Published on September 1st, 2016 | by David


Video Games Start to Deal With Gender Issues.


The issue of gender identity and LGBT expression has become a hot topic in video gaming communities recently.  We hope that the issues of disability will soon have the spotlight focused on them too.  In this great article the NYT explains how LGBT characters have been treated in the realm of video gaming.

“We want the game to provoke an emotional response and convey a deliberate message,” said Edward John, one of its developers, who asked for his last name to be omitted, citing safety concerns from those who might oppose the game. “In the game, there is no ‘winning,’ a metaphor for the current state of Iraq,” he said.

Some of these games may raise a ruckus among gamers who operate within the toxic subcultures of the industry, kindling controversies over gender and other issues. But at their most powerful, such games can also move people to take action on their own behalf.

Dr. Robert Schloss, a former shipboard physician in the United States Navy Medical Corps, came out to his commanding officers in 2007 after playing the original Sims game. The Sims, released 16 years ago, was one of the first video games to allow characters of the same sex to have a sexual relationship.

At the time, the United States military operated under the ” don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibited gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the armed forces from openly disclosing their sexual orientation. So Dr. Schloss found an outlet for his identity in the game, creating four male characters, who were in two couples, and having them live in the same virtual house.

“The more I played the game and experienced that possibility for life in an alternative universe, the more I wanted to make that a reality for myself,” said Dr. Schloss, 41, who was granted an honorable discharge from the Navy Medical Corps in 2007 and is now an assistant professor of clinical radiology at a New York hospital.

Other games have followed the example set by The Sims. Fallout 2, in 1998, and Fable, in 2004, allowed same-sex marriage between characters. BioWare’s role-playing games Mass Effect, in 2007, and Dragon Age, in 2009, introduced L.G.B.T. characters. More recently, the acclaimed PlayStation 3 action adventure game The Last of Us, released in 2013, featured a gay teenage protagonist.

Rachel Franklin, the vice president of Maxis, the Electronic Arts studio behind The Sims, said, “It has always been important to us to provide our players with powerful ways to express themselves and tell a wide range of stories – whether they’re customizing their Sims’ age, skin color or gender.”

Justin Mahboubian-Jones, 28, who lives in London, said he found that games helped him come out in 2004. While he first self-identified as gay as a teenager, the thought of telling his religious parents scared him.

At the time, he was a regular player of the game Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, which had an online multiplayer mode that let players customize their avatars and connect with other players from around the world, resulting in a diverse community of all ages, genders and sexual orientations. Mr. Mahboubian-Jones began talking to players who openly identified as gay.

“Just being able to talk to other gay gamers relieved a lot of that internal pressure and let me normalize walking and talking in the shoes of a gay man,” he said.

Jesse Fox, an assistant professor in the School of Communication at Ohio State University who studies how online interactions influence people’s offline attitudes, found that avatars can powerfully affect how people act in the real world. In a series of studies she conducted from 2009 through 2013, she saw that participants responded better to avatars modeled on their real appearances, as opposed to generic-looking avatars.

This is linked to what is known as the Proteus effect, a concept introduced in 2007 by the Stanford researchers Nick Yee and Jeremy Bailenson, who concluded that the appearance of a person’s online avatar had a significant impact on his or her behavior, in and out of a virtual environment. In one study, participants who were assigned a more attractive avatar in a virtual environment were found to exhibit more confidence and intimacy in the real world than those assigned to a less attractive avatar.

“This tells us that avatars can change our behaviors,” Ms. Fox said. “They allow us to practice and test out certain behaviors in a virtual world.”

Ms. Durkee said this was true for her. Before her transition, she began playing The Sims in 2001 and found comfort in being able to live vicariously through the female characters.

“When I was younger, I always wanted to play games as a female character, even before I knew why,” she said. “I can’t fathom how different my life would be if I were exposed to positive representation of trans people at a young age.”


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