, before we even get to what Denis Farr refers to as the “Schroedinger’s Sexuality” of Dragon Age II and the fact that some players had reservations about how the in-game Love Interests were portrayed as “playersexual” rather than bisexual – that is, there is little-to-no reference to their sexual orientation except in the case of when the player-character puts the moves on them. And, in those instances when romance mechanics go wrong, they can go really wrong: case in point, Gaygamer’s Trevor Smith’s discussion of the abject horror of badly-implemented romance mechanics resulting in a deeply creepy ‘romance’ scene.


So, it’s important that we have interesting and engaging relationship options – but it’s also important that these options don’t undermine themselves by cutting corners, which can lead to perpetuating tired stereotypes without commentary, creating one-size-fits-all mechanisms that take away nuance and context, and sending out mixed messages.

Unfortunately, the games industry has done all three of these things repeatedly over the years, to the point that whenever games include relationships or romance options that aren’t your regular cis-heteronormative man-kisses-woman-and-they-marry fare, they tend to be cliché, crude, or conflicted. And that’s if they include them in the first place.

But in this month’s Queer Mechanic, we’re not talking about “the gay romance option”. We’re talking about romance options, plural – using game mechanics to explore how we could model and represent alternative relationship structures like polyamory, open relationships, D/s relationships and more, and the possibilities and difficulties these bring with them.

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Queer Mechanic #5: Queering the Male Gaze

Queer Mechanic is a regular feature here on GayGamer – each month, we’ll be presenting a new game mechanic that could be used in games that include or focus on queer identity or culture. Queer Mechanic is a thought experiment, to see both what we could add to games, and to recognise what’s been missing from them; it’s a challenge, both to readers, to come up with novel, interesting and effective ways to use them, and to developers, to include them in games; and it’s a discussion for a more inclusive, more varied, and more innovative future for the games industry.

The concept of male gaze as we know it now was formulated by Laura Mulver in her 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, and has since been diffused throughout the fields of media critique and analysis, in particular that of film.

Finally Feminism 101 has an excellent FAQ on the male gaze over here, which is well-worth reading so that most of what follows makes sense, but, in summary: the male gaze is the name given to the idea that scenes in media are often constructed from the perspective of an assumed straight-male viewer and his (often, but not always, sexual) interests.

We’ve probably all seen movies where a female character takes a shower, and the camera takes its time to hover over her body, lingering at her hips, her ass, her breasts, perhaps a close-up of her lips, half-opened, or her eyes, closed as though in pleasure.


Boom. That’s male gaze. The camera “stands in” for the straight male audience, watching the woman in a way that would probably seem jarring and unusual were it to be done to a male character. Not because male characters aren’t nice to look at – but because we’re so used to seeing only women framed as sexual characters (or objects).

Male gaze is an interesting topic to discuss in the medium of games, because video games in particular have borrowed a number of techniques, concepts and vocabulary from film that make it ripe for exploration – the most obvious of these are Quantic Dream’s games Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, but really, any game with characters moving around a scene and followed by a camera will inevitably borrow filmic techniques. And, as the concept of “male gaze” has similarly been applied to other non-film media, so to can we discuss the theory with regards to concepts unique to (or most prevalent in) games.

For this month’s Queer Mechanic, we’re going to take a look at ways of toying with, subverting, destabilising and queering the concept of the straight male gaze. So let’s jump right in!

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