Not That Type of Game: Sexualized Queerness and Neutral Heterosexuality in Games and Gaming Communities

What I’m about to discuss is the type of thing you don a full-body hazmat suit for (I kid, I kid … maybe), and that is far from restricted to games and gaming as an issue. However, it’s such a big topic that I could easily lose the discussion for the sake of the examples, so – on with the show!

Now that I’ve gotten part of my point made with just the “read more” images, on to the main event and how “heterosexuality so neutral” (I’ve absorbed and repurposed a meme and can’t even remember what it is – sorry!) works in terms of gaming, especially gaming adaptations of already existing works, and gaming communities and social groupings.

A wizard is neither late, nor early, he arrives exactly when he means to ... with sub-par and likely out of date guild lists for the game servers.

Death, dismemberment, dragon fire … oh and don’t type “brb boyfriend called” or I’ll be expelled for discussing inappropriate content in guild chat? Just say “brb,” don’t explain, and then get expelled when you all get frustrated at me for bailing on you “without reason?” Gandalf, I think your recommendations are not sound. Not sound at all.

I don’t want this to become about individual games, but I am drawing primarily from a game I personally enjoy and keep coming back to when able and that is longer standing, with a wide player base and a general reputation as friendlier and safer among games of its type, and that still has problems with hostility and ill treatment when fellow players and lore lovers (because it is based on a well-loved, popular series of books) do something as simple as ask for recommendations on an LGBT-friendly guild or, as people new to the game, try to ask what the game environment is like.

I am fire, I am death, I am ... not even going to mention what happens when someone asks about getting in-game queer content or about queering the content. Or am I?

I am fire, I am death, I am … not even going to mention what happens when someone asks about getting in-game queer content or about queering the content. Or am I?

Now, people could argue that players and potential players should just “do their own research,” but:

a) asking other players on the official message boards ‘is’ a part of doing one’s own research on the game, especially if you want information that isn’t of a scientific fact type nature (odd comparison, but asking about people’s impressions of the game or recommendations for a good guild is different than asking how to adjust the font size on the game screen or where the closest travel point to [location] is)

b) players should be able to ask other players a simple, completely non-sexual question without getting a flood of off-topic responses telling them, among other things: to go play an erotic game instead because this isn’t that kind of game; that they’re obviously trolling; that they don’t need to bring politics into the game; that there’s no reason to bring up your sexual orientation in-game (in-game including group and guild situations); that they’re sick and going against nature; and to stop trying to create controversy and cause trouble in game.

Gandalf is not amused by your antics.

I’m not griefing but you are certainly causing me grief.

Again, the questions asked by the original posters in the official game forum discussions I saw were not about sex or about engaging in RP (roleplaying) sex in game (which people really shouldn’t do but, well, sometimes you think you’re alone in a lesser used corner of a game map and then you see … stuff being custom /emoted in the local channel you’d just rather not be witness to) and did not contain any kind of offensive or vulgar language or attempts to start forum fights. They were new and continuing players asking simple, polite questions about guild recommendations and about whether something concerning they saw in the (now defunct and replaced with other documents) lorebook/guidebook reflects the general attitudes of the game and its players or if the community is really as nice as was otherwise said and a queer player could feel safe going beyond the starter quests and committing to the game.

And Bilbo's only met one other player character so far!

Sometimes you complete the introductory tutorial and then go nooooope.

Looking at all of those reactions and ones elsewhere (I am mainly mentioning the official forums because, and yes go ahead and scoff at the idea, they are a center of good/better behaviour from which unofficial or no longer official forums tend to diverge, so I am discussing reactions on the better side of places to discuss the game and ask questions), including on game guides and guides to roleplaying your character (“I’m not going to say you can’t roleplay a gay elf or a colored Gondorian captain but…” – Yeah, even my paraphrase of that choice bit of character creation and RP guide disgusts me. Colored? Really?), it is distressingly clear that the people reacting so vehemently against anything that at all mentions queerness view it as being inherently sexual. And not just inherently sexual but obscenely and thus inappropriately sexual. While at the same time viewing non-queer content as so neutral that they don’t even recognize that it’s in-game and in their in-game behaviour.

Looking for all these shots from the movies has kind of accidentally sold me on Kili and Tauriel. Whoops.

Kili, don’t say that elf is hot. That’s mentioning your sexuality in game and that’s not just highly inappropriate and even lore-breaking but also against our guild’s rules.

Just in case that image and caption didn’t make it clear, you, my imaginary het reader/gamer/forum commenter, are “mentioning your sexuality/sexual orientation” every time you:

  • say, “Oh, I like her music too! And she’s pretty cute too!” when making friendly small talk and bonding with group or guild members
  • tell the rest of the party you need to get off voice chat because your boyfriend called
  • type “brb. wife’s home”
  • ask, “I usually play with my girlfriend. Is it okay to join your guild still?”
  • put in your guild application that your husband is a guild member and will vouch for you
  • compliment your guild leader on how cute (I’m purposefully choosing very mild words here) the NPC property guard he got for the guild house is
  • answer when a member of the guild you recently joined wants to know how you and a longer-standing guild member know each other

I made those all gaming related (and some are taken from personal experience and gender-flipped, or are functioning as coming from a male player for my purposes here) but this happens everywhere in life and it’s exhausting to try to censor yourself and not entirely possible (slip-ups happen, and this is also not giving out deep dark secrets or discussing sex or anything – this is everyday, casual, off-hand mentions that happen in socializing and working and going about your day). At least it is when those mentions aren’t coming from a guy about a girl, or a girl about a guy.

The point being – people are already mentioning their sexuality in game and in their guilds and the people responding so harshly to other players who just wanted to get a feel for the general game environment or wanted guild recommendations are more than likely already mentioning their sexuality in game and in their guilds already too. But they see it as invisible and neutral and see anything that isn’t like it as value-added in a very, very negative way.

Seriously. Gandalf's faces in the Peter Jackson movies are great. And really useful for reacting to the stuff I'm discussing.

A wizard is never late and neither is he early and he always has the perfect facial expression for the occasion.

As well as completely ignoring the purpose of the questions they were responding to (and game environment and guild recommendations are both things where you both want and need subjective opinions), these fellow players, based upon their statements and reasoning, basically expect queer players to never talk to their fellow players and to never join a guild. Or, if they do, to potentially not use any recommendations to get into the guild (because so many of the guilds have no web presence and the guides online are often very outdated and incomplete and because there is only ONE lgbt guild out of all the ones on the game servers, recommendations and then people vouching for your application are very important) and then to never socialize with the guild at all. Which will not make you a popular player or guild member, or make it easy for you to quest or do special content with people, and which may actually get you expelled from the guild for being un-social.

Bilbo reactions faces are also good. Faces are one of the best parts of Peter Jackson Tolkien adaptations.

You’re kicking me out for not talking and for going afk without explanation when my doing so would get me kicked out for inflammatory and obscene language? Something is wrong here and it’s not me.

All because someone wanted to know if the game was generally pleasant with just a few bad apples writing homophobic game guides or wanted recommendations for a queer-friendly kin that also does RP (because, wow, maybe different people have different gaming interests and different schedules and want a guild that meshes well with them).

One does not simply walk into Mordor. Or into a forum and ask if the general game and its community are queer friendly.

And then Gandalf realized he did get his answer after all, and it was not a good one.

This doesn’t cover the many romances included in or created for the game and the fact that they (and all the NPC flavor text that involves remarking on attractiveness and such) are all heterosexual and all, in case it was somehow not clear, in the game and in a lot of cases directly in the beloved lore people want to whip out as being “tainted” (or “disrespected” or…) if anything queer were to be included, but I am really hoping I have made my point and that people can appreciate and understand it both in the context of gaming and as it more widely applies to discussions about having more LGBT inclusion in children’s (and young adult) literature, film, and television and the negative reactions to existing and potential inclusion under the grounds of “inappropriateness” and sexual “lewdness.”

Seriously. I don't want to get graphic, but I saw some pretttttyy darn specific and explicit descriptions of interactions between male characters from people angry at others for wanting LGBT kin recs or for asking if two characters from the source material are a couple.

Dwalin, do you think they realize the only ones making it about sex are them? And for all their negative talk, they seem to have given a lot of thought to heroic lads going at it with each other.

Homosexual or bisexual or any other type of queer inclusion has nothing at all to do with including sex, or allusions to sex, or to explicit sex, any more than heterosexual inclusion automatically requires the inclusion of sex or sexual references. And, as an aside, faithfulness to the lore is not a suitable excuse for trying to cover over personal anti-queer sentiment (and racism. and misogyny) in your behaviour as a gamer or as someone involved in creating a game, especially a game adapted from an existing work where there is a lot of space to invent and create extra stories and characters and to put visuals to the worlds and peoples described and to make the game better than its source material.

No, it's not elf/dwarf, which actually has a canon basis if you back away from the sex obsession. But it is hobbit/human and that breaks the alleged lore rules.

Also, I totally see the hypocrisy in saying we can only include and allow the types of pairings shown in the books and if we put a marriage system in-game we’d have to follow that (in reference to including/not including gay marriage but also applied to which peoples in the world can intermarry). There is some NPC flavor text that’s been there since the game started that contradicts you pal.

Good gaming everyone and enjoy this bonus content. Or is that “enjoy”? (giving warning here that the end of the film clip includes Peter Jackson being Peter Jackson about one of Tolkien’s two canonically androgynous peoples of Middle Earth – aka PJ steps in a pile of transmisogyny. Again.)

Image and Video Credits:

  • “Island Adventure.” Steven Universe. Original air date, October 23 2014.
  • “Jailbreak.” Steven Universe. Original air date, March 12 2015.
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Dir. Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema, 2012.
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Dir. Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema, 2013.
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. Dir. Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema, 2014.

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