LGBT themes in video games
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Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) characters have been depicted in video games since the 1980s. In the history of video games, LGBT characters have been almost nonexistent for a long time, reflecting the overall heteronormativity of the medium. While there has been a trend towards greater representation of LGBT people in video games, they are frequently identified as LGBT in secondary material, such as comics, rather than in the games themselves.
Depictions of LGBT charactersEdit
A number of recurring tropes, themes and archetypes have developed in the gaming industry in regard to LGBTQ+ identity. These are similar to how other forms of popular culture, such as Hollywood films and TV shows, dealt with LGBTQ+ themes.
As in other media, LGBT characters in games often suffer from the "bury your gays" trope, a long-lasting narrative convention that requires that LGBT characters die or meet another unhappy ending. According to Kotaku, these characters are "largely defined by a pain that their straight counterparts do not share". Facing challenges that "serve as an in-world analogy for anti-LGBTQ bigotry", they are defined by tragedy that denies them a chance at happiness.
Comical gender confusionEdit
A common method of introducing LGBT characters is to reveal their sexual orientation through gender inversion. A male character's homosexuality is often indicated by making him a sissy character with effeminate or flamboyant mannerisms, dress, and speech. The underlying assumption is that homosexuals are also frequently transgender and, therefore, possess mannerisms stereotypical of the opposite sex. This technique has been widely used in Hollywood movies (to circumvent the Production Code's ban on "sexual perversion"), as well as in Vaudeville. Although mainly used in video games for its comedic value, gender confusion has also been used as a tool to offer social commentary about sexism or homophobia. The censorship codes of Nintendo and Sega limited the usage of gender inversion to exclusion of cross-dressing until 1994.
Transgender characters in video gamesEdit
The Super Mario Bros. 2 character Birdo, who was described as thinking he was a girl and wanting to be called "Birdetta" in early editions of the English instruction manual (the Japanese one simply stating that Catherine, as the character is known in Japan, wishes to be called "Cassie" because it sounds cuter), was changed to a more definite female until Super Smash Bros. Brawl introduced the concept of Birdo's gender being "indeterminate". Similarly, the Infocom game Circuit's Edge features several transgender characters.
Capcom created Final Fight for the arcade in 1989. The game involved players choosing among three fighters on a quest to save the mayor's daughter, who was kidnapped by a criminal gang known as Mad Gear. In 1990, Capcom presented Nintendo with a version of the game for the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). According to David Sheff's book Game Over, Nintendo stated that Capcom could not put a female enemy in a video game published for the SNES, as that violated Nintendo's ban on violence against women. Capcom countered that there were no female enemies in the game, revealing that the female characters Roxy and Poison were transsexuals. The characters were nevertheless removed from the international versions of the SNES port (the Japanese Super Famicom version retained the characters). However, in 1993, Sega obtained the rights to release the game for their Sega CD. In a sign of Sega's more liberal policies, Poison and Roxy could remain in the international versions, but with less-provocative clothing, and there could be no indication of their supposed transgender status. (Sega of America later removed a homosexual boss and unlockable playable character called Ash from the international versions of Streets of Rage 3.)
The character Vivian in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is hinted at being transgender, but Nintendo removed all references to this in the English translation.
In the 2016 role-playing video game Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear, there is an optional dialogue tree in which the cleric Mizhena mentions that she was raised as a boy, indicating that she is a trans woman. This, along with a reference to the Gamergate controversy, attracted contention resulting in online harassment and insults towards the developers, especially against the game's writer Amber Scott. The game's Steam, GOG and Metacritic pages were bombarded with complaints that the transgender reference constituted "political correctness," "LGBT tokenism", "SJW pandering" and pushing a political agenda. On an April 2016 post, Beamdog announced they would expand Mizhena's story, saying in part, "In retrospect, it would have been better served if we had introduced a transgender character with more development." Paul Tumburro of CraveOnline termed this as "spineless and disappointing" stating that Beamdog's founder Trent Oster refused to acknowledge the transphobic criticisms leveled at the game.
In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, developers introduced a not obviously gendered character named Sheik. Eventually, Sheik is revealed to be Princess Zelda in disguise. Sheik never self identifies with any set of pronouns in the game; however, a character in the game refers to Sheik with male pronouns.  Sheik’s presence and gender ambiguity in The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time created the “Sheik Gender Debate.” Two sides were taken in this debate – one that believed Sheik was simply cross dressing. The other side believed that Sheik was Princess Zelda assuming a male gender identity using some sort of magic.  In 2014, Polygon asked Nintendo for a comment on the “Sheik Gender Debate.” Bill Trinen gave an official statement saying “The definitive answer is that Sheik is a woman – simply Zelda in a different outfit.” 
In the 2016 Nintendo game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Link cannot enter Gerudo Town unless he dresses up as a woman. The player must find a character named Vilia in order to buy the women’s clothing for Link. Vilia outwardly appears female, but upon speaking to her, the noises made when she speaks are deep. During a dialog sequence between Link and Vilia, Vilia’s face mask blows off in the wind to reveal – to Link’s surprise – what appears to be facial hair. 
Gay characters in adventure gamesEdit
In the 1995 game The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery, an interactive movie point and click adventure, the main character meets more than one homosexual character (amongst them his "antagonist"), some of whom express romantic feelings. A semi-historical-subplot about the romantic feelings of Ludwig II is also an important part of the storyline.
Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle featured a futuristic beauty contest that featured oddly-dressed humans. One person with whom the player can interact is Harold, who is dressed like a woman but is referred to as a man by other characters as well as referring to himself as one. Harold has a very overstated French accent and is effeminate—he could be read as gay, although cross-dressing does not necessarily have a connection to sexuality or gender. The sprite of the character is based on that of George Washington, who also appears in the game.
Gay characters in fighting gamesEdit
Having gay male characters in fighting games can challenge the perception of homosexuality and masculinity. Nevertheless, hints about a particular character's sexual orientation in a fighting game often take the form of stereotypical femininity in an otherwise tough masculine character.
In 1994, Sega of America made various changes to the fighting game Streets of Rage 3 from its original Japanese counterpart Bare Knuckle 3. Among the changes was the removal of the boss named Ash (with a straight character named Shiva replacing him) who was suspected to be gay due to his attire. Ash was removed from the western edition of the game, but remained a playable character with the aid of the Game Genie. Thus, Sega unintentionally became the first major video game company in the west to give the player the option of choosing a gay character.
The Street Fighter character Zangief has long been thought of as being homosexual,[according to whom?] since large hairy men are in fact a common stereotypical image of male homosexuals in Japan, although this was disputed in Capcom Fighting Evolution, where he was seen dreaming about women in his ending, though the game is non-canon. Another Street Fighter character, Eagle, who appears in the original Street Fighter, as well as in Capcom vs. SNK 2, has been confirmed to be gay, as a tribute to Queen singer Freddie Mercury, whom Eagle is also modelled after, although several of Eagle's quotes clearly displaying his orientation were censored in the North American version of the game. In the more recent Super Street Fighter IV, the female fighter Juri Han is hinted at possibly being a lesbian, especially evident in Chun-Li and Cammy's rival cutscenes where Juri seems to flirt with them before proceeding to trying to kill them. When Juri Han's official profile was first released, it mentioned that she loves large breasts. However, Juri has also been known to flirt with male characters indiscriminately during combat, which could at least indicate bisexuality. In Cammy's Street Fighter V Ending she is implied to have feelings for the character Juni.
The character Rasputin in the World Heroes series is implied to be homosexual. One of his win poses has him trying to hold his robes down while wind blows them up, reminiscent of the famous Marilyn Monroe pose. He has a special move in World Heroes Perfect called "The Secret Garden", in which he pulls characters into bushes and presumably has his way with them while hearts float skyward, a move that only works on male characters.
In the Blazblue series, the character Amane Nishiki is a man who wears effeminate Japanese attire, with a fighting style that is both graceful and resembles a dance. He has an apparent attraction to the veteran character, Carl Clover, and wishes for him to join his dance troupe that he is putting together. Another character Makoto Nanaya is openly bisexual and kisses the female character Mai Natsume without a second thought.
In the Mortal Kombat series, Kung Jin is a homosexual character. The story mode of Mortal Kombat X features an exchange between Jin and Raiden that implies Jin's sexuality. Jin's homosexuality was confirmed by NetherRealm Studios cinematic director Dominic Cianciolo. The same game also implies that Mileena and Tanya are in a relationship, or at least show obvious attraction to each other.
Gay characters in action gamesEdit
In 2001, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty featured a bisexual character, Vamp. Solid Snake reveals Vamp's bisexuality in a conversation in which he explains that he was the lover of Scott Dolph, a bisexual Navy commander. The game does not dwell on this point, however, and accepts it as a factor of the character.
The 2004 prequel Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater featured male bisexuality (Volgin and Major Raikov), as well as other sexual topics rarely touched upon in popular entertainment, such as sexual sadism (Volgin) and polyamory.
Perhaps one of the most flagrant uses of gay or homoerotic imagery in a comedic manner is the Cho Aniki series, an unusual group of games that uses these themes in such an exaggerated way that players regard it as a parody. The series is best known for its homoerotic overtones, wacky humor and vivid, surreal imagery. In Japan, they are regarded as examples of the kuso-ge or "shit game" genre, which are enjoyed for their kitsch.
The PlayStation 3 game The Last of Us (2013) was praised for its gay characters, including teenage protagonist Ellie. GLAAD, the American organization promoting the image of LGBT people in the media, named the supporting character Bill one of "the most intriguing new LGBT characters of 2013".
The original Gameboy game titled "Great Greed" in the US and "Bitamīna Oukoku Monogatari" in Japan, released in September 1992, featured the possibility of your male protagonist's marriage to a variety of characters at the end of the game that included any of the kings daughters (except the eleven year old), the elderly court magician, the queen, and even the king himself. While possibly not the absolute earliest appearance of same sex relationships in video games it is much earlier than the current runner up Fallout 2.
Fallout 2 (1998) was the second game to allow players to marry a character of the same sex, and Persona 2: Innocent Sin (1999) allowed players to engage in a same-sex relationship. Fable (2004) allowed same-sex marriage among a wide range of domestic activities. In life simulator The Sims (2000), the sexual orientation of characters was set depending on the player's actions. However, same-sex couples were described as "roommates", and they could not get married. Same-sex marriage was made available in the 2009 sequel Sims 2.
BioWare's RPGs, including Baldur's Gate' (since 1998), Mass Effect (since 2007) and Dragon Age (since 2009) are particularly noted for their inclusion of LGBT characters and same-sex romance options. The Elder Scrolls series made same-sex relationships available in Skyrim (2011). Among Japanese RPG series, Final Fantasy allowed same-sex relationships with a patch to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in 2014, and Fire Emblem did so with Fire Emblem Fates (2016).
The release of The Temple of Elemental Evil, a role-playing video game developed by Troika Games, created controversy in 2003 due to the availability of the option for a male character to enter a same-sex marriage. In the town of Nulb, a pirate named Bertram begins flirting with male characters in the party and offers a lifetime of love and happiness in exchange for his freedom. This relationship was noted as another example of video games "pushing the boundaries" by The Guardian. Game developers and publishers generally did not object to the inclusion of a homosexual story option. Criticism of the relationship came primarily from gamers who felt that gay characters should not be included in video games. Industry observer Matthew D. Barton commented on the irony of so-called "geeky gamers", subject to stereotyping themselves, stereotyping gays in their opposition. Producer Tom Decker defended the move, saying in an interview with RPG Vault: "I particularly felt strongly that since we had several heterosexual marriages available in Hommlet, we should include at least one homosexual encounter in the game and not to make it a stereotyped, over the top situation, but on par with the other relationships available in the game". Bertram was named #6 on GayGamer.net's Top 20 Gayest Video Game Characters.
Undertale (2015) which won IGN's best PC Game of 2015 features a gender neutral playable main character, Frisk. During the game, depending on the route the player takes, may encounter a dating simulation in which the gender of both parties are unclear and a major plot line is the development of a lesbian relationship between Undyne and Alphys.
LGBT themes by company or marketEdit
In order to legally release a game for a Nintendo system, a developer must first obtain permission from Nintendo, which reserves the right to preview the games and demand changes before allowing their release. In this way, Nintendo exercises quality control and can prevent any content they deem objectionable or offensive from being released on their systems. Prior to the introduction of the Entertainment Software Rating Board in 1994, a game sold for a Nintendo system could neither display, nor make reference to, illicit drugs, tobacco and alcohol, violence against women, blood and graphic violence, profanity, nudity, religious symbols, political advocacy, or "sexually suggestive or explicit content."
In 1988, a creature in Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. 2, the miniboss named Birdo, was described in the original instruction manual as thinking he was a girl and wanting to be called "Birdetta". This was later censored by Nintendo of America in future appearances of the character. In 1992, Enix was ordered to remove a gay bar from Dragon Warrior III, among other content changes, before the game could be sold for a Nintendo system. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) version of Ultima VII also had to be substantially altered from its original computer edition in order to remove potentially objectionable content, including ritual murders, and the option to have a male or female "bedmate" if the player paid a fee at the buccaneer-run island.
By the late 1990s, Nintendo had largely abandoned these censorship policies, as they felt the inclusion of ESRB ratings on the packaging would suitably communicate to consumers whether potentially objectionable content could be found in the game. In 2000, British video game developer Rare released Banjo-Tooie for the Nintendo 64, featuring a gay frog bartender named "Jolly Roger." The frog wanted Banjo and Kazooie to rescue his co-worker, Merry Maggie, a cross-dressing amphibian who appeared to be Jolly Roger's lover. Jolly Roger would return as a playable character in the Game Boy Advance game Banjo-Pilot (2005). Rare would also release Conker's Bad Fur Day (2001) for the Nintendo 64, featuring an alcoholic squirrel named Conker and his adventures in a world where all of the characters are foul-mouthed creatures who made various dirty jokes in reference to hangovers, homosexuality and oral sex. Enix Corporation re-released Dragon Warrior III for the Game Boy Color and was allowed to keep all of the original content, provided the game was given a Teen rating by the ESRB.
Although there is no policy anymore against featuring such content, Nintendo has come under fire for omitting the option of same-sex romance and LGBT expression in their franchises (as well as third-party games released on Nintendo Consoles) on several occasions, with the most notable and vocal controversy stemming from the video game Tomodachi Life. Marriage plays a big role in the game, which does not include the option of same-sex marriage.
Like Nintendo, Sega policed the content of games for Sega systems. Unlike Nintendo, Sega's initial system of censorship was more liberal. Their content code allowed games to have blood, more graphic violence, female enemies, and more sexually suggestive themes.
Although Sega allowed LGBT themes and characters in games sold for its home console systems, Sega often chose to tone down or erase LGBT characters when porting Asian games to American markets. In Phantasy Star II, a musician's homosexuality was edited so that the only acknowledgment of his sexual orientation was his practice of charging all male characters less money for his music lessons.
In 1992, when Final Fight CD was released for the Sega CD and Vendetta was released for the Sega Genesis, minor transgender and homosexual enemies were censored. Sega's Streets of Rage 3 removed a gay villain wearing Village People attire and transformed a transsexual villain into a man with long hair.
In 1993, Sega developed the Videogame Rating Council to give content-based ratings to all games sold for a Sega system, thus reducing the need for Sega to maintain a content code for its developers. When Rise of the Dragon was developed by Dynamix for the Sega CD, a transgender bar patron was retained from the original computer edition, as was a gay joke relating to the playable character mistaking his girlfriend for a man with long hair. As a result, the game was given the council's "MA-17" rating.
Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)Edit
In 1994, several top gaming publishers formed the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) as the trade association of the video game industry. Shortly after its creation, the ESA established the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to independently assign individual games content ratings and descriptors according to a variety of factors. Identification of sexuality falls under the sexual content description which is allowed for games rated Teen to Adults Only .
Following the establishment of the ESRB, console developers relaxed their in-house regulations in favor of ESRB ratings. In 1994, Sega dissolved its Videogame Rating Council after only one year in existence.
Most games made in Japan, Korea and Taiwan are produced for local audiences. In Japanese popular culture, gay and bisexual men were often considered bishōnen, which translates as "beautiful boys." This was also tied to the success in Japan of comic books and animation with open and subtle LGBT characters. A select genre of adult pornographic Japanese games called H-games includes gay male and gay female subgenres. This material generally does not make it over to the west in English, and western reviews of the gay male video games tend to see the homosexuality as a gimmick in an otherwise mediocre game. However, homosexuality, while relatively innocuous among celebrities in Japan, can still be considered an oddity due to Japan's regimented and conservative social structure. Despite a lack of strong social stigma, homosexuality in men is commonly misconstrued with transgenderism and transvestism in Japan and open homosexuality is rare, due to conformity.
Marketing to LGBT consumersEdit
The belief that young, white, heterosexual males were the force driving the industry forward was strongly challenged by the record-breaking success of The Sims. Video game developer Maxis had resisted Will Wright's goal of creating the title on the grounds that "girls don't play video games." The title was seen as unappealing to young heterosexual males. In the 1990s, the industry began to make some effort to market games to women by creating software titles with strong, independent female characters, such as those in Tomb Raider and Resident Evil. Some video game companies are now moving to further expand their marketing base to include the perceived market of affluent homosexual young men by including LGBT characters and supporting LGBT rights. BioWare included female same-sex scenes in Mass Effect, female same-sex relationships in Mass Effect 2 and same-sex relationships for either gender in Mass Effect 3, and allowed sexual interaction between any gender groups in Dragon Age: Origins. In Dragon Age II, this was taken even further by allowing all romance-able party members to be romanced by either gender (with the exception of a particular DLC-only companion), as opposed to the first game's requirement of choosing between two bisexual rogues.
Even some games that are considered to appeal mainly to the non-traditional demographic continue to censor homosexuality. For instance, despite the tremendous success of The Sims, even the most recent version of the franchise suppresses homosexual identity. Autonomous romantic interactions exist only for heterosexual characters by default. In The Sims 3, players must manually initiate multiple same-sex romantic interactions before a character will be "converted" to homosexuality and begin to engage in such interactions autonomously. The town will then be marked gay-friendly, unlocking the autonomy for other characters. If a player does not force at least one character to engage in same-sex advances several times, the player's town will have no visible homosexuality.
GLAAD announced it had created a new category to recognize video games and debuting in its 30th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in 2019, acknowledging those games with positive depictions of LGBT themes.
A 2006 survey exploring gay gamers was the first academic study of any gamer group. With about 10,000 respondents, the survey exhibited a reverse bell curve of gamer sexuality, with most people identifying as either completely heterosexual or homosexual.
A 2009 academic paper explored the cultural production of LGBT representation in video games and found that factors that would lead to a significant increase in LGBT content included: the presence of motivated producers in the industry (those that are personally, politically, or commercially interested in LGBT content), how the audience for a text or medium is constructed (what the public backlash from both the LGBT community and conservative groups will be, as well as industry-based reprisals in the form of censorship or ratings), the structure of the industry and how it is funded, and how homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgender identities can be represented in the medium.
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