What’s the “Best” Kind of Gay Character?

If you’ve had a chance to play the new video game Fallout: New Vegas, did you also happen to notice that the character of Arcade Gannon was gay?

Arcade Gannon

Don’t worry if you didn’t as it sounds like quite a few folks — even some gay gamers — didn’t tumble onto Gannon’s sexuality while playing. And according to Jim Sterling over at FileFront, that’s a good thing. Make that a very good thing.

Says Sterling:

This is why Fallout: New Vegas is such a wonderful game in its portrayal
of gay characters. In fact, one character in particular has been
realized so superbly, that you might not even know he’s gay at
all. His name is Arcade Gannon, a member of the Followers of the
Apocalypse. You may have had a high enough Speech Skill to recruit him
as one of your companions, and you’ll find that he’s a rather excellent
ally to have on your side. He’s armed with a deadly Plasma Rifle and a
dry, cynical wit that makes him one of the more affable characters in
the game. He’s also gay, and you’d hardly know it. In fact, he only
really references his sexual inclination a handful of times should you
converse about his life, and even when he talks about it, it’s in an
incredibly offhand manner.

And Sterling doesn’t just think video games should present gay characters this way, adding:

Now, you may be asking what the big deal is, and why something so absolutely
forgettable and easy to miss is fantastic and worthy of merit. That’s just the
point though — Arcade Gannon’s sexuality isn’t a big deal, and that’s
how video games should play it. Not just video games, in fact, but
all media would do well to not make such a big deal out of
homosexuality. Rarely is there a gay character whose identity doesn’t completely
revolve around their sexuality.

Sterling’s commentary prompted Robert Yang to weigh in over at Radiator Design blog where Yang thought Sterling’s intentions were good, but missed the mark. Says Yang:

The argument that [all] gay video game characters should downplay their sexuality might be well intentioned, but is ultimately representative of the most dangerous kind of homophobia — a homophobia wrapped in intellectualism, appearing “tolerant.”  True, sexuality isn’t the only thing that defines a person — but for the vast majority of LGBT people, I would argue that it’s a crucial part of personal identity. To insist that effeminate gay men are “camping it up” and should just “be normal” is homophobia.

Both Yang and Dawdle over at GayGamer.net address Sterling’s views on “campy” characters and whether they are appropriate or not. Each noted that they think the issue shouldn’t be with “effeminate” characters per se, but in the cliched, stereotypical ways they are so often presented in pop culture.

However, neither writer tackle head on what I think is the fundamental flaw in the argument put forth by Sterling: namely that the problem with gay characters is that their identity completely revolves around their sexuality — as if heterosexual characters are somehow defined any differently.

Don’t believe me? Then how many straight characters on television or in the movies (and to a lesser extent in video games) can you name that haven’t been identified as straight at some point? I’m wagering it’s only a handful and that it’s either the ones deemed to be too “old” or “unattractive” to have a love life — or because the show is hinting they might be gay.

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