Girl in the Machine
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Coming Out of the Gaming Closet

A Brief Look at the Past

[Editor’s Note: October is LGBT History Month, and so I have decided to spotlight a series of LGBT characters.]

Even though we can see gender and sexual orientation inequity in video games today, things have improved by leaps and bounds over the last twenty years.

When I sat down to do research on queer characters from the earlier days of gaming, I didn’t come up with much. While society and “the times” play a significant role, the lack of diversity is largely due to the actions of the game publishers themselves.

For example, Nintendo has always been a “family friendly” company and remains so to this day. In the past, however, it had a strict code for monitoring the content of its games. Anything from drugs and tobacco to religious imagery to sexually explicit content was banned from their games. It was this very same code that resulted in Super Mario Bros. 2’s Birdo, the first transsexual video game character, becoming censored into a female in 1988. Nintendo’s main competitor of the era, Sega, also had a video game censorship policy. While Sega’s policy was decidedly more liberal—such as allowing blood and female enemies—homosexuality remained off limits.

Early depictions of homosexuality were either highly feminized and comedic or lecherous and predatory. We haven’t fully escaped such stereotypes today, but it often appears as though there are more positive models in today’s games than before. Shadow Hearts: Covenant’s Joachim can be over the top, but he’s nothing compared to the Cho Aniki brothers. If nothing else, games like The Sims and Fable that allow characters to choose their character’s orientation are a major step, especially since it results in no significant change to the game play.

All I can hope is that in the next twenty years, people look back at the games we’re playing now and wonder, “Why are there so few queer characters? How strange!”

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