Ben’s talk was explained as looking at the representations of LGBT within the gaming world. His intention was to look at the theory and raise some of the issues of this representation.
Ben had been studying a site known as Gaydar, a large dating site designed to assist men in finding other men, which he described as making money from gay men a niche market. In this, he described, there are certain tensions in classification and representation. At this point we were shown a chart of how many gay men used hair straighteners in comparison to the number of straight men who did the same. This kind of study is designed to reinforce stereotypes and representations of people.
Ben moved on to how LGBT individuals are represented in games. http://www.GayGamer.net has a list titled ‘Top 20 Gayest Video Game Characters’. This interested Ben because it showed how people connected with games beyond the intention of the designer and also beyond play. He referenced Jenson and de Castell (2008) and the requirement for a rethink of gender assumptions with relation to games. He then moved on to list some of the games and characters that LGBT people identify with and some games that have included LGBT content.
SingStar Anthems was labelled ‘queer edition’ due to the perceived identification of the LGBT community with certain tracks. Ben also described the box art, whereby it seems that one of the men is looking at the other, and the same with the women. Ben stated his surprise when he realised just how much LGBT content there was to find. This included a playable ‘camp’ character by the name of Ash from Streets of Rage 3 who was removed from play in the US version of the game, and the developing relationship between two female characters in Fear Effect 2 which was later said to be revealed to be included for teenage boys who wanted to see such things. Ben questioned why such content would be included in games and answered himself with a statement about “commodification of difference”. Further examples cited included Bully: Scholarship Edition, in which one can kiss girls and boys and even gain points for homosexual encounters. The Temple of Elemental Evil, Fable, and Fallout included the serious possibility of gay marriage. Ben stated that developers claim to aim for a more rounded experience in games with such content.
Cho Aniki is a game involving a sexual relationship between two men. Ben described said title as being filled with hypermasculinity and highly sexualised content (such as using sperm as a weapon). He also stated that some individuals considered the characters of Dance Summit 2001 as drag queens, which brought him to what I considered as perhaps his most central point of the talk. Ben pointed out that it doesn’t actually matter with these characters whether they are LGBT or not, it’s the case that if someone has thought that way about them then it is important. This brought with it further examples, including the infamous Tingle character from the Zelda series (incidentally, this character made #1 on the GayGamer.net aforementioned top twenty). This character is important, states Ben, because of the on- and offline commentary regarding the character and how that interacts with itself. These are, Ben says, contested characters.
As a final two examples of content in games, Ben cited games in which one must run away from gay characters or, more alarmingly, kill them. The final example mentioned was what is apparently considered to be a bug, in which one could partner and even have children with someone of the same sex.
To conclude, Ben stated that there is much content in games intended to make humourous statements, or to be homophobic and hetero-normative. However, there is also an inter-textual element in which characters are hidden, and the idea of guessing on contested subjects. Ben will be working ethnographically in future with the game SingStar and the LGBT networks forming within that community. He wanted to observe the ‘gaymers’ versus ‘gamers’ divide and the idea that individuals play games because they want to play them, not simply because they are LGBT. Finally, Ben urged us to look at pre-determinism and stated that perhaps women only play certain games because that is what they are comfortable doing, and not because of their sex.
Ben received a number of questions and spoke about the situation of inclusion of content and whether it can become more political, the interest (or lack thereof) of content being directed towards LGBT gamers, and the discourse of men playing the SingStar games.