The relationship the LGBT+ community has with gaming as a medium isn’t regularly discussed, but it should be. Not only does the gaming community regularly fail to cater to LGBT+ gamers, there have been occasions where games have gravely let the LGBT+ community down. LGBT+ character representation and overall inclusion in gaming is improving, but at times this remains lackluster and, frankly, inadequate.
A game that caught me by surprise in its failure to represent LGBT+ people and communicate ideas clearly was Persona 5. As of 1 December 2017 Persona 5 sold two million copies worldwide. After hearing of the series’ renown performance, I was excited to give it a go. Though I am impressed with the game, the feeling is bittersweet.
Persona 5 is a roleplaying game and part-life simulator, maintaining relationships and education with action-packed combat dominating the other half of the game. I started to immerse myself in this virtual life, but the sirens began going off in my head when the story addressed the protagonist’s love life.
Throughout the game, although you can express attraction towards females through conversation, you can’t do the same to males. This would be perfectly fine if the game also provided the option not to express attraction to females either. As an RPG, a genre that prides itself in being very customisable and adapting to the player’s playstyle, it was odd to me to be pushed towards a specific sexual orientation. I had to be straight.
I’d never truly experienced a game that’d forced me to be straight. When I was younger and unsure of my sexuality, I definitely played games and usually pursued any heterosexual romance on offer but I never felt forced. There was no linear railroading towards pursuing a heteronormative lifestyle, but Persona 5 did away with that. They want you to be straight and that is that. You have to present attraction to women.
The first few hours of the game sees the protagonist encounter an enemy who is accompanied by a scantily dressed woman and the focus heavily shifts to her. You have several reactions to choose from, such as complimenting her looks or being jealous of the man she is fawning over, but there is no choice to express disinterest. There is no choice but to find her attractive.
To rub salt further into the wounds, there are homosexual characters in the game. But they’re only minor, and, incredibly disappointingly, they’re presented as the butt of a joke. One gay character torments your male companion, putting him in positions he’s not comfortable with. The aforementioned character continues to do hilariously antagonising things to the male members of your party. It’s a crude parody of homosexuality and an appalling attempt at comedy.
As a homosexual, I can say I was very much bemused. To deny me the ability to play a character whose sexuality I could relate to and then also portray characters who are of the same or similar sexuality as me as jokes, using them to poke fun at the expense of their own characterisation is, frankly, unforgivable.
The game is incredible, don’t get me wrong. It just sucks to be enjoying gameplay and to reach these moments of heteronormative microaggressions and actual homophobia, have to roll my eyes, and say “Why’d they have to ruin it?
Another game that enters problematic waters is Tomodachi Life. When the game was released there was a bug: your miis could engage in any form of relationship, including same-sex. This wasn’t intended and before long the option of same-sex relationships were quickly patched out.
Nintendo’s justification of this was troubling, to say the least. When a social media campaign adopting the hashtag #miiquality came into fruition that demanded same-sex relations to be re-introduced, Nintendo of America (NOA) issued a flat refusal: “Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of Tomodachi Life. The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation. We hope that all of our fans will see that Tomodachi Life was intended to be a whimsical and quirky game, and that we were absolutely not trying to provide social commentary.”
I fail to see why a world could be seen as ‘playful’ and ‘alternate’ when the world is far more restricting of the LGBT+ community than reality, because there’s no possible way for two people of the same gender to be in a relationship in this game.
By suggesting that the inclusion of same-sex relationships would be social commentary, NOA unintentionally provided a social commentary by removing the option. This is both incredibly problematic and negative, particularly for LGBT+ gamers. We can assume they never intended this, and that’s why it is so disheartening.
Not only in games but the gaming community itself I feel there are times where LGBT+ people are brushed aside. Upon further research I did see this isn’t entirely the case. Although not Sheffield-based, there is a community in London known as London Gaymers. They were happy to explain to us who they are with this:
‘Gaymers are a group of people who identify themselves as gay (LGBT+) and have an active interest in the geek gaming community, whether board, card or video games. It’s a group particularly at risk of feeling segregated and alone if they don’t get the support and friendships they need. LGBT+ people face many hurdles and challenges in their lives which affects their confidence and social skills. When coupled with the often singular experience of playing video games, the feeling is often amplified and leaves gaymers feeling particularly isolated. Finally, add to that the disconnection that a large, busy city like London can inhibit, especially for those new to the city, and you can see why a community like London Gaymers is so important.
We were established in 2012 as a social group to help more LGBT+ gamers to find and make new friends in a safe and welcoming environment. Since then we have continued to grow into a thriving gaymer community, growing to over 2000 members, whilst always ensuring we retain the friendly and accepting values that make London Gaymers such a great place to hang out and meet new people.
We run 100+ events a year from game tournaments to cinema nights, bowling, gaming evenings, board game days, online guilds and much more. This March we’re celebrating our sixth year as a community and we’re a top 10 finalist in the national British LGBT+ Awards!’
Despite all this, I do have hopes for the future and feel that we’re on the right track. The fact #miiquality existed to begin with is a start, and I believe Persona 5 developers Atlus are aware of their mistakes and will rectify this in their future games. They’ll be the high quality great games without the ‘why’d they have to ruin it’ moments.
I’m a member of the LGBTQ+ gaming community and see myself as a gaymer, and I’m proud of it. I plan to make everyone and anyone know that.