In a lot of ways video games have been a ‘boys club,’ embracing the traditional hetero fantasies. You’re a man on a quest, you defeat the bad guy and you get the girl. Games seem to rarely concern itself with a wider audience of people with differing sexuality or gender because it seems that that is not the audience being spoken to by the industry.
Jamie Woo, co-founder and co-organizer of Gamercamp an event showcasing North American game developer talent, decided he was going to do something about that.
“This idea came to me that I really wanted to do something that looked at queerness and gender equity in video games,” says Woo, curator for the event.
The brainchild, Forallgamerssake, is a showcase of games that deal with this subject matter. It was fittingly held in the heart of Toronto at the Center for Social Innovation building. Woo wanted to represent a broader community in video games by dealing with issues in games that fall beyond the traditional “man gets girl” fare.
“I’ve been a video game player almost all my life since I was four or five and I’ve always wanted games to reflect my reality, my experiences,” says Woo. “So I thought an art show would be a nice way to bring together all the different works that I was familiar with that dealt with queerness and gender equity and to continue that conversation.”
Inside the show, there are projection screens showing scenes from popular video games that deal with these issues directly or indirectly. Dragon Age’s scenes where you can have same gender relationships, Persona 4’s Kanji Tatsumi level where he’s coming to terms with his homosexuality, and even Princess Zelda’s scenes from Ocarina of Time when she dresses like the manly Shiek were shown as a nod to the community.
“They [the games] very rarely do that,” says Woo. “Games tend to be very hetero normative, I’m always rescuing the princess, I’m always watching men and women get together but very little romance for two men or two women,”
Woo says, “the very best games transport us to world that empower us and make us feel like there’s endless possibilities, but when you have a world that’s bounded by certain things like if you’re queer you don’t exist or maybe it’s that there’s very few minorities there or there’s very few women in there all of a sudden that kind of endless possibility breaks because you realize that it isn’t actually endless possibilities.”
As you get further into the show, there’s a setup with screens showing off indie games within the community, as well as a playing area to experience these indie games.
You could take care of your Mini Gay Boyfriend on an iPhone, or shoot condoms to gay men through windows so they could all climax together.
The most grabbing of which is a title by Anna Anthropy, American game designer, critic, and male to female transgendered woman. The game, Dysphoria, deals with her transitioning from male to female through hormone treatment and the kinds of challenges she was faced with throughout that transition.
“When she sent it to me to show at the show my heart melted and broke at the same time,” says Woo. “To see what she’s going through with her hormone replacement therapy is so personal and the way that she does it is so smart through her game. I think to me that’s one of the standout queer experiences that she can now share that people can now learn about and it’s just so touching and moving.”
The game deals with discrimination and body issues by using game mechanics to string together a narrative that affords better understanding of the impacts of the transition. In one instance I’m a shield dodging insults from people who are telling me I’m not a woman. In another I’m a disjointed block that’s uncomfortable with my body and near the end there’s a part of the game that has me looking at myself in multiple mirrors along a path, seeing myself as more attractive in each one.
Other independent developers also participated in the event showcasing their games and supporting the cause.
“We need to start talking about these issues more and seeing each other as equals. This was a great way to inspire that discussion,” says Mare Sheppard, co-creator of N+ and co-founder of Metanet Software, in an email. “My opinion is that games typically cater to and are made by young white males, but I want to see more than that. I want to see different stories from all types of people. I want to play games that have a unique perspective and which are made by diverse people.”
The opportunity to talk about these kinds of experiences in a interactive medium is unique to the indie community.
“There are one or two examples in mainstream games but that side of the industry is traditionally very slow to change. It may get there eventually, but we’ll see the biggest and most rapid changes on the indie side, where people can afford to take risks that won’t necessarily sell or be popular,” says Sheppard.
Another developer showing his full support for the show was Michael Todd, a bisexual indie developer who runs Happy Little Smile Games. Also the creator of Silent Skies, Todd wanted to put his weight behind the cause. “This is very important because the community is built out of nerds in basements and unfortunately that means you have a lot of straight white males,” says Todd. “And you get a lot of mob mentality and you get a lot of unwelcomingness and anything that fights that in general is good.”