Nov 15, 2019

LGBTQ game characters get their moment

Tyler, a transgender guy, is one of two playable characters in the forthcoming Xbox game "Tell Me Why." Image: Microsoft/DONTNOD Entertainment

In a significant move toward diversifying the world of video games, two major-studio titles due out next year will place queer protagonists at the center of the action.

Why it matters: Gaming has historically been a tough world for LGBTQ players, with plenty of harassment and few visibly queer characters.

Driving the news:

  • Announced Thursday and debuting next summer, "Tell Me Why" is an Xbox title that features Tyler, a trans character, as one of the two playable options — a first for a major-studio game.
  • "The Last of Us Part II," a highly anticipated sequel to a PlayStation game, features Ellie, a young lesbian, as the game's sole playable character. (Ellie was one of two main characters in the first game in the series.)

History lesson: The debuts come 5 years after Gamergate, a controversy that involved the online harassment of a number of prominent female game developers that is frequently interpreted as a precursor to the broader alt-right movement.

What they're saying: GLAAD's Jeremy Blacklow notes that in many ways these new game titles represent a response to Gamergate, given that major-release games take several years to develop.

  • The industry, Blacklow adds, is effectively saying: "We care more about reaching the people who need to see themselves represented than the trolls. That’s huge."

The creators of "Tell Me Why" said Tyler wasn't created just to be a transgender character, but rather as one aspect of a complex character telling a unique story.

"With 'Tell Me Why,' we want to develop a unique depth of characters that includes a special strong bond between the twins. When we decided on having Tyler be a transgender man we didn’t want him to be recognized just for being transgender."
"Tyler is a very likable young man, courageous, who knows who he is and what he stands for. He's full of hopes, dreams, but also fears. He has a bright side, but also flaws, like all of us."
Florent Guillaume, game director

Out gamers: As important as what is happening in the games is the experience of those playing the games, especially in a world of live-streaming. One of the world's top gamers, Dominique "SonicFox" McLean, proudly identifies as gay, black and furry.

Yes, but: Everyone is prepared for a possible backlash when the games come out next year.

  • "We all know what's in the comments section," Blacklow said.

As a result, Microsoft has been tightening the policies on its Mixer streaming service and said it is "already hard at work on several new programs and tools aimed at reducing harmful content and toxic behavior."

  • "We are committed to making intentional choices that embrace the vibrancy found in our differences, and hostility is not welcome in our culture," Microsoft Xbox senior creative director Joseph Staten told Axios.

Some stumbles: Progress hasn't been linear, even in the last couple years since GLAAD started working with the gaming industry to be more inclusive.

  • Ubisoft had a game, "Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey," that let people choose whether their characters would find same-sex or opposite-sex romance, but a download forced all characters into heterosexual coupling. The company later reversed course after an outcry.

The bottom line: Done right, games that represent a wider range of human experience can help us all broaden our horizons. And if that helps a generation of video gamers better understand a bit of the transgender experience, all the better.

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