GaymerX2 Panel Report: Gender and Sexuality in Interactive Fiction
By Marcus Estrada
Panelists: Dan Fabulich, Christine Love, Porpentine, Aaron Reed, Zachary Sergei, Squinky
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]nteractive fiction may very well be one of my favorite genres in video games. In case the title seems a bit broad, people usually boil “interactive fiction” down to heavily story-focused (and often text-only) experiences. For some, the games appear to be like the Choose Your Own Adventure books of our youth, although not all interactive fiction has as much choice – and some have far more. Visual novels can also be included as intensely story driven experiences accompanied by still or animated artwork.
With that out of the way, this conference brought forth some of the most socially-aware interactive fiction authors of the current era. The panel itself was a continuation of one at GaymerX last year. I wasn’t there to be able to compare and contrast both years, but I definitely found this a great conversation. It was filled primarily with questions culled online as well as through audience interaction. Allocating nearly two hours to the conversation definitely helped to really read into issues implicit with presentation of gender in games, as well as how labeling everything and everyone is disingenuous.
The most surprising aspect of the conference to me was how many of the panelists were in agreement about labels not being nearly enough, as well as impossible to define. Certainly these thoughts are important but have not been expressed much in the game sphere. For example, much of the feminist push in games media is purely for “adding women” to games whatever that entails. But does it mean female assigned at birth people and transwomen or just one or the other? What about people who do not fit neatly into any portion of the spectrum or flow between it? Simply making a list and checking it off as you add gay or trans character is itself highly problematic because it suggests being a woman, gay, trans, or some other label can be defined one way. Of course, so many game characters are designed as singular stereotypes that we rarely even see multifaceted dude leads in games.
There is such immense variation of people and how they feel about and express themselves. So how does this work with video games which must be programmed with some limitation on interactivity? I held the belief that those fighting for change in games wanted more open character customization to come to more games but this group of panelists disagreed. In part this was due to the fact that many players will never see the game from a unique standpoint. As painful as it is to admit, everyone’s experiences are not exactly the same as we navigate life – and it’s up in the air as to whether or not games should weigh their players down with such harsh mirrors of their lived existence. Unfortunately, there was no perfect solution – but that’s part of what is so exciting as the games medium matures.
If you are a game designer you can craft a story about your own experiences in the world. If you want to create characters from a perspective other than their own then you should be willing to branch out. Discover why your friends have extremely similar experiences to your own, and consider finding wonderful people outside of your immediate comfort zone. Talk to others – but more importantly – listen to their lived experiences. No one game can ever convey every incredible aspect of people (gender identity, sexuality, etc if any!). What games can do is provide storylines from specific experiences and viewpoints. Many independent developers have already done this. Now it’s up to bigger developers to keep up with the far more interesting stories coming from the indie scene.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/marcus.jpg” ]Marcus is a fellow with a love for video games, horror, and Japanese food. When he’s not writing about games for a multitude of sites, he’s usually still playing one. One day when he became fed up with the way sites would ignore niche titles he decided to start his own site by the name of Pixel Pacas. Writing about video games is something he hopes to continue doing for many years to come. Some of Marcus’s favorite games include Silent Hill 2, Killer7, and The Sims. [/author]