Click here to read Flouting Margins: Part One if you haven’t caught it yet!
Genesis, and I don’t mean SEGA!
Everything has a beginning, so I easily found my way to the start of LGBT gaming history. The journey immediately lead me to Caper in the Castro, whose tagline is “It’s not just a game… it’s a gayme.” It is widely known as the first gay/lesbian game because of its narrative, characters, and the fact they used San Francisco’s super-gay Castro District as the backdrop. As you go through the game you’ll use a variety of context-sensitive tools to solve a point-and-click adventure, which I admittedly have yet to be successful at completing. While largely celebrated as the first LGBT video game, Caper in the Castro is actually not the first game to feature a LGBT character. It is however the first to feature a transgender character in a video game, Tessy LaFemme, who was believed to be a Drag Queen until a recent interview with C.M. Ralph in 2014.
As I researched further back in time, I found an older text-based game entitled Moonmist, which was released in 1986 by a company called Infocom, now popularly known as Activision Blizzard. My experience with text-based games is minimal, and to be honest I consider them to be more like interactive novels. That being said, a game is a game, and this game takes you on a murder mystery consisting of multiple endings which you can achieve through the numerous variables you set-off. One of the endings reveals the very first lesbian character, Vivien Pentreath, it is for this reason alone that Moonmist is documented as an LGBT title, and the very first game to open the door to more diverse character stories. Although Vivien is perceived as a villain in the end, her story is that of a scorned lover, something many of us have played in video games.
Here is the first of many lists of the sung and unsung heroes on the LGBTQ2 roster of video game characters. There are so many to choose from that the lists will stay at a maximum of ten until the research starts to repeat. Please enjoy our first ten video game sprites that inspired censorship or celebration in our digital past.
The LGBT Characters
- Vivien Pentreath – A lesbian artist from the 1986 text-based detective adventure. In the game Moonmist, you discover that Vivien Pentraeth (the very first lesbian video game character) is a villain by circumstance through a series of text variables that you enter by keyboard. You uncover that her female lover committed suicide so Vivien takes revenge on her lover’s husband for the many years of torment caused by him, in part by dressing as a legendary ghost and haunting him. You move through the game using a series of text commands: “LOOK AT THE GATE. TAKE THE DIARY THEN READ IT. APOLOGIZE TO VIVIEN. SHOW THE DIARY TO VIVIEN. ARREST VIVIEN.” Evidence is found in the form of written motives and a confession of revenge in her diary.
- Tracker McDyke – A world-famous lesbian Private Detective. In the game Caper in the Castro — a modernized text-based rollerball/mouse game for the older Macintosh computers — you play as a lesbian detective on the search for your distressed friend and the first transgender character in a video game, Tessy LaFemme. This charityware game, downloaded via early bulletin board systems, contributed funds to many AIDS organizations through personal donations. The writer of the game, Cathy M. Ralph, wanted to honour the nearly 90% of their Southern Californian friends who had tragically died from illnesses related to AIDS.
- Carl/Quentin – A queer cog. In the 2001 game Conker’s Bad Fur Day, for the Nintendo 64. This split-personality character you meet to progress the story of the game, who flip-flops between abrasive and polite depending on which way they are facing. Carl is very masculine in his mannerisms and Quentin is most obviously the other side of the cog.
- Flea – A transvestite from the game Chrono Trigger. Of course, in the Japanese version of the game we learn that although Flea looks like a female, they reveal their male gender. Named Mayonnai as a pun for mayonnaise in Japan, the American versions character name of Flea is a reference to the famous member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
- Ash – A leather daddy brawler boss from Bare Knuckle 3 (Streets of Rage 3). You meet Ash, a very stereotypical homosexual, as a mid-stage boss in the Japanese version of the game. This is a prancing and giggling leather daddy, who can kick your butt if you are not careful. Don’t make this queen mad because she will mess you up! If you are as old as I am you’ll remember hearing about this character because it was during the period of time when we were growing wiser to the censorship taking place within our ported games. Thanks to magazines in the early days, Ash is one of the more popularly known gay video game characters.
- Poison – A transgender street fighter from the Japanese version of Final Fight. A retro character brought to celebration in Street Fighter 4 as a playable character that was ported out of our western SNES versions. Poison’s original creator has been quoted saying that she is a post-op transgender female.
- Crispin Jettingham – A homosexual US Soldier who premiered in Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. The game never mentions the intimate details of Crispin’s personal life but the Character Designer Adam Bullied admits to writing his back story as gay. A man of many talents, knows how to use any weapon, and fight in any scenario. Serving the American Military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
- Rasputin – A pansexual love cult leader and part-time world hero fighter featured in World Heroes. Rasputin is based on an infamous sorcerer who can summon lightning from the sky, fireballs from his hands, and make his appendages really large, like his hands, feels, and who knows what else. This fighter’s win stance has a bed of roses grow and bloom from under his robe.
- Leo – A gender-neutral fighter who made their first appearance in the 2007 sequel to the Tekken series, Tekken 6. The creators of the game series, NAMCO, wanted a character that players would enjoy regardless of the character’s gender. Eleonor Kliesen is listed in a designer art book in the male character section. The Leo character has some very feminine features and is referred to as “it” in later versions of the Tekken series.
- Vivian – A transgender woman in the 2004 game Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, for the Nintendo GameCube. As you take Mario throughout the game you will meet a Shadow Siren named Vivian. In the JA version of the game this character is announced as one of the “three sisters” were as other characters describe this character as “boy” or “little brother”, and even “man” as an insult. All this original was censored and removed from western eyes before it hit the shelves that year.
With decades of LGBT censorship on the past shelves of video game history, many lovable characters have been changed, often when they were ported for Western audiences. For some people, not knowing something about a character doesn’t typically ruin the game experience. On the other hand, knowing that something was changed in order to hide the unwanted details of a character does leave us to wonder. It’s almost like feeling unaware that you’re being conditioned into a way of thinking. I hope to retell some old stories and return the parts of these treasured and influential games that have been removed to spare the minds of one group, and in doing so ostracized another equally-important group of people.