Comment & Opinion

Why won't developers let me be a gay Premier League footballer?

Why won't developers let me be a gay Premier League footballer?

My interests as a teenager were often some way off those of my friends.

While they had dreams of becoming world famous footballers, sleeping with as many women as they could and generally living the life pitched to them in 'lad mags', I was somewhat more design led. I was getting horny over old buildings, dreaming of designing my own and – if I was feeling particularly fruity - reading books on font design.

Oh, and those footballers they were looking to emulate? Lets just say that, in the case of a few prime picks, I appreciated them on an entirely different level.

In truth, growing up as a gay teenager caused no great divide between me and my heterosexual friends – this is no 'woe is me' tale – but one unifier was always video games. Whatever our particular likes and dislikes, a Mortal Kombat tournament or a four-player run on Micro Machines after school was sure to break down any barriers.

If I analyse it now, decades on, part of the appeal of most videogames for me was that they made no comment on characters' lives outside the game. I don't think it's especially unfair to suggest that, until the last two generations, most games weren't especially sophisticated when dealing with the lifestyles of their characters. As a result, the vast majority (though not all) simply didn't bother.

For me, taking on Mortal Kombat as Scorpion, Johnny Cage or even Goro (unlocked by the now infamous cheat that would crash my Mega Drive in roughly four seconds flat) made no comment on either the character's sexuality or mine. Games simply never dabbled in that field.

Lets vamp

Broadly speaking, my views haven't changed.

In the case of most games, I don't look for any facet of me to be mirrored by whomever I'm playing as on screen. I'm no more tied down to the idea of taking on the role of a gay character than I am playing as one with dark hair, brown eyes or a penchant for san-serif fonts. Just as in film, television or any other medium, I can relate to characters of all shapes and sizes, colours and genders.

On the flip side, however, I can't deny that the few times when I have come across characters that were anything other than 'heteronormal', my interest has been piqued.

I remember when games magazines first ran stories suggesting that Metal Gear Solid 2's Vamp was bisexual. Suddenly, Vamp's (albeit brief) appearance in play gained added significance – yes he played an assailant and, yes, he wasn't one of the game's lead, but he was at least an acknowledgement by Kojima and co. that life takes all shapes and forms. Characters don't, by default, have to be straight.

Likewise, for a long time I flirted with the idea of buying Rockstar's Bully – the game itself never particularly grabbed me, but the knowledge (as documented in many amusing YouTube videos) that you could romance boys as well as girls undoubtedly grabbed my attention.

Whether or not Bully's depiction of bisexuality was one to endorse is a question people would no doubt differ on to this day, but – perhaps wrongly - it still felt like progress.

Fast forward to 2014, and gay characters in games on any format remain a rare occurrence. It was a subject tackled at GDC in Manveer Heir of BioWare Montreal's talk, where it was suggested that developers and publishers across all formats are unwilling to take the 'risk' of hanging their game on a gay character for fear it will alienate a mainstream audience.

Mobile, however, could be something of a special case. As indies will attest, it's now possible to find potent player bases away from the masses, with niches of all kind earning their money back and more on smartphones and tablets.

You don't have to be Candy Crush or Clash of Clans to make a living on mobile. Creative 'risks', therefore, don't appear to be the difference between success or failure.

Making the break

Indeed, any platform that plays host to indie studios automatically benefits from games that, from a creative standpoint, are more willing to break away from the norm.

Follow that line of thought, and you might think mobile would be the perfect environment for games that dabble sexuality to flourish. Yet – and this may be down to my own ignorance – I struggle to think of all too many indie hits that feature gay or bisexual characters at their heart, or even in passing.

No longer can we use the excuse that games don't make any comment on a character's sexuality, either. Even supposedly casual or mid-core games are increasingly delving into such areas.

That fact came to my attention via a Twitter conversation between the New Star Soccer account and one of the game's fans. In response to the question 'tell us the three words you'd use to describe your New Star Soccer player', said fan offered the following in jest: "Turned gay, endless-wannabe-gold-digging-girlfriends".

It was a tweet made not in reference to a bona fide facet of gameplay, but rather the fact that keeping girlfriends happy in New Star Soccer inevitably revolves around regularly showering them with gifts and trinkets – an approach that's intentionally reliant on stereotypes in itself.

Nonetheless, though the tweet in question was lighthearted in nature, it still made me question (and, as a result, pose in reply) just why you can't you play as a gay footballer in New Star Soccer.

Out and proud Premier League footballers may be an unnaturally rare breed – well, non existent, in fact – but even the most rudimentary handle on statistics would suggest every club has at least one gay or bi player on its books, if not more. So, why is this not represented in play?

Star turn

For New Star Games, the decision to leave out gay and bi players was not an intentional one, but rather one due to both limited time and resources.

"New Star Soccer is first and foremost a game about the professional aspect of playing football," the developer offered us in a statement in a reply to my concerns.

"Footballers aren't normally defined by their personal relationships or sexuality: they’re mostly defined by how good they are at football and that is therefore the focus of the game. The fact that the game doesn't contain broader content in certain areas of sexuality, religion and race doesn't indicate anything positively or negatively about those aspects.

"However, if we find out that there is a demand for players to choose their sexual orientation then we would of course look into that, using the same criteria used when considering adding any new feature to a game."

Essentially, like free-to-play, to have included anything other than heterosexual players in New Star Soccer would have required the game to have been coded in such a way from the start – something the developer indicated on Twitter. Like free-to-play, if you're going to be gay you've got to be gay from the get go, to put it crudely.

Does a lack of demand from players mean a developer shouldn't include gay characters? I'm starting to think not.

But in that statement, New Star Games has perhaps unintentionally got straight to the heart of the issue: an apparent lack of demand.

Are New Star Soccer players ever likely to request the game include the ability to play as a gay or bi footballer in a significant number? It doesn't seem likely. Nevertheless, does that mean New Star Games shouldn't alter its approach anyway? I'm starting to think not.

We can't afford to underestimate the impact games, mobile or otherwise, have on society's perception of the people they represent – or, indeed, the people they don't. Intentional or not, New Star Soccer's sole focus on heterosexual players makes a comment on the sport – a declaration that footballers are, and can only ever be, straight. It's an issue other football franchises, such as FIFA or PES, avoid commenting on simply by not cover touching on any element of a player's life other than their time on the pitch.

New Star Soccer, however, brilliantly bases a core element of its play around romantic relationships, and although I don't think this illustrates any kind of stance on sexuality by the development team behind it, I do think criticisms of this approach are utterly valid.

Bully for you

If we are to ever get to a stage where gay characters in games aren't seen as pieces of titillation – as in Bully – or simply unusual facets of play, developers have to do one thing and one thing only: start depicting gay characters in games.

For me, it doesn't matter if only 0.05 percent of New Star Soccer's player base ever choose to 'go gay', the option should still be there, simply because gay players are not only possible, they're also likely to be highly common.

And this is where my stance has shifted since I was a teenager. Games have changed. Games deal with issues. Games deal with life. I still don't need to see replications of myself in play in order to engage with characters – Assassin's Creed's Ezio is undoubtedly one of my favourite game leads of recent years, yet you could write the things we have in common on the back of a stamp – but I'm likewise less willing to tolerate a mass of games that seem determined to suggest I don't exist.

Critics will suggest that I'm calling for change for change's sake here, and I'm understandably wary of demanding that developers start including gay characters just to tick boxes – token representation is arguably more damaging than no representation at all. But, right now, the fact that many games that do touch on relationships feel there's no demand to represent anything other that heterosexuality shouldn't stand.

Equality comes not from hitting a set quota of 'gay games', but from a desire for homosexual or bisexual characters to be entirely unremarkable. Passé. Dull, even. To get there, however, will require a clutch of developers to do what the big boys claim is simply too much of a 'gamble' – to represent the whole spectrum of sexuality in play where appropriate.

I'm counting on mobile developers to fuel that fight in the coming months and years. If the last five or so years have proved anything, it's that the topsy turvy world of mobile has little time for those unwilling to lead the way.


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With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

Comments

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James Coote
What if in the game, your gay footballer had to hide the fact they were gay (as reflecting RL gay footballers)? What happens in the game when the player comes out or is outed, considering there is no RL precedent?

Having not played New Star Soccer, I'm guessing it's slightly tongue-in-cheek. (as a gamedev) Do you risk being seen as flippant or trivializing things by likewise treating it less than entirely seriously?
Drew Field
Embarrassed this troll / moron even shares the same name as me. Keep up the good work Keith!
Keith Andrew
A whole different class of Drew. :)
Keith Andrew
Wow. What a reply, Drew.
Drew Emmerson
Oh you insufferable whining fags - I'm so sick of crap like this
Dave Rack
i'm so sick of crap like you...
Keith Andrew
<Applause>
pgbiz
We're all for freedom of speech, Drew, but abusive language won't be tolerated.
Mark J.
[- ]

^^^
THERE'S THE DOOR
Adam Burgess
Drew, rhymes with POO, RIGHT!?

Sorry, Drew. That was really shallow of me. If you want to talk about your 'issues' then give me a shout. It's not really hard to teach the idea that everyone is equal and that all deserve the same treatment, as fellow members of the human race. Certainly hard to teach it to a closed mind though, so don't expect instant results. I'll try my best though.
Christos Reid
Trigger warning: use of the homophobic f-word (for those who find it upsetting).

Hello there, Drew. Sufferable, validly-complaining human being here. I'd like to take issue with the point you raised, about how "fags" are "insufferable" because they're whining about their lack of representation in videogames. Something that most likely permeates that horrible, sick little bubble you live in. A world in which you never have to worry about someone smashing your face in because you like the "wrong" gender, or that someone will make a gay joke during a friendly outing to the pub and suddenly you find yourself no longer feeling safe and wanting to go home.

I could detail for you, if you like, the countless reasons that gay people are absolutely sick of being so underrepresented, and misrepresented in mainstream videogames. About how fucking annoying it is to realise that the only gay characters in GTA IV are stereotypes, utterly hopeless to control their own destiny in a world of "real" men. Or how Bioware thought it fit not to include gay male romance options in the first game in the Mass Effect trilogy, but found lesbians to be male-gaze-fun enough to green-light.

Have you ever followed football, at all? Have you noticed that there's a genuine likelihood that not all players are straight, and that, amazingly, their sexual preferences make fuck all difference to whether or not they're able to take home a hat-trick, or make that crucial save that keeps England in the World Cup?

Does Keith's article threaten you? The idea of "fags" invading your videogames and confronting you with the knowledge that gay people exist? That they're just like you, and that your fear of homosexuality might actually come from an issue deep down inside yourself? An issue that you might not be willing to address yet, calling out "fag" on Xbox Live while stealing glances at Gary in the locker room? What is it about this issue that you find so threatening? Is it just hate? Is it? Think about it, because the moment the common sense hits, you might find you're anywhere from straight and accepting to something else entirely. I know, because I went through that myself.

Have a think for me, would you chap? Also, while you're at it, get the fuck out of the industry until you can learn to accept people for who they are, because as a gamer, I don't want you in my community, and as a developer, I don't want you as a customer. You're an insufferable whiny homophobe, and I'm sick of crap like yours.
Mark Keenan
You said this better than I could.
Wesley Copeland
Honestly man, I'm sick of whiny straight white guys thinking they're cool by using terms like 'Fag'.

You are aware that 'Fag' is in the same category as 'Nigger'? Both are words used primarily by white people to demonise a specific group of people they take offence to.

Have you actually thought about that? I mean, really, really, really questioned what using certain terminology means and how it makes you look to other people? Do you want to look like a 13 year-old boy attempting to lash out after a bad day at school?

I'm not meaning to belittle you, but this is the video games industry, a place that celebrates the differences between individuals. If you're too closed minded to be into "crap like this," then I think you should really reconsider you choice in hobbies.
Jordan Garland
I don't suppose you've heard of Lewis' Law, have you? Well, congratulations for single-handedly proving why articles like this are not just necessary, but essential.
Ben Stead
Sick of actual discussion about how to push equality and inclusive ideas? I think you need to get your head checked if you're "sick of crap like this."

Games are becoming bigger and changing constantly, if you're getting sick of stuff like this then be prepared to get a lot of medication because you're going to be ill for a while.
Hans Kaosu
and im so sick of prejudiced internet trolls like yourself.
Ryan 'Sharax'
And you are an insufferable whining homophobic fucknutt.
I'M sick of crap like THAT.