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March 3
2014

Queer Mechanic #5: Queering the Male Gaze

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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.

MadisonShower

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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January 14
2014

Queer Mechanic #4: Transition

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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.

Trans people are rarely represented in games, and when they are, the representation is rarely very positive; given that the vast majority of games fall over this first set of hurdles, it can be hard to imagine what games with trans-ness represented and catered towards would look like.

If I could bet on someone being able to imagine these games, though, it would be Eilidh, Emily Crosbie, and Moose Hale, three trans gamers who took part in this interview to share their understanding with game developers, players, and writers looking to address the massive imbalance against trans people, issues, characters and representation in general throughout the medium of videogames.

While reading, it’s important to note that transitioning is not the be-all, end-all of trans experience, as Laverne Cox recently attested to in an interview (alongside Carmen Carrera) with Katie Couric; it’s one facet of a massive, nuanced set of topics which overlaps with queer-interest games-based discussion, and (hopefully!) one of many more to come.

Enough from me, though: let’s have Eilidh, Emily and Moose take us through Queer Mechanic #4, discussing transition and representation of trans people in videogames!

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December 20
2013

PAX “Diversity Lounges”

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Back in November, I suggested the word ‘xbroglio as a catch-all term for the many-and-various ways that Microsoft have messed up with regards to creating and marketing the Xbox One. This week, thanks to a leaked (and now, officially confirmed) document regarding the addition of “Diversity Lounges” to future Penny Arcade eXpo (PAX) events – ostensibly areas for people interested in games and social consciousness, but which comes across as the Designated Diversity Zone of PAX – I’m forced to think of new nomenclature for Penny-Arcade related mishaps.

The best I’ve got thus far is “PAXccident”, although I’m willing to bet there’s a better one out there; hit me up if you got one!

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According to the document – which was originally posted up on IndieStatik – the “Roll for Diversity Hub and Lounge” will be a fixture within the PAX convention itself, dedicated to providing a space where attendees can “find out about all the different diversity related things happening in and around PAX”, “learn about diversity in the gaming industry”, “learn about diversity in general”, and “learn about geek businesses that cater to diverse communities”. On paper, this sounds like a great idea – a dedicated zone inside one of the biggest games conventions in the world, where folk interested in social awareness in games can find like-minded folk, listen to panels and speakers on subjects relevant to them, and check out games that cater specifically to them. Indeed, with some reading-between-the-lines (and divorced of additional context), this seems to be what the folks at Penny Arcade intended all along.

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November 27
2013

XBROGLIO: Xbox One’s “We Got Your Back” Letter

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I’m coining the word “xbroglio” as of today. It means, “any incidents occurring as a result of Microsoft assuming players to be heterosexual dudebros”. It’s quite a flexible concept, too – in fact, I’d argue it’s characterised most of the Xbox One’s life thus far, considering the previous discussion we’ve had over whether or not the Xbox One requires an always-on connection, what’s going on with its policy on used games, the shoddy treatment of trans folk at corporate events for it, not to mention that rape joke at E3how anti-consumer Microsoft’s policies about it seem, and how ambivalent most of the folk here at GayGamer felt about it - none of which seem to register as issues for a lot of hetero dudebros, it seems.

Well, today’s contribution to the continuing imbroglio can be found over on the site for the Xbox One – in the form of the “We Got Your Back” email template provided courtesy of Microsoft, replete with mad-libs style fields where you can customise a desperate e-plea for an Xbox One to a co-habiting human being and email it off. Which sounds fairly innocuous – if a little obnoxious – were it not for the weirdly gendered and heteronormative format of the entire letter itself.

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October 11
2013

Queer Mechanic #3: Coming Out

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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.

Many of the LGBTQ characters in games come “as-is”, in the sense that they have already undergone most of their soul-searching and self-realisation about their gender, sex or sexual identity prior to the beginning of the story; similarly, although there are often dialogue options to bring up the fact that your character isn’t heterosexual, these are rarely (if ever) framed as your character “coming out” to that person – instead, it’s more like they’re getting the other person up-to-speed with something that has already been established.

Which is strange – because for all its potential for being an emotionally-taxing event, coming out can be a big event in queer folks’ lives, as it marks a milestone in the process of coming to terms with one’s identity. And, while it may be too niche to be included in all games in all genres, there’s certainly scope for using coming out either as a core or constituent part of a capital-Q Queer game, or even as a special event inside games with lots of character-driven narrative, such as Bioware’s Dragon Age or Mass Effect. So, with all that opportunity for interesting storytelling, why don’t we consider ways we could use it in games?

Last month we took a look at the potential for games based around the “animal” epithets in gay subcultures – this month, we’ll explore another facet of queer identity – how the process of coming out could be modelled and explored in videogames.

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October 3
2013

Grand Theft Auto V: Misogyny & Transphobia

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Scottish people love talking about Scotland. It’s kind of to be expected, since we’re a groovy bunch. We’ve got kilts – widely regarded as one of the sexiest pieces of gear ever – and we’ll fry and eat anything if it stands still long enough. To date, the only other people I’ve found who emphasize their nationalism in the same (non-creepy) way are Canadians; I can’t help but wonder if it’s something to do with being attached to a country that gets a bad rap internationally and wanting to distance yourself from them — in fact, the people of Scotland want to distance ourselves from England so much that we’re even voting on leaving the United Kingdom next year.

So, given this predisposition to singing the praises of all things Scottish, and given that Rockstar North, the team behind Grand Theft Auto V, are based in Scotland, I really, really want to talk about how brilliant Grand Theft Auto V is (and, by extension, how great Scotland is, because that’s totally how it works).

But I can’t, because it’s festooned with misogyny, transphobia, and creepy rape jokes that don’t really seem very funny.

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September 6
2013

Queer Mechanic #2: Wolves & Otters & Bears…!

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Queer Mechanics 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 Mechanics 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.

If you’ve been around the gay scene in some form or another – pubs and clubs, online gay communities, or dating sites/apps like Adam4Adam or Grindr – you’re bound to have come across terminology like “bear” or “otter”, used as a kind of shorthand to discuss people’s body types. These terms of identity also help foster social groups and subcultures.

A quick run-through of the most common of these terms, all of which have some degree of overlap: “Bears” are typically large men, often with plenty body hair and facial hair, and their size can either be down to fat, or muscle – though large, muscular men can also be called “bulls” as well; by extension, “cubs” are younger men with all the attributes of the aforementioned bear bodytype. “Otters” are lean, hirsute men; “wolves” are similar, but are typically more muscular than lean, and also tend to have an aggressive or assertive quality to them. “Chickens” has almost fallen out of use in favour of the word “twink”, to describe younger men, typically without much bodyhair.

These terms of identity are a big part of the experiences of gay men in the West, but have largely been ignored in videogames (a sneaky nod to bear subculture in Mass Effect 3 notwithstanding). They may seem trivial or inconsequential in comparison to previous literary contributions from, for and about gay culture and subcultures; but then, the content and mechanics of videogames – or any genre, in fact – don’t have to have an immense literary quality to be worthwhile to represent or include. And you know what I think would be awesome? A game all about the dudes we know in those subcultures!

Last month we delved into the potential for letting players define their character’s gender and sexual identities in a wide variety of different types of games – this month, let’s explore what we could do with a game that specifically focuses on a particular element of gay male subculture in Queer Mechanic #2: Wolves & Otters & Bears!

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