Gender and sexual orientation have skyrocketed to the forefront of national conversation in the last decade and video games are not immune.
Just this week, Nintendo defended its decision to maintain male/female only relationships in its upcoming 3DS game, Tomodachi Life. Fans reacted negatively and initiated an online petition, Miiquality, asking Nintendo to reinstate a now patched “bug” that previously allowed same-sex relationships in-game. Issues like this are popping up more frequently than ever.
Several weeks ago, a listener wrote in to express her displeasure upon discovering that she was only able to create a male character in Ubisoft’s South Park: The Stick of Truth. She wasn't alone. Sure, creative types could craft a character that resembled a girl, but if transplanting from farm country to Brooklyn has taught me anything, just because (s)he looks like a woman doesn't mean (s)he is a woman and vice versa. It’s how individuals identify themselves that matters, and Ubisoft identifies your character in the Stick of Truth as he/him.
Still, plenty of games allow for same-sex relationships and female player characters. I'll always remember in Dragon Age 2 when Anders misinterpreted my male character’s support and good nature for lust and he started putting the moves on me. Last year’s critically acclaimed “Gone Home” is a shining example of the video game industry’s desire to explore these topics and the overwhelmingly positive consumer response proves the gaming community is more open-minded than the racist, sexist bigots that often populate Call of Duty voice chats (another discussion for another day).
Games are generally moving in the right direction, so is the ire against companies like Nintendo and Ubisoft warranted?
I’m of two camps and they both fall under the umbrella philosophy that everyone is good and entitled to their own opinions and expressions despite the opinions and expressions of others. This works both ways.
If we are going to contend that video games are art, then we should treat them as such and allow their creators the same freedom of expression we afford artists of other mediums. We need to stop thinking of video games as perfect reflections of real life, wherein society and all its variations are accounted for. Yes, games are the most interactive form of creative expression, which is why, I think, the pressure to unlimit immersion is greater. But this doesn't change what games are at their core. Games are creative expressions with a directed experience, just like the artistic mediums that precede it.
I don’t think it is giving Nintendo too much credit to argue Tomodachi Life and its mechanics are born from countless decisions and individual expressions, none of which are “I don’t like gay people so we shouldn't allow same sex relationships.”
But this also means we, as consumers, are entitled to our grievances. If I really wanted to experience Gone Home as a hyper masculine, shotgun wielding, murder alien in a mech suit then I’m entitled to vent publicly about it. It’s not wrong to want something in a game that was left out of the artists’ vision, particularly something you think would improve the experience. No harm comes from individuals expressing opinions and critiquing the creative expressions of others. It’s an inevitable result of us silly humans trying to create art instead of just running around in the nakey eating, procreating, and surviving. If we all can accept it, we will all learn from it.
Nintendo and Ubisoft are not necessarily closed minded because they don’t allow you to be exactly what you want to be within the confines of their expressions. But don’t be afraid to speak up.
Continue to offer your critiques openly and respectfully and you will inform the art of the future.
What are your thoughts? Should games be held to a higher standard than other forms of commercial art?