Martin Hare Michno | Mon, 15 Jun 2020
When The Last of Us Part II gameplay trailer was screened at E3 2018, the audience were gathered to witness a critical moment in videogame history – a lesbian kiss between characters Ellie and Dina. Of course, it is not the first lesbian kiss in videogame history, nor is it Ellie’s first lesbian kiss. Nevertheless, the tender embrace between Ellie and Dina symbolises the industry’s welcoming arms towards sexual diversity. Indeed, Ellie’s kiss seems a turning point in the infamous and deplorable videogame representation of LGBT people. However, I suggest we should ask ourselves, what does Ellie’s kiss really tell us about homosexuality in videogames?
One might wonder why don’t other protagonists kiss men like Ellie kisses Dina. When was the last time we saw such a tender kiss between men? In truth, we do not kiss men in videogames. It is not a case of having no male gay protagonists, but rather no protagonists at all who will kiss men – male nor female. In fact, the fear of kissing men is the reason for the lack of female lead characters too. As developer Jean-Max Morris was told by certain publishers, “You can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward”.
It is not a stretch to claim that this is the reason why Ellie is a lesbian. Although Naughty Dog’s intention was undoubtedly honest, it is the publisher Sony Interactive which surely had more sinister intentions. After all, a lesbian romance in their game meant they could profit from society’s fetishization of lesbianism, pink capitalism and, of course, save their male audience from having to kiss any man. It must be said, they care not about LGBT presentation nor your masculinity, they seek only to turn a profit.
Thus, no matter the gender of our main character, it is the industry’s golden rule that we will not kiss men. One might object to this statement, listing certain protagonists from games such as Skyrim, Fallout 4, Life Is Strange, Bully, and certain Mass Effect games who will kiss male characters if the player desires them to. Certainly, these games do offer the possibility of homosexual desire. Nevertheless, it is exactly the notion of ‘possibility’ which raises questions about honest representation of homosexuality in videogames. Such an ambiguity in a lead character’s sexuality means they will be written as ‘straight-passing’ if it is a man and ‘vaguely bisexual’ if it is a woman. No matter the gender, their romantic or sexual interest for men will not be explicit in their character. It is hard to recall any game where the player is ‘forced’ to engage in a romance with a man in the same way they are ‘forced’ into one with a woman. As the character’s desire for men is avoidable by the player, it is does not truly defy the (male) player’s fear of kissing men.
It is no secret that the videogame industry adheres to society’s patriarchal, cisnormative and heteronormative ideals. For this reason, we must scrutinise instances such as Ellie’s lesbian kiss. This is not to say that lesbian characters should not be welcomed into the videogames, or that a heterosexual kiss for Ellie would have been more appropriate. On the contrary, we must continue to demand from the industry a more honest representation of sexual, racial and gender diversity. One can only appreciate Naughty Dog’s intentions and accomplishments, as explicitly lesbian characters such as Ellie are essential for the videogame industry to grow as an art form. However, until there is a radical change in the way we produce and think about videogames, there will always be a shadow lurking behind. As Ellie’s kiss transitions into a scene where she is slicing open a man’s throat, we are reminded of the videogame industry’s old tradition – we kill men, we kiss women.