[2012-01-02: 8:43 AM] Upon publication of the article below, Jim Sterling wrote his own response of sorts within his Google+ profile. It was brought to my attention and, as the post was public, I replied as well. We had an initially terse back and forth with one another (and many hundreds of thousands of words were exchanged) but in the end he made clarifications of a number of points I raised originally and said he would try to keep some of the complaints I'd brought up in mind the next time he discussed this topic. The Google+ post can be read here; it's quite long, but it does address a number of the things I mentioned originally and ultimately I appreciate him taking the time to explain his viewpoint further. The original entry continues unedited.
I do not like Jim Sterling. This isn't anything I'd really classify as a recent or sudden discovery, but rather — much like with 4chan trolls in general — something I prefer not to talk about much because Jim Sterling is the sort of individual who thrives on negative feedback, seeking to inspire as much of it as he can to validate some stylised image of himself as a Disaffected Internet Cool Kid. As a regular writer for Destructoid (amongst other places) he typifies the mentality that makes most people think of immature, greasy basement dwellers when "gamer" is said out loud. There are a number of gaming-oriented blogs that are nearly devoted to what a not-nice person he is, and simply googling his name almost turns up more animosity about him than animosity he's written himself.
Knowing quite well that this is the sort of thing that gets him off it's with much hesitation that I use him as a launching pad for something actually positive, but a recent article he wrote serves as a textbook example for an issue that speaks not simply to minority representation in gaming alone, but the broader subject of privilege and how those holding the cards often believe themselves to be more progressive than they really are.
Sterling's article was a response to something else published on Gamasutra lamenting the lack of strong homosexual lead characters in any video games. The Gamasutra article was written by Andrew Meade, an individual who appears to be straight, complaining that for all other subject matter handled in video games (sex, murder, war, genocide, zombie attacks, onward and upward) it seems difficult to find any titles that have gay characters at all, much less well done ones. He ends his article making the suggestion that Nathan Drake, the lead character of the Uncharted series, come out of the closet.
Sterling believes this to be a fantastic idea, and lays out his case for why it is, but as evidenced by his response to Meade's original entry it's apparent that Sterling completely missed the point. He seems to believe that Nathan Drake would be a great gay character by virtue of the fact that nobody thinks he's gay. This is completely awesome, mind you, because he's not a mincing, prancing faggot so it's the sort of thing that would be great!
It's not the first time he's made this argument, though in the past he was even more explicit in basically underscoring his belief that the best faggot is the sort of faggot you don't know is a faggot: in a piece for Gamefront he went on and on about how awesome one of the Fallout: New Vegas characters was because you wouldn't even know he was gay unless you happened to relentlessly engage him in dialogue and pick up on subtle references that he likes guys (and if you've picked the definitive gay perk for your own character, you can flirt with him in turn). So, there it is: Sterling's idea of a positive gay role model is someone who isn't flamboyant, doesn't bring up his sexuality unless relentlessly asked about it, and won't hit on you unless you make the first move.
Meanwhile — and perhaps I'm erroneously presuming that Jim Sterling (despite constantly posting strange innuendo about penis — as mentioned, he's a troll, but at least he's an equal opportunity troll I suppose) is heterosexual — in his world any level of objectification of women is appropriate and seemingly should be on display publicly for anyone to see. Are we on track now? — gay? Keep it to yourself unless asked; straight? Wave that flag, cowboy!
The disappointing thing in this is that Sterling obviously believes himself to be progressive and more evolved than his caveman gaming brethren — though to be fair in a lot of cases he unfortunately truly is. The Gamasutra article features comments like this:
There's a reason why there aren't more homosexuals in games – because the main audience for many AAA games is men and most men aren't homosexual, nor do they want to see that in their games. Sorry but people pay for entertainment to ESCAPE shit they don't like in the world. They don't want political messages shoved down their throats. We get enough pro-homo stuff from the media. Many video game consumers are religious and conservative, they definitely don't like homo's in their games. Many video game companies know this.
The entertainment reflects the culture, and gaming culture is definitely male and males don't really like having homosexuality shoved in front of them. It's not that they hate homo's but there's a point where it's just being homo-extremist and political and shoving a point of view in a persons face.
I've always hated biowares in your face homosexual characters, I want to play games I don't want to play relationship simulators. Sorry but thats how I and many regular normal people feel about it. Gaming companies know this so they are conservative because otherwise too much overt homo in games will cause complaints and draw attention. Games are consumed by variety of people who don't share your views, why don't they deserve a voice at the table about how they DONT want homosexuality in their games? Because it makes them uncomfortable and they don't share your values? Why does equality only go one way and not the other? There are games that cater to your values and there are games that cater to people who don't share your values. Don't like it? Join the industry and make your own games. It's a free country.
(bolding mine) while Jim Sterling's own article on Destructoid has fantastic, insightful input like
How the hell has being gay become a fashion? It's a social disease like alcoholism that needs treatment. Gays are very confused about the fact that same gender should be friends only, not bedfellows.
While I understand that Destructoid is an alternative to mainstream muck and I rather enjoy the swearing, drinking, dick & fart jokes proudly on display this however, just comes off as nieve at best.
Maybe I'm taking this too seriously and ignoring any tiny shred of creditable thought provoking material in this article but being gay isn't something that should be promoted as a label OR choice!
You know, am I the only one who gets tired of hearing about "WHY ISN'T THERE MORE MINORITY CHARACTERS??!!" when the answer is simply, "They're called MINORITIES for a reason."
I don't have anything against anyone. If you don't slap me in the face with your beliefs I wouldn't care if you were black, white, asian, gay, or whatever. The second you start forcing something onto anyone else is when I attack.
What I don't understand is why a characters sexuality needs to be at the forefront. I run into new people every day, and some of them are bound to be gay. However, I couldn't care less who they are fucking. I'm more interested in what they have to say as an individual, not as a spokesperson for their sexual orientation.
You forgot to add "Because it would be politically correct, and do you really need a reason besides that?"
But seriously, political correctness has already ruined so much of our lives that I see no need to let it ruin Nathan Drake, too.
et cetera, et cetera, I got tired of reading at a certain point. In fairness the overall tone of the comments are supportive of the idea (if in the same way that Sterling is "supportive" of homosexuals as long as they aren't, like, queeny about it) and displaying more maturity than I've ever read in a Destructoid article about any social issues.
But, straight people, this sort of thinking is not progressive. It's not positive. It's not "I'm such a better person than these troglodytes." Taking his articles at face value (though his statements and sense of humour about gay issues are often conflicting) I'm sure Sterling (and the people who have the same mindset) don't believe themselves to really be homophobes; after all, they like gay people! Some of their best friends are gay! They do cool normal things like watch sports together and their gay friends love to listen to them talk about the girls they've gone on dates with and they're so awesome for not bringing up anything about dude-sex unless, you know, they're all out at a bar or something and get drunk and they decide to ask the gay guys what's appealing about having sex with a hairy butt. Normal gays!
This isn't a matter of political correctness. Basing your acceptance of someone different on how similar to you they happen to be is not acceptance, it's simply renaming bigotry and deluding yourself into thinking you're much more open minded than you really are. Somewhere along the track that the LGBT rights movement has followed, the equality message got diluted for many into those who believe the overall goal is to be seen as "just like straights," when the actual objective is actually much simpler: to be treated "just like straights" no matter who we are, what we like to do, how far removed our mannerisms are from our gender, and whether or not you would be shocked to learn we prefer same-sex partners. It's not just straight people who get this confused (I've written about internalised discrimination in the gay community many, many times), and it's not just an issue between gays-and-straights. This manifests between races and between men and women. It's a reflection of that old primate brain that fears what it classifies as different. There's nothing wrong for realising this about yourself as long as you take steps to move past it, but if you think that doing this is being an ally to another minority group (provided that it acts how you act), you're not helping anything at all.