Virtual equality: A look at LGBT characters in gaming

It's common in video games for a male hero to swoop in, save the day and get the girl. But what about if that hero is a girl saving a prince. Or, rather, a prince saving a prince?

After all, why should anybody -- regardless of what makes that person who he or she is -- feel excluded from a fantasy land such as those found in video games? Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter thinks game makers should seek to make their titles as welcoming as possible to those of all creeds.

"I'm not sure that games as a medium should seek to be inclusive as much as they should seek not to be exclusive," he said. "If a player wants to be a gay character, great. Don't stop them from doing that."

While some games, such as Rockstar's The Ballad of Gay Tony, an expansion for Grand Theft Auto IV, play up stereotypes, others pass off bi- and homo-sexuality as just a matter of fact. But neither highlight or downplay a character's sexual orientation. BioWare's Dragon Age II is a prime example of this -- the player-controlled male or female character can enter into virtual relationships with the game's core non-player characters regardless of gender.

As Dragon Age II's Anders says in the game, "I've always believed you fall in love with the whole person, not just a body."

Other modern games, however, simply aren't quite up to the times. The most recent of which is Nintendo's 3DS title Tomodachi Life. Released earlier this month, it's a supposed life simulation game that lets players be rock stars, meet digital celebrities and even court and fall in virtual love with other players. That is, just so long as such a relationship with with someone of the opposite sex.

There was a pre-launch internet campaign asking Nintendo to open the game up so anyone could love anyone, but Nintendo wouldn't budge. The campaign wasn't for naught, however, as the video game company announced that while Tomodachi Life wouldn't have anything but heterosexual relationships, it wouldn't be ruled out for future installments of the game.

"We pledge that if we create a next installment in the Tomodachi series, we will strive to design a gameplay experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players," the company said as part of a prepared statement in May.

For Felicia Johnson, an LGBT gamer and member of Sacramento's Gay and Lesbian Center, that isn't good enough.

"I feel like it was a heartfelt apology, but at the same time in a game cycle that's gonna be, what? Two, three, four, five years before that happens?" she said.

Pachter, however, sees it differently believing it was cultural differences between a Japanese video game developer and a Western audience.

"I think Nintendo's apology was aimed at saying, 'we just didn't think about it,'" he stated.

If there's a next time, odds are good that Nintendo will be thinking about it. And other game developers should be, too.

After all, don't we all want to play the hero at some point?


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