On Sexual Diversity in Video Games: “Vi stands for…Bi?” (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my last musing article so if you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. Don’t worry, it’ll open in a new tab.

Following up from last week, I wanted to talk about sexuality in another game I play (being League of Legends) and how sexuality gets assigned when it comes to a void. I actually wrote a paper on this back in college when it came to a class so some of this might be recycled.

In the Void

When it comes to a game like League with hundreds of characters and not enough time to write a novel for all of them, you cut corners. For most characters, a single short story and background page is all we have outside of the core game’s VO and how they play. As such, sexuality gets left on the cutting room floor. It is, after all, one of the lesser aspects of a character.

When you think about it, only a handful of characters have actual sexuality when it comes to the game; Illaoi was dating Gangplank and flirts with Braum. Taliyah has small flirtations with Ekko. Garen and Katarina are in some sort of lovers feud. Lucian had a wife. Tryndamere and Ashe are married. In these cases, even the revealed facts are pretty bland. Which does make sense. After all, a majority of the populous is heterosexual.

When it comes to characters, we have two prevailing schools of thought: The “Everyone’s Bi” argument and the stereotype argument.

The “Everyone’s Bi” Argument

Most of this comes from the fact that giant IPs have so many artists, writers and more who all draw characters in different pairings and different ways. What’s the point of saying “Well canonically Miss Fortune is gay!” when you have a hundred aspiring artists and writers who are going to tell stories about her psuedo-boyfriend anyways?

In this argument, there’s no point in discussing sexuality because people will assign it on their own save for story hooks. Even in story hooks, such as last week’s “Tracer and Emily” information, will be disregarded to fit what fan writers and artists do. Everyone’s bi so who cares! I wouldn’t say this is a particularly diverse way of looking at things but it also gives players the most freedom to think however they wish.

This is also a feeling you generally have when it comes to make-your-own protagonists. Commander Shepard is Schrodinger’s sexuality: He’s simultaneously gay, straight and bi all at the same time. In this regard, League and games like it don’t need to talk about sexuality because everyone will make their own…and it cuts through the rough things that can happen in countries that don’t approve of such things like Russia.

The Stereotype Argument

Conversely, there are those who NEED the writers or story people telling them who is what. If you don’t, people instead default to what they know about a character. In a game like League, where most characters have very little writing to them, you end up playing heavily on stereotype and fan theory.

Take for example Taric. A soft-spoken, handsome man with a fondness for beauty and shiny things. All we know about him is his backstory (Demacian Soldier who is now Avatar of Protection) and a handful of voice lines. In trying to figure out who Taric would love to date, people asked Riot. They gave the non-committal “He loves everyone”. Thus, people default to stereotypes…which means Taric is about as gay as a triple rainbow over a pride parade.

In a vacuum with little/no writer input, people just default to stereotypes. It’s easier that way, after all. Of course the counter-argument means that Riot was implying Taric is bi or even something more like polyamorous. We don’t know their true intentions, however, and it’d be pretty bold to include such an underrepresented thing in fiction. (Sadly some people, myself included, need a cheat sheet for all the sexuality there are today.)

The Part Where I Talk About Vi

And now we come to Vi. Part of why I devote an entire section to this is because this is where all of this writing comes into play. When Vi came out I was smitten. She encapsulated everything I love in a female character and looked damn good doing it. Of course when I talked to everyone about it, I got the same feelings: “Oh yeah the lesbian.”

My personal belief was that I always saw Vi as bi. Which is also why I defend the idea so heavily. On one hand, I don’t feel like her story or upbringing makes her out to be someone who sticks with one person or someone who doesn’t flirt with others every chance she gets. On the other hand, I also hate the idea of putting her entire character in a lesbian box because she’s a stereotype many people see: Short, pink hair. Rough tomboy. Snarky and rude.

In this case, Riot eventually came out and somewhat “subtly” said Vi likes guys and girls. About as subtle as a taco and hotdog metaphor can be anyways. Yet this is again a non-committal answer. They can easily twist or change this however they want. Personally, I like the idea of Vi being bi. It gives us an underrepresented sexuality, keeping true to the character (at least in my mind) and adding one more layer to a character without going too deep into it.

Conclusions

Much of this probably reads like rambling. Like someone who has too much time on their hands to worry about what fictional people do in their love lives. To me, it’s an important issue. It’s not a damning one, sure, but I think it’s necessary to talk about this sort of thing. In games, we often have the saying of “Show, don’t tell”. People don’t respond well to just saying “Oh yeah whatever he’s gay”. We need to see it with our own eyes.

It’s also why the Tracer comic was such a big deal. We got pretty damning visual evidence and it was quite a bold move. That is unless you’re a denier, in which case Tracer is kissing a very good friend on her open mouth. Either way, League could take some steps in my mind to further push these boundaries. We can have more beyond stereotypes or just wondering if everyone is bi until we get a clear answer.

Hopefully one day I can see a comic of Vi hanging out with her lovers in an open relationship.

On Sexual Diversity in Video Games: “Cheers Love, The Cavalrey’s Queer!” (Part 1)

I’ve always been fascinated about the topic of sexuality. Ever since my father told me he was gay, I’ve really made an effort to understand the intricacies, deeper meanings of sexuality. Doubly so in the emerging medium of video games. Games, as they are, have had a history of sort of shooing LGBTQ stuff to the side. It’s not something for everyone, after all. Not that being gay is bad but some people would rather not engage in that content. And that’s ok!

Specifically I want to talk about Tracer coming out as a lesbian, because I’m quite fascinated in this turn.

“The Typical Lesbian” vs. Lena “Tracer” Oxton

Often in media, especially video games, the lesbian character is always the one you most expect. The tough girl, the tomboy, the sexually promiscuous woman, all stereotypes people associate with gay/bi women. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had to defend my point-of-view on why I think Vi (League of Legends) is more bi than lesbian, but that’s for another day.

Blizzard had many outs and many choices when it comes to making a lesbian character. The one that would have made me roll my eyes in disappointment would have been Zarya. A tough girl with short, pink hair that is a weight lifter. It screams stereotype. Instead, it turns out Tracer is the one chrono-shifting out of the closet.

Now, roll with me here; to the general public, Tracer isn’t a typical lesbian character. She’s not overtly sexy, she’s not a tough girl,  she’s a peppy, cheery lady. Sure the community likes to ship her with Widowmaker but if we’re bringing that into play, almost everyone is bisexual. Yes, even the omnics.

More importantly, your stereotypical character will be a brazen, unabashed flirt. Not so with Lena. She’s all business and quite sweet as well. Never once does she flirt or tease other characters in a sexual manner. Tracer isn’t a lesbian character. She’s a character who happens to be a lesbian. Weird distinction, I know, but so many characters are just lesbian or gay and THAT is their character.

“Hidden in a Sidequest” vs. On-the-box

As I said earlier in this writing, often times the LGBTQ stuff is hidden in a metaphorical dark corner of the game. Even player made characters like Commander Shepard have to go looking for that specific content. I believe the most egregious example of this was Star Wars: The Old Republic which locked a same-sex romance behind paid content. “Pay 2 Gay” if you will.

With Tracer…you can’t really ignore it. She’s front and center. She’s the titular character and the poster girl of Overwatch. You could argue that nobody would know unless they go lore-delving. To counter this, who would likely be the first character for people to look for and learn about? Yep. Lena Oxton herself.

Most protagonists and cover-feature characters in video games tend to be men. Especially in the FPS genre. Gruff, military badasses in power armor. Instead, for Overwatch, we have a bubbly lesbian with time powers. It’s a far-cry from the norm and not something we’d expect to see at all. Tracer is breaking the mold and normality by checking the opposite of every other main. She’s not a man. She’s not straight. She’s not a (conventional) badass. She’s just who she is.

Thus, Lena becomes front-and-center when it comes to Overwatch. Not in-your-face about it but she does have this aspect while also being a main, lead character in one of the hottest games of 2016.

Loud and Proud vs. Character Trait

Remember earlier how I said Lena is a character who happens to be a lesbian and not a lesbian character?

Time and time again, even the most well-meaning person writes a character where their sexuality is the hook. Where the entire character is defined by being gay/lesbian or it’s the main motivation behind all the things they do. Now, there’s nothing wrong about being proud of yourself but often these things read as stilted. They read as someone jamming sexuality into every nook and cranny of a character to the point where you go “Is there ever a moment where the character ISN’T gushing about other men/women?”

Tracer, however, could very well not be a lesbian and I mean that in the best of ways. In my own life, being around gay and lesbian people, the tired motto of “they’re just like you and me” rings true. They don’t act weird or differently, they just like the same sex. Tracer, if you removed the panels of her with her girlfriend, would still be the same character. You wouldn’t lose much and she’d still be good ol’ Lena Oxton. Just like a straight person and all that.

However, in adding those panels, you add a bit of depth to her. You add a little tweak to her character that changes things up. Lena is still Lena, she just has something important to note about her character. Perhaps it makes her friendship with Overwatch different. Perhaps there’s a story about her realizing herself. There’s so much more that you CAN add but nothing that takes away or messes with the core character.

Criticism and Conclusion (For now)

Not really excited for the incoming hate from both sides, gotta be honest. LGBTQ community saying I don’t get those relationships because I’m not them and the gamer community accusing me of being a pandering bastard. Well, that’s gonna be fun.Still, to me, the overall change to Tracer is…well, good.

While I do approve and think this was a good change, I will say one thing: It’s one of the safest paths you can take. Tracer’s conventionally attractive. She’s had some of the most developed Overwatch lore there is and she’s easily the person who will represent the franchise. Her girlfriend, Emily, is also quite attractive. Now, before you think I’m just gushing and that I’m crushed Tracer x Me isn’t going to happen, hear me out.

You can easily fetishize people in such a way and Tracer is no exception. She’s a character who people know, love and (barring some crushed people who take sexuality too seriously) is a character people could love regardless of what she did. She was the “safe” pick to make an LGBTQ woman. Perhaps if Tracer’s girlfriend wasn’t exactly hot. Perhaps if Tracer herself had this fact stated or revealed from the get-go…but, I’ll be honest, I’m nitpicking.

Tracer’s coming-out marks something semi-important and major. It makes one of the first non-player-created characters of LGBTQ origin who is the titular character of the game. I’d also say this is likely the biggest game in a LONG time when it comes to IP and sheer cultural permeation, making it something of a sign of the times when the star of 2016’s game-of-the-year (in many circles) likes the same sex. Still, all this has got me thinking…what about games that play coy with other character’s sexuality?

Next week, I’ll take a look at another game (League of Legends) and talk about the vacuum of sexuality in it.