Friday, July 6, 2012

Doing It Right: Homosexual Characters


After an one week delay (mostly due to my own laziness and procrastination), we will take one last look at the idea of homosexuality in the artistic medium (or, in the case of this post, video games) with a post called "Doing It Right."  This, of course, will be a series of posts of when a concept or a character correctly uses a trope or perfectly defines all that is involved in the proper characterization of a character with a certain trope.

Let me explain: when creating a character, there are many things you have to worry about.  When concerning the personality of a character, there are three fronts you must face.
  1. What are the traits the character possesses?  Is he/she kind or mean?  Angry or happy?  Gay or straight?  Does he/she put on his or her shirts or pants on first?
  2. How does the world that you have created and that the character lives in respond to the traits the character possesses?  Are the people in your world generally OK with your character and his or her traits?
  3. How does the character react to the world's reaction?
We'll see how all three fronts work in the examples I provide.  But, for now, let's look at some of the times when the video game industry has perfectly written homosexual characters.  (NOTE: I focused on the video game industry because while TV and Movies have numerous well-written homosexual characters, and comic books have several, the video game industry has had a serious problem with writing more varied characters, containing itself to a number of "trope" characters.  Thus, I felt it necessary to highlight the video game's few victories when writing gay characters.)

The first example, from Red Dead Redemption is Vincente De Santa.
Not his best side, I know.
Now, De Santa never openly admits that he is gay, and the character is only left to assume from his actions (a point I emphasized in my last post).  For example, there are many times when he longingly eyes a waiter at his superior's mansion.  There are even times when De Santa is seen with his arm around the young waiter.  HOWEVER, he never admits it, because he knows he would be persecuted and maybe even shot if he did.  (This is Mexico in 1911, people.  Tolerance wasn't exactly a premium.)

However, the people who surround him, both his friends and critics, seem to know of his hidden behavior.  His superior calls him Mariconcito, which roughly translates to "queer."  His critics make jibes about his "secret" behavior.  And De Santa, besides maintaining his silence, always seems slightly perturbed by these comments.

THIS is a character that fulfills all three qualifications I presented.  The trait, of course, is his homosexuality.  In the world presented in the game, the general population is against homosexuality for numerous reasons.  And, in response, De Santa tries to control his urges and maintains his silence about his personality in fear of persecution.  He properly responds his environment in a way that a normal person would.  Especially a person who has another one of his personality traits, cowardice.  

But the best thing about De Santa is that his homosexuality is not the crux of his character.  He is vastly intelligent and even passionate about the affairs in his country.  The fact that he is gay does not affect your interactions with him.  And this is the exact way to handle a homosexual character.  A homosexual, like a straight person, is not solely defined by his sexuality.  There may be a varying degree a lust in the character, but the fact is there obviously other factors going on in that man's mind.  And the fact that his sexuality is just a secondary force in De Santa shows how he properly mimics the behavior in a real human.

Let's look at second example, Bioshock's Sander Cohen.
Sir, you have a bit of blood on...well, everywhere, actually.
Cohen is clearly a...flamboyant individual.  But it's hard to tell if his flamboyant behavior is due his homosexuality or he is just a flamboyant individual like his real life influence, Dadaist painter Salvador Dali.  In fact, it's hard to tell if Cohen is homosexual at all.  He never discusses his homosexuality, and we only have his actions (imagine that!) and his world's reaction to him that can lead a player to make the supposition of his homosexuality.  But even these hints don't make it certain that Cohen is gay.  Once again, he could just be flamboyant or nutty.  For example, Cohen has some audio diaries that hint he has an attraction to Rapture's founder, Andrew Ryan.  But, these diaries could just hint that Cohen merely had a great respect for Ryan rather than a homosexual attraction.  Another example would be the audio diaries of Cohen's disgruntled artistic "disciples," who, in their drunken, angry rants, constantly refer to Cohen as a fruit.  However, one could just say that these "disciples" are merely responding to Cohen's flamboyant behavior and it is their mental associations to homosexuality.  Yet, like De Santa, the fact of Cohen's homosexuality is secondary to his overall character.  What's more important to his overall character is his overall wackiness and disturbing nature, which is due to his insanity.  Like De Santa, Cohen is an overall great character who happens to be homosexual, rather than a homosexual character who just happened to be good.

But, that's not to say the latter case is a bad thing.  In fact, probably the best (possibly?) homosexual character, Kanji Tatsumi from Atlas's Persona 4
"You saying' I like dudes?!"
It's very questionable of whether Kanji is even homosexual.  And, unlike the previous two examples, who hid their sexuality due to their homophobic nature of their surroundings, Kanji is himself the barrier between admitting his homosexuality.  But, one could say that Kanji isn't exactly homosexual, but he just happens to have more "feminine" interests, and he is struggling with the idea of gender roles.  His overly macho behavior is compensation for his secret passions.  And his struggles with these gender roles and his potential homosexuality becomes the central focus of his character arc.  But it also shows the struggle many teens, homosexual or otherwise, face every day.  We see that our gender roles can cause many psychological problems for teens.  

So yes, video games have made well-written homosexual characters.  And these are characters that are planned and are based on evidence from their actions and the world that surrounds them.  And this, my friends, is homosexual characters "done right."

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