Sex, Sexuality, and Video Games

Last month I wrote about the portrayal of women in video games. It's a great video, but something missing from it is how video game developers not only treat women badly in video games, but effectively treat the woman playing the video games poorly too. We're not catered to, and neither are the LGBT community.

We need representation in video games because we are playing video games. But for those of you who are unfamiliar with the world of gaming (or for those who wonder why the queer community is facing this difficulty), there are some important questions to ask:

What do we want though? And do we even know ourselves?
How can game developers cater for us if we don't know what we want? While games are targeted at cisgender heterosexual males, with sexy female playable and background characters, doesn't that mean that in some way lesbians and bisexuals are a target audience too? Tackling whether or not we're okay with this kind of direct marketing is the crucial first step.

Why do games have to have anything to do with sex however? What exactly does it bring to the story?
They don't. And nothing. In Dragon Age Inquisition, the only romance plot that doesn't end in a sex scene is Josephine's — that ends with the player and Josephine sitting on the sofa together in front of the fire before it fades to black. It is no weaker or sweeter or even sexier for not having the nudity or sex of any of the other romance options. Lots of games feature romance without sex at all, lots of games feature women who are fully clothed. It's not hard. It's not impossible. It can and has been done.

So why cater to our sexualities at all? Why cater to anyone's sexuality?
That's part of the problem: game developers seem to have a hard time separating themselves from the cliché idea that sex sells. It did, and it does, but it's not the only thing that sells anymore and shouldn't be exploited to sell games. Games can sell themselves. Activision has been putting Call of Duty games for years that are effectively the same thing and making a lot of money out of it (over $10 billion dollars to date). Grand Theft Auto could probably do away with sex workers entirely at this point and GTA 6 would still sell a bucket load. Cis het males would probably hate it but the rest of us would get to enjoy it — like the 41% of US gamers that are women for starters.

So why isn’t it done more often?
Perhaps because the developers who create the games are the same as their target audience: cis het males. And it's difficult to place the blame squarely on their shoulders.

It's hard for anyone to write about something they know nothing about. I know very little about video game design, but I do know about creating characters, being genderqueer and bisexual and geeky as a writer myself. Most cis het males probably don’t know (or don't realize they know) a trans person, let alone know how to write one. Creating a transgender character in Dragon Age was a just one step in a process for Bioware and David Gaiden — the head writer at the time.

So, game developers are sticking to what they know. They know women are sexy and men want them, and so they work with that and weave that concept into their games, even though things have changed around them. It seems like this demographic — video game developers — is the hardest to change, the last to change. The rest of us suffer though, waiting for that change. Meanwhile women continue to be sexualized by men, LGBT characters of any worth are few and far between — usually only as jokes or cannon-fodder — and people of color are the enemy or the bit part.

So how can we change it?
We're changing it all the time by writing about it, complaining about it, and spending our money on games that actually realize we are part of the gaming community. There are female game developers, and LGBT game developers. There are very good games designed by progressive-thinking developers with queer characters or queer experience. Seek out these diamonds in the rough: support these games, these developers. And maybe, by putting our money where our mouths are, we can help change not only the future of the gaming industry, but the present as well.

anxious-geek's picture
on August 2, 2016

Weird and important geek and poet, living in Wales. Can be found at scruffy-duck.net and queerlittlefamily.co.uk