I have seen this going around lately, and ever since seeing it, this comic has bothered me deeply. So deeply, in fact, that I feel the need to speak out on it. Because while I understand the message the creator is trying to make (aka: the lack of playable male gay avatars in video games where romance is an option), it’s also highly problematic and creates more issues than it addresses.
The problem that I have with this comic is that it insinuates that this male, gay gamer feels anxiety over playing a game as a female avatar just because he simply does not “identify with the gender”. Now, if we’re looking at this from a trans* perspective, this could, indeed, be a potential stressor, especially during a transition. However, this comic doesn’t address that, and it doesn’t STATE (in the creator comments or the tags) that the character in question is trans*, so I’m going to assume the character is, in fact, a gay male cis character, instead of a transitioning one.
The issue with this is that this male gamer, gay or not, feels that he cannot play a character of the opposite gender simply because he does not identify with that gender. Let that one sink in for a moment, because there are a lot of issues with that very statement alone. Starting with, but not limited to, the fact that female gamers, 9 times out of 10, have NO CHOICE but to play as the gender they do not associate or “identify” with, and may indeed, have a romance in the game that is not aligned with their own.
But there are other issues I have too, and I will discuss them below:
- "But Have to Play as a Gender I Don’t Identify With…" There are so many things that make me mad about this that I don’t even know where to begin(and I may have a hard time containing some of that anger). You are playing a game. In the game, you play as an avatar, with which to project yourself onto. There is no gender stereotypes impressed upon the avatar, unless the gamer puts them there themselves. To say that you don’t identify with a gender of a character and therefore you cannot play as that gender, to me, is ridiculous. How do you even PLAY video games then, if your entire ability to identify with that character or their plights devolves to their gender, which truly has no consequence on the story (outside of romance options) at all? Do you refuse to play Metroid, or Tomb Raider, or Mirror’s Edge? Do you ALWAYS pick the male option in every RPG ever? Simply because it’s the gender you IDENTIFY AS? Is it that scary to play as a girl, despite being a gay male player(so scary, that you put the game down, unable to make a decision based on boy or girl)? In games like Rune Factory, Mass Effect, and Pokemon, being able to pick as a male or a female has such inconsequential effect on the story that I’m amazed one can’t identify with that character, despite their gender. But maybe that’s because I’m a female gamer and…
- 90% + of Games have Male Protagonists. Period. It must be SO HARD to play as a gender you don’t identify as… oh wait. That’s what pretty much every female gamer has to do when they play a majority of the games on the market, because straight male is the only option the game gives them. And while that’s not always fun for us(aka female gamers), we still play games because the games aren’t about the gender and identifying as it, but playing a fun freaking game. Do female gamers rejoice when a game gives them a great female role that has nothing to do with their gender? Oh hell to the YES we do, because damn, it’s hard enough being in a media culture predominantly pandered to white male audiences (so much so that a game like Child of Light was said to be a game directed towards 8-15 year old boys. A game where you play as a girl, in a children’s-book-esque title, as your own hero, is STILL a game directed towards boys. YEAH.). But we have had to suck it up since the days of Mario, where we had to go save the Princess, regardless of being attracted to girls or not. And we never second-guessed it, we just did it, and we dealt with female romances millions of times over, because that was our ONLY OPTION. Even if we were straight and only liked boys, there weren’t a lot of games that let us romance a guy as a girl, and we had to deal with that for a long, LONG, time. Aka: we’re still doing it, but games are making progress, as slow as it may seem to be. So doesn’t it seem childish to complain about not identifying with your avatar’s gender? Doesn’t it seem to be missing the bigger picture here? Which of course brings me to…
- Being “scared” of playing a female character just to date boys. I feel like this runs SO DEEP, as some sort of fear of “I am gay but I don’t want to be seen as feminine because of it." And this isn’t a problem the artist of this comic makes, but instead is an issue existing BECAUSE of the white, straight, male dominated society that hangs over video games and comics and media. If you’re gay, you are brought down to being "less than a man" aka you are now a "girl" and female pronouns and terms are slung all over the place. I’ve seen way too much of "that’s so gay" or "don’t be such a gay pussy" or whatever terrible slurs people make up to protect their own fragile machismo because someone is GAY and that is "bad" or "weak" or "feminine". That’s pretty fucking sad, that the fear of being seen as weak (and equating female with weak and with derogatory gay terms) could run so deep in someone that they will refuse to "stoop so low" as to play as a "gender they don’t identify as" just to date boys in a video game. But for some reason, it’s seen as “okay” and “normal” for female gamers to play as a male protagonist and date women. There’s a seriously problematic double standard at play here and it harms both women AND gay men, and missing that point and exemplifying it here only hinders the progress people are trying to make on both fronts.
So in closing, while I feel the gay male community for wanting more gay male RPG characters to identify with, please for the love of all that is holy, do NOT preface it as “I can’t play as the gender I don’t identify with”. It’s harmful, narrow-minded, and especially erases the issues that female gamers have had to deal with for decades now, and are still dealing with today. And seriously, if the biggest thing you identify with in a gaming avatar is what GENDER that avatar is? Then you might have some issues that run very, VERY deep, and you might have to think to yourself “Why am I afraid of playing as a girl character? What is so wrong about that? Can I really not identify with this female character based on gender alone?” Because seriously, I can guarantee you that most times, those female avatars are no different from their male counterparts, and are just as exciting, dynamic, and relatable, if not more so.
And just as a pro tip: If you want to illustrate a problem within the industry? Do not feed into other, bigger and more problematic issues that also exist, and only help to hurt both the female gaming population and the gay gaming population on a whole.