Double Agent
Political Science Bros. Melee - February 27, 2002 - Erin Mehlos

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this column are those of the participants and the moderator, and do not necessarily reflect those of the GIA. There is coarse language and potentially offensive material afoot. Put it up! Don't say we didn't warn you.

I thought it worth reporting that the GIA is now under intense fire for Mr. Vestal's controversial review of the meaty slab of innovation that is Progress Quest. In an ironic tie-in with today's topic of gaming's political undercurrents, the Agency is being criticized for "selling-out." Questions have arisen regarding our journalistic integrity, and accusations of our praise being up for sale to the highest bidder fly.

Amidst the maelstrom of censure, I thought it my duty as resident devil's advocate to facilitate the readership's doubts with a letter that speaks for all of you whose faith we have so callously flouted:

Bunch o' sell-outs

Erin -

I can't believe that you of all people don't seem to realize that the GIA have sold out with their godawful new "game", Progress Quest. I consider myself an old-school fan, having logged over 100 hours on Unlit Room, and I'm disgusted by Progress Quest. First of all, let's talk about the plot. What the hell were they thinking? "You embark on a quest." Whatever happened to using your mind? In Unlit Room, the plot was limited only by the size of your imagination. I hate lameass games like this that try to limit the player's options. It's insulting. It's even worse when you realize that no thought went into the (inherently evil)plot or game design at all - it had me seek the Reverential Tome THREE TIMES in the first Act alone! If the designers can't even be bothered to polish their own games, why should we want to play them? Talk about admitting that the game was clearly rushed to completion to get rich quick while placating the masses of lemming-like mainstream "fans" who wouldn't know a real old-school game if it bit them in the ass.

And then there are all those tables and loading bars. Real pretty, of course, but you'd have to be a clueless newbie not to realize that a whole hell of a lot has been lost from the purity of Unlit Room. Back in those days, it was about the player and his (or her, or its - that was the beauty of it, nothing pre-determined) imagination. Back then the GIA cared about making games specifically for its small but devoted audience who clearly had superior intellects to the rest of the world. Now it's like "oh, let's get the MTV-watching idiots to play our game and screw over the real fans." With Progress Quest, I felt like I was watching a movie rather than playing a game. It's sad to see the day that the GIA of all people would sell out and put graphics above gameplay.

I'm sure a lot of morons will be drawn to the oh-so-wonderful splendor of Progress Quest, and hell, I guess even you (who I thought would be the one to lead our really against the mainstream) aren't a true gamer the way I am. I'll be playing Unlit Room and praying that the GIA remembers that it used to make real games, but I'm not holding my breath. As far as I'm concerned, the company I loved is dead.

-Toma Levine, figuring someone had to say it

Apart from feeling the need to mention that we didn't "make" PQ (we reviewed it like any other title) I have little defense to put forth in this matter. So I'm just gonna ignore it in the hopes that it will go away, much like that funny mole on my inner thigh....

That out of the way, let's go. We've got a whole helluva lot to cover.

Ridding the world of elite death squads


Well, I'm glad to see a well written article on gaming on a non-gaming site. The fact that it deals with ideas and repercussions that aren't necessarily limited to the gaming world is a good sign for the maturation of gaming as a medium.

Unfortunately, said article didn't exactly pick a bastion of gaming greatness to examine. The plain truth is I've played a good bit of State of Emergency, and any political stances it might take, or messages it might espouse are juvenile at best, insulting and asinine at worst. All the game does is spout far overdone rhetoric on the issues the article mentions, and then rewards the player for smashing anything inanimate, and killing "corporation members", "elite death squads" and various nefarious "gang members". Hardly sounds like reasonable political action to me. As the OMM guy mentions, none of these people are believable, and the masses of innocents in the game certainly don't have any far-flung objectives. In short, the game either felt like trying to create a backdrop for itself, or Rockstar wants to sell on shock value. I don't see anything more here, and if there is any meaning in it, the developers ought to take a few Political Science and English classes, because their point sure isn't coming across very well.

What's disturbing about this article is the suggestion that gaming should become a medium open to political propaganda. I don't know about you, but I certainly don't want to see Mrs. Activist fronting the costs for a game, despite not knowing what a PlayStation is. Putting in themes, messages, or general thoughts is fine (we see this all the time). Trying to make some sort of art out of it all is fine. Creating a game backed by special interest groups is not fine. The day I get people forgetting what a game is in the name of shameless political bickering is the day I call it quits. I'll turn on the TV when I want to see that stuff, where its presented the way it should be--straight in your face, not prettied up, packaged and pushed on me by EB employees.

-Justin Freeman

When the need arises to compare games to another medium, movies usually have the misfortune of blundering into my crosshairs.

Beyond maybe Triumph of the Will, a movie backed by a special interest group presently fails to surface in my recollection, but most assuredly they're out there in droves. The fact that I can't really think of a noteworthy example, though, should say a lot for their lack of proliferation in the popular cinema scene. It also probably says a lot about my ignorance of anything worth knowing, but that's another matter entirely....

I think it's inevitable that games should eventually become a forum, at least in a limited capacity, for assorted activists, do-gooders, and politicians, but I don't ever see it becoming their principle thrust.

As far as the Salon article itself, it is refreshing, I suppose, to see the mainstream media mention games outside a "Look at this abhorrent violence and smut!" capacity. Beyond its implications on the movement of gaming toward legitimacy in the public eye, I can't say I was overly thrilled with it. They took a game with an implorably weak plot that was more or less churned out for the express purpose of cashing in on the killing-spree coattails of GTA3, and tried to read deeply enough into its bludgeon-subtle "commentary" to return with arms laden with as much potentially political crap as possible.

JP could draw more convincing parallels between MegaMan and the Japanese Economy, for crissake....

BS in BS
If you want a great example of political philosophy in gaming, look no further than Megaman. The original Megaman series is in many an allegory for '80s "Bubble Economy" Japan. Don't believe me? Let's look at the parallels.

Megaman is a small, unassuming robot lad beset by 6 enemies and their ringleader, Dr. Wily. While Megaman has no special powers himself, he possesses one simple skill which allows him to triumph: the ability to borrow powers from his foes, adapt them to his needs, and use them to compete in new venues. The limited, over-specialized robots he fights are helpless before the correct application of learned skills.

Compare that to Japan, which is historically famous for its similar approach to foreign ideas: the Japanese see the world as a buffet from which they can pick and choose culture, technology and philosophy to adopt, adapt and compete. In the 1980s, this pick-a-mix approach allowed the economy of a small, unassuming island nation to dominate the world despite the varied economic threats of the other 6 "Big Eight" and the ringleader of 20th-century innovation, America. Allegorically speaking, Dr. Light represents an Uncle Sam-like caricature who combines both Japanese traditions and the ingenius innovation the country needs to survive. Roll is the supporting female figure, the ideal Japanese wife who quietly encourages Megaman's exploits by holding down the homefront. Megaman himself would just as well have been called Salaryman, because that's the architype he represents: the collective Japanese workforce that triumphs by learning from others and adapting those lessons to the nation's benefit. And don't forget Protoman, the dour loner who never matches Megaman's accomplishments because his individualism stifles his collective spirit and thus his capabilities.

Also, notice that since the beginning of the '90s, both the Japanese economy and the NES-format Megaman games have, frankly, sucked. It's not a coincidence, my friend.

OK, it is, but my fluency in the language of BS got me through college. Don't knock it.


My friend, you are not merely fluent in BS; you work in it as a conventional artist might work in clay, oils, or Adobe Illustrator, weaving for us an allegorical tapestry the like of which I dare not breathe on lest I upset the very strands of its genius.

As long as you took a tire-iron I'm sure you'd be fine.

Hooboy...political commentary in games? Front Mission 3 could be a university class unto itself. Where to begin? How about North America strongarming the unwilling South America into forming the USN while Korea chooses to join the OCU (Japan, Phillipines, and Australia) because they want to? Or the US scientist who creates a devastating bomb and regrets it? Said bomb being named MIDAS, the fictional yet quintessential capitalist? Dennis' rampant anti-Japanese bigotry? I've probably read too much into this (besides, in the game Japan is little better - stealing the weapon and inciting war), and criticism this harsh seems isolated, but I still wouldn't want to meet this scenario writer in a dark alley.


Everyone was so universally bastardly in FM3 it's difficult to glean any one particular political bent.

Light 'em up

The reason why anti-capitalism is so frequent in games? It's because it's so easy to do. Think of Japan, where the corporation's ownership of the individual is integrated into the language (if Mr. Smith worked for Kodansha Electric, he would introduce himself as "Kodansha's Smith"). Simply take that, turn loyalty into rebellion, and wham, you have an instant recipe for political tension and economic unrest.

The Evil and Corrupt Corporation becomes an excellent modern replacement for the Evil and Corrupt King and/or Invading Country. Simply replace the king with the executive and the throne with a desk, and not only do you have all the capacity for corruption and cruelty that a king might, but you take away all the nobility and sense of honor and fairness, making a truly loathsome villain. A king may fight for his country or pride, but a corporation might do inhumane things purely for the money.

As for game's reflections of tobacco and alcohol on real life, I'd have to say it mirrors the current TV and film industry on this one. These props are used as part of certain charicatures: the cigar-chomping tough guy (or executive), the abusive (or abused) alcoholic mother, the red-eyed druggie. The hero would never light up a cigarrette after a particularly tough battle or a very narrow escape, as he might have in 1940's film noir. And social drinking, though present, is underplayed (except perhaps in the case of Chrono Triggers beer chugging game).

---Anthony James Larrea

But ... what about Snake's Lucky Strikers?

And the t-shirt goes to....


Wow, it's great to read a letter from another gay gamer. It actually is kind of comforting. Anyways, I understand that this topic has been fairly well beaten into submission many times in the past, but I can't help but write in about it, nonetheless. Subtlety is a rather uncommon thing in games, but I don't think we have to just sit and accept that. I like to believe that FFX was a great step forward, with its understated themes, and tiny yet powerful moments, such as Yuna whistling at the end, hoping against all logic, because it's the only thing her pain will subside to. And as far as alcohol is concerned, I think that game handled that topic quite well, with Sirs Jecht and Auron. Now, don't get me wrong on this next point, because Xenogears is one of my favorite games of all time, did treat all its religious subject matter as a pimp would treat his bitches, to be quite frank. I'd rather point out how the game directly used the idea of sex only once in the game, and that was when the characters actually had sex. (Yes, you're correct if you think I'm trying to forget the Chu-Chu orgy). Can you think of any other RPG where PC's have sex? I can't. Well, FFVII did have the hottub scene, which brings me to my next point: Cloud's definitely gay or bi. No straight guy would have stayed in that hottub all night. I mean, come on people, think about it. He's probably bi, considering the part with him and Tifa below the Highwind, but I think he never even tried with Aerith because he (IMO) boinked her boyfriend a few years ago, and that would make it more than a little awkward.

Okay, I'm done with my obligatory game references now, so you can start paying attention again, okay? I would now like to touch on the subject of what I see in the time-line for maturity in video games. Please note that I am being specific to the West, since we all know that in the East, they are slightly ahead of us in this area, (among others). The RPG genre, or actually video games as a whole to be accurate, seems to have something like a life cycle, packaged complete with an aging process. Games started off childish. They had simple gameplay, graphics, music, and stories. They were targeted mostly at children, and the games were themselves much like children: entertaining, eventually annoying, and a bit boring if you payed too much attention. Slowly, the children got their parents and older siblings interested in games, and also became older themselves, eventually--in the 1990's--reaching adolescence. To match this, the games grew in size and complexity, and mature concepts were introduced. However, these mature concepts, such as sex, death, and drugs, remained for a very long time a very new and strange thing to both the games and the gamers. Compare it to our own lives, if you will. We, the readers of DA, probably average something like 20 years of age. Throughout our lives, hasn't it always seemed like the games pretty muched mirrored our own level of maturity, if slightly stunted? Now that we are getting older, nearing mental adulthood, we are beginning to gain an appreciation for subtlety and realism.

RPG's are more than a simple form of escapism. With their growing plots and deep characterizations, our games mimic some of our own real-life problems, presenting them from a different perspective, and offering solutions. This is because they are becoming less about play, and more about story. For ages, people have to turned to stories, as told by the bard, author, artist, musician, and even filmmaker, to see a copy of their emotions from an outsider's view. This helps us to step outside of our problems and seek a solution. Now, I'm not saying that RPG's are any sort of replacement for a psychologist, or even a for a good novel, but I think that as gamemakers become more comfortable with letting loose their demons upon the masses, (like any other good artist), we can at the very least seek comfort in our games, and let our subconscious take from it what it will. When games tackle real subjects, we are able to wrench a little bit of real help from them. Just don't take the stories literally, and you'll be fine. The last thing we need is for us worldwide gamers to have a chu-rrific, hot, sweaty, passionate, mind-blowing, life-altering days-long orgy whenever we reunite with another of our kind. Then again...

~Live And Let Live

I want my poodle, dammit.

This time the poodle stays home. I kinda like it…

This letter addresses some of the points that Gay Gamer Dan brought up in his letter.

People want to play games that are fun. They want to play games that let them do something that really can't be done is their own life. In America, there is this kind of mysticism regarding the military. We send in the troops, we win, we keep the world safe for democracy. That kind of thing. And when you were a kid, didn't you ever think about being a soldier? Militaristic games are just an outlet for people to express violence and fulfill those childhood desires in a socially acceptable manner. The only politics I can see behind these games is, "It's ok to kill if you're in the military." It's only been in the last 10 years or so that violent games have moved from the military to other, more civilian-ish settings.

As for having real life in video games, I think that most people DON'T WANT to see real life portrayed in their games. If I want real life, I'll go step outside. On that note, exactly what makes up "real life" for people is entirely based on their own condition and situation. So what could be "real life" for one person, may be totally alien to another.

Concerning sex, alcohol, and religion in games, again, it is all subjective as to a person's current surroundings. For example, in my life, I consider religion to play a big part. However, I am very conservative concerning sex and alcohol. For me, to have sex and alcohol use in a game has very little entertainment value, and again, FOR ME, it has little part in "real life." But the situation is different for everybody. So by eliminating all of those elements, game designers are free to mold their games into what they want, not being held back because of expectations that their game accurately portray "real life."

Gay Characters? Hmmm…. The only ones I can think of are Asuka and Maria off GTA 3. While it's never actually stated, it is heavily implied. Ok, Maria is bi, I guess… But anyways, I don't think that there is a high enough demand for a gay character. For a lot of people, having a gay character would be almost humorous. That character would have to be portrayed as "overly gay" to get across the point that he/she is gay. (Big gay Al, anyone?) Also, since most RPG's have romance as one of the plot's driving points, a story about 2 gay people getting together would drastically reduce interest in seeing that story end. For example, would people be nearly as fanatical in beating FF X if, 5 hours into the game, Lulu shared her desire to "have Yuna." Then from that point, the story revolves around Lulu's need to have Yuna know that, with the game ending with a scene of Yuna accepting Lulu's feelings and then reciprocating them. All to the tune of "Suteki da ne?" For a majority of gamers, this ending would have much less value than if Tidus had expressed his love for Yuna. It's just a matter of delivering what the public wants. Also, in Japanese/Asian culture, homosexuality is a taboo. After living in South Korea for 2 years, I saw nothing about homosexuality in any media, not even movies. It is certainly there, but to have it portrayed on a mainstream media outlet such as a popular video game would be inviting heavy public criticism. I do realize that homosexuality is shown in quite a few anime series, but for the most part, Japan/Asia has one huge "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. To say that you're gay will get you fired, probably kicked out of your apartment, and you'll be made an outcast from your own family. While this attitude may be wrong in our society, it is the norm in theirs. So that is why I find it highly unlikely that any game coming from Japan will have openly gay characters.

Well, that's my rant. Hope it makes sense….


What the hell? Do you people get some kind of perverse pleasure out of forcing me to parade my ignorance of Japanese culture in the column as often as possible....?

Asian society, I suppose, is not overly accepting of alternative lifestyles, but it has consistently been my impression that Japan in particular is no less tolerant than America. Not that that's saying much of anything, mind you -- America's somewhat behind in its acceptance of homesexuality. Yes, young beautiful lesbians have become dismayingly en vogue, but only in that woman-on-woman is a longtime male fantasy in the US. It's not true acceptance by any stretch of the imagination.

Japan, meanwhile, has behind it a feudal history wherein same sex relationships between men were not uncommon, and not wholly frowned upon. Didn't young samurai at one time bed down with their mentors, forming romantic bonds that cemented their loyalty to each other? That appalled the missionaries threading into Japan during the late sixteenth century? And what about the all-female counterpart to Kabuki; the Takarazuka theater troupes, whose women-playing-men commonly inspired crushes amongst Japanese schoolgirls; crushes parents encouraged, regarding them as more innocent, more pure, than crushes on boys?

Homophobia seems to have crept back into their society in recent history, yeah, but you acknowledge in your letter the flood of manga and anime fascinated with same-sex relationships. True, they may not depict the Japanese reality, but it seems to me that if they're so completely intolerant of gay and lesbian relationships over there, all the shounen-ai and yuri and yaoi and everything ever produced by CLAMP would never see the light of day. Certainly you don't see anything like it in America's homophobic mainsteam media.

"Lesbian Spank Inferno" does not count, smartasses.

A talent for understatement

I don't think sexuality has to be stated, I like the fact that it's covert. There are definitely some effeminate men in the rpg world, and most of Square's villain's are poster children for transgendered rights everywhere. I don't feel the need to identify with someone's physical attractions, I find many other character motivations to be more moving. How I wanted to stand beside Wakka as he came to turns with his disillusionment. I felt Yuna's strength in spite of her dissolving faith and society far more inspiring than her loss. I felt Squall and Cloud's isolation. Grandia and skies of arcadia's sense of adventure and discovery are universal, (though I prefer my heroes a little more emotionally damaged). There's more to me than being gay, and I feel more validated by having mature philosophical dilemmas played out before me than being offended by whatever stereotype is chosen to represent my demographic. I never realized how people could be affected so much by media until gays became common place on TV. One episode of queer as folk and I was ready to join those polynesian girls in their bulemia. Honestly, would anyone like the entire straight population represented only by the popular, pretty, well groomed elite? If the hero in square's next epic is a scrawny yet macho whelp with a penchant for boy-lovin, but hey-it's-okay-cuz-he-likes-sports I'm gonna sit at home watching re-runs of a very special Full House and bemoaning my lost identity.

who is intelligent, successful, creative, funny, can eat an entire pizza in one sitting, change a flat tire,give the dorky gamer grrl in his japanese class a makeover, make a mean coq au vine and still kick your ass if you call him fat. He also wouldn't be opposed to an rpg where two hirsute leather daddies were on a quest to save the world from a lipstick lesbian with intent to attain godlike powers. And you thought your readship wasn't diverse. I like you even if you do have girl cooties.

Hey, man. Beyond the occasional blanket accusation that you all are an articulate bunch of geeks, I never said anything of the kind.

Cookie Monster X Grover

E is for cookie, that's good enough for me, (wait a minute...)

I think that a gay main character in an RPG would work fine if they had it in the game in an offhand manner, not making his gay-ness the main focus of his personality. Having a GAY main character is quite different than having a main character who happens to be gay.

Most likely though --due to most RPG's love themes-- they gay character in question would have to be relegated to a subordinate role, because, let's face it, homosexual gamers are in the minority, and if one main focus of the game is the hero gets the girl (or boy), the developers are probably going to aim for the guy-girl combo by default because of the user-base's ability to relate. Besides, only shounen-ai manga/anime and Mercedes Lackey have IMHO been able to pull off homosexual male main characters w/o making their gay-ness just another joke device.

Get Kaori Yuki or CLAMP to write a game plot, and then I'll buy into the feasibility of a believable gay main character.

-himajinga, who thinks you don't have to be gay to think a FFT Ramza X Delita doujinshi is charming.

And I don't think you have to be straight to find a FFT Ramza X Delita doujinshi not charming.

You're addressing something of a sad truth, though -- gay central characters are going to be as long in coming as non-sexpot female leads. The gaming demographic remains largely heterosexual white males, and while things are on the move, I think it's just one of those things we'll have to bite the bullet and swallow a few years more.


1 Pervert Point (PP) if you read anything obscene into that last sentence; 5 if you managed to contort the entire paragraph into something unclean.

What squicks people

Hi Erin,

I wanted to comment on gays in gaming. It's an issue that's very close to my heart, being a bisexual gamer. To answer Dan from yesterday, there are some gay male characters in games that I can think of. The laughably stereotypical gay men in GTA3--the ones that look like they just walked in off Castro Street, and quote the Village People when they walk by. There was a gay male couple in one of the quests in SaGa Frontier. Vagrant Story's Sydney Losstarot was all but stated outright to be bisexual, but it takes a little reading between the lines. Callo said Sydney was so charismatic that his followers gave their souls *and* their bodies to him. The few cult members you run into in the course of the game are men. Do the math.

Even excluding Yaoific and doushinji, the most sexually subversive game in recent memory has to be Final Fantasy 7. Although I'm firmly in the camp that believes Cloud & Sephiroth "had a past", I respect those who disagree--but I don't understand the folks who insist there is nothing gay in this game. Did Wall Market just NOT EXIST to these people? For crying out loud, part of your quest is putting together a fabulous drag outfit. Aeris told the dressmaker Cloud was gay. The three kanji symbols on the gym's sign read "boy boy boy". There's that hilarious bathhouse scene in the Honey Bee Inn with Mukki, another Village People alum, who looked like he wandered in out of Buddy Cole's bar. Not to mention the fact that Cloud wasn't exactly pushing anyone away. And I won't even mention the "Whatever you want, daddy" comment (as my friend asked, just how good a date WAS Cloud? :P).

Anyway, why don't we see more GLBT people/themes in games? Simply put, homophobia in the industry and among the gaming community, both of which are dominated by straight males. Putting on my feminist hat for a moment here (and I apologize in advance for any sweeping generalizations), I firmly believe that homophobia has at its root sexism and an almost primal fear of the feminine erotic. So much of masculinity is defined in our society as rejecting the feminine. Gay men are threatening because they are associated with what is considered feminine, with what must be surpressed and rejected in a "real man". It's all tied to sex, as well. The act of being penetrated is an act of a submitting of oneself to the ultimate form of vulnerability and loss of power, things which patriarchy defines as feminine. *That* is what squicks people about gay sex. When you combine all that with a group of people who are struggling to define their identities, sexually and otherwise (teenage boys), it's really no secret why the gaming community is so homophobic. It *has* gotten better though. Years ago, I wrote a Setzer/Edgar shounen-ai piece and when I posted it to a fanfic site, I got email bombed and even got death threats. But, I've gotten nothing but positive vibes for the Cloud/Vincent novella I'm writing now. It all comes down to our attitudes. The games won't change until we do.

-Celestra, aka Token

P.S.: Sephiroth was way more gay than Seymour could ever hope to be ^_^

Tonight has more or less been one long cursing-out of my feeble powers of recollection for me. This letter fills me with the desperate desire to regurgitate something I may or may not have read about "defilement" being one of the primary ingredients of patriarchy; something I really agreed with at the time of my reading (or not reading) it, and that you address directly in your last paragraph.

As long as the traditional, "receiver" view of the female sexual role perserveres, society retains its pervasive association of this act of "reception" with "defilement." And defilement, being a generally icky thing, can easily be seen as a major contributor to the negative light in which gay sexuality is seen.

But this column has long since ceased to be about games, so I shan't tarry any longer in this particular minefield....


Politics are so damn weird. I would think that a guy could make a game like MGS or Rainbow Six without advocating that kids should go out and be superspies, but apparently you can't say anything without supporting some cause or denying another.

I feel like shutting up now. I'll talk again when I've figued out what causes I want to support with my carefully chosen words.


Me too.

Closing Comments:

Tomorrow. let's do something light and fluffy.

How about you hit me with your general thoughts on regional lockouts? Are they beneficial to anyone save the manufacturer? Should games be region-specific? Should peripherals? Let me know so I can hurry up and forget.

- Erin Mehlos

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