Researchers Talk the Exciting Rise of Queer Representation in Games

Hey, folks! This is Jess Zammit and Alayna Cole (who has written for FemHype before) from Queerly Represent Me, and we’re excited to share some new projects with you! 

If you haven’t heard about Queerly Represent Me, we’re a research organization focused on exploring representations of sexuality and gender in games, and supporting queer folks who love to play games or who work in the games industry. We create resources and speak at conferences about queer representation, and provide links to all sorts of wider reading that cover a wide range of topics.

We also maintain a database of games that feature queer characters and themes. It currently includes over 800 games, and we’re adding more all the time (with the help of our readers who provide tips about what games we’re missing).

Researching awesome queer content has inspired us to create more ways of connecting with our wonderful community — people like you! If you’d indulge us, we’d love to share some of the games we’ve had the joy of researching, the ways they inspire us, and the new projects we’re working on.

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An Interview With Rooster Teeth Rigging Artist Gio Coutinho

Gio Coutinho

Gio Coutinho is a rigging artist at Rooster Teeth. She’s been involved in projects such as RWBY, RWBY Chibi, and Red vs. Blue, and somehow finds time to record Autodesk tutorials about the techniques she uses for people wanting to follow in her footsteps. I recently had the chance to talk to Gio about her work, and how she came to be one of the most prominent professionals in her field.

Alayna: Hi, Gio! It’s awesome to have a chance to chat with you. Tell us: what does a rigging artist do?

Gio: Hi, Alayna! It’s great to chat with you, too.

I like to think of a rig as a marionette. Imagine a stiff, motionless doll with no articulations — that is a 3D model. It’s a completely static figure that is made from a 2D concept. As a rigging artist, I take that doll or 3D model and give it strings, which allow it to move and articulate however it needs to, so I work closely with animators to ensure all their requirements are met.

That being said, not only do characters need rigging — anything that moves, including props, sets, and vehicles often need rigs in order to come to life. A good rig is easy and intuitive to use, taking work away from animators since they are the ones responsible for making them perform according to a script and/or storyboard. A bad rig, however, imposes limits on animators, which in turn decreases the overall aesthetic potential of whatever they try to produce.

In more technical terms, a rig is often composed of a skeleton, controls, constraints, and a number of other features that help something move the way it needs to. There is a lot of problem solving involved in order to find the optimum way for something to move, and you must have a very keen artistic and technical eye to reach creative solutions to specific problems and challenges.

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Conversations From the ‘Final Fantasy XV’ Locker Room

Final Fantasy XV

Several months before Final Fantasy XV was released, I saw the arguments beginning: how could a video game franchise with such a long history of including women as playable characters release a game with a main cast of four men? I empathized with the outrage: women who grew up with the Final Fantasy franchise felt like it had been their safe haven for representation, and the reveal that this title would be all about Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus felt like a betrayal.

Still, I (perhaps foolishly) entered into debates where fans demanded we boycott the game, gently suggesting that we have a little faith in the Final Fantasy franchise. Although no one ‘earns the right’ to stop representing women in their games, I felt as though Final Fantasy’s history of featuring dynamic ladies (including Lightning as the protagonist of Final Fantasy XIII) meant that I should give them the benefit of the doubt. This is a video game franchise that — at least to some extent — understands the importance of gender representation. Maybe their story about a journey shared by four men was a narrative worth telling.

Although I wasn’t alone in this speculation, I felt like I was in the minority. However, when Final Fantasy XV was released, I was not disappointed.

Bear with me for a moment while I make a brief aside: it was only two months ago that we heard Donald Trump justify bragging about sexual assault by referring to it as “locker room talk.” The implication that men are permitted or expected to speak crudely about women when we are not around in order to impress their mates was a sentiment that outraged a lot of people — including athletes who are very familiar with actual locker rooms. But it’s a common narrative: in order to impress one another and be accepted, men are expected to objectify and insult women.

While some men behave in this way because it adheres to their genuine view of women, there are also followers and bystanders who engage in this narrative because it’s what they believe they must do after seeing it in every movie, on every television show, and — with people like Trump justifying it in the public political sphere — on every news program. This can lead to all sorts of strange situations, including groups of men who don’t really believe anything they’re saying, yet still make crude comments or ‘rate’ women in terms of appearance because they think that other men expect it.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s rape culture. So how do we dismantle the idea of what occurs in a boys’ locker room without first creating one?

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Queer Identity & Diversity: The Winners of Rainbow Jam ’16

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Rainbow Jam ’16 was a game jam held between August 20, 2016 and September 5, 2016 and run by Steven Taarland. The jam was designed to promote the ideals of the development group, which are to celebrate and promote diversity in games and the game industry.

The theme of the jam was “identity,” and although it was not necessary that groups adhere to this theme or make games about queer diversity, many of the games did explore these topics. All games that featured queer themes have been given entries on Queerly Represent Me and can be found on the Rainbow Jam ’16 database page.

Starting small, the game jam quickly expanded with the help of collaborators and sponsors, with more than thirty entries submitted before the deadline. More information about the jam and those associated with it can be found on Itch.io.

The winners of Rainbow Jam ’16’s five prizes were announced on September 23, 2016. They included a community prize (voted on by the community); a technical prize (based on innovative mechanics); an artistic prize (for a game with a unique art style); and two best game prizes for an individual and group submission, respectively (based on overall game polish and dedication to the theme).

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Queerly Represent Me: Favorite Character Creation Systems

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[PART 1] [PART 2] [PART 3] [PART 4] [PART 5]

In May 2016, I conducted a survey across social media that encouraged respondents to discuss their favorite and least favorite representations of sexuality, gender, and relationships in games, as well as examples of pronoun use and character creation systems. The survey received over 150 responses, the data from which has been used to inform a five-part series for FemHype, as well as the ongoing development of the Queerly Represent Me database.

It is important to note that many of the same games were discussed in both the ‘favorite’ and ‘least favorite’ sections of the survey, often for the same type of representation and sometimes even by the same respondent. For example, the Dragon Age series featured in the top five most common responses across all ten of these questions. It is difficult to represent diversity in a way that works for everybody and, as such, you may disagree with the opinions of those who suggested the below games as positive examples. If you have your own favorite representations that have not been featured in this series, I’d love to hear about them!

Favorite Character Creation Systems

Character creation systems allow players to personalize the character that they play within a game, sometimes opting to create a representation of themselves or who they would like to be. For this reason, respondents to the survey often favored games that were most capable of creating a character they identified with, and those games that did not have this functionality were listed as having respondents’ least favorite systems.

Interestingly, there was sometimes a sense of shame attached to the favorite character creators that respondents listed, potentially due to the games that these creators were connected to. A lot of responses were followed by question marks to indicate uncertainty or started with phrases like ‘Weirdly’ or ‘Strangely enough.’

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