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Ubi writer: Sales fears make gay protagonists unlikely

Ubi writer: Sales fears make gay protagonists unlikely

Fri 28 Feb 2014 11:34am GMT / 6:34am EST / 3:34am PST
Development

Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon's Lucien Soulban gives a candid take on homosexual characters in AAA games

Ubisoft Montreal writer Lucien Soulban has addressed the issue of gay characters in games, citing a fear of sale numbers as the reason we're yet to have a gay hero or heroine in a blockbuster title.

"When are we going to see that gay protagonist in a AAA game? Not for a while, I suspect, because of fears that it'll impact sales," he said on the Ubisoft blog.

"So either we'll see a bait-and-switch like the original Metroid with Samus Aran where we'll find out damn near after the fact (PS: And Dumbledore was gay), or it'll come out of left field with Rockstar, Valve, Naughty Dog or Telltale, perhaps. But when it happens, I hope it's a serious take on it and not played up for jokes."

He praised franchises like Mass Effect, Fable, or Dragon Age and Skyrim, the gay characters in Borderlands 2, for their "quiet" addition of gay characters.

"Videogames have stopped 'announcing' gay characters. They're introducing them without much fanfare in an effort to say, Yeah, it's there and pretty normal. Call it: We're here, we're queer, and we're busy working."

Soulban has worked as a writer on a varied portfolio of games including Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts and High School Musical GBA. He was BAFTA nominated for his work on Far Cry 3 and has been lead writer at Ubisoft Montreal since February 2010.

22 Comments

Shehzaan Abdulla
Translator

124 243 2.0
I'm not really sure how this is going to work. Minorities (by definition) are....well, the exact opposite of the mass market. And the mass market is where all the media attention and big plays are.

If an inroad or trend can be made I'd imagine the rising indies are the place it will happen.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 28th February 2014 2:03pm

Posted:7 months ago

#1

Omar C.
Programmer

2 0 0.0
Gone Home did great, you could argue that the main character isn't the one you play yourself.

Posted:7 months ago

#2

William Usher
Assistant Editor

42 33 0.8
@Shehzaan, It's already a trend in the indie sector, with a number of games tackling the subject matter from varying perspectives. However, as you mentioned, it's a much smaller sector than the mainstream, and if you go by the average gamer they aren't always too fond of the subject.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by William Usher on 28th February 2014 5:01pm

Posted:7 months ago

#3

James Berg
Games User Researcher

164 209 1.3
Popular Comment
Personally, I'd see victory in this regard when a gay protagonist isn't even mentioned, it's just how the character is created/written. Cortez in Mass Effect 3 is a great example imo - his main character feature is that he's a badass pilot, and routinely saves your character from tight spots. Also, he happens to be gay, but he's not defined by that.

Posted:7 months ago

#4

Jasmine Henry
Freelance Journalist

4 8 2.0
Popular Comment
@Shehzaan, @William, The stats aren't perfect on LGBTQ people (apparently 1 in 10 people are gay but that likely only accounts for people who identify as gay and not bi/queer and are out) but 'minorities' in general should be supported because they aren't technically minorities at all.

47% of gamers are women and 51% of the world's population are women and there are more people of colour than white people in the world yet both are misrepresented by games because devs aren't willing to try the relatively untested market of those who might appreciate the inclusion.

I also think it's wrong to say that the "average gamer [isn't] always too fond of the subject" because again stats show that public opinion is in favour of gay rights and it's pretty unlikely that a majority of people are anything more than garden variety misogynists/racists and therefore won't be too bothered by diversity of protagonists (and if these people are as ignorant enough to avoid buying games altogether, why would we want to pander to them?).

I really think that it's just a case of ignorant people being more vocal and devs somewhat giving into them for fear of the backlash.

Posted:7 months ago

#5

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

447 692 1.5
Let's ask this question in a year. We've got a gay NBA athlete and soon to be a gay NFL player now, and so far, there are no reports of them making their locker rooms gay, or ravenously attacking their teammates sexually in the showers. I think once people realize that, the tides will turn.

Posted:7 months ago

#6

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
I think the best way to put gay characters in games is simply to not make a big deal or sensationalize the fact that they are gay, as with everything else. And if you want to make a gay specific game it comes down to how many people you think will buy it. i quit liked the character of Cortez in ME3. And while the game wasnt specific towards gay people it had just enough to please the gay crowd. And wether that character was gay or not It had nothing to do because he was actually a very cool character. And while making a gay specific game is fine, i think its just as good to incorperate gay elements to games that are not gay specific, but have just enough to cater too and satisfy the needs of differant demographic groups of people. So while it would be nice to make a gay specific game, its just as nice to simply incorporate just enough elements gay people can enjoy in any game.

Likewise if these elements become popular, lets say a character like Cortez becomes popular. It can warrent the creation of a game featuring cortez or gay topics as the main drive of the game. But on a financial side, its suicide to experiment with games if you dont know if they can sell. But you can sprinkle elements of these games around hoping one becomes popular to warrent a seperate game.

You can also use DLC, you can take a game and take a gay character and create DLC around them that caters more to the gay crowd. Leilana's Song DLC for Dragon Age: Origines is a good example of that. So there are ways to do it without having to take a huge risk.

Posted:7 months ago

#7

Thomas Dolby
Project Manager / Lead Programmer

340 291 0.9
@James Berg
Cortez was the first thing that came to my mind as well. It was handled so well that I had to do a double take at the subtitles when I heard him mention it in conversation. It was subtle, it wasn't a character defined by his sexuality, it was a normal person who happened to be gay. That's the way I wished everyone would treat homosexuality, it's just there and it's normal, there shouldn't need to be debates about whether it's sin, it shouldn't need to be paraded about, it should just exist as another difference that human beings have.

I for one hope we don't see a game where the fact that the main character is gay becomes a selling point.

Posted:7 months ago

#8

Andrzej Wroblewski
Localization Generalist

103 78 0.8
Since we're talking about minority rights, I'll give you my usual tantrum.

Why aren't there dendrophiles in any games? And why isn't anyone protesting in advance about the potential controversy of players having intercourse with knobby trees? That's disgustingly discriminating and negligent!

Posted:7 months ago

#9

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

877 1,279 1.5
Wahey, and there's your big weekender...

Posted:7 months ago

#10

Brook Davidson
Artist / 3D design

82 220 2.7
I say just put characters in with different personalities, and just make it as natural as possible. There is no need to go out of the way to make sure people know which characters are gay. The only way a character should really bring this up is if it's necessary to the story or just a little tid bit of info like if you are specifically asking the character or something like that.

Basically just like many here are saying. Don't let being gay define the character. That is always a bad way to do things and you just end sometimes insulting a lot of people lol.

Posted:7 months ago

#11

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,178 967 0.8
Videogames have stopped 'announcing' gay characters. They're introducing them without much fanfare in an effort to say, Yeah, it's there and pretty normal.
That's how it should be really, but I'm not surprised its taken some time.

As story telling in games matures, as well as the industry and consumer attitudes towards what it means to 'have a gay protagonist', we can start exploring how sexuality may (or may not) affect the life, relationships and outlooks of such characters in the worlds they appear.

Sexuality, Religion, Race and other things could potentially be used in very interesting ways in video game story telling. But we still need to move further past the stage where people are scared to approach these subjects.

Posted:7 months ago

#12

Paul Jace
Merchandiser

935 1,410 1.5
That's how it should be really, but I'm not surprised its taken some time.

As story telling in games matures, as well as the industry and consumer attitudes towards what it means to 'have a gay protagonist', we can start exploring how sexuality may (or may not) affect the life, relationships and outlooks of such characters in the worlds they appear.

Sexuality, Religion, Race and other things could potentially be used in very interesting ways in video game story telling. But we still need to move further past the stage where people are scared to approach these subjects.
As usual I agree with everything you said Adam. But I'd like it to be taken even further than that. Earlier this week there was a story here on GI about female characters not being the lead for similiar reasons. I think in the future, games should not only give people the option of being a male or female protagonist but also(when it's relevant) allowing you to pick their sexual preference. Now this wouldn't work for ALL games(which is why I said when it's relevant) but if it could easily be worked out in the story(for instance a Star Wars game where your main goal is to save the universe or whatever, but because you chose a specific sexual preference your love interest would be either male or female...or both if you like to roll like that, instead of the default female love interest).

Anyway, thats just a suggestion I had. I could see how it wouldn't always work but I'm sure a really good writer could incorporate it in a way that flowed fairly natural with the overarching main game storyline. To the point where it doesn't even stand out because it's just another piece of the story.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 1st March 2014 2:35am

Posted:7 months ago

#13

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,193 1,170 0.5
http://www.um.com.au/spaceout/ respectfully disagrees. This actually looks like fun... NICHE as hell, but fun...

Posted:7 months ago

#14

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

288 190 0.7
Popular Comment
@Andrzej
That is incorrect. Heroes of Might & Magic V (Nival) in the 2nd or 3rd Chapter of the campaign you play the Demonic side and fight against the Elves which are referred to as "tree shagging pixies". See even dendrophilia Has been represented in video games.

Posted:7 months ago

#15
gay male characters and gay themes are a selling point, in and of themselves, in the way they appeal to women and a female audience You can even put it in more general terms: queer themes appeal to women in general.

You just need to throw a cursory glance at the anime industry to see how almost every mainstream anime, and many other animes as well, feature gay characters and gay/queer themes: everything from Sailor Moon, Fushigi Yuugi, Future Diary, Gintama to Dragon Ball, One Piece and Bleach. The last three examples are all mainstream animes that are aimed at teenage boys as their primary target audience. Of course they have acquired huge female fan bases as well and no wonder when the gay themes employed in these animes are really upfront and used in full knowledge of their appeal to women. (this is fan service on the same level as the use of cleavage and similar in the same animes, so you can do both!)

I just wanted to point out that these things, mainstream + gay characters, are not mutually exclusive in any way. My take on it is that the game market is quite ready for more minorities to appear within games, also center stage as protagonists. I think there are quite a bit of gamers that do like this option and who are outraged when those few titles that actually do include some kind of same-sex relationship have that taken from them, as in the example of Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar http://venturebeat.com/2010/06/21/harvest-moon-and-same-sex-relationships/

Edited 13 times. Last edit by Katarina Glantz on 4th March 2014 7:25am

Posted:7 months ago

#16

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

817 652 0.8
@Andrzej
Please tell me you have not compared a pedophile with a homosexual...

@Katarina: "You can even put it in more general terms: queer themes appeal to women in general"
That apply to mean an lesbian related content in a more explicit way. There is a full genre of porn out there after all.

Posted:7 months ago

#17

Andrew Goodchild
Studying development

1,253 418 0.3
I'm pretty sure the same argument goes for Hollywood, but then Brokeback Mountain and Philadelphia managed to win Oscars and make money.
I guess once an indiie title with a gay lead sells 2 million, bigger projects may be considered.

Posted:7 months ago

#18

Benjamin Crause
Supervisor Central Support

82 38 0.5
Now that it is cleared that my post had to be delete because of technical issues (it was invisible) I'll try again. xD

I agree that at the moment it is unlikely to have a stronger gay lead character. Some games have made steps forward here and I applaud them for it. But again this is a sales discussion and sales people and investors want to address the so called majority. It is the same discussion like female lead characters. Over the past few years the situation improved. Its not something that could change over night. It takes many steps and gladly we see improvements on almost all sides.

Indie developers can much easier step into this field because they have much more freedom and I feel they are much more open to new ideas, challenging common believes and they do actually help to evolve the gaming industry.

That doesn't mean we forcefully need to adapt sexuality in any way into a game. But if the context of a game and its setting fits then nothing should hold writers and developers back from delivering the best story telling and gaming experience. Context is the key here. To slap the gay label on a character just for hells sake will benefit no one.

Posted:7 months ago

#19

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