(Note: As these posts may dig a bit into character plot points, these may get a little spoiler-y. While the games involved may be old, I’d feel bad if I didn’t at least offer up a warning!)
Representation has been an issue for a number of folks across just about every media platform: literature, cinema, television and, of course, video games. When I started 3PStart originally, it was in part due to the fact that I didn’t see many folks from minorities present in the community with their work being showcased. That’s obviously somewhat changed since I’ve gotten to know more people from various places on the spectrum of race, sexuality, gender, and a number of other bloggers and content creators that fall into plenty of other categories. I feel fortunate to have come across so many intelligent and open-minded creatives in my travels through this mess we call the Internet.
Given that it’s Pride Month, however, this feels like the perfect time to highlight some of the characters that helped me feel a bit more included in the gaming world. At the heart of gaming and plenty of other mediums, I think a lot of people find characters that they can empathize with. Whether they are main characters or they show up in the periphery of the game’s story, a number of folks- especially those who don’t see their less common attributes on display very often- gravitate toward these characters no matter how prominent they are.
The first time I remember seeing representation that meant something to me was when I played through Quantic Dreams’ Indigo Prophecy. While I was really enjoying the game regardless, it wasn’t until the chapter, Dark Omen, that I felt a strong connection to the title. The main characters were interesting and the story was easy enough to dive into. I didn’t realize I could get more connected to the game as a whole, though, until a scene where Carla Valenti, the female protagonist, has a sit-down with her best friend, Tommy.
Now, Tommy doesn’t show up much in the game. In fact, Dark Omen is the only chapter he appears in and aside from reading Carla’s tarot cards and making small talk, he does very little but push her characterization forward. When given the opportunity, though, Carla can chat her friend up about his life and goings on. It’s optional and obviously doesn’t have much weight on the plot, but if players pursue these conversations, an interesting tidbit is revealed.
At one point, Carla can ask Tommy if he’s met anyone. At first, this seems to possibly be setting Carla up to be interested in Tommy since we just met him and this is the first interaction we witness between the two. He responds, however, by telling her about a man that he met who seems to be a promising relationship prospect.
As a young homosexual adult in the mid-2000s, this floored me. It was a time when I was really trying to become more comfortable with myself as a human being, let alone with being out about my sexuality. To see this character, minor as he may have been, just having a “private” conversation about his dating status stopped me in my tracks for a minute- and I really do vividly remember that moment in my dorm room at college, sitting on the edge of my bunk bed. I also say “private” with big finger-curving quotes because while the conversation was in his own apartment with his best friend, an entire audience of gamers were listening in. The scope of the moment felt massive to me because while there were other games that were dabbling in the topic, this was my first exposure to this in a video game.
Cliche as it may sound- I felt seen.
After another line about lamenting on the old “society’s come a long way but still has further to go” topic regarding his alternative lifestyle, Tommy’s conversation goes back to Carla and the actual plot. The points aren’t driven in hard, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes, the representation doesn’t have to be overt. Sometimes, heavy-handed attempts can feel contrived and pandering. Not all of them, but like with many topics, if the attempt is strong and mishandled, it can be less than ideal. On the other hand, examples like Tommy may seem too obscured to be considered true representation to some.
For me, the subtlety of Tommy and his conversation was what I needed at the time and it has stuck with me for years. I’m sure plenty of people, no matter their life status, can trace back to when they started feeling empathy with a character (if they even do, as I know handfuls of folks who don’t become that invested). For a lot of us, though, it can be a really special moment, especially for those who feel like outliers in society at times.
There are plenty of positive depictions of various sexualities, genders, and race among other minorities who don’t see a ton of visibility in general. Heck, there are some quality depictions of more commonly seen walks of life that are much more productive and admirable than most. While I’ll surely be adding more of these throughout the month, I’d love to hear from others through posts, comments, or even just on Twitter if you have a character you empathized with that has meant something to you because you simply don’t see characters like them often. Characters resonate with us for different reasons, be it through aesthetic, concept, or otherwise.
Until next time!
– Matt (a.k.a. The3rdPlayer)