The future is awesome. Today? Not so much.
Mass Effect 3 received a great deal of praise for its handling of a homosexual relationship and rightfully so. Bioware inserted a gay character named Steve Cortez, made him a romance option, and treated the whole event like it was, perfectly normal. The gay gamer community finally received a relationship not pinned on stereotype or insult, but rather on the shared humanity of everyone. It’s an approach that is thoroughly worthy of emulation, but it ought not be the only approach that video games take to address controversial issues. The future is bright for equal rights for the gay community, but if games only seek to portray the ideal endgame, they will miss out on key steps along the way and the important struggles the world still faces.
The beauty of ME 3’s approach is that it achieves an ideal type. Cortez is a regular crew member who is also gay. In doing so, Bioware models a universe where sexual orientation is not the divisive issue that it represents now. The homosexual population is not a distinct entity, rather it is just a holder of one of many traits in the broader species. This is where we all should be, and ME 3’s approach is immediately refreshing for taking us there. It’s refusal to rely on stereotypes or petty bigotry makes Cortez feel like a full character rather than the jokey/silly characters that developers often use, if they address homosexuality at all. Unfortunately, it also loses the very real and current struggle to incorporate all genders into mainstream culture.
Though causes like gay marriage have made great strides in the past few years, it’s important to recognize the distance they still have to go. Many states in the US still don’t recognize the validity of gay marriage and sizable contingents of the country hold retrograde beliefs about the treatment of their fellow citizens. Sadly, the US is actually ahead of the curve when other countries criminalize homosexual behavior and even put gays to death. The struggle continues, and, by only showing the end game, gaming would miss out on the very real feelings of the present. This is an area where gaming can do the most good by showing what it means to deal with these issues and the very real pain it causes. Games like Gone Home or Dys4ria display the potential that video games have to create empathy in their players and should be seen as the model.
This is not so say that Mass Effect 3 had it wrong. On the contrary, for a game that was primarily space opera, striking the tone that it did was bold and welcome. Other games not investigating the problems of today would do well to follow in ME 3’s footsteps. However, we should not paper over the continuing struggle with the idealized type. Instead, future games that approach the issue with sensitivity and nuance should do the same with their homosexual characters.