I want to start off this post with a slight disclaimer. I am not one of those people who actively seeks out my own minority represented in the media. I am a gay man but that does not mean nor should it suggest that I actively go looking for LGBT issues in the media. Now in having said that I did specifically do a lot of reading on this particular topic as it is not one that I am too familiar with. I am a nerd and I associate myself as a gaymer. I just love video games especially beat’em ups. Recently I got Street Fighter X Tekken and it blew my mind. Tekken and Mortal Kombat were always my games of choice. I always knew the more popular characters of Street Fighter (Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, M. Bison, Vega, Blanka, Zangief) but that was it. I didn’t know any more. Street Fighter X Tekken introduced me to a lot of new characters, two of whom I feel in love with immediately, Poison and Juri. Whenever I find new fictional characters that I really like, I will research them to no end. This time I was very surprised to find out that Juri is a lesbian and Poison is the most infamous male-to-female transsexual in video game history (I’ll get to the Birdo and his/ her story in a second). This piqued my curiosity and inspired me to do some actual research on an LGBT issue. The representation of the LGBT community in video games. I did use Wikipedia as my starting point. This list is what told me where to look. I would also like to point out that this is not at all in chronological order. I just wrote whatever way my brain felt worked best.
My first discovery was this, the video game industry has been far kinder to the LGBT community than any other industry in the world. The only exception to this that I know of is probably the comic industry. The whole thing about Marvel is people who are different being discriminated against while they are just trying to save the world. I have noticed that a lot of video game companies have had LGBT characters and themes for a long, long time but censorship (usually American) removes all evidence of this. Probably the most famous example is actually with the Super Mario series. The character Birdo being the first transgender character in a video game. In the original manual for Super Mario Bros. 2 says “Birdo thinks he is a girl and likes to be called Birdetta. He likes to wear a bow on his head and shoot eggs from his mouth.” and surprisingly this came from the North American manual. This little description is present in nearly all language versions of the game. The question of Birdo’s gender was played down by Nintendo but occasionally has been mentioned throughout the years. This is of particular importance because of the (romantically implied) relationship between Birdo and Yoshi. Just to not confuse ourselves with dinosaur sex-reassignment surgery, let’s just refer to Birdo as a trans*.
Now we get onto Poison from the Final Fight series. Final Fight is a side-scrolling beat’em up from 1990. Two of the recurring villains in this game were Poison and her palette swap Roxy. Due to censorship, men could not hit women in video games. The Japanese branch responded by saying that Poison was never a woman but a cross-dresser (in Japan) and a male-to-female transsexual (in the US). According to this excellent mini-documentary Poison was always born a man, even in the early stages of the game’s development. In the end Poison and Roxy were removed from the game altogether and were instead replaced with Billy and Sid, two male punks. Eventually Poison and Roxy saw a release in the English speaking markets but they were dressed more conservatively than their original debut and Poison’s current wardrobe. A fun fact, that I learned from the documentary, is that Capcom has always mentioned Poison’s confusing gender whenever possible, often teasing the situation through character interactions.
1998 saw a landmark for not only video games but LGBT rights as a whole. The game Fallout 2 was the first video game to ever feature a same-sex marriage. I’ll be honest with you. I have searched but I haven’t been able to find much evidence to say either way but from what I understand the marriage is actually a shotgun marriage. So while it might be a violent means to an end, it still serves as a same-sex marriage. The reason I like the Fallout series is that they treat LGBT characters the exact same way they do as heterosexual characters. Some are funny, some are violent, some are abused and some are just boring. Their sexuality is incidental, not the main focus of their characterization.
2000 and 2003 saw Capcom create two more LGBT characters from the same series. Alfred Ashford from Resident Evil: Code Veronica and Morpheus Duvall from Resident Evil: Dead Aim. Alfred and Morpheus are interesting examples of LGBT characters because of their complexities. My hypothesis is that Capcom was playing with the idea that being transgender used to be an actual medical condition. Alfred suffered from Dissociative identity disorder as a result of losing his sister Alexia. He developed the disorder in order to keep Alexia alive, just for him. As a result, Alfred became a cross-dresser who genuinely thought he was Alexia Ashford. This is a key plot element as Alfred is heard conversing with “Alexia” and “Alexia” replying before the real Alexia is revealed to be alive and well. If the real Alexia had never gone into hibernation then it is quite plausible that Alfred would never have become a cross-dresser. Duvall is interesting too as he was a male-to-female transsexual. Just like Alfred, Duvall’s transformation was not voluntary. Duvall infected himself with the t+G virus in order to destroy his enemies. The highly mutagenic properties of the t+G virus caused Duvall to mutate into the first and only (to my knowledge) female Tyrant in the Resident Evil series.
I have to discuss Capcom once more and then I am finished with this franchise. Capcom has a history of LGBT characters dating all the way from the 80’s. Capcom’s second Golden Goose is rich in LGBT characters that act as good role models for LGBT children and teens, and even straight children and teens. Street Fighter. Street Fighter has the honour (and I have seen no information to indicate otherwise but if I am wrong then please tell me) of having the very first openly gay video game character, Eagle. Eagle appeared in the original 1987 Street Fighter. His design and personality were based on the late Freddy Mercury. Win quotes from the Japanese version of Street Fighter indicate that Eagle was gay, although Freddy Mercury was bisexual. The game was censored though in the US, removing all indications of this. It was rumored for years that the Russian wrestler, Zangief, was gay but in Capcom Fighting Evolution it was stated that he had a girlfriend (keep in mind that that game is not canon). 2010 saw the release of the first lesbian in the series, the previously mentioned Juri Han. Juri’s sexual preferences seem to be incidental as she is sexually aggressive towards a lot of characters but in-game dialogue suggests that she has a preference for Chun Li and Cammy.
These characters are important as they show that LGBT characters (and real life people) can be tough and they can defend themselves. This is certainly an important message considering the amount of homophobic related assaults that happen every day. The next character that I’m about to talk about is actually in a situation that annoys me so much because I really like her. The company Namco has this really smart but annoying habit of avoiding controversy by keeping their characters as ambiguous as possible. This brings me to the popular series Tekken and the new fan favourite, Émilie “Lili” de Rochefort. An affluent, 16-year-old Monegasque street fighter with expensive tastes, an almost sadistic personality and an obsession with taking down her rival, Asuka Kazama. A few Wikis have stated that Lili is a lesbian but Namco have not commented on this (at least from all the research I’ve done. I wish I spoke Japanese).
There is one series that I would like to point out with special merit because it has helped me specifically and a lot of people struggling with their sexuality. EA Games wonderful franchise, The Sims. I think everyone knows The Sims. You create a character or characters and you pretty much get to play God or Saw depending on your style of playing. I personally enjoyed putting my Sims in the pool, deleting the ladder and then saying in the voice of Jigsaw “I want to play a game.”. The Sims offered a great opportunity for people to create characters and eventually make them gay or straight (or even bisexual if you like to make your Sims cheat). With expansion packs you could even make your Sims have sex. The Sims 2 saw same-sex Sims couples being able to get a Sims version of a civil partnership while EA games went for equality in The Sims 3 with any living adult characters being able to marry any other living adult characters. (Saying living adult is specific because I have seen people try turn their Sims into pedophiles, bestiality enthusiasts and necrophiliacs.) When I first began to realize that I wasn’t straight, or at least when I was in less denial about it, I used to explore my gay feelings through the Sims characters since I had no other outlet of expression. I would make gay couples, give them good jobs, give them children and then I would play Saw with them. I know a lot of people, LGBT and straight, who have done the same thing… except for the Saw part… that was just me. They all said the same thing, if it weren’t for The Sims they probably wouldn’t be as comfortable with their sexuality as they are now.
Now there are just two more I want to mention before I finish. This next series I’m about to mention has a family member already mentioned. The critically acclaimed Elder Scrolls series. The video game company responsible for this series have taken over the release of the Fallout series, having already released Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Skyrim has appeared in numerous polls and lists as important in LGBT characters due to option of being able to marry whoever you want. In the game there is a set list of NPCs whom your character is able to interact with and eventually marry. It doesn’t matter your race or gender. There is only interesting thing to note but this is just a coincidence. Of all the NPCs you are able to potentially marry, not a single one of them is Khajit. The only way for a Khajit to get married in Skyrim is if your own character is of that race.
I now move onto the final character /game. This studio, and this character in particular, has appeared on every list and every poll about important and /or notable LGBT characters in video game history. The Canadian video game company BioWare has a strong roster of LGBT characters in their release history. I’ll share this short article about some of the other famous games BioWare has released involving LGBT characters /storylines. Like I said, there is one character in particular I want to mention and that is because there series she comes from is unquestionably one of the most famous in the world and she is the first LGBT character in the history of this series. Juhani from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
Like I said, Juhani has the honour of being the very first openly gay character in the history of Star Wars. I personally think she is the most important LGBT character in video game history. The storyline of Juhani’s sexuality requires a lot of time and high perks in all Speech skills and requires that your main character be female. (Although I have read there is a bug in the game that sometimes allows Juhani to hit on your character if he is male). Through constantly talking with Juhani, you learn about her life story. She was born into poverty, abused, sold into slavery, hinted that she was sexually assaulted, eventually escaped, became a Jedi apprentice and succumbed to the Dark Side. Obviously her life story is a lot more detailed than that but those are just the highlights. If the player decides to follow the Juhani storyline, Juhani eventually runs into one of the men who sold her into slavery. The player then has the option to turn her to the Dark Side or keep her good. Juhani is unique because her dark past is universal to all people who face discrimination. All this happened to her simply because she was not human, she was of the Cathar race, a species of humanoid felines (similar to the Khajit of the Elder Scrolls series). Mirroring real world homophobia, racism and one could also argue misogyny.
And there you have my very brief essay on LGBT characters in video games. I have had to leave out a lot of games, series and companies due to time restraints but if you read the list I provided at the start you will notice how much I have had to leave out. The bisexual succubi, Morrigan and Lilith from Darkstalkers or the bisexual subplut from Bully (Canis Canem Edit for those of us in Europe). I barely touched upon the depth of the Elder Scrolls series and I haven’t even touched Mass Effect. I also haven’t even touched upon video game characters, plots and series that I suspect of LGBT involvement. I would like to give a special mention to Mileena from Mortal Kombat and Lee Chaolan from Tekken as possible suspects. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did researching and writing this. Again, if you see any mistakes, major or minor, or if you disagree with anything I said then please don’t hesitate to let me know. If it turns out there is a lot of positive reactions to this then I might return and look at a few more games and series.
Credit for the photo of Billy the Doll goes to sisterluci
EDIT: I found this brilliant article on Female Characters in Video Games and I think a lot of what this writer has to say fits in well with what I have just written. Considering a lot of the characters I wrote about are female. So enjoy.