When will games have more same-sex romances that deal with the issues of actually starting and being in a same-sex relationship? It was fairly early on that I learned about coding in public spaces to let others know I was queer. It became fairly simple because I was already coded as other due to an early childhood accent, lack of care concerning my mannerisms, and the fact that I liked ‘girly’ things at a young age with no thought nor care.
While I am fairly liberal and sex positive in my public persona, I find there are some things I just don’t discuss. One of those things is the fact that I stopped counting how many people I’ve slept with around 200 or so for two reasons. First, it created a game-like air to it where I was constantly trying to up my ‘score,’ and second, it made me feel like I was making people notches on my proverbial headboard, dehumanizing an experience I rather enjoy. I didn’t care about the number so much as about the experience, so to tally up seemed rather pointless.
Plus, I am lazy, and in MSM culture (men who sleep with men), there is plenty of opportunity for sex.
Which is why when I played my closeted Shepard, I was at once both amused that the conversations with Kaidan in Mass Effect 1 could be read as a game of coded language, and frustrated that by the time I reached Mass Effect 3, while there was some acknowledgement of the trepidation Kaidan and Shepard felt, I largely kept asking questions of where the queer culture was.
I mean, in a world where full equality exists, would queer culture need to signal to itself?
Dependent on numbers, it always seemed to me like it would in some way or another; unless there is parity in how many queer people are at an event, that seems like it would be an awfully frustrating affair. Hence: Grindr, Scruff, Jack’d, Adam4Adam, and any number of sites and apps seeking to profit off MSM who want to find others for dating, fucking, or just idle chatting.
Recently I picked up Jaime Woo’s Meet Grindr, which seeks to examine how the queer male world of signalling to other MSM has found its way into the apps we use on our mobile devices. Beyond the fact that there is a replacement for the hanky code, there is the simple fact that queer men have always found a way to discreetly signal to each other when in primarily heteronormative spaces, or even just busy ones. Mixed in with Woo’s observations are the fact that the entire endeavor can feel a bit like a game.
Choose an avatar, put in your stats, think up a clever approach, and then go at it! Grinding at Grindr is a Sunday afternoon many queer men I know can attest to in some form or another, even down to the script. If one thinks perhaps game dialog can be a bit simple, one has never been through the all too-common litany of:
Me: How goes?
Him: not much. bored, lol.
In Mass Effect, the stories Kaidan told me felt intimate. The tone of voice and the body language felt like he was holding himself back from leaning in and kissing my closeted Shepard. His story of being a misunderstood youth felt far too familiar, and most such stories run parallel in my mind to my experience of realizing I was gay. It seemed coded for my interpretation that he was hitting on me.
A few months back I found myself in a lad’s bed. He was nestled next to me, his head on my shoulder, as we chatted the night away, post-sexual encounter. He’d messaged me late in the evening on Adam4Adam, though he’d not had any pictures of himself. After a few more messages back and forth, half-heartedly talking about the banal, before discussing the anal, he’d sent me his pictures, and I decided to hop on over to his place. Cuddled up next to me, he started asking about my boyfriend, whom I’d told about the encounter before leaving my apartment. It struck me that this was not at all the life I was told I should want when I envisioned growing up to marry a wife, have kids, and buying a house.
Instead, I had expressly logged on to Adam4Adam that evening for sex. I had my own stat card readily visible, and sought out someone compatible. Safer sex? Check. I found him personally attractive? Yes. Equal expectations of what would happen in the bedroom? Check. I’m sure stats were calculated on both ends, pictures gauged, and that slight wonder at what the experience would be like. And as we talked on his sex-tossed sheets, it seemed the most normal thing in the world that we’d giggle about the condoms on the dresser before discussing some Starcraft II. This is an opportunity afforded me that I don’t have in games yet.
Mass Effect, for as much as I liked the romance with Kaidan, could not afford me this luxury of divorcing sex and romance, and yet not allowing my ethically slutty behavior to be just a collectible card game. The guy lying with me was a person, we were having conversation, and the sex was quite enjoyable. I would then talk about it to my boyfriend while on my way back to my place, and he would check him out on A4A. This is a language we share, a culture we know.
It seems to me that any time a demographic is in the minority, even if it is just in number and all other things being equal, there will be a culture that is created.
There will be neighborhoods, there will be behaviors, there will be signifiers. As much as I love seeing more and more games adding same-sex options, or simply acknowledging that such exists, I wonder when we’ll see more specifically acknowledgement of queer culture that aren’t just a limp-wristed, femme stereotype (and hey, have more of those too, alongside a range of characters).
Because one thing that strikes me about how MSM is treated in culture is how the sex of the culture is often either cleaned up and hidden away, or taken to such an extreme (leather bars! orgies! kink of all sorts!) Not every queer man out there engages in the sexual part of the culture, and those that do are not into all of the kinkier aspects of it, but it is there, and to leave it unacknowledged seems almost quaint. It means I often stare at these characters, or my romantic options, and see one aspect of my culture, the fact that I love dudes in a romantic way, acknowledged, and then another aspect completely ignored: the fact that I have sex with many dudes and engage in signalling in varying fashions with them.
Same-sex marriage and having relationships is all well and good, but I am at that intersection of waiting for games to acknowledge not only queer culture more often, but to acknowledge sex in that culture in a way that doesn’t make my partners all part of the commodity model of sex. Just giving me a queer version of The Witcher is not what I’m seeking.