Why the "Sexuality isn't Important in Games" Defense is Bull

A habitual defense of the lack of visible, Queer-identified characters in games is the assertion that the sexuality of characters, Queer or not, is of little importance. To that, consider Mario, one of gaming’s oldest franchises. At the core of (nearly) every Mario game, is the narrative arc of Mario going through some sort of quest to save a princess from peril. Usually, his antithesis is Bowser, who kidnaps the princess for vaguely romantic/sexual reasons. Mario then saves the princess and and at the end of the quest, expects some manner of reward such as a kiss or her hand in marriage. This is, in some ways, the narrative which set the standard for what stories in video games look like.

 Mario Games as recent as Odessy do this very thing. Credit: Nintendo

Mario Games as recent as Odessy do this very thing. Credit: Nintendo

If you peel the cover off a game's narrative, most times, it's built around rescuing the protagonist's love interest in at least one of the arcs, if not throughout the whole game. These narratives are inextricably linked to heterosexuality. Without the cis hetero-romantic subplot, the tension of the game would be nonexistent.

 Credeit: EA

Credeit: EA

 Games that do this include: Dragon’s Layer, The Legend of Zelda series, parts of the Witcher, Bioshock Infinite, Gears of War 2, Kingdom Hearts, Shadow of Mordor, Assassin’s Creed 2, Resident Evil 2, Sonic, Ico, Double Dragon, Star Fox Adventure, Final Fantasy X, Earth Worm Jim, and way more games than I have space for.  Am I making my point?

Game developers have become accustomed to creating games which their assumed heterosexual male audience will relate to and the way they do that is to insert heterosexual subplots. Due to the persistence of this trope in games, it follows that it’s important, or at least developers seem to think so. And, to back that up, most of the game's I've mentioned are incredibly beloved games by both critics and the gaming community at large.

 But, let me backtrack for a moment. I only mention all of that as a means of establishing that heterosexuality has been and continues to be centered in video games. I don’t believe narratives of this nature are productive when they center heterosexuality and they certainly wouldn’t be any better if centered on a Queer pairing. The damsel rescue narrative is reductive, and typically insulting to the character turned damsel. But, my point stands. Romance is a tradition character motivation in video games and, historically, that romance is heterosexual. The type of representation matters as well. Games which have romantic plot lines where the people involved operate on equal terms are the goal. 

So What of The Queer Representation That we Do Have?

 Credit: Atlus

Credit: Atlus

Though there has been an influx of "Queer representation" in games over the last few years, it's left a lot to be desired. For one thing, these characters are made to clash against a narrative which actively tries, and often succeeds, at hiding their sexuality entirely from the player. The best example of this is Persona 4. Though it can be argued that Naoto Shirogane and Kanji Tatsumi are Queer characters as it is laid out by the game. It also simultaneously  strips them of their Queerness. Naoto's narrative ends in them revealing that the only reason why they dress "as a boy" is because of the societal and professional implications of being a woman detective. If those were nonexistent, then she would happily both identify and present in a more feminine manner.  And Kanji questions his sexuality specifically because he believes Naoto is a man and upon realizing that they are not (and are presumed to be a woman,) answers his questions almost entirely. Though I should point out that, the game makes a very good point about manhood and things deemed traditionally "feminine."

The hidden Queer has become a trope within games. Though, not explicitly stated, it can be reasonably assumed that a character is Queer though the game would never, ever, reveal otherwise. The hidden Queer baits people who wish to see Queer characters in games while making a passionate appeal to those who do not, that there definitely no Queers here. It isn't sufficient. Especially not, when  so many games which are so overtly cishet-centric fly by without comment. If sexuality and gender really doesn't matter, then it shouldn't offend anyone for me to say, I don't like the cishet male agenda shoved down my throat. It's time for a change.