Video games are notorious for taking short cuts when it comes to complicated issues of identity. They tend to play on stereotypes, a lot! That’s why bisexuality and other sexualities outside of heterosexual are still vastly under-represented.
Bisexuality is a well known sexual preference, but understanding of what it is often comes parcelled with myths about how people who identify as bisexual behave. Bisexuality is considered to be the “medium setting” that rests squarely in the middle of the poles – straight and gay. As such, bisexuality has suffered from negative press from both the heterosexual and LGBTQ communities. There is a real sentiment that people who are bisexual are confused and don’t know what they want, thus their inability to choose. People think they’re greedy, easy, and hyper sexual or unable to have monogamous relationships.
Video games are not above digging into this well of myths.
Bisexuals are rarely mentioned in video games and when they are, they tend to be people who identify as female rather than ones who identify as male. This is true for most LGBTQ appearances in video games and generally, their sexual preferences are made to cater toward the male gaze. Even more troubling is the fact that most of the LGBTQ characters who present as male in games are queer coded villains or are shown to have some kind of departure from what the player is meant to think as ‘normal.’ Often, bisexuals and alternative sexualities in games are shown as depraved in some way. They are villains who indulge in murder, cannibalism, pedophilia, and rape – like Eddie Low from Grand Theft Auto IV. We, as players, are supposed to loathe and fear these characters and the disgusting lifestyle that they live or at the very least, laugh at them.
To have representation, but only have it come with the condition that the bisexual character is going to be a bad guy is disheartening, but fear not; there’s good news. Video games as a whole have been trying to become more inclusive in recent years and in order to make sure that the LGBTQ gamers are happy, bisexuality has been used to expand the romance options within games.
While the attempts at inclusion are a positive sign, relegating bisexuality to the default sexuality is another form of bi-erasure that is much subtler than other forms. It’s a very mercenary way of looking at sexuality, with bisexual identity being reduced to being the middle option which characters exist within until the player decides to make the character gay or straight.
Dragon Age II is often held up as an example since every companion in the game is bisexual, allowing for the player to romance whoever they choose. While it sounds like a good thing in theory, it means that in the end, what you are left with are straight relationships or gay ones. There is no delving into what it means to be bi or how bisexual experiences differ from those of other sexualities. I’m not saying that this is done maliciously. In one of my favourite games, Dragon Age: Origins by game developer Bioware, the road to hell was paved with the best intentions.
There are two characters in the game who are able to be romanced by both female and male player characters: Zevran and Leliana. They are both from foreign countries that have different customs than Ferelden (where the entirety of the story is based) and they both are more forward than the other companions. Both have someone they cared about who was killed recently before they came to Ferelden, and both are assassins although they are from different orders.
The lack of differentiation between the bisexual characters in the game is troubling and both Zevran and Lelianna fall victim to common stereotypes. One, that they are easier to romance than the other companions which alludes to the myth that bisexuals are easy and two, that they are obviously meant to be marked as foreign, as outsiders from the land that everyone else was born in.
In the second instalment of the series, Dragon Age II, Bioware doubled down and made it so everyone was bisexual. In order to allow for people to have the romance options they craved, bisexuality was used as a one-size-fits-all sexuality for the companions.
Despite this, the inclusion of alternative sexualities at all is a step in the right direction.
David Gaider, the creator of Dragon Age, has admitted that “making a romance available for both genders is far less costly than creating an entirely new one” and that there were probably issues in the implementation of this system. To have a large game developer trying things which are consciously inclusive is part of the reason why Bioware is so well liked and Gaider has gone on record stating that the romances in Dragon Age aren’t specifically tailored toward straight male gamers, but instead has staunchly defended that the romances in the games are for everyone.
Baby steps are okay though. We can handle some missteps to get things right. Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third instalment in the Dragon Age series, has been heralded and praised for its diversity in terms of sexualities and also its progressive gender politics.
Are video games and representation perfect?
No, far from it, but there are attempts to grow as a medium which should be applauded. There is no doubt that bisexuality as a middle option is not a fair representation of bisexuals, but if I’m going to be honest, I would take that over exclusive heterosexuality or alternative sexualities trotted out like they’re a joke (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy VII).
In general, we’re moving in a positive direction toward further inclusivity, but to truly be an inclusive medium, video games will have to learn to leave the stereotypes and shortcuts behind them.
It’s hard, I know. Growing up is tough, but we’ve all got to do it.
Image credit: Grand Theft Auto, Dragon Age