#2. There Are No Gay Men, Just Lesbians (And Those Chicks Can Be Converted)
As screwed up as heterosexual relationships are in games, the gay ones are even worse ... that is, when they even bother to exist. For example, in Mass Effect 1 and 2, there were no gay options for the male Shepard because the games were about "Shepard as a defined character," so in the designers' own words, they decided to "constrain the choice set somewhat."
The most sexually diverse setting is secretly owning a matching hat and shoes.
Totally fine, right? Except for the fact that literally everything else about the character -- gender, how he or she looks, whether he or she is a genocidal maniac or an idealistic paragon -- are left entirely up to the player. You can even have sex with aliens from other planets, because that's somehow less weird that homosexuality. Oh, and then there's the fact that if you're a female, you can be gay. Even the "progressive" BioWare makes games like teenagers watch porn: Lesbians are fine and kinda hot, but dudes touching other dudes? Gaaaaaaaaay.
Don't say Cracked never did anything for you, creepiest parts of the Internet.
So What's the Deal?
To be fair, sexuality is a really tough topic for anyone to touch, but especially for an industry as young and susceptible to criticism as gaming. Then you have the fact that even the possibility of homosexuality in a video game auto-triggers Fuckhead mode on the Internet. Putting any gay characters in a game makes that title more risky and more susceptible to controversy, much less honest, relatable, realistic ones. Publishers just aren't ready to accept that risk, so until the industry learns to grow up a bit, it's just going to suck to be a gay gamer (no pun intended).
Listen, we know we're picking on BioWare a lot for sex issues, but in a way, their constant, staggering screw-ups are actually commendable. Because they're the only ones even daring to dance around the bush (also no pun intended) in this regard. If any other game franchise is even touching this stuff, it's only with blatant stereotypes, like Gay Tony in GTA IV, or closeted characters still ashamed of their sexuality, like Player 2 from Contra (that guy had some serious issues. You could see it in the pixel that made up his face).
"Don't look at his ass. Don't look at his ass. Don't look at his ass."
#1. The Fundamentals of Game Design Make Racism Easier
Probably the biggest race controversy in recent video game history was about Resident Evil 5, which revolved around a well-muscled white American shooting hordes of mindless diseased Africans. That's actually the least inflammatory way we know how to describe that game.
The scary thing is that he started doing this before learning they were monsters.
It wasn't anything new, though: Look at the most popular video games out there, like Uncharted and the God of War franchise. Both feature rugged, strong-jawed white men slaughtering hordes and hordes of not-white people. Sure, there are white enemies mixed into all of these games, too -- but they're almost always visibly monstrous, differentiated from the player by snake heads or tentacle arms. You can bet if there's just an ordinary-looking guy you have to shoot, stab or knife-whip into oblivion, his skin is going to be a bit more Burnt Sienna than Driven Snow.
How many of you have older relatives who think this is basically any inner city?
So What's the Deal?
It's entirely possible that no one involved with the creation of any of these games is the least bit racist. Turns out that the basic rules of video game design make being a racist jerkhole fundamentally easier than being ... not that. Check out this quote from Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design:
Within your game, you can create groups of enemies based on shape, color, physical attributes ... they need to look different at a glance. Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason: They're easy for the viewer to understand. Don't be afraid to use them.
Now, he's not talking about racial stereotypes necessarily -- he could be referring to stereotypical enemies like skeletons or minotaurs -- but this mode of thinking explains why racial stereotypes still show up so much. Back in the 8-bit days, designers were desperate to make items even remotely recognizable with their limited resources. All power-ups were flashing fruit, and enemies were turtles or birds or whatever animal was easiest to communicate with six or eight pixels. Anything too complicated just became a confusing blob, and players wouldn't know whether to collect it or jump on its head until it died. On a basic level, this is how all games have to work: Whether you're playing Super Mario World or Battlefield 3, your thought process is still "see thing/react quickly/get reward," and complicating that process too much makes the game less fun.
Nowadays, with photorealistic graphics, designers have the opposite problem: There are billions of pixels on the screen, but they still need to make the enemies consistent and easily, instantly identifiable. Race just happens to be the laziest way to accomplish that. To see a great example of how this design philosophy leads to accidental racism in modern gaming, just check out this video by the people over at Extra Credits. They explain how the designers of Call of Juarez inadvertently created a system where the game rewards you specifically for killing black people, just because they didn't think their level design through enough. Or, for a significantly more hilarious example of accidental bigotry, you can just read Seanbaby's article about Red Dead Redemption's hate-erection for all womankind.
"Damn it, this is not what women's suffrage means!"
We're not saying that this stuff exists because of some hidden malice or secret industry-wide conspiracy to keep minorities in America down. The much sadder truth is that all this bullshit comes from simple, old-fashioned laziness. There's no good reason video games can't be infinitely smarter, more responsible and better than this -- it's just going to take time, thought, hard work and a bit of empathy.
And shit, who has time for that? Game developers have got to get another Callfield: Dutybattle out the door by Q3 or the EA monster will devour their children.
For more screwed things about video games, check out The 8 Creepiest Glitches Hidden in Popular Video Games and 12 Great Video Games With Ridiculous Premises.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Most Unintentionally Sexist Attempt to Empower Women.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn why Samus doled us more punishment in our youth than our mothers did.
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