It’s no secret that video games have slowly started to embrace gay players, especially over the last decade. Life simulators like the Sims and the Elder Scrolls series allow gay romances by letting players have relationships with any of the available characters they want, no matter their gender. Story-driven games like the Witcher III: Wild Hunt at least acknowledge gay players by including quests that involve a homosexual narrative or character, whether they be obvious or latent. But the fact that this form of inclusion, in implementing characters that either just don’t have any sexual preference at all or who keep it to themselves, has inevitably sparked a divisive debate.
Some players—mostly straight—complain that gay inclusivity in the form of covert bisexuality opens up the possibility of witnessing unwanted gay narratives or accidentally stumbling into romantic same-sex relationships, while other players—mostly gay—complain that gay progress in video games is problematic because so far it involves characters that are inherently bisexual despite otherwise showing no signs of bisexuality or sexual preference that differs from “the norm.” As a gay gamer myself (a gaymer, if you will) I align with the latter argument, but I ultimately disagree with the fundamentals of both.
(Side note: I’m ignoring the argument that says that gays, as a minority, shouldn’t be included in games that are mass-produced, for the majority, because for hopefully obvious reasons this argument is irrelevant, and the people that support it are just plain wrong.)
The argument against bisexual NPCs in video games from the people who are afraid of accidentally stumbling into gay romantic situations or witnessing unwanted gay narratives is understandable, but only to a small degree. I totally get not wanting to play a game that’s going to force you into a situation you’re not comfortable with, but if our realities had any pull or say about our experiences in video games, would we really still play them? Given a choice, would we really have so many games about war, murder, and crime? And would those games really be better than accidentally seeing two people of the same gender kiss?
To be clear, I don’t think that every straight player should be forced into a gay situation for the sake of experiencing something different, but don’t we play video games to do exactly that? Isn’t it called “role-playing” for a reason? All that aside, I’m gay and have been playing video games that for my entire life have forced me into straight narratives and straight relationships. Hell, they’re forced on me and every other gay individual every time we choose to go see a movie in the theaters, or watch a tv show, and let me tell you that the straight narratives, scenes, and characters we experience in these stories are far more graphic, sexual, and uncomfortable than what little gay ones we’ve gotten so far.
The argument for more “realistic” gay characters on the other hand—i.e. characters that are exclusively gay or exclusively straight, instead of just bisexual—is understandable as well, but the examples I’ve seen so far don’t make a whole lot of sense. Take Stardew Valley and Skyrim, for example. Every eligible bachelor and bachelorette in these games is available, no matter the player’s gender, but with this comes a certain degree of vagueness from each of the available bachelors and bachelorettes. What comes up a lot when talking about this aspect of the games, however, is the fact that none of the characters ever express a specific sexual preference until after you marry them. In the case of Stardew Valley, this happens specifically when the player speaks to their spouse during the Flower Dance, one of the game’s many seasonal events, where they say, “don’t worry, I won’t talk to any [insert gender of the player].” Whether or not this is a problematic dialogue choice is subjective, but this example is one of many that are used to argue for making at least some characters exclusively gay or exclusively straight, because it would eliminate the confusing specificity of this kind of dialogue when there is ambiguity otherwise.
My personal take on this issue is that implementing any kind of sexual preference, or micro-managing NPC’s to the point of exclusion for any given player actually kind of defeats the purpose of the game, not to mention the specific purpose of having romance-able characters in the first place. After all, neither Skyrim nor Stardew Valley is solely about marrying an NPC, but rather about living a fictional, virtual life inside a fictional, virtual world. There aren’t many rules in these kinds of environments because they would detract from the player’s ability to organically use their imagination and live out as immersive an experience as possible.
Some people point to Dragon Age: Inquisition as an example of a game that’s successfully implemented at least one or two NPC’s with a sexual preference, and while I think they definitely did take a step in the right direction I still don’t think it made that much of a difference. Which brings me to what I think should happen instead: adding gay relationships outside of the characters available for marriage. I’ve seen more and more people suggest this when talking about this issue, and it makes so much more sense that in whatever fantasy world you’re exploring, seeing at least one real life gay couple outside of the one that you may or may not have yourself would be more realistic than marriage candidates with pre-determined sexual preference. I’m picturing it now: we’re in Stardew Valley, and Linus and the Wizard are gay for each other, and it’s not a big deal because if you squint they’re just roommates anyways (just like any other straight couple, amiright?).
Sexuality is fluid, but fluidity is difficult where labels are easy. Even if this phenomenon of bisexual NPCs was born from someone just getting so frustrated about how to deal with gay characters that they just said “fuck it! Marry whoever you want!” I think it’s honest, and more realistic than we could ever hope. We should all be able to love whoever we want, if not at the very least inside of games that exist for the express purpose of escaping reality in favor of a fantasy. We have our open worlds, we have our endless procedurally generated maps, and open and ambiguous sexual preference goes hand-in-hand open, even if there’s still a need for more specific gay representation outside of our marriage options.
What’s your opinion about Bisexual NPCs? Do you think they improve or hinder a game’s experience? Leave us a comment or send us a message to share your side of the story!