Three OHIO undergraduates invited me to be a part of an audio story project (for a class) entitled “Queer Representation in Video Games,” which was published via WOUB Digital, the online outlet for WOUB Public Media. Here’s the full write up, but go to the website to listen to the short piece:
Queer Representation in Video Games
by Anna Turner, Ian Kenyon, Kay Jurma
A new generation of queer video game developers are trying to expand the options for LGBTQ gamers and change the narrative when it comes to queer representation in games. The Outlet’s Anna Turner has more.
People often think players of video games like Overwatch are heterosexual men…but that’s not the case. Waverly Wilson is a queer student at Ohio University studying integrated media and is also the president of the Game Developer’s Association, a student org for those who are searching for a game development career. They struggle to find themselves represented in video games.
“I’ve never experienced a queer character that fits how I feel,” Wilson shared. “And that’s hard, because I don’t know who does feel the way I feel about gender and sexuality and everything.”
Queer representation in video games is often few and far between.
“For queer characters in games they’re either non-existent or underdeveloped and that’s probably why I have such a hard time thinking of characters who are queer in games.” Wilson explained.
Representation tends to follow very limiting narratives. Typically, LGBT characters are given a tragic storyline, or their queerness is the basis for their presence in the game. The “tragic storyline” trope is often referred to as “Bury Your Gays,” something Wilson says can be detrimental to queer youth who want someone they can look up to in the games they’re playing.
“What’re your heroes you have to look up then, right? The thing they’re going to be remembered for is their death, not that they overcame,” Wilson said.
Other times, queer identities might just be tacked on at the end as an afterthought.
“Overwatch has like queer characters in it but even then, Overwatch barely integrates its story,” admitted Wilson.
Doctor Edmond Chang also recognizes some of the problems with these tropes. Doctor Chang studies video games at Ohio University. His work focuses on the relationship between queerness and video games. He says a good example of how games currently deal with queerness can be seen in the game Dragon Age 3.
“The character of Krem, I do, sometimes, feel like, ‘Oh, it’s great that you added this character.’ But this character is a subplot. It’s not even a subplot, it’s like a subplot of a subplot of a subplot, right, and so you’re like, ‘How important is this character if this character only appears in a very narrow window of the game?’” shared Chang.
One of the reasons queer representation in games is so limited is because straight white men dominate the field of game development. So when these developers implement queer characters into their storylines, they’re not focused on the queer reception of the character.
“But ultimately, “Bury Your Queers” or whatever, is really about the emotional development of the straight character or the straight viewer or the straight player mostly,” Chang explained.
According to Chang, another one of the reasons queer representation is lacking in gaming is because the structure of the games themselves doesn’t leave much room to tell other kinds of stories.
“I think of the things that frustrated me when I played the first Dragon Age was your character is paired with like, another character who kind of becomes your companion for the whole game but he’s not romanceable – he’s not same-sex romanceable. And so that’s the frustrating thing is that if it’s not coded into the game, it’s not possible,” Chang said.
Chang says queering the very foundation used to develop games can widen the scope of stories that are told, and this is exactly what Wilson is doing as a creator of a new game series called Gender Arcade.
“So Open Book is the first one and it’s these interviews with people of all different gender identities and I made it to give introspection into what, life is like for people with different genders and so I have cis men and cis women and non-binary and transgender men and transgender women, all sorts of different people,” explained Wilson.
Creators like Wilson are working hard to provide young audiences with characters who look and feel like they do, something Wilson didn’t get growing up. Wilson also hopes their game can be a tool to educate others about identities and experiences they’re not familiar with.
For the Outlet, I’m Anna Turner.
The digital short also got a shout out in OHIO’s Arts and Sciences Forum: https://www.ohio-forum.com/2018/05/woub-outlet-quotes-chang-on-queer-representation-in-video-games/.