28 May 2014

[GayGamer.Net] It's Hard Being Tomodachi With Corporations

Recently, an uproar tore out across the internets when Nintendo decided not to include same-sex relationships in their life-sim game Tomodachi Life; people were incensed, Nintendo issued a fairly standard apology, people were mildly more optimistic but also still kind of sore. In response, there have been questions, confusions and concerns from folk criticising the backlash against Nintendo, for various reasons.

Many have echoed Nintendo’s sentiment of “social commentary” by claiming that games are “just games”, they’re escapist fantasies, they’re entertainment, and as such, they shouldn’t serve any “political agenda”. But games are not just “escapism”, they’re not just frivolous forays into time-wasting in between reading “Ulysses” or “Animal Farm”, they’re not “just” anything – there’s an entire side to the games industry called serious games! Games, like any medium, like any artform, like any kind of entertainment – both reflect the culture that created it and influences that society’s perspective. As Anna at BorderHouseBlog notes, choosing to abstain from “social commentary” on an issue IS social commentary — any action in a politically-muddied situation is political action. Similarly, Nintendo’s initial decision not to include same-sex relationships – and their subsequent decision not to – did not happen in a vacuum. They happened in an industry already hesitant about, if not inimical to, LGBTQ representation, in a culture where LGBTQ people are already marginalised, poorly represented and discriminated against.

(You can read the rest of this article over at GayGamer.net! >>)

20 May 2014

[GayGamer.net] Queer Mechanic #6: Relationships

Queer Mechanic is a regular feature over on GayGamer – each month, we’ll be presenting a new game mechanic that could be used in games that include or focus on queer identity or culture. Queer Mechanic is a thought experiment, to see both what we could add to games, and to recognise what’s been missing from them; it’s a challenge, both to readers, to come up with novel, interesting and effective ways to use them, and to developers, to include them in games; and it’s a discussion for a more inclusive, more varied, and more innovative future for the games industry.

Relationship mechanics have become enormously popular in recent years, to the extent that it”s not uncommon to see forum threads of speculation about whether certain characters in games can be “romanced”, guides for the optimal way to romantically engage with Love Interests (LIs), or discussing the difficulties inherent in romance options in games. The creation of engaging and interesting romance options and mechanics is something that’s vital, timely, and, most importantly, wanted.

Nonetheless, implementing romance options isn’t as easy as just rubbing one character on another until hearts pop out (…figuratively speaking). For example, the complexity of the sexual politics involved in Dragon Age: Origins alone is staggering, before we even get to what Denis Farr refers to as the “Schroedinger’s Sexuality” of Dragon Age II and the fact that some players had reservations about how the in-game Love Interests were portrayed as “playersexual” rather than bisexual – that is, there is little-to-no reference to their sexual orientation except in the case of when the player-character puts the moves on them. And, in those instances when romance mechanics go wrong, they can goreally wrong: case in point, Gaygamer’s Trevor Smith’s discussion of the abject horror of badly-implemented romance mechanics resulting in a deeply creepy ‘romance’ scene.

So, it’s important that we have interesting and engaging relationship options – but it’s also important that these options don’t undermine themselves by cutting corners, which can lead to perpetuating tired stereotypes without commentary, creating one-size-fits-all mechanisms that take away nuance and context, and sending out mixed messages.

Unfortunately, the games industry has done all three of these things repeatedly over the years, to the point that whenever games include relationships or romance options that aren’t your regular cis-heteronormative man-kisses-woman-and-they-marry fare, they tend to be cliché, crude, or conflicted. And that’s if they include them in the first place.

But in this month’s Queer Mechanic, we’re not talking about “the gay romance option”. We’re talking about romance options, plural – using game mechanics to explore how we could model and represent alternative relationship structures like polyamory, open relationships, D/s relationships and more, and the possibilities and difficulties these bring with them.