No Game Shelves for Older Queers
by Nico D.

Ellie and Dina slowly moving in for what was arguably the most realistic kiss I had seen in a video game, I felt a tension briefly dissolving in my chest. However, by the time Sony’s E3 presentation wrapped up, beyond that flicker of validation, I was bored.

When I first played Gone Home, it felt revelational. Here was a particular era of my life being validated for the first time since I was a teen girl; Sam’s awkward fumblings with her identity were incredibly relatable. It’s been five years since then, and the industry has not made whole lot of progress when it comes to representing the lives of queer people in the AA and AAA space. Despite a slight uptick in the amount queer characters, the narratives presented still seem to be limited to young cis white women who are coming of age. It is if publishers and studios are not ready to really think outside of a very tiny slice of the spectrum of gender and sexuality, much less conceptualize our lives as we age.

It isn’t that this is bad, younger people need the same moments in popular culture I never got as a teen, but it does speak to certain forces shaping the narratives of popular video games; this being who is designing the games more so than who is consuming them.

We’ve seen the influx of games about fatherhood because, I can assume, there’s many developers coming into being dads. This isn’t happening for queer narratives of any stripe in the bigger games space because of the lack of access for queer developers, and it complicates farther when we look at gender and race. Left to its own devices, the gaming industry conjures up stories that are the least risky. It’s easiest to portray queer young girls, because we still have a deep fear of men being intimate together. It’s easier to get away with young love stories, because it’s more relatable when being queer  is still seen as being alien.

While I think the indie and smaller game spaces have gone a long way to giving queer developers a chance to show a wider variety of experiences, everything above that still is stuck in the same ruts, the same divides, the same binaries and the same closed doors. Young white cis teen girls cannot and should not be the only way we find queer lives and queer relationships palatable. While I know that many critics and writers also say that we cannot hang our hopes on the big publishers and game studios to represent us (which is fair), I think that we still should demand better when it’s clear they want to make money off of us.

Would it have been good to see myself in the media when I came out in 1997? Yes. But, as a 36-year-old woman now, I want to see other queer people my age, right next to everyone else, in the games that fill the shelves of game stores.  ◒

 

Nico D. is a feminist media critic from the Midwest who loves trash TV noir and narrative exploration. She has a podcast called Make it Sound Fiction, as well as tweets over at @appleciderwitch