Friday, June 11, 2010

General RPGs' Lack of Significant Homosexual Characters

Thanks muchly to Ecclesiastes for correcting me on the matter of Juhani.

It's less prominent nowadays than it was a few years back, but if you're at all tired of hearing tirades about furthering gay rights, you might wanna skip this rant.

So. Homosexuals in RPGs. There really aren't many. While homosexual and bisexual characters are starting to show up in the genre with more frequency, gay women and especially gay men are rarely given any significant roles in RPGs. You are way, way more likely to have a fantasy creature for a party member than a human being with even a hint of bisexual tendencies,* let alone an actual gay person. Hell, there are more DOGS in RPG parties than there are people that you could even reasonably infer are homosexual.

It's not that I want to see gay people everywhere I look in my RPGs. And I realize that, while it's estimated that 10% of America's population are homosexual, the estimate is only about 1% for Japan's population,** which is where most of the games in this genre come from. So it's not as big a cultural thing for the game makers, and it's not a big cultural thing for their primary and most profitable audience.

Still, when I looked over the list of RPGs I've played to this point--and not to toot my own horn or alternately make myself look extra pathetic, but it's a sizable list--these are the occurrences I can see of homosexuality being shown (beyond reasonable doubt, I mean; no speculation, even if Final Fantasy 7's Sephiroth DOES look like a chick in bondage gear that likes holding long swords and obsesses over a pretty sword-user in purple). I may have missed 1 or 2, because my memory's not perfect, but I'm confident I didn't miss more than that 1 or 2. Here we go:

1. Shadow Hearts 2 and 3: Pierre, Gerard, and Buigen are gay characters who serve in the game both as merchants and as "hilarious" stereotypes.
2. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4: Kanji has some confusion about his orientation early in the game, and it's mentioned (and then forgotten forever) that Yukiko has had a passing interest in her friend Chie.
3. Star Ocean 3: Claire and Nel are, from what I understand, canonically a couple according to the SO3 manga. It's only vaguely hinted at in the game itself, but I guess I'll count it.
4. Suikoden 5: Lucretia and Lelei are very clearly implied to be together.
5. Tales of Legendia: Elsa has a pretty clear romantic crush on Chloe (which Chloe has little to no reaction to one way or the other, oddly enough).
6. Fallout 2: You get the chance to marry a guy or a girl regardless of your protagonist's gender. Female protagonists also get a few chances for a quickie with various female NPCs.
7. Knights of the Old Republic 1: Juhani mentions having loved her female Jedi Master, if I remember correctly. She can also fall for a female main character and have those feelings returned, though few people will find this out without guidance because the requirements for doing so are supposedly fairly unusual.
8. Mass Effect 1 and 2: Female Commander Shepards can hook up with Liara in ME1, and either stay faithful to Liara or hook up with Kelly in ME2. Female Shepards can also have a one-timer with Sha'ira.
9. Dragon Age Origins: Leliana and Zevran are both bisexual and are romantic options for the protagonist regardless of the protagonist's gender. Protagonists of either gender can also hook up with a partner of either gender at the game's brothel.
10. Sailor Moon: Another Story: Sailors Uranus and Neptune are established as being together.
11. Baten Kaitos 2: Geldoblame and his superior Verus are together for most of the game.
12. Wild Arms 2's Caina was a man in the original Japanese version, and had a serious crush on his boss.

Now that list doesn't just fall short of hitting 10% of game characters that I've seen. That list also falls pretty damn short of hitting even that 1% ratio that Japan has (again, according to the internet). And that's a pretty generous list, too. I mean, the Sailor Scouts really shouldn't even be counted, since they were established in the show as being together before the game existed, especially since the game seems to generally ignore or downplay it. Not sure I should put on Caina, either, since I haven't actually SEEN that, given that he became a she for the US release. And frankly, including the Shadow Hearts guys is generous, too, because blatant and fairly offensive stereotypes aren't exactly the step in the right direction that I'm looking for. And you'll note that a lot of the examples I list come from Western RPGs. As far as just including non-heterosexual characters and relationships goes, Western RPGs seem to be on the right track, mostly. I do think that they could try including a homosexual relationship or two between characters who aren't the protagonist, but I'm satisfied overall with this hemisphere's work. Most RPGs, however, come from Japan, and, when you compare how many more Japanese RPGs there are than Western ones, my list shows a much smaller ratio for them--and as those Shadow Hearts nitwits prove, instances of homosexuality in Japanese RPGs aren't always handled well.

Now, an argument I hear defending Japanese RPGs on this matter often is that since it's not a significant issue or demographic in Japan, it's not fair to expect anything more of their games than what we've got. Well, I call bullshit on that. Deep, smelly, steamy bullshit. And the reason for this is the same one that I had for not accepting the same defense for why there's not much racial diversity in Japanese RPGs: the very foundation of the RPG genre in Japan lies almost ENTIRELY with Western culture and mythology. The vast majority of RPGs from Japan, past AND present, have drawn huge influence from Western culture--the medieval weapons and worlds, the most important monsters (even if dragons are a multi-cultured thing, most dragons in RPGs fit into the European styles), the clothing and cultural design, and so on. Just look at Christianity--how many RPGs have a structured religion clearly based on the basic principles and/or practices of Christianity? Christianity's as tiny and alien a thing to Japanese society as homosexuality, from the vague impressions and information I've got. They bend over backward to throw THAT into every other RPG they make. So why not throw a few more decent and more-than-extremely-vague-implication instances of homosexuality into the games? In addition, homosexuality is all OVER the place in anime, which is a Japanese artistic medium whose tropes, styles, and ideas are tied pretty strongly to the video game industry over there. So not only does it not make sense to have the issue all over the place in one and not the other, but the argument that it's not a big enough part of their culture to show up in the games more often is that much more flawed--they MAKE it a part of their entertainment culture frequently already.

I also have a problem with the importance placed on what few homosexual characters there are--or rather, the lack of such. Now, again, Western RPGs aren't so bad in this area--from the list above, we see multiple game protagonists that can be gay or bisexual, and the characters they can start a relationship with are major ones, genuinely important to the game's events. But if you look at the Japanese-born RPG characters from that list, what do you see? No protagonists, that's for sure. I've played about 140 RPGs that came from Asia, and not ONCE in all of them have I seen a homosexual protagonist. I'll give them that most of the Eastern RPG examples I've found at least have fairly important secondary characters--the Persona 4 kids, Star Ocean 3's Nel, and Suikoden 5's Lucretia are all very important to the plot, and I do at least appreciate that. Still, with as few homosexual characters to be found as there are in Japanese RPGs, the fact that none of them are protagonists just makes the problem seem worse.

There's also a really major problem I'd like to point out that occurs regardless of which side of the planet makes the RPG: lesbians. Now look, I am all for gay women characters in RPGs. All for them. What I am NOT all for is them being the ONLY homosexual characters being put into the games. Look at that list again. Even if you count the crappy Shadow Hearts embarrassments, gay female characters outnumber gay male ones by a ratio of about 2 to 1. As unfairly absent as homosexual characters are from RPGs in general, the problem is doubly bad for gay males.

Oh, I know WHY this is. Something a lot of people mistakenly thought after my old complaining rant about the lack of guy-guy romances in Mass Effect 1 was that I didn't get why they did it. I do. It's because it's marketable. Since the major demographic of gamers is young, typically stupid guys (even for more intellectual games, as RPGs can be), their main audience is going to be eager to see lesbians in their game, while they'll have considerably less interest--profitable interest--in seeing gay guy romancing. I do get it.

I just don't accept it.

It's not a good reason. Shallow marketing ploys do not interest me. What I want is to see intellectual integrity in my games. That is what I care about. Games, RPGs in particular, are vehicles for ideas, opinions, and creativity, and it is and always will be my firm belief that THOSE are the aspects that should hold ultimate importance in creating an RPG. Maybe I'm the minority--in fact, there's no "maybe" about it, I just am--but creative, intellectual integrity is what I want to see in my games, and so I'm going to keep complaining about the lack of gay male romances in RPGs when compared to the number of gay female ones even if I understand the reason why it's that way.

So yeah. Ultimately, I think there needs to be way more homosexual characters, important or minor, in RPGs in general, particularly male ones. I mean, not every single game or anything, but not once every 15 games, either. I don't need them in the spotlight, I don't need them to always be happy and perfect and all that jazz, but I do need them to BE there.

* A REAL hint, I mean. Yaoi fangirls can find romantic undertones in the greatest of hatred or apathy between any 2 (or more) attractive boys in any RPG, I know. Their perverse optimism notwithstanding, though, there's not much actual, reasonable evidence of homosexual tendencies in game characters in general, is what I mean.

** This is not exhaustively researched. This is just a ballpark estimate from a few sites Google pulled up. But the internet is never inaccurate, right?


  1. Very nice and insightful. I will look into the games myself. I Also recommend with great tenacity Summon night sword craft story for GBA. Totally great everyone i know is in love with it.I Own the actual cartridge and rom on my pc.Heavy homosexual overtones if you want there to be. Just use a guide to summon the demon prince as your partner and have a male character.I love summon knight story (-=. Can also have a Elf water princess thing as a summon.If your character is a girl she talks about many many sexual lesbian things.Plus shes just damn cute.

  2. Sooner or later I'll get to that one (sooner or later, I plan to get to EVERY RPG). This is the first I've really heard about it having homosexual overtones, so that will be interesting, hopefully. Thanks for the suggestion, and thanks very much for the comment!

  3. Some others would be

    Jun in Persona 2 (to the point the developers preferd couple is him and Tatsu even though theres Maya and to a lesser extent Ginko)

    Heather and possibly Kyza and IKE in FE 10

    Vivian in Paper mario (Because she a man in japan)

    Joshua in the world ends with you

    Father Gerald in Rune factory tides of destiny (yes the preist with the two adopted children) Don't worry he's a good father

    Gulcasa and Nessiah in Yggdra union (sort of)

    There are probably others I'm forgeting

    (yes this rant was made a long time but still)

    1. At the time of making the rant, I didn't know about any of those characters save Vivian, and Vivian I forgot about, although I'm not sure he counts per say--was he also implied to be gay, or just crossdresser-ish?