LGBTQ Life in Games and Other Areas

I have been thinking of this topic off and on over the past week, and how to express it in a way that is inclusive to all, including those who would fit under the often used umbrella acronym, allies, and those who aren’t familiar are possibly choose not to be with the community for a myriad of reasons.

I believe we have reached a point where representation within this medium should not be seen as exclusive only to this group or that, but all walks of life, whether it be with characters/ themes/ story-lines that center around those who consider themselves queer or not.

I think that we live in an interesting time and it is through such times that great progress can be made and those who have often felt as if they did not have a voice or an identity or one that would be seen by the majority as other or a negative can rise up in a way and just be happy being themselves without fear of harm in any way.

I am pansexual, and have struggled with my sexuality through most of my life, and for those who do not know much of what that entails, it is hell in simple terms, and it is only in the last couple years where I have grown more comfortable with that aspect of myself. With the latest tirade against a game for including such items, as LGBTQ characters and perceived notions of what feminism is within The Last of Us: Part II, (a game which I have yet to play just simply due to the fact that I have other titles I want to experience at the time), I eel this is as great a time as any to talk about this topic and how it can be shown in a positive light within this medium we cherish so deeply, how it has been shown, etc.

A great example of a character who is seen as dealing with their sexuality (neither confirmed to be gay, straight, etc by the developers, but only inferred as such) and especially society’s views on how they should act and conform to current gender stereotypes is Kanji Tatsumi from Persona 4. Throughout the game from the moment you are introduced to them, they are seen as putting on a front, and it is only later on in the story, and specifically in their arc of the plot, that we as players see the confusion, turmoil and distress that comes with a character being torn apart by society’s depictions of what is correct and normal for a male and how they act, think and so forth. Whether it be their perceived sexuality, or gender roles, the game treads lightly around the topic, providing us with a look into what actual people in the real world may possibly and most likely for some deal with when dealing with such matters.

I for one, do not consider myself ot be the most masculine person by a longshot, and it is through that perception that I have had some pretty horrible experiences and trials in navigating how I feel and am with how society over the course of my life feels I should be. I can see myself in the character of Kanji in certain aspects, and it is through this depiction that I feel this game specifically can bring to light some very interesting concepts that some people might never think about. For a deeper look into this, I would highly recommend reading this quite detailed article on it from VentureBeat. It may older at this point, I don’t think it makes it irrelevant.

Kanji Tatsumi: A Look at Sexuality and Gender in Persona 4

I do not intend to make this topic exclusionary in any way as I believe all voices should be welcome to contribute and provide a piece of the narrative. I only wish to start a conversation on a topic that is near and dear to my heart.

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Similar to my feelings towards so-called accessibility options in videogames, I think that having more characters exploring the whole diversity and spectrum of human experience benefits everyone. When done properly, it allows everyone to learn and appreciate from other people’s experience and develop empathy towards them. And -let’s don’t kid ourselves- we might also learn something about ourselves in the process.

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I struggle with Persona 4 because it has many exceptional elements, yet fumbles its Queer storylines so greatly. The problems I have with Yosuke’s homophobia, with Kanji’s representation, the significant issues and inherent transphobia of Naoto’s story, and the protagonist’s general complacency are part of what render the game difficult for me to love. It’s been a while since I’ve played it and written on the game so I’ll just share some writing that mirrors some of my feelings on the game.

Persona 4’s Issues with Queerness

Queerness is Not a Gimmick: A Look at Persona 4’s Failed Representation, and How Persona 5 Can Fix it

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Just to add, my post is not meant to disavow or dismiss your experience with the game. It is just what I’ve struggled with in respect to my relationship to the game and its representation.

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One of the things with how gaming is evolving with LGBT stories which makes me happy but has led to countless frustration and banging head against the wall is that as more and more games include Queer content in them, its becoming more common and normalized in the overall gaming sphere and has led and will continue to lead into some absolutely beautiful and compelling stories that havent been done yet, and even if they arnt compelling!!! even if theye just the same as whats come before!! the change of it being a queer story can mean SO much to a player who either is under the umbrella or is exploring more about who they are, But theres so much frustration in it because when we talk in the actual games, you can separate so cleanly stories coming for a real honest place (which you see in alot of indie games) and Corporate Demanded And Approved Gay story, and the latter can be so poorly handled.

But that honestly i can ignore alot of the times cause hey, atleast its there, and other people might enjoy them but what gets so utterly depressing is how gamers react to just the SLIGHTEST variation from the “Straight white man” ideal and i know saying that sets so many people off but its true, straight white guy is still considered the default and when we deviate from it people get so mad, and so disgusting with their criticism, i think with the jackhammering of it, gamers as a whole are now far better with having female leads in games (but god did that take a while, and if youve been around gaming circles when that was getting normalized you know the anger that existed around it), theyre not perfect with it, but theyre better, but LGBT stuff is still such a huge thing in games, and its going to take so much longer to get normalized because unfortunately alot of LGBT stuff isnt inherent, its not something you just know, you have to take the effort and time for learning, and finding information, you have to learn to be more open minded and compassionate to someones elses experience but that takes EFFORT and it takes TIME and people just dont want to DO that, which is SO frustrating, especially when they say that theyre being completely logical and havent said anything offensive, im already seeing people claim fans were never being transphobic @ last of us 2, and haha holy shit please fuck off if you actually believe that, ive had to talk to so many trans friends about how hurt they felt seeing those kinds of awful things spread across the internet again, especially in the form of memes.

I remember 10 years ago the biggest joke in gaming circles when a character deviated from Straight white guy was “Oh whats next? A Gay amputee bisexual black woman? Lol” And now we have Billie Lurk from dishonoured who is all that and more. Soon we’re getting a AAA game featuring a Trans man as the lead in Tell Me Why (please dont fuck this up DontNod). Things are improving, and hopefully will continue to become more welcoming to everyone who plays games, no matter who they are.

I do believe that with time, queer stuff in games has and will continue to get more accepted, itch.io and its recent bundle has shown just how many varied stories already exist out there, and im looking forward to how these narratives continue to explore and be created, but it will take time, and its going to be extremely frustrating through the process but we’re gonna have to deal with that, cause god if some of the LGBT games existed when i younger, maybe i wouldnt have felt so confused and worried whenever i did anything that didnt fall under the category of “Manly”.

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No disrespect taken, as I think your critiques are valid, although different from my experience with the concepts and their representations within the game of course. In my experience, with how little such ideas were even brought up within pop culture let alone video games when Persona 4 was out, I thought that Altus did the best they could do at the time to bring it up at all, and while it can be seen as lacking now and possibly in the time period, I think they still did a whole lot more than most developers were at the time, albeit flawed in their approach.

@Trying_Island, I can heartily agree with your sentiments, as its nice to see more queer focused stories and characters in general, it can be disheartening when it is obvious they are there to satisfy a corporate plot to garner attention or make x,y,z corporation/ publisher/developer seem more friendly to this community or the next when thy are really just pandering or outright being dishonest with their consumers. Also, the idea that anything other than what is considered heteronormative is outright not tolerated is disgusting and needs to change, as obviously there are a wide variety of people who enjoy games, and they might not and should not always follow a certain guideline as to what stories get to be told.

It is the same with movies and television, which I feel is actually making far greater strides in the “mainstream” in developing and providing stories with characters that don’t fit or feature prominently the “straight, white male” character. I am not saying that stories with such a character in the lead role is automatically bad, and therefore should not be allowed or anything of that sort, but it is nice and would nice to see more representation in all mediums and that is not the only human experience available to us. While I am not a person of color, I can sympathize with the lack of representation in pop culture, especially growing up and while, like stated previously there is more now than ever, there is still room for vast improvement; That goes for race, sexuality, gender identity, age, etc.

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No kidding. And even if when they don’t get mad, they usually demand some sort of explanation. Questions such as “Why was so-and-so gay? What does it add to the plot?”, which are never asked about “mainstream” heterosexual relationships.

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I understand what you mean. And certainly, when there is very little media that contains the representation we seek and crave, we tend to take what we can get even if it is problematic.

I do think, however, that Atlus wasn’t just working within the confines of the time while trying to be more progressive. I think there is enough in the game that reinforces negative perspectives on Queerness, enough that I think it becomes evident that the game is upholding cultural norms rather than trying to break them down. I stuck with Persona 4 because I thought there would be a greater commentary, an eventual rejection of the homophobia within the game. I stuck around hoping the protagonist would reject the the perspectives presented by characters like Yosuke about characters like Kanji. But as the game progresses, even in sequences where you can push the protagonist to be more accepting and open minded, the game returns to the same tropes that reinforce the idea that any sort of Queerness is abnormal and ultimately to be rejected. That is part of why eventually I had to accept that while the game is thoughtful in many ways, it’s handling of Queer identities and Queerness was enough to sour me on the game. There were times where I initially thought that the game would handle these storylines in ways that would show the characters pass through from immaturity, to learning, to growth and then to understanding and acceptance. I thought that was the track the game was headed on in respect to character and narrative development. But the fact that the game never gets there, and doubles down on some of the worst aspects of the tropes at play, meant that Persona 4 wasn’t the game I thought it would turn out to be (or perhaps the game I wished it was).

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We’re still at a stage where anything but the most base level heterosexuality cannot exist in a game without it being either a) a political statement or b) a token of “inclusivity”. There was a time when this was the case for non-white characters. There was a time when this was the case for female characters. Those times have (mostly) passed. And so the time will come of non-straight, non-cis characters being allowed to exist without coming across as pandering or pushing an agenda.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. We’re currently at the fighting stage.

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And, the only reason that people perceive Queer stories and representation to be pandering or pushing an agenda is because those who perceive it as such do so because generally don’t want to see such representation and thus react against it when it is present. Including a Queer character isn’t pushing an agenda, it’s merely representation. The myth that of things like the Gay Agenda only exist as a straw man for people who are anti-Queer to argue and rail against. They don’t want to see Queer representation so they build up the idea that any representation is only inserted to push that agenda or pander rather than accepting that it’s there simply because Queer people exist and Queer stories are worthwhile. People outside tend to see inclusion as pandering because they can’t understand what it’s like not to see oneself represented in media. People on the inside don’t generally see it as pandering because representation is often limited and the inclusion of a character like oneself can be profound. That’s not to say that just because something does include Queer stories and Queer characters that it’s exempt from criticism. Nothing is. But it looks a lot less like pandering when you know the alternative is nothing at all.

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Yes, that’s really what I meant. To exist without being seen as a straw man. Poor wording perhaps.

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No, sorry I was trying to expand on that thought. I don’t think you meant anything different. I wanted to clarify more specifically on that thread in your post. I should have started my post with “and” instead of “but” (edit: I’ve updated it).

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I don’t know. I feel that today, it is part of an agenda. That queer people exist and deserve the same empathy, human rights and dignity as everyone else. That they can be as good role models as characters with “mainstream” sexualities and gender identities.

When in Mass Effect 3 you have 2 openly gay crewmembers whom no NPC thinks ill of, and even the player is given no option to censor them, it firmly pushes a specific ethical statement, don’t you think?

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i feel like theres alot of connotations with the word “Agenda” that make LGBT people very hesitant to call it that, and its often used against them. While i do agree that putting gay characters in a gayme and having them be treated with no ill will towards them is very needed and refreshing, and how it can help make these things normalized, i dont think they were really trying to go for that as far as me3 goes. The good is more of a bi-product of having the characters be there and less of an active agenda/statement they were trying to do/make.

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This is exactly what I would also say.

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Indeed today it very much is part of an agenda. To pretend otherwise it’s disingenuous. But the hope is that one day it won’t be. That characters of every ilk can exist without questioning why they exist. They just do, because they are real, they are necessary, they are poignant. They exist because we exist.

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Yes, I understand. But setting aside the negative connotations I think it’s undeniable that in today’s world, the presence of LGBT characters in games serve to push some kind of ethos. I’m not saying that it’s some active strategy or anything like that, but when a game features a LGBT character, at the very minimum it’s positioning itself (and the developers, by extension) in one or the other of a real-life conflict.

In the case of Mass Effect, the message I think is clear. In this super-advanced world of galactic community, interstellar travel, FTL drives and general artificial intelligence, being gay is completely normal and accepted. The hero, who is willing to die in order to save all sapient life in the galaxy and, via player-choice acts out the morality of the player, is absolutely in support of their queer crewmates. That the devs didn’t put a dialogue option to reject their sexuality is telling*. So while it’s not making some sort of complex statement about the lives of LGBT people today, the game is unequivocally putting its foot down on the right side of the issue.

* Which is more you can say of Mass Effect 1, where a Femshep will explicitly point out that Liara is attracted to her even if she’s a woman.

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I feel - not only in video games - we’re seeing progression already. P4 is an old game from a country which has bigger difficulties to handle such topics, so I hope we won’t need to struggle in future once the old company leader’s are slowly exchanged with younger people. In comparison to 100 years ago we did huge steps in the last 20-30 years and I think media and entertainment helped creating empathy for people usually not confronted with these topics in the daily life.

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Hey Prin,
I’ve got nothing really to add, but I did want to post and say thanks for feeling open to posting about this. I have seen how deeply my queer/LGBTQ friends struggle and how difficult it can be to talk about these things. I hope that games and, especially, gaming communities (which can be surprisingly unsupportive) go the way that you talk about.

Gender in Japan is a very different thing than in the West, and the interaction with traditional ideas of gender and Western ideas (rather varied) that come through in pop culture tends to be a strange mix. When I was in Japan (in 05 - 07), there was a pop culture icon called “Laser Lemon Hard Gay” (the name might say it all), but there were also games like Person 4 which tried to, if nothing else, discuss the issues. It’s good, however, to note these differences in culture. Eastern ideas of gender may not develop as Western ideas do and have - in fact, they probably won’t. But all discussions of gender and identity are fluid, regardless of culture. Noting what is informing those discussions, what is at stake in them, and who is having them are all important things to do.

But I’m just wondering while typing. None of this is in regards to anything anyone posted, just things that the conversation made me think about.

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Othy:

I wouldn’t really say that honestly as I feel the conversation is ever-evolving whether you are Queer or not.

Thank you as well for the sentiment. It has taken me quite a while to get to this point of comfort, and at this point, I want to be more of an ambassador for those growing up through these times with as little confusion as possible, and I feel that representation in all forms of media, including that of video games is important. If those who are struggling with their identities can see stories centered around characters that happen to be like them in some way, then it will help them in their journey towards love.

As with Persona 4, I completely understand some peoples misgivings with it, as it certainly tries to broach the topic of gender, and sexuality, while missing the mark in some big areas as well, and especially from a cultural standpoint, it can be a bit more difficult as well.

I couldn’t agree more on the point of perspective where these discussion start, and end up as being important.

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