Blog Post #4: Could Mario be gay?

My sincerest apologies to those of us who have not yet read through the entire Harry Potter series and/or have not heard the news about Albus Dumbledore’s sexual orientation, but spoiler alert: he’s gay.

I will admit that it was quite a surprise to learn that Harry’s wise and venerable mentor was gay (it’s not directly stated in the text but heavily implied through Rowling’s writings of Dumbledore’s childhood).  Although in the end it did nothing to alter my opinion of Dumbledore’s character or his interactions with Harry, this discovery did give me pause to reflect on my immediate assumption that a powerful and father-like figure would naturally be heterosexual.
Image I believe there’s an overwhelming tendency in popular media for significant characters to be staunchly heterosexual.  This holds true not just for books or movies but for video games as well: characters such as Link and Mario are always romantically entangled with their respective princesses.   This quickly establishes a very hetero-normative role for the main character, which in many ways limits the potential extent of their development.

Pascoe’s chapter on “fag discourse” was particularly interesting to me, even if her field research was somewhat limited by the scope and age range of her interviewees.  She states that defining the words gay and fag can be a rather difficult task, as their widespread usage has awarded them a myriad of interpretations depending on the context.  Yet still the prevailing tone of those words is undoubtedly negative.  Whether gay is being used as a reference to someone who identifies as homosexual or simply as a synonym for stupid or lame, it carries very negative social connotations behind it.  Is this why gay characters are so rarely introduced in popular media?

I would argue that Japanese game developer Shin Megami Tensei may be able to turn the tables on the current limited possibilities of a character’s sexual development in-game with his acclaimed series Persona.
ImagePersona 3 is the third installment of a series of unique RPGs, developed by Tensei, in which the strength of the main character depends on how well they build relationships with the other people in the game.  These relationships include both male-male plutonic and male-female sexual.  If Tensei were to expand the algorithms for communication between the characters, the result might be a dramatic step towards creating a game where the player decides which relationships to strengthen, regardless of the sexual nature behind them.  This could open up a wide range of gameplay in which homosexuality can positively advance one’s gaming experience and potentially cast a new light on the meaning of the word.

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5 Responses to Blog Post #4: Could Mario be gay?

  1. knystrom2013 says:

    Just a quick note – Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is actually the name of the game, the developer is Atlus. I definitely agree with all this though, we were talking about it after class and it presents some interesting technological difficulties as well as introducing some new social concepts. Hopefully we’ll see some of this in the future.

  2. evanmarshall3 says:

    Blog Response #3
    Hey Paul!
    Your blog post reminded me of the games of BioWare. A couple years ago I was rather delighted to learn that the RPG game DragonAge allowed players to enter into homosexual relationships with non player characters (NPCs). Previous BioWare games I had played such as Knights of the Old Republic had not presented players with this option. And not just one option. Regardless of whether you picked a female or male character you would have TWO NPCs whom it was possible to form a homosexual relationship with and three possible heterosexual relationships. Now this may sound unequal but I still believe that this is a great step nonetheless. (And after all there are less gay people in the world so having fewer options is a stark reality IRL) Later I learned that this option was becoming the norm in most Bioware games. In all of the subsequent Mass Effect games as well as in the Star Wars MMOPRG The Old Republic. This latter fact may be even more impressive considering the game is tied to a billion dollar franchise that is very restrictive regarding the maintenance of it’ image and had never to my knowledge included a gay character. Beyond that, I recently read an article here:
    concerning a plot point in Mass Effect 3 wherein a male NPC tells the player of his husband.
    “In the Normandy’s engineering bay, crew member Cortez talks about the fate of his husband, killed in an attack by invading aliens. Cortez is a dude. With a husband. Shepherd doesn’t bat an eye as yet another ‘how’s your family?’ dialogue unfolds. It’s clumsy, but only because it’s by BioWare. Not because it’s about a gay couple. Part of the beauty of BioWare is that they’re equal opportunity clumsy writers, regardless of sexual orientation.”
    And this is hardly the only example of this happening throughout the game. Read the article for more. But I think the real beauty of this is that BioWare never makes a big deal about it. It’s just a natural part of the world of the game.
    I’ve always said (jokingly) that we will know the struggle for gay social equality is about over when Hollywood can make a big budget action movie where the two ‘badass’ protagonists are gay and in a relationship with each other. Maybe they’re buddy cops and just like any other movie in the genre in they have big guns and blow up cars and take down drug lords. BUT maybe throughout all the adversity they’ve faced they realize they’ve fallen in love and they make-out passionately on the hood of the police cruiser before suiting up for the climactic mission. To me, that sounds fricking awesome. I would see that movie in a second. I want to be in that movie. But most importantly, as in Bioware games, the movie should never comment on the gay relationship. It should just be there. As a natural, completely reasonable occurrence. That would be the most powerful comment of all.
    Bur Hollywood won’t do that yet. Producers probably feel that such a plot point would drive audiences away, making a films like that a bad investment. But I’m tired of queer characters and themes being restricted to gay and lesbian film festivals. If you really want to make a difference with your art (just my opinion) take your art mainstream! I’ve always felt that if all of the other elements of the film are good enough you can do just about anything. BioWare has shown us that this principle applies to video games, as the inclusion of gay characters and plot points hasn’t seemed to put much of a dent in their mammoth sales figures. I know this isn’t a one to one comparison and I know that there are lots of other factors involved but I’m just saying…maybe other forms of media and other games should take note.

  3. Yay Bioware! And yay for having queer relationships that are just part of the tapestry of the game and not aberrations. Maybe Chan’s “agentive consumer action” might include purchasing and playing games that get things right.

    And there is Mario – Luigi slash out there. Just fyi.

  4. karlinr says:

    This post, and Paul’s mention of the tendency for significant characters in the media (especially protagonists) as being staunchly homosexual reminds me of a non-game example – the character of Omar on HBO’s “The Wire.” In addition to being (in my opinion) one of the best television shows of all time, “The Wire” gave its audiences Omar, a sort of Robin Hood of the ghettos of Baltimore, who just happened to be a homosexual. I remember watching a behind-the-scenes interview with someone from the cast, who talked about the immense surprise from fans following the show’s casual reveal of Omar’s sexuality. To me, the remarkable thing about the way that writer/creator David Simon handled Omar in the show was that he avoided all the stereotypes usually associated/seen with gay characters in the mainstream media. He is not effeminate, weak, glam, etc. Omar is the most bad-ass dude in one of the most dangerous cities in America, and in a show with a cast of characters including cops, gangsters, hit-men, and ex-military Ukrainian thugs. Without going too deep into plot details, throughout the series Omar will enlist his boyfriends in his endeavors and their relationship is depicted in a casual manner, much in the way that Evan suggests. His gangster adversaries, however, do comment on his sexuality frequently and in a derogatory manner (using various pejorative terms) – but because none of the law enforcement characters even mention it, this may serve more as a commentary on the homophobia within that gang culture.

    Given that the first season of “The Wire” aired in 2002, though, Omar, like Dumbledore, is still more of an anomaly than a common occurrence in mainstream entertainment media. I wholeheartedly agree with Evan that we should see more characters like this in all forms of entertainment, where their homosexuality is the defining aspect of that character. I would be willing to bet that the plots of most action films would remain entirely unchanged if the main character was gay; the only difference would be the actor playing the love interest, and they are not usually well developed characters anyway.

    The same could be said for many video games as well. I have not played any of the games Paul and Evan mention (although everyone I know who has played Mass Effect highly recommends it), but it is encouraging to know that there are characters in games who are casually revealed to be homosexual – and by casual, I mean they don’t make a huge effort to point it out, the same way games casually reveal that a male protagonist has a girlfriend/wife without making a huge deal out of it. It does not sound like the sexual orientations of any of these characters affects the game-play significantly, which means that there is no real reason why this can’t happen more often.

  5. cstabile says:

    I think the point K makes is that Omar being gay isn’t the story line. The character just happens to be gay, just as other characters are straight, or white, or male or female. The point again isn’t to make pink games or queer games or straight games, but to make games that we all feel at home in.

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