At Tuesday’s Rants panel at the Games For Change festival, game designer Robert Yang opened his talk by introducing himself as a practicing homosexual, and began a rapid-fire talk about identity in indie and serious games. He talked about his work on Radiator – the series of experimental semi-episodic single player mods for Half-Life 2a single-player mod for Half Life 2. For those that don’t know Radiator has the player sitting in a therapist’s office, being berated by their husband. It’s about gay divorce.
Yang also mentioned work on another game, Condom Corps XL – a sex-ed game in which the player looks through the windows of a building to the sight of men in their underwear. The player’s task is to shooting condoms of the correct size at the men’s bulges. Yang describes it as a play on the macho bravdo of mainstream shooters. It’s also an interesting play on the male gaze – both taking on the role of the lecherous viewer, and subjecting men to that appraising view.
Ok, so I probably wouldn’t play a package-size game, but it raises good points. Why not have handsome male NPCs ending up in strategically ripped clothes as often as female NPCs seem to?
Yang referenced Anna Anthropy, author of Rise of the Videogame Zinesters and designer of indie games with overtly LGBT content. Anna Anthropy’s games are very personal, and offer another, underrepresented identity. Another shout out went to Christine Love and in particular for her work on Analogue: A Hate Story – a game about transhumanism, marriage, loneliness and cosplay. Yang was shocked but very pleased to see such an interesting and complex game was sitting next to the likes of Call of Duty on Steam. A clear sign that changes in what games are and what they can be is taking place.
As an often-sidelined female player and designer, it’s quite easy for me to get caught up seeing gamer identity as either Mainsteam Male, that stereotyped angry 18-24 year old with a collection of AAA console titles, or the Female Other, forgetting how many other identities don’t even get a mention. A while ago, one of my players commented on some dialogue and characters that I’d developed for Next Island, laughing at an unrealistic age gap between a young woman and her much older suitor. It wasn’t meant to be personal expression; I’m constantly aware that I provide creative ideas on someone else’s project, according to a company’s vision, and yet, that piece of my experience slipped into the games’ content.
Yang seems enthusiastic about the future of queer themes and identities in games (I don’t think you can follow Jane McGonigal as a speaker, and then say anything negative about games). I’m glad that this shift towards more forms of identity and more nuanced identity is happening, especially in the realm of experimental indie games, and I hope it will continue to make its way into more mainstream games, such as Yang’s example of Mass Effect.
The indie game community is constantly growing, as new tools and tech allow more designers into game creation. More identities, more stories and more backgrounds coming into game creation can mean new experiences for us as players, and an example that mainstream games may want to follow. It’s great that indie games allow the freedom for these kinds of explorations to take place and continue to further the potential of the medium and human expression. You should most certainly check out the rant in Yang’s own words on his blog.