Gaming the System

How do you measure the growth and maturity of the video game industry? Gay elf boyfriends

In the Kodachrome memories of my youth, I’m sprawled on the brown shag carpet of the living room in front of the Zenith floor-model television, entranced by the latest and greatest video game of the time.

Pong.

You know the blistering action from that one: Bleep….bleep….bleep….bloop.

Game over.

Sure, it doesn’t seem so scintillating today, but it was my gateway to a lifelong fascination – some would say addiction – with video games. I loved them all, from my watch that played an LCD knock-off of Space Invaders to the primitive Coleco handheld football games my friends and I would play on mute while sitting on the back pew during church.

Things have changed a lot since the days when gaming skills involved paddling a small white square back and forth across the screen or maneuvering a red LED ”player” to the goal. Obviously, the graphics have gotten better, but that’s actually a less important change in some ways. More relevant to me, at least, is the fact that gaming is no longer exclusively the province of pre-teens and adolescents.

Sure, baby boomers still tend towards disdainful sniffs at gaming, as do some of the older GenXers. But more and more adults play, meaning that games have taken on forms and stories more attractive to grown-ups.

Recently, I’ve been playing Dragon Age 2, a new role-playing game from Bioware, a company that’s forged a reputation for creating games with exceptionally inclusive storylines. Like its predecessor, Dragon Age lets me be the dagger-wielding, crafty, nimble rogue I want to be — complete with an elf boyfriend.

Yes, yes, I’m a nerd. I’ve learned to live with it.

While BioWare and some other companies have broken new ground for gay and lesbian character options — D.C.-area developer Bethesda Softworks has included similar options in its post-apocalyptic Fallout series — not everyone is onboard. A straight gamer set off an online controversy on the Bioware forums recently, complaining that all the gay characters and options were insulting and overbearing for heterosexuals playing the game — he didn’t like being hit on by a gay elf.

The voice of privilege can sound a little funny at times.

Notably, a BioWare rep quickly smacked down the complaint, pointing out that the game aims to offer options for all players and that the company’s approach would not change.

Even though gaming may be acquiring a level of maturity in its storytelling and artistic aims, there remains a stubborn adolescent aspect to it. Engendered in large part by the anonymity of the Internet, online gaming on Xbox and other platforms still remains a morass of juvenile racism and homophobia — I gave up playing Halo and Gears of War online because I can only be called a fag by a 14-year-old so many times before I decide I’d really rather be reading a book.

Of course, that’s why stepping away from online shoot-fests isn’t a huge loss for me — my bookworm nature (the other addiction picked up in my childhood) means I have a preference for exploring a story on my own. But where once I could only find gay stories and characters within the confines of printed pages, now I can find them streaming through my PlayStation.

I’m not sure gay elf boyfriends are an important milestone on the path to equality, but they certainly are an entertaining stop along the way.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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