I remember the day I proposed to my husband. It was a cold day in Whiterun, and I’d just returned from battling through monster-infested tombs and slaying a dragon or two, and I suddenly realised this was the man I wanted to marry.
Clearly, this isn’t real life. Leeds might be occasionally a little rough on a night out, but I have yet to spot any dragons. No, this is Skyrim, the fifth title in The Elder Scrolls series of RPG (role playing game) video games. Shortly before its release last year, Bethesda Softwork’s Vice President of Marketing Pete Hines revealed on Twitter that same-sex marriages were to be included in the game. There was no fuss or fanfare accompanying this announcement; someone even accused Hines of being ‘hush hush’ about the issue, and he responded by saying:
‘Not hush hush, just not making a huge deal out of it. You can marry anyone.’
However, another giant of the RPG genre has been waving the rainbow flag for quite a bit longer – Bioware. My earliest experience of a game with LGBT content was the truly wonderful Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, way back in 2003. Juhani is a Cathar, which means she looks a bit like a humanoid house-cat with a Croydon facelift, but crucially she is a female who likes females. If you’re playing as a big strapping male Jedi, Juhani couldn’t give a toss about how tight your tunic trousers are, but if you’re a sexy lady Jedi, well… She was the first lesbian ever introduced into the Star Wars canon– and I don’t think it’s too surprising that this happened in an RPG.
After all, the whole point of these games is that they are an immersive, escapist gaming experience where, if you so desire, you can hack and slash your way through waves of enemies, or you can mine for gems, go fishing, run errands for little old ladies or, yes, get married and build a home with your spouse. Bioware has continually included Same Gender Romances (SGRs) in game series like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, and why the hell not? These games are meant to allow you to inhabit the life of a character in a world excitingly different from your own, and the option to pursue romantic relationships with the characters you come into contact with has long been an integral part of their gameplay. But not every player is straight. Bioware’s David Gaider once responded to one individual complaining about the studio’s supposed failure to cater to the ‘straight male gamer’ by saying:
‘The romances in the game are not for “the straight male gamer”. They’re for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention.’
Last year, Bioware released their first ever MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), Star Wars: The Old Republic. However, for the first time in a while, this Bioware game only had opposite-gender romance options. After spending quite a long time creating a gloriously twinky Jedi Knight, no option for him to gay it up in the galaxy far, far away was pretty disappointing.
A few months before the game’s official launch, Bioware announced that an upcoming patch would add SGR options to the game. Over a year later, gamers are still waiting for that patch, although Bioware assures us it is on its way. Even if the Florida Family Association somewhat hilariously worries about children playing as ‘something like Darth RuPaula, a combination of Darth Vader, one of the most popular Star Wars characters, and RuPaul, the renown transgender cross-dresser’ (May the Fierce be with you, hunty!), nobody else really seems to mind. There are almost 400 posts in the thread about SGRs on the official SWTOR forum, mostly from people wanting to know when they’re coming and talking about which characters they particularly want to flirt with/bonk. No massive uproar, no legions of outraged players threatening to leave and never come back.
There will always be those who don’t understand or want LGBT representation in video games, but it certainly seems that, as far as the studios are concerned at least, there will always be room for queer characters in gaming.