The Gay and the Dead?

Raythe says …

I recently read a Kotaku article titled Let Queer Characters Be Happy. The article’s premise is that gay people in games often end up dead or in tragic circumstances.  They are rarely, if ever, given a happy ending.

There seems to me a lot of truth in this article. Oftentimes, it seems as if the gay character (or person of color, too) will often be sacrificed in some way (the movie Get Out stood that idea on its head which was so awesome) or have some tragic backstory always regarding their sexuality.

Why Do Many Games Portray Many Gay Characters’ Stories as Tragedies?

I think it has a lot to do with creators choosing the most obvious “challenge” a character has in life.  And being gay has been – and still is – a great challenge, to put it lightly.  Therefore, it’s a rich vein to mine and, oftentimes, creators simply don’t look deeper.

Some would say that even having gay characters in video games is a big deal and shouldn’t be discounted.  And I do get that. That’s why I am a fan of Bioware games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, etc. that offer gay romance options, and I am so looking forward to CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 that will also allow you to romance all genders.

But in my opinion, a person’s sexuality shouldn’t always be the defining aspect in media about them. It is a part of them, a big part, but there are far bigger things that should matter. Let’s about ourselves.  What defines us?  Who we sleep with? Or who we are?  Society tells us who we sleep with is far more important in many cases, but the reality is quite different.

I have no problem with wanting to delve into the difficulties of being gay or even having tragedies occur to the gay character.  But I’ve come to realize that subconsciously when I see a gay character games (or movies or TV), I am excited, but then I fear for them. I immediately assume something terrible will happen to them because that is the common arc.  So I agree with the author of the Kotaku article that while I’m thrilled to have gay characters in games and books and movies and television shows, I want to stop dreading it, too.  Give them a happy ending every once in awhile.

What do you guys think?  Do you think the concern is overblown?  Are you seeing happy endings for gay characters in games?  Please let me know your thoughts below.

19 Responses to The Gay and the Dead?

  1. Tantalos June 27, 2018 at 7:15 pm #

    I have observed this phenomenon and it inspired me as a writer to go against the grain, to give my gay heroes happy endings or at least not to make their sexuality the core of their story arc. It is my theory that the bulk of media we consume as a market is heterosexual and our society is still grappling with what it is like to have a different sexuality than hetero. Straights still find the basic story challenging and fascinating.

    We as a community and as individuals have seen the basic coming out struggle and all of the potential challenges that can arise from it. We’ve lived it and we are ready to move on to more nuanced stories. Alas, the creative industry still caters to the larger market and will continue to do so as long as there is demand.

    My thought is that we as a community must take the lead in producing more nuanced stories. Eventually, the market will tire of the basic story and will become curious about deeper stories. I look forward to the day when sexuality and orientation are no longer selling points in products like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. We will simply exist as natural parts of the world. Wouldn’t that be nice?

    • Keith June 27, 2018 at 7:23 pm #

      I love your take on this!! And I totally agree.

    • Raythe June 27, 2018 at 7:46 pm #

      That would be nice!

      I admit that I first didn’t notice this trend and then when I realized I was “expecting” the queer person to die like in the 100, etc. I was like WTF, what’s happening here. It broke down just the simple joy of finally seeing more representation. And most of the stories were really good, but when they’re ALL about tragedy and death and you’re expecting bad things … yeeeachhh.

      For myself, I feel sexuality is a part of us, not the whole, which is why I don’t really make stories where the issue is that the person is gay. I think Artifact is the only one that barely touches on this. I just want to write about characters who happen to be gay.

      Awesome to hear about your own writing.

  2. Keith June 27, 2018 at 7:21 pm #

    The link to the article doesn’t work! But yeah, I think the internet has discussed this already quite a bit, since I came across a tumblr post once that said “guys I recommend this movie, it has cool lesbians and THEY DON’T EVEN DIE!”, and everyone in the comments were like “no, really? I can’t believe it! A movie where the lesbians don’t die?!”

    It’s true that I can quote many TV shows where gay people die, sometimes completely randomly, and I’m always super sad when that happens…
    To be fair though, many of the TV shows I watch are rather violent, and for every gay character who die, 10 straight characters die too (I think about Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead…). So I don’t know if someone has done the statistics to see if in proportion, more gay characters are killed off or given tragic stories than straight characters? (My guess would be that yes, they probably die more/are less happy).

    I’m still not over the deaths of gay characters in Doctor Who and Star Trek Discovery T__T

    Thankfully there are also shows like Sense8, where LGBT characters are given a happy ending <3

    (I don't know much about games so I talked about TV shows instead!)

    • Raythe June 27, 2018 at 7:50 pm #

      I fixed that. I don’t know why it didn’t …

      I think this trend is true all over the place (except books b/c we have more diversity in voices in books b/c now Amazon has opened the market to anyone with a story which is a good thing!) so TV and movies are a good place to look too.

      Like Tantalos said, I hope we are moving towards more happy stories as well. I love tragedy and angst as much as the most people, but damn I could use some brightness.

      • Wendy July 5, 2018 at 11:17 am #

        The (main) gay character in Black Sails has a happy ending though a lot of fans wanted a bloody ending, lol. Me, since I always rooted for him I was super happy he got his happy ending (though I’m not gay).

    • kat June 28, 2018 at 12:33 pm #

      TV is far more forward-thinking, especially cable and series like Netflix Originals. Raythe and I have talked about this – cable is far better for diversity all around and reflects our actual worlds a lot better.

      Hollywood reeks. It operates approximately 25 years behind the times and very reluctant to change. A gay actor in Hollywood still has to keep quiet otherwise he/she won’t be “believable” in hetero roles. Hollywood can’t do diversity without making a movie ABOUT DIVERSITY. Like, you wouldn’t have a Wolf of Wall Street type movie with a black lead unless it was ABOUT being a BLACK Wolf of Wall Street, if that makes sense.

      I worked there for a bit, and no one even has to talk about this since the lack of diversity is basically understood as a feature, not a bug. My boss was Mexican but consciously “white acting” so he passed. Also, they’ll claim people of color don’t audition for big roles… but that’s part of the culture, not because they aren’t interested. It *smells.*

      But huge games cost far more than movies, and they are taking risks – I’m actually surprised at this because they cost so much and take so long to develop.

  3. Ireyon June 27, 2018 at 10:57 pm #

    Maybe I’m biased because I *really* don’t like Kotaku, but isn’t this putting the car before the horse?

    Authors don’t write a nice, interesting characters and decide that they are going to be gay.

    They write a gay character because the story needs a *gay* character because diversity/representation/niche appeal etc.

    From the author’s perspective, what’s the purpose of writing a gay character if no one realizes he’s gay?

    Their sexual orientation is literally the reason they exist in the universe. Of course it’s going to be front and center. It’s not like gay people wear badges with “Hi, I’m gay!” written on them, you have to show them be gay.

    They’re there just so you can say they’re there, like that pretty but otherwise useless decoration in your living room you bought during your holiday because you wanted to impress your friends.

    They’re a natural result of creative people being forced to create something not because they want to but because someone else ordered them to write “a gay character”. Raythe, you’re an author. You write a lot. Say there was some annoying guy standing behind you, constantly reminding you that you better meet the expected quota of lesbians in your stories.

    Would these lesbian characters be as good as you gay characters? I don’t think so. You created the latter because you enjoyed creating them, so you naturally poured more love and effort into them.

    The former are there because someone ordered you to make sure they’re there. They won’t be as good and why would they? You haven’t created them because you wanted to, you’ve created them because you were afraid some internet mob or your boss would yell at you if you didn’t.

    So we now know why gay characters tend to be flatter. So why do they die a lot? Because they’re forced into the story for reasons not related to the story.

    That is not to say that authors kill these characters because they resent them for being the result of social pressure. Gay characters in mainstream media are almost always intended to make a statement.

    Since we’ve already established that they’re there due to outside influence forcing their creation, that statement is almost always going to be “support gay people”.

    How do you get people to support someone they don’t know and never even met? Play on people’s sympathy. To get sympathy, make your gay characters into victims.

    Kill their loved ones, make their families reject them, show them destroy themselves in grief and then kill them. Just gouge open that chest cavity and play those heart strings with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face.

    And you know what? It works. That’s why authors will keep doing it.

    This is also the reason why there are little to no gay villians in modern media when they were all over the place a few decades ago (though back then “gay” was usually implied rather than shown due to obscenity laws). Because portraying a gay person negatively means you portray *all* gay people negatively which means you hate gay people. Obviously.

    It’s a similar situation you had with “Comments & Controversy in Sanctuary” two years ago but with gay people instead of women.

    I know some people don’t like to hear this (please don’t hit me) but this deludge of tragically dying gay people has basically only one root cause:

    People (read: sites like Kotaku, the people mainstream authors actually listen to) demand diversity for the sake of having diversity.

    Demanding diversity for the sake of diversity results in stories having gay people for the sake of having gay people.

    I enjoy some media that has obvious quota gays in it. Bioware made some of my favorite games and yet they got progressively less subtle with their intended statement. Which is where the flaws come in. If you make your characters to serve as mouthpieces you’ve missed the point.

    There were some situations that were slightly uncomfortable for me despite the fact that I’m gay. I expect that a straight man or woman would’ve been even more uncomfortable.

    Dear god, this is even longer than the last post.

    • Raythe June 27, 2018 at 11:59 pm #

      There’s a lot to unpack here so I’ll try to respond.

      QUOTE: Authors don’t write a nice, interesting characters and decide that they are going to be gay.

      ANSWER: Actually, authors can and do exactly that. You don’t create gay characters to simply fill a quota anymore than you make a character straight to fit the “norm”. It’s when creators DO these things that we get the gay and the dead instead of well-rounded stories where a character happens to be gay but isn’t going to die or have a tragedy around it.

      QUOTE: From the author’s perspective, what’s the purpose of writing a gay character if no one realizes he’s gay?

      ANSWER: Why write a character that’s straight unless people know they are straight? Why write a female character unless the story is about them being female? You see that sounds silly b/c it is. There is no default character out there in all author’s minds that’s, for example, straight, white and male.

      A character can be gay b/c they are gay in the author’s heads. There are some that have come out near the end of their run on a show and no one knew the whole time (it was Law & Order). You put gay characters in stories because there are GAY PEOPLE in the world. Being represented is important. View some of the reactions to Black Panther by black people on Youtube and you’ll see how important it is to see yourself reflected in entertainment. It’s important to see gay people, women, POC, etc. in roles that aren’t defined by their race, sex, etc. to acknowledge them as part of the human race.

      QUOTE: They’re a natural result of creative people being forced to create something not because they want to but because someone else ordered them to write “a gay character”. Raythe, you’re an author. You write a lot. Say there was some annoying guy standing behind you, constantly reminding you that you better meet the expected quota of lesbians in your stories.

      ANSWER: Actually, the person at Bioware responsible for gay characters and relationships being put in those games WANTED to include them because gay people are a part of society and he thought it would add richness and reality to the game. Gay people should be in entertainment as much as straight people. He wasn’t doing this as a quota. No one was forcing him to do this. Your idea that the only reason gay people are in works is because the creators are forced to add them is wrong.

      QUOTE: Demanding diversity for the sake of diversity results in stories having gay people for the sake of having gay people.

      ANSWER: There is a thoughtfulness sometimes about having gay characters in mass media, but that isn’t a bad thing. The reason a lot of the strides in gay rights have occurred is from shows like freaking Will & Grace. Showing gay people as PEOPLE that you can like and are like you has convinced a lot of previously bigoted people that maybe gay people aren’t evil, strange and wrong, but NORMAL just like them.

      Does that sometimes lead to certain creators doing checkbox type stories? Sure, but entertainment is a way to change minds. Maybe it makes you uncomfortable, but for me, as another gay person btw, I find it good. Maybe its done badly sometimes, but it causes change. And it has. Pointing out that POC and gay people in games are constantly dying or having some tragedy based on what sets them apart from a cis white male is a problem. To move it, we have to talk about it.

      • Ireyon June 28, 2018 at 7:57 am #

        Quote: Why write a character that’s straight unless people know they are straight? Why write a female character unless the story is about them being female? You see that sounds silly b/c it is.

        Yes it is, I’m just not sure that we find it silly for the same reason. People being straight is the standard since an overwhelming amount of people on earth are straight and someone being female is obvious due to physical characteristics. Being gay is neither an assumption you generally make (outside of places that specifically cater to gay people) since only a small percentage of people are gay and it’s not a physical characteristic that’s immediately obvious.

        Quote:There are some that have come out near the end of their run on a show and no one knew the whole time (it was Law & Order).

        Yes and it was received extremely poorly. You mean Serena Southerlyn don’t you? There was no building up to her “reveal” at all and it didn’t fit with the storyline of the episode. Because she left immediately after it was perceived to be just another example of tokenism.

        That’s why this situation is a bit weird right now: Write a gay character as a gay character from the beginning and you risk get the problems I wrote above, reveal them afterwards and it looks like pandering.

        As for the others maybe using Bioware as an example was a bad idea since they clearly deviate from the trend you describe. However it’s obvious that they’re not the working standard in games or other media.

        A lot of what you describe is of course correct but not the standard media generally operates under right now, otherwise we’d not have this conversation.

        There was another comment here that described that black men used to die in movies in needlessly heroic sacrifices to send some message. This is like that, just with gay people.

  4. Marceline N. June 27, 2018 at 11:15 pm #

    It’s not just video games but movies, tv, even books where LGBT+ characters don’t fair as well as their straight counterparts. It’s a marginalized group with a high mortality rate which is why I flinched at the idea of picking up your books until I saw gay characters actually thriving. And then you have the cry babies who whine that the feminists and queers are taking over the gaming industry. It’s all so needless and tired.

    • Raythe June 28, 2018 at 12:03 am #

      I don’t know why or where the idea of showing gays and POCs dying or being tragic got started or so entrenched. I sincerely hope that I don’t want to think its because they’re showing that if you’re gay or a POC you SHOULD die, because you’re not really destined in this world for a happy life. But its gotten to the point where when I see a POC or gay person in a show or game I dread it a little. But my hope is that talking about it will bring awareness to the writer’s rooms out there that this is a common trope that needs to go. They don’t have to be free of tragedy, but you shouldn’t be able to predict who is going to get it by the color of their skin or the gender they like to have sex with.

      • a_h_ June 28, 2018 at 2:28 am #

        I’ve noticed a lot more in slightly older movies— like 10 years older (I don’t watch tv much tho) that there was always one black guy and he was the one who would bravely sacrifice himself for the team and die tragically. Like you would start watching the movie and you just know that the 1 black guy was going to be the red shirt . I always kind of thought it was a way for the creators of the show this to try and get the general public to be more sympathetic towards people of color. Maybe it’s the same for the gay character? Have also noticed a huge proportion of movies with mostly black cast are about growing up in the ghetto. All I know is when Black Panther came out I cried in the theater and wondered why the hell we don’t have more movies like this. Kind of rambling sorry it’s been a long day and I’m on my phone. Thought provoking post, tho.

  5. Evilcleo June 28, 2018 at 3:15 am #

    I can’t really call offense because all stories have trends like this. I mean, what about the prevalence of absent/dead parents, or if mentioned they end up dying anyway? Many authors/mangakas do it and your stories have this trend on occasion too. Heck, in yaoi, 95% of the time if the parents end up showing up, it’s to pressure their son to go to an omiai or get married or ask the classic “when am I gonna get grandkids” question.

    I’m not here to say this is bad or good- that honestly depends on the author’s storyline decisions, character development, reader’s opinion, etc…Just check out tvtropes. It analyzes writing “short cuts” on movies, anime, comic books, and so much more. It’s amazing how they can identify a trend with any medium and how popular it is. They’re pretty good with saying or implying when the impact is positive or negative too.

    • Raythe June 29, 2018 at 8:58 pm #

      QUOTE: I can’t really call offense because all stories have trends like this. I mean, what about the prevalence of absent/dead parents, or if mentioned they end up dying anyway?

      ANSWER: But parents are considered a minority! I kill parents all the time (ahem …) but that is because I often want to isolate the main protagonist. If parents are there (if they are good parents) then there is a support system.

      QUOTE: I’m not here to say this is bad or good- that honestly depends on the author’s storyline decisions,

      ANSWER: I guess my point is not that this is bad overall. Gay people should have tragic storylines, etc. However when you can call out BINGO each time you see a gay character in a story and they die, or their tragedy is solely about their sexuality well … we need more types of stories here. IMHO anyways!

  6. kuroitenshi June 28, 2018 at 1:54 pm #

    I would recommend watching the Spartacus TV show all the way to the end. No spoilers, but some of its characters in regards to this subject might surprise you. 🙂

    • Raythe June 29, 2018 at 8:58 pm #

      Nice! I like those kind of surprises.

  7. Tom Attwood June 28, 2018 at 9:22 pm #

    I have found that in media, TV/Movies that virtually all gay characters are, at best, ancillary characters with unimportant stories. Also most of them are stereo types and not representative of real life. While I am extremely glad that gay people ( I am one ) are finally being seen openly in media, I would like to see a TV series or movie that has one or more gay characters in major or starring roles. The series”Will and Grace” went a long way to bring us to screen and that is very good, but, the characters are all stereotypes. Being effeminate, while becoming more acceptable/common in the real gay world is still a minority of the gay population. Media would have us believe otherwise which is unfair. In your Cursed series, the characters are neither effeminate nor hyper masculine, which allows the reader to attach his own preference on them, they did not prance or sashay. They were simply, male. Why can’t TV show us simply male gay men or undamaged lesbians. Yes keep some effeminate characters but add some real gay men to programming who are not doomed in some way or heading straight to cancellation after the summer.

    • Raythe June 29, 2018 at 9:04 pm #

      There’s so much good stuff in your comment here. But I think this really sums it up:

      QUOTE: Why can’t TV show us simply male gay men or undamaged lesbians. Yes keep some effeminate characters but add some real gay men to programming who are not doomed in some way or heading straight to cancellation after the summer.

      ANSWER: THIS. It’s “fine” if we have all sorts of stories with gay characters, but when they are ALL about one thing, there are major problems. In some ways, writing or creating something where the gay character isn’t damaged in some ways becomes an act of revolution.

      And the following just made my day:

      QUOTE: In your Cursed series, the characters are neither effeminate nor hyper masculine, which allows the reader to attach his own preference on them, they did not prance or sashay. They were simply, male.

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