As the video game medium continues to mature and diversify, so too has it become an increasingly progressive and LGBT-inclusive one with a growing influence on culture and an increasingly mainstream audience. 2012 turned out to be quite an interesting year in regards to LGBT representation and video games, from the communities that exist around them, to the companies that produce them, and into games themselves.
Though things are clearly improving, the industry still has a ways to go. Heterosexual plotlines and relationships are still far and away the norm, while anti-gay language is still commonly heard on many online gaming channels. In games that provide players a choice of romantic characters, it’s also not a given that same-sex options will be available, as evidenced by last year’s launch of the MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic. Though the game's developers confirmed they would eventually add same-sex options to the game following massive fan outcry, no official date for them has yet been announced.
There were a several positive developments too, however, and perhaps chief among those came from the same developer that made The Old Republic:
Mass Effect 3 is Released
If there was one game released in 2012 that was a sure sign of progress, it was undoubtedly Mass Effect 3, from Bioware and Electronic Arts. Several mainstream games have included LGBT characters and/or same-sex romantic options, but Mass Effect 3 included five different characters that could be “courted” by a player controlled character of the same-sex, all of which had their own completely unique storylines. What’s more, two of those characters were exclusively gay and lesbian, and included the ship’s new (lesbian) Yeoman Samantha Traynor and drop ship pilot Steve Cortez, who begins the storyline still mourning the death of his husband. These well-drawn gay and lesbian characters were an important part of the game regardless of how the player chooses to interact with them. When you take into account they existed in one of the most hotly anticipated releases of the year which has so far sold almost 4 ½ million copies worldwide, their significance becomes even more apparent. When was the last time a major Hollywood summer blockbuster was so inclusive?
Poison Joins Street Fighter X Tekken
Though she came from rather controversial and contested origins in Final Fight, the character of Poison became a fan favorite over the years, and her gender identity the source of much discussion. Publisher Capcom seems to have put that somewhat to rest when they brought her back for a prominent role in the fighting game Street Fighter X Tekken, and worked closely with GLAAD on the script to ensure that gaming’s most famous transgender character was portrayed with respect.
Gaymercon is Massive Crowd-Funding Success
Gay video game professional Matt Conn and several of his tech industry peers will celebrate the intersection of gay culture and tech culture with a convention in San Francisco next year, at which LGBT video game enthusiasts and self-proclaimed “geeks” will be able to interact with one another in their very own space. Organizers set an already challenging Kickstarter goal of $25,000 earlier this year to launch the very first Gaymercon, but manged to blow far beyond that to raise over $90k. Their success garnered them international press attention, and set the stage for what could turn into an annual event. What’s more, their public success reminds the industry and other players that LGBT people are an active part of the gaming community (and consumer base).
EA, Zinga, and Microsoft Support Legal Challenge to DOMA
Video game companies in the US are generally considered to be accepting environments for LGBT employees, but a few companies went the extra mile by filing a brief to support a legal challenge to the so-called 'Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)', which prevents legally married same-sex couples from receiving federal recognition. Electronic Arts, Zinga, and Microsoft are three of the biggest developers of software and hardware, and joined dozens of other major companies, including Starbucks and Google, in stating on the record that being forced to comply with DOMA hurts company morale and they find the law discriminatory. DOMA is scheduled for review by the US Supreme Court next year.