Sexual Minorities in Games
I’m old enough to remember when sexual minorities in media were never talked about. Anybody wise to sexuality in the 60’s knew that Uncle Arthur on Bewitched was gay but it never got mentioned in the show itself. It wasn’t until a show called Soap came on in the early 80’s that broke the sexuality taboo and featured an openly gay character played by not gay actor Billy Crystal.
Still it took a while for more openly gay characters to appear in TV and movies, unfortunately many times as the antagonist — often because of their sexuality. Pretty much all positive portrayals throughout the 80’s and 90’s were also stereotypes. Gay men were always effeminate, lesbians were always “Tom Boys”, and transgenders were portrayed as deceitful (The Crying Game) and/or just scary (Silence of the Lambs).
Gay and lesbian characters are pretty much mainstream these days, and portrayed as “normal” people, because they are. It took a good 40 years or so to get that way. There are still bad transgender stereotypes floating around, but shows like Sense 8, Supergirl and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are starting to catch on and do it right.
I bring this up because there are other sexual minorities that don’t get as much attention. One of them is asexuality. It’s going through the same phase that gays and lesbians went through in the 80’s and 90’s. Literary asexual characters like Sherlock Holmes and Jughead Jones get hetero-normalized in TV and Movie portrayals, and the tiny representation of asexuals is either stereotypically naive like Todd on Bojack Horseman, or stereotypically cold and unemotional like Raphael on Shadowhunters. Still it’s something.
Rachel Spahr the Asexual
If you played my third game Rachel Meets Ariane, you know that Rachel is canonically asexual.
This can be confusing to many as Rachel has a sexual fetish, and you can have sex with her in Something’s In The Air if you are willing to indulge that fetish. The confusion mostly comes over the definition of asexuality: Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction for any gender.
That’s it, that’s the whole definition. Sexual drive (aka sexual libido) has nothing to do with it. Some asexuals are romantic, some are aromantic. Some masturbate, some don’t. Some have fetishes, some don’t. Some are willing to have sex to please their romantic partner, some are uncomfortable with it no matter what. Asexuality is not the same as celibacy, and it is not a medical condition or a mental disorder to be “cured”. It is simply a sexual orientation.
Here’s a video with more info:
The trouble with making games or any media with asexual characters is because of all the common myths associated with the orientation. The general population doesn’t understand it.
If you make a character asexual, or if you mention asexuality in fiction, you have to be very careful to get it right, and not perpetuate the myths.
An example of a negative spin
Part of the reasons for this essay, is that asexuality has appeared in two very recent popular video games. One does it wrong, one does it right.
The poor example from Death Stranding from Kojima Productions, where we get this text as part of the backstory:
This is an example of a game maker completely misinterpreting the definition of asexuality, resulting in them making asexuality as one of the causes of the fall of civilization.
Kojima productions is based in Japan, which currently has a problem with decreasing birth rates to the point now where a third of the population of Japan is now over the age of 60. This is largely due to economic causes as people of child bearing age don’t have the economic means to have families. We are starting to see this in America as the Millennial generation who are now in their prime child bearing age are not having very many children — mostly because they can’t afford it.
Death Stranding is a sci-fi post apocalyptic game, and it’s reality does not need to match our reality, but to say the decline in births is due to the increase in asexuality is not only unrealistic, but rather offensive to the asexual community.
As a fan of the sci-fi genre, a sharply declining population is an interesting premise. I consider Children of Men to be one of the best sci-fi movies, and it uses that as a premise. Specifically it uses a sudden drop in human fertility as a cause for declining population.
I could see a lack of interest in sex as a probable cause as well , but it would logically be due to environmental causes that drop sexual libido. Libido can be controlled by drugs, or can change in environments or with diet, so a sudden decline in sex due to changing sexual libido is a theoretical possibility.
But as I pointed out above, sexual libido has nothing to do with asexuality. In fact it is one of most prevalent false myths about asexuality that leads to its misunderstanding.
An example of a positive spin
Coincidentally in the last few weeks, we had the first triple A title to come out with an asexual major character. I’m talking about The Outer Worlds by Obsidian Entertainment.
Like many of the better RPG games, there are a number of companions you can recruit to your cause and fight along side you. The first one you are likely to meet, is Parvati, voiced by Ashly Burch (Life is Strange, Horizon Zero Dawn) a female Engineer who is very useful, and also very charming and funny to the point where she is pretty much most player’s favorite. She is also a biromantic asexual character.
Her sexuality really isn’t relevant, because unlike Dragon Age or Mass Effect, this RPG doesn’t have any romance plots, but occasional positive mainstream representation to help get rid of persistent myths is all the asexual community is asking for.
Other minor sexualities
My interest in this is somewhat personal. As I mentioned before, I’m an Aromantic. It is an orientation often associated with asexuality because it involves missing attractions, I’m missing romantic attraction instead of sexual attraction, but the communities are closely linked, because we often deal with the same prejudices and relationship problems.
But where asexuality is finally starting to get some positive representation, aromantics, demisexuals, non-binaries, agenders and many other minor queer orientations are still waiting.
We have our “Uncle Arthur”s, like Mick Rory from DC’s Legends of Tomorrow who shows all the tell tale signs of aromanticism, but no mention of his orientation on the show. They even gave Mick a hobby of writing erotic romantic fiction last season, a surprisingly common trait among us aromantics, yours truly being a real life example.
Representation is important to us all, especially accurate, positive, and non-stereotypical representation. I’m not just talking sexual orientation, but race, nationality, religion, and any other category that often divides us.
It is important to break barriers to understanding each other without prejudice. Popular media, whether it be books, movies, TV, comics, or video games, has proven to be the best way to do it. We are human and enjoy human stories. Seeing different kinds of humans in these stories helps us understand our commonalities.
Thanks Ariane, While I enjoy your games. I find your posts equally informative and interesting. I think my personal experiences would make for an interesting and intellectually challenging character. While serving as an officer in the USAF I commanded units prior to the days of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. I often had to make difficult decisions while trying be fair to the individual and still stay within the regulations. Thank goodness the military has moved beyond that narrow concept of acceptability. But I fear it would not take much for the old guard to drag us back into the dark ages. Good luck in you efforts to enlighten and entertain. As an educator I know people learn best when they are having fun. I look forward to your next release. All the best. Christopher S. Daria, Major,USAF(ret)