Games should be fun for everyone: In response to the ‘Gay Drake’ backlash
Games are not inclusive.
Games pander to a very specific demographic: 18+ heterosexual males. This is not debatable. The landscape may be changing, but for the most part triple AAA mainstream games are engineered to speak to a particular group of people.
At the same time, games primarily function as escapism. They’re meant to be–as much as I dislike this being the case–fun. Most people do not play games to face the complications or problems of real life. You pick up a controller to feel empowered, to be the hero, to save the world. Wanting games to fulfill that type of power fantasy, to be wish fulfillment, to allow us to escape is understandable. Personally I’d like games to be more than that, but at a baseline level, we can all probably agree that they should be, if nothing else, at least fun.
Here’s the problem. Games are not always fun for everyone. Where the average joe can slip into the shoes of any burly space marine saving the world from chest high cover and monochrome hues, the marginalized slip into fantasy lands that continue to uphold the same prejudices and issues they have to face on a day-to-day basis.
Mattie Brice speaks to this sentiment eloquently in her article over at the Border House, but I feel it’s worth reiterating in light of a recent controversy: whether or not Naughty Dog’s Drake should/could be gay. I’m not sure that Drake himself ‘should’ be gay; I certainly agree that a gay protagonist in general in a mainstream triple A game should be something that happens. Ultimately it’s up to Naughty Dog to decide what to do with their IP.
But could Drake be gay? Yes, he most certainly could, and having high profile characters like him be queer would help in creating an environment where games can be fun for everyone.
Now, I could speak to a lot of brash, illogical, and frankly disgusting arguments as to why Drake can’t be gay that come up in the comments of the Gamasutra article, or in Jim Sterling’s article. For instance: why do we even ‘need’ gay characters? That one is easy: we just plain need to become more inclusive, and when ESA statistics show us that the demographics are shifting, one cannot in good conscience continue to uphold the argument that “it’s just business.” Mind–that should never, ever be an excuse; at best, “it’s just business” should be a lament. And let’s not kid ourselves, either: the male 18-30 something demographic is a pretty ‘small’ audience to limit ourselves to.
You’d think that you don’t need to justify why we should have gay characters, but looking at the comments in the articles, apparently we do. How ridiculous is that? A sexuality has to be justified? Not well written, not nuanced…justified? When was the last time you saw heterosexuality as something that had to be justified before people thought it was okay to include? Thinking about it like that, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that people feel that having a gay character is the same as having an agenda pushed down our throats.
Even worse are the ‘Well, I don’t mind it as long as it’s not in my face or anything’ arguments. The only good gay is the invisible gay, you see. But hey, I sympathize a little; I wish my demands for the complete and utter silence and invisibility for a group of people I dislike could be met, too. That way we’d have no bigots in the comments of articles like these.
Laughable are the arguments that it wouldn’t work from a narrative perspective. Personally I find the idea that we might destroy the very sophisticated and delicate writing of a video game hilarious, especially when you consider that the Uncharted games were not conceived in terms of narrative. Uncharted 1 was originally a fantasy game, completely different from the Uncharted we now know and love, and was changed to be a shooter to meet market demand. For Uncharted 3, in particular, the developers wanted to make a game that took place in the desert, a game that allowed them to render and play with sand. I’m not trying to belittle the writing of the franchise–it’s very strong, as far as video games go. But let’s not pretend like we’re committing high narrative sacrilege when games are often conceived by the developers as they go along, sometimes literally around little pebbles of rock.
Beyond that, yes, it’s entirely possible for Drake to be gay despite his characterization and actions up until that point. Here’s the thing about heterosexuality: it is outright assumed. Just because you assume a character to be straight, however, doesn’t make that character straight. It just makes you presumptuous. Sexuality doesn’t always look like what you expect it to look like. So Drake’s slept with women before. People have heard of beards, right? Alternatively: Drake could be bisexual. And let’s not pretend like we haven’t seen or heard of cases of men masquerading as straight, either. Reading the comments of the Gamasutra article, who can blame them for such a farce, really? Most importantly, it’s entirely possible for someone to have not come to terms with their sexuality for that long. I say that as someone who didn’t really come to accept that I was bisexual for twenty years; I could have easily gone another decade or two without accepting it.
Lastly: it’s not as if Drake has the most consistent characterization to begin with. The Uncharted games are famed for ‘ludonarrative dissonance’, a term that describes a disconnect between gameplay and narrative. Drake is characterized as a charming, boyish everyman. The Drake you play, however, is a terrifying killing machine. The Drake you come to know is not a Drake you would expect being capable of these things; this fact is outright stated by Naughty Dog themselves at the end of Uncharted 2, when the villain poses the idea that he and Drake are not so different. Frankly that’s more of a fundamental, jarring misstep in characterization than “suddenly” turning Drake gay could ever, ever be.
From a narrative standpoint, there’s no strong argument as to why Drake couldn’t be gay. He could. I will concede that it would probably have been more meaningful for this hypothetical revelation to have been planned from the start. That’s also not nearly as good as constructing a triple A game that has an openly gay (ideally well-written) character as the lead from the get-go. When we’re so scarce on marginalized characters, though, I’ll take what I can get.
At the end of the day, we need a ‘Gay Drake’. I don’t mean that we need to make Drake himself gay, but we do need leading, main characters of marginalized groups. I can wax poetic as to all the progressive reasons why we need characters like that, I can spend time arguing why it could work, despite all the arguments against it–and I have–but there’s a simple, straightforward reason that I think any and every gamer should be able to understand, that every gamer should be sympathetic to. Having a wider spectrum of represented groups and lifestyles makes it easier for everyone to become immersed in the games they play without being pulled back into the reality we want to escape from, and thus makes it easier for everyone to have fun.
We can all agree games should be fun for everyone, right?