Thursday, October 6, 2011

LGBTQ game design knife fight!

Okay, I exaggerate. But I'm of the mind that conflict is often productive.

I wrote about "A Closed World" more than a month ago, but only now is it garnering coverage from the larger gay establishment like The Advocate. Recently, Anna Anthropy more or less openly denounced the game with a scathing game parody of it, and Christine Love wrote about her own thoughts here. The general consensus seems to be, "yes, at worst, this is a diluted and facile expression of what being queer is like" and "mumble mumble, design by committee is slow and awful," but with some disagreement on what that all means. (And I took a bit of offense with the grumbling against games academia, but whatever.)

If I had to articulate the issue, I'd say it's whether it would be "good" if A Closed World were the public face of LGBTQ-themed game design. Leigh Alexander argues that no one else has made anything nearly as accessible for people who weren't already indoctrinated in queer theory, nor made anything and explicitly branded their stuff as a "queer game." Anna disagrees -- and I won't paraphrase her reasoning, because as Leigh explains, Anna's opinions defy paraphrasing.

As for me, I don't want a public face of LGBTQ games at all. I don't want to write a column in a gay mag about how homophobia on Xbox Live sucks and we're all victims. I don't want The Advocate or GLAAD or some other mouthpiece of the gay establishment trying to assimilate my voice into theirs because they will totally win. (Fortunately, no one reads The Advocate or cares about GLAAD, so I guess I'm safe for now.)

I don't want a "queer games" movement because I look at the supposedly gay-themed media around me, all the books / reality shows / low-budget softcore pornography, and cringe at most of it. As art, as entertainment, as stories -- they all focus on agenda at the price of design or craft, or perhaps they're all just hell-bent on defying that stereotype of gay people being naturally artistic -- so much so that when there's that rare, decently crafted movie with gay characters out there, everyone goes nuts for it.

But a lot of my reaction is motivated by good ol' fashioned selfish fear. I'm afraid of being overshadowed and consumed by what A Closed World represents. (See? I'm not jealous. I'm just afraid!)

Instead of, "isn't Radiator that crappy HL2 mod that isn't fun?" I'm afraid that people will start saying, "isn't Radiator that gay mod? Well, I already played A Closed World, so I won't bother touching that." I know the reaction because that's exactly what I think when I see that dreaded "gay" tag on Netflix. I ignore it and the deafening mediocrity that "gay" now represents. The instant there's a genre label, you have to begin all-out warfare to control how people perceive that label. So why not just avoid genre altogether, or at least try as hard as we can to do so?

At the end of her post, Christine Love says it's unfortunate her work didn't fulfill that role, that urgently-to-be-filled template of a mainstream, easily-digestible genre game about queer issues.

To which I respond: it's poor form to compliment yourself, Ms. Love, but I'll allow it.