A tacky beginning is still a beginning.
Geek culture has long been a sort of hideaway, if not a supportive structure, for members of the queer community. Focusing on tales and triumphs of the "other," queer individuals young and old have an established record of identifying with the fantastical men and women of their favorite comic books, video games, anime, and other assorted media. Perhaps that is why there is such tumult surrounding the impending release of Ultimate Gay Fighter. UGF is a mobile-based 2D fighting game like Street Fighter but recast with gay stereotypes like the twink, bear, drag queen, and club kid. The problem is that people are getting in a huff because UGF has been labeled as some sort of landmark achievement by its creator Michael Patrick when it so clearly isn't and isn't intended to be. The huff is that somehow the game is somehow both too gay-friendly and gay-offensive. Queer folk want a gay video game – just not this one.
In a recent interview with Motherboard, Patrick, who is openly gay, expressed his surprise at how the game was being perceived. "I didn't want it to be taken seriously, but people are taking it very seriously," Patrick told Yannick Lejacq. With pop-up messages like "Gaytality" and "Congrats, Slut" congratulating the victor of each brawl, it seems fairly obvious that the game is meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, which suits the genre perfectly. No one thinks that a blue Brazilian furball can actually kill someone by creating electricity with his own body. If we don't think Blanca is real, why not the Ultimate Gay Fighters?
There are two reasons why UGF has caused such an uproar, the controversy cited by Patrick in the Motherboard interview and with VG 24/7. Ultimate Gay Fighter bills itself as "the world's first gay video game…ever!!!!" While there have been plenty of gay characters and themes in other games, that is sort of true and this first entirely gay game doesn't exactly shine a positive light on the queer community. By stating it's the first gay video game Patrick has taken on a responsibility he either didn't want or doesn't care to have. What he's created is obviously a gay video game, but by marking it as some sort of extraordinary achievement in gay history, Patrick has added unnecessary (and honestly undeserved) pressure to his work. Now, campy creations that rely on some of the most heavily-trod stereotypes the queer community has to offer have been exalted to some sort of moral high ground. This isn't Stonewall 2.0, it's just a video game!
Video games do not inherently have to stand for something. Donkey Kong Country could very well be anti-American propaganda, or it could be a video game about a giant gorilla on a mission. It's only when someone with an interest, whether they're the player or the creator, says a game is standing up for something that it begins to. If everyone had just left it alone, UGF could have achieved its original destiny of tacky, irreverent, beat 'em up fun. But someone had to go and make it about progress.
Yes, queer characters are still under-represented in video games, but Ultimate Gay Fighter is not going to be the thing that changes that, and no one should ask it to be. Patrick, and his interviewer, both commented on the difficulties that arise with queer characters in a fighting game simply due to a lack of space to delve into who they are. In Street Fighter, if you're playing as Chun-Li (Patrick's childhood favorite), you're playing as her because you're attuned to the way she fights, because you like the way she looks, or because some other physical aspect draws you to her. You're not concerned with her back story or her lineage; you want to know if she has a long reach, if her outfit is blue or red, and what combination of buttons to press to make her do that head-spinning kick move. On the contrary, narrative games like first-person shooters and role-playing games have ample space to develop player's avatars and protagonists. You learn who they are and why. It's here that queer characters need to become more prevalent, and it's the same people getting upset about UGF that can help make this change happen.
Samantha Jones put it best (because this post wasn't quite gay enough) when she said "First come the gays. Then the girls. Then the industry." If queer people are cultural leaders, then I say "Lead the culture." Demand with your dollar more diversity in video games for an increasingly diversified video game market. According to CNN, 45% of gamers are female, yet we're still being marketed to like heterosexual, 13-year-old boys. If you don't like that, change it. In the meantime, laugh at things that are good for a laugh and enjoy that at the very least, there is an exclusively gay video game coming out, even if it's not the first one…ever!!!!
Image via YouTube.