So since a friend of mine (Todd Harper) wrote an Open Letter to Riot concerning the ambiguous sexuality of Taric, which was then picked up by Kotaku, I feel like jumping on the “come out of the closet” bandwagon, namely because Todd’s best point wasn’t echoed on Kotaku’s page.
And let me tell you, that last logic — “Why you gotta politicize our fun fantasy vidyagame” — gets on my nerves with a vengeance. A wink-and-a-nod character is already political; in fact, it’s deploying the epistemology of the closet as a politic right off the bat.
This, as regular readers will know, is one of my biggest pet peeves – the idea that entertainment isn’t already somehow inherently political. The idea that games are “just games” and don’t have any value or influence in the “real world” of politics, people, and perception. Because they do – videogames do, television does, movies do – and the influence they have is perhaps all the more important and powerful because we don’t see it happening.
Today I read a student paper about Modern Family and how its depiction of a same-sex couple marrying and adopting a child signifies the changing social mores of our country. Yes, and no. It does indicate change, but it also is attempting to positively reinforce that change. And that’s what Riot isn’t doing by keeping Taric in the proverbial hero closet.
And Todd makes another great point, which I think is as applicable to gendered and racial stereotypes as it is to sexual ones:
part of the great thing about Jann [Walker from Valkyria Chronicles] (and Taric) isn’t just that they’re gay (or, you know, “gay” in quotes) but that they’re also extremely good at their jobs. That last part is really important, because as annoying as it sounds, it’s the key to getting that character buy-in from your probably straight white cismale gamer audience.
In short, the only way to eliminate the kind of bias and bigotry that generally accompanies the inclusion of gay, minority, and female heroes (player-characters or otherwise) – and the inevitable screaming we hear from the “probably straight white cismale gamer audience” about corrupting their precious male power-fantasy games – is to make them valuable. Basically, we need to see in videogames the same things that we want to see in the real world: if you’re good at your job, then it shouldn’t matter what else you are, whether female, gay, lesbian, African American, Asian, Hispanic, atheist, Muslim, or covered in purple and orange tattoos.
While I do think that minorities of all kinds shouldn’t have to prove themselves, I do think that proving one’s worth is a step toward acceptance because it doesn’t demand counter-privilege. Women want equal pay for equal work – not special treatment. Homosexual couples want the right to marry the person they love, not a “special” kind of marriage. Racial minorities want the same opportunities as the majority, not a “free pass.” But because our society is so dominated by the straight white male mentality (and not just from straight white males, I would like to point out), when we go out of our way to promote someone who isn’t straight, white, and/or male, it becomes an issue of “special treatment.”
And that’s what drives me the most batty. Taric is, as Todd points out, a powerful character, whether he’s gay or not. So if he is, let him just be gay. Don’t hide his sexuality for fear of reprisal, but also don’t trumpet it from rooftops with explosions of feathers and glitter while shrieking “look how inclusive we are!” Just let it be what it is, no apologies, no special treatment.