‘I Now Pronounce You…’ – Geek Culture And The Right To Marriage

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11066634_1607636129468469_225229923672939122_nOn May 22nd those registered to vote and living in Ireland will have the opportunity to vote on whether or not the country will recognise same-sex marriage, it will be the 34th amendment to the Irish constitution. No doubt if you’re living in Ireland you will have  heard about it at this stage, you’ll have heard the arguments for and against the proposed changes, your social media newsfeeds crammed with posts from friends, links to articles or podcasts arguing both sides. At some point, you’ve probably gotten fed up with it, the fear has always been there that the voters would grow apathetic about the issue or worse vote against purely because the current parties in government are pushing the agenda so hard.

You might find yourself resolved to just stay out of it – you’re not gay so why should it matter? This isn’t an argument about weddings and vows, certificates or ceremonies, at it’s core this is an issue of equality and try as you might there is no getting away from that.

Over the last few years gay characters and subsequently same sex couples have had an increase in the media and it’s not limited to video games or even books; comics, cartoons and movies are becoming more inclusive of same-sex relationships and you might as well accept the fact that they’re not going to go away.

So that means everything is okay and since we’ve got gay marriage in games, people are just going to accept it, right?

Well, short answer, no!

This is something new for people to digest and get used to, so that’s why it’s going to take some time?

No! That’s not true either!moonmist1

Gay characters and gay couples have a long history of depiction across all media, not all of which has been positive. It’s generally accepted that the first same-sex couple depicted in a game was in the early 1980s – Vivian Pentreath and Deirdre, characters in Infocom’s game Moonmist. Deirdre leaves Vivian for a man whom she gets engaged to until  she winds up dead, the circumstances which are left open for speculation – murder, suicide or accidental.

The argument could be made that to be included even in a negative way is still better than to not be included at all but the relationship is never fully explored and it paints a rather dark image of LGBT couples.

Depiction of gay people would continue on from this point, trans characters were traps baiting heroes into comical or sinister situations, gay men were effeminate snarling muscles consumed by sex set to prey on the protagonist and h3lesbians didn’t exist or were sexualized objects for their male audience. Comics also began to start featuring more gay characters but only if they were trying to sexually assault Bruce Banner in a YMCA gymnasium (Hulk #23, 1980) or Northstar being influenced into homosexuality after meeting a ‘special friend’, whom his sister Aurora believed had warped her brother’s way of thinking (Alpha Flight #7-8, 1984). Television shows and movies didn’t do anything else to better things at the time, gay relationships were never explored and most shows that depicted homosexuality were boycotted by advertisers and fans alike.

These examples are reflective of how LGBT people and couples were seen at the time by society in large and as time went on, slowly the sensationalism that surrounded the subject of equality and civil rights for the gay community died down and acceptance grew. That change wouldn’t really be reflected in video games until the early 2000s, where there certainly was an increase in gay characters but the same tired old tropes were rehashed. Northstar-Comes-Out-580x345Comics on the other hand began to change their message, DC’s Constantine, who would later be outed as bisexual in a 2002 arc, actively targeted gay-bashers after they attacked his friends, Marvel’s Northstar finally came out in Alpha Flight #106 but we were still missing any real depiction and exploration of gay relationships which up to this point were only ever given a brief nod.

Then came 2001 and Maxis, a now defunct subsidiary of Electronic Arts, released the game that would be a catalyst for change, shattering the mold developers and publishers had established nearly two decades previous. The Sims, the game that allowed players to create their own world, and their own people, varios sexualities included. The advert for the game also featured an openly bisexual man flirting with a woman before turning his attention to a man at the club.

The last fifteen years have seen a huge amount of change in the way not only gay characters are depicted in movies, games, comics or TV shows but also the theme of gay relationships are explored more openly. Marvel’s Young Avengers feature a young couple, Wiccan and Hulking on a team that is nearly all made up of members from the LGBT community. axm51coverThree years ago Northstar, the character who came out in 1992, married his fiancé Kyle. The couple were married in Astonishing X-Men #51, with the cover of the comic featuring the pair holding hands at the altar surrounded by friends and family.

DC made similar steps forward when, in 2006, a new Batwoman incarnation, Kate Kane, became the publisher’s most prominent out superhero, though it hasn’t exactly smooth sailing as DC stopped Kate’s wedding to her fiancé Maggie Sawyer, a Gotham city police officer, in 2013. The company explained it had nothing to do with the same-sex marriage debate but more to do with the story. According to reports, DC’s Dan DiDio explained at a convention in Baltimore that “Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests.” That same year though it should be noted that DC took anti-gay marriage activist Orson Scott Card on-board to write a Superman story!

Same-sex marriages were also introduced into video games, Maxis took their fun-loving Sims one step further allowing same-sex couples to have ‘Joined Unions’ in the Sims 2 released in 2004 and ‘Marriage’ in the Sims 3 released in 2009 – a rather optimistic metaphor for the Irish gay community (Decriminalization of Homosexuality > Civil Partnerships > Marriage?). Other games began to adopt same-sex relationships, most notably the Fable series where your character was able to choose who they would marry or have sex with, series like Mass Effect and Dragon Age would also feature gay characters and afford the players the option to play a character and develop a relationship with another character. Gone Home is an interactive story game that follows a woman named Kaitlin who has returned to her family home to find no one there and the player must unravel the story surrounding Kaitlin’s sister Samantha and her girlfriend Lonnie.

You’d be forgiven for assuming, or at the very least hoping, with all these moves toward equality and fairness, honest and human depictions of gay relationships that the audiences attitudes would have changed too but behind the pages, pixels and screens there are people who still struggle to accept and lash out against these couples and characters.

OMM Comics Fable Gay Marriage Dragon Age Inquisition(click to enlarge)

Thankfully however, for every voice of dissent there are ten more asking for equal and fair representation, ten more demanding the same treatment and depiction as heterosexual couples. Readers, audiences and players who love and respect characters and couples like Korra and Asami, Bubblegum and Marceline, Hulking and Wiccan.

These people and characters are all helping to change the way we look at and react to same-sex couples but it’s down to their creators, producers, writers, artists and developers who push for their stories to be told, for their love to recognized as the same – no lesser or no greater than their heterosexual counterparts.

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This isn’t a trend, it isn’t a phase, this is what fairness and equality looks like – it looks the same as you and what you have, you and who you love.

On May 22nd you’re being asked to vote on whether or not the Irish constitution will recognize same-sex marriage but you’re really being asked do you think same-sex relationships are equal to straight relationships? Vote YES for equality!

Declan Doody

I eat, sleep and breathe this stuff! Mostly sleep! Contact: editor@the-arcade.ie

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