While alien invasions may sound a little far fetched, a gay character sure isn’t. According to Gay Gamer, a new sci-fi video game called XCom features a main character – Dr. Weir – who is a closeted gay man. Set in the 1960s, the scientist is one of several characters in the game expected to release early next year by 2K Marin – the folks who also created the very popular BioShock2.
“He has both a sexual and a political opposition to the elite of the country, which are still very conservative – very focused on America as the best and the brightest,” Jordan Thomas, the creative director of XCom, told the website. “And he doesn’t fit their paradigm. It is hard for them to acknowledge that one of the best scientists in the world is, in their minds, deviant. So he’s struggled with that for a long time.”
During the course of the game, aliens invade Earth and the world must decide whether to rely on the gay doctor to save civilization from demise. Thomas says that even conservatives featured in the game – and who are vehemently anti-gay – must put their bigotry aside in order to do what’s best for humankind. It’s a struggle not only between humans and aliens, but also between the old and new order – something that rings true even today.
But will gamers like the idea of a gay hero?
Players, it turns out, get to decide how they treat the scientist. “There are characters who don’t like working with him,” says Jordan on the website. “They are people of their time. And so you’ll see different positions represented amongst the core cast. …You basically decide how to treat him.”
XCom also explores the cultural tensions of the era – something that intrigues its creator. “The setting was chosen very specifically because I feel that the socio-cultural tension was about to come to a head,” says Jordan on the site. “It was an old America and a new America kind of locked in a mortal combat, and it was very interesting for me to start exploring what was going on at the time.”
LGBT characters are not necessarily new in video games. They’ve been appearing in video games since the 1980s. But generally homosexuality is portrayed in a less than positive light, often poking fun at effeminate men and equating gayness with cross dressing and trans identity. In Sega’s Streets of Rage 3, for example, a gay villain was introduced wearing a Village People T-shirt. But many attempts at including gay or transgender characters – and themes in video games – were censored, like in Super Mario Bros. 2 where a miniboss named Birdo originally was described as a “girl” who wanted to be called “Birdetta.” But Nintendo eventually censored the character for fear of backlash.
By the 1990s, references to homosexuality were often erased from games entirely after ratings were put in place to advise parents about content (homosexuality often gets a mature content rating) – as was the case of Dragon Warrior III in which a gay bar was removed before it could even be sold. And in the original Ultima VII, players could originally select which type of bed partner they wanted – male or female – before it, too, was edited.
There have been a few positive characters along the way, too, like a gay frog bartender named Jolly Roger and his cross-dressing lover Merry Maggie in Banjo-Tooie for Ninendo 64. But even in The Sims, a popular game designed to appeal outside of the usual demographic for games (straight white guys), heterosexuality is the default. It would only be until the third iteration of the game that characters could initiate same-sex relationships, that is, after being “converted” to homosexuality.
So much for being born that way.