Gaming leads the way in equality

IN 1998, there was a quiet first for video games. In a run-down, post-apocalyptic church, under a nuclear sky, two characters of the same sex were married by a part-time preacher. It was a fleeting ceremony in dusty digital Arizona, but things would never be the same for games again. 

Fallout 2 was rightly praised for its sharp wit and biting satirical depiction of a radioactive America, but it was also a game about choice. You could choose to be an idiot savant, a physical powerhouse, a mechanics genius, a charismatic speaker, or just an all-round Joe.

You could also choose to be gay. If you decided to play as a female, your character could later sleep with and marry a girl called Miria, in that run-down church under a burnt orange sky. “Do you take this woman as your lawfully wedded, uhm, other?” the preacher asks, with typical Fallout tongue-in-cheek.

It was a small moment in a story full of branching possibilities, but it also signalled the beginning of a change for gaming. Role-playing games, in particular, started to address the issue of same-sex relationships more openly, offering players the choice to date or sleep with members of the same sex.

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It wasn’t an immediate or encompassing change, nor was it always handled with taste, but a statement was being made nonetheless — gaming was taking a stance on diversity. In the 17 years since, there have been dozens of examples of gay and even pansexual relationships in role-playing games. Japanese titles, especially, touched upon simple, broad-stroke representations of sexuality. Star Ocean: The Second Story allowed people to play as either a girl or boy, and subsequently have relationships with party members of either sex.

In Persona 2, one of the main characters, a boy called Kurosu Jun, is depicted as having been in love with the primary male protagonist since they were children, giving the player a special ‘lovers’ ability if you chose to enter a relationship with Jun in the game. In Final Fantasy IX, the character Quina Qen belongs to an ‘ungendered’ race called the Qu, and is referred to as s/he throughout — but that doesn’t stop Qen from marrying another character, the wizard Vivi. In 2001, further ground was broken when The Sims released an advertising campaign on TV showing a male protagonist rejecting a woman’s advances in favour of a man’s. From that point on, the examples grow even more high-profile.

In the Fable series, players could court and marry a number of gay and bisexual villagers. The hugely-popular Mass Effect series incorporated same-sex relationships. In Bully, a game in which a roughshod, alpha-male boy called Jimmy goes through high school, players are awarded the achievement ‘Over the Rainbow’ if Jimmy kisses another boy 20 times. A female character reacts dynamically to this in-game, commenting to Jimmy “I’m like Helen of Troy, but you seem more interested in boys called Troy!”

The gaming industry is a cynical, often juvenile one, but it’s easy to forget how many games along the way have taken stances against the norm. Musclebound soldiers and scantily clad women still dominate the landscape, but that landscape is ever-changing, shifting to reflect a society in which diversity is an accepted fact, a welcome trait.

Earlier this year, Dragon Age Inquisition made the point very nicely. Published by one of the biggest developers in the world, it featured a transgender character in a lead role, a man named Krem who was assigned female at birth, but identifies as male. Just like that quickfire marriage in Fallout 2, under that burnt-out and blackened sky, it is another small step towards a culture of acceptance and love in gaming, a future far happier than an empty wasteland.

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