Last week was a week for freedom.
I’m not just talking about it being the 4th of July, I’m talking about freedom for two people in media who decided to come out of the closet and announce their homosexuality (or in one case, bisexuality).
News icon Anderson Cooper and up and coming R&B star Frank Ocean both decided to allow the world into their bedrooms last week, each announcing in their own unique way their love for people of the same gender. It was a big step for both men, as each had been constantly dogged by rumors of their homosexuality (or bisexuality, in Frank’s case) for some time, and they each felt it was time to put the rumors to rest, each in a written letter.
In Anderson’s case, it was almost as an aside as a part of a larger discussion. The public reaction was pretty much a collective shrug, which is interesting in and of itself. In a lot of ways, it seems, this was not news. Anderson Cooper is a high-profile individual in the world of cable news, yet him not being romantically attached to anyone in the public sphere was usually met with rumors as to his sexual preference. By confirming what many people felt they already knew, Anderson has more or less ceased discussion of his private life.
More interesting, though, was the letter posted on Frank Ocean’s Tumblr page which recounted a lost love in Ocean’s life. It just so happened that this love was another man. Frank tells the heartbreaking tale of admitting his love to this man, and the pain it caused him. It was a brave step for a person involved in a genre that generally looks down upon people in the LGBT community, doubly so for an artist on the rise. The wrong reaction could have torpedoed his career before it ever really took off. It seems, though, that people have generally been accepting of him, as well. Sure, there are some people who have decided to boycott his music, but by and large the response has been positive. In the hip-hop community (and Black music in general), this is pretty much unheard of.
So, the question I ask is…
Could gamers be as welcoming?
Let’s say Treyarch decided to make one of the playable characters in Black Ops 2 homosexual (and since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed, it wouldn’t be illegal!). How would gamers react if the player character read a letter from his loved one, and it was signed “Bob” instead of “Jane”? Would they stop playing? Would they be angry? Would they boycott? Would it even matter?
Honestly, I’m not sure. For one, I know that Activision is not brave enough to potentially sully their cash cow in the name of a little realism, and me feeling so certain of that is depressing in its own right. There are some gamers who could handle that type of scenario, but from the sounds of things on Xbox Live, being gay is not something that most gamers would be accepting of. Most seem to have a hard time accepting people with vaginas.
It’s a depressing idea, to be sure. I am a gamer, and I feel as though I represent a certain population within gaming culture at large, but I don’t feel as though we’ve grown as a community, primarily because we aren’t challenged to. We are catered to and fed exactly what we feel we want, with little opportunity for growth in today’s hyper-macho, action movie-esque gaming landscape. Weakness (perceived or otherwise) is not forced upon us, and as a whole we channel our inadequacies into some warped version of “manliness.” Everything is “bro-ified” to the point of parody. How many male main characters cry? How many struggle? How many even doubt that what they’re doing is ever wrong? Even in a game such as Spec Ops: The Line, with its brilliantly woven story that was full of doubt and despair, the actual character never doubts his actions for a moment, despite people around him doing in constantly. It serves the story, to be sure, but it is an example of the extremes game storytellers will use to make the player feel “right.” Indeed, it’s possible for someone to play all of Spec Ops and never feel the doubt that I felt, because the game is careful to make sure that your hand always feels forced. It’s not a total cop out, but it’s a slight one.
In the rare situations that we see main characters struggle to overcome (and show that struggle), it seems as though they are either women or children. I don’t recall a game in which you played an adult male that offer any other struggle other than “The Hero’s Burden.” Having an openly-gay character in a big, AAA title would be a risk worth taking, if just to see the reaction from gamers.
Who is going to be the Frank Ocean in the gaming landscape?