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The Casual Gaymer: Compartmentalization as a Queer Player

Welcome to another edition of “The Casual Gaymer!” This is a bimonthly column from AiPT! Gaming in which I’ll share my thoughts, questions, and concerns about video games and the gaming industry as a queer person with limited free time. Missed last time’s edition where I explored Nier: Automata‘s implicit call to decentralize heteronormativity? Can you hear me now?

This week, I want to talk about how much compartmentalization it often takes to enjoy video games as a queer #gamer. Spoiler: too damn much. And there is nowhere else in gaming where I feel my brain rip itself apart more severely as it tries to separate out the problematic content to enjoy the style and gameplay than in the Persona games. Last week, we got trailers and details for Persona 5: The Royal and Persona 5: Scramble; the first being a re-release of Atlus’s super stylish, fun to play, disappointingly homophobic JRPG with extra content and the second, a musou game with P5‘s setting, characters, and trappings. I’m excited about these games because I never finished my playthrough of Persona 5 upon its initial release and love a good musou game–if it’s based on a franchise I like–to play with a podcast on. As soon as I could get excited about these games, I immediately hopped back on the train of thought I was chugging along in around when I dropped off Persona 5.

How much am I able to enjoy this game that actively pushes me away? I love the art direction, music, battle mechanics, etc., but am I able to put the game’s homophobia and contradictory ideas about sexualizing teenagers to the side? If you aren’t caught up on Persona 5‘s use of archaic, problematic tropes that demonize queer people or the way it tries to tell a nuanced story about a sexual predator and then…fully makes comedy of turning one of its characters into prey, check out those links.

The point is, I am so attracted to Persona 5‘s style and so into its intuitive combat that encourages combos and satisfying enemy weakness exploitation. So much so, that instead of just continuing to invest time and money in games from queer creators about queer people (which is always the correct answer to this problem!) I see a flashy trailer with these aggressively heterosexual teens leaping around in costume, put on my clown nose, and get hyped for more content from the developers that saw the critiques of the transphobia in Catherine and told us to hold their beer.

So, I write this column not to work through whether or not I’m allowed to like Persona 5 in spite of its severely problematic elements. This is not me making a confession for enjoying the game and if you, dear reader, have your own problematic favs, no one can meet you in that confession booth and absolve you of whatever guilt you may feel. We all, #gamers or otherwise, have our problematic favs to enjoy and read into the dirt in the hopes that we are neither encouraging those tropes and pitfalls or invoking them ourselves in our own creative endeavors. I write this column not in confession, but ventilation. I need to vent a little about how frustrating it is that in 2019 (as if a number can indicate implicit “progress”) we still have mainstream, universally praised games that require this level of compartmentalization to enjoy if you’re a queer person. That’s a broad brush stroke, I know. I’m sure there are plenty of queer people who struggle much less with their enjoyment of these games than I, and I promise I do not sit in judgement of that ease of enjoyment, rather than sink into envy.

What I’m getting at is that while we are lucky to have tools like itch.io, social media, etc. to find queer creators and the games they are making. However, I find myself too often frustrated that the games that–it seems–everyone is playing, everyone is loving, and I am loving too…have such Issues that queer people have to grapple with while straight players never have to think twice about them. I can’t tell you how many podcasts, tweets, and real life conversations where Persona 5 was being praised as a damn near perfect game…if only Morgana didn’t make you go to bed so early. How many times did I sit there hoping that someone would mention the blatant homophobia at least in a way that put it into the conversation surrounding the game, be disappointed when that never happened, and wonder if I wanted to be That Person who brought it up. As is clear from the links I’ve supplied in this piece, people were talking about it, but never people in the most mainstream spaces. I suppose what I want at the end of the day is for games with such capital “I,” Issues to have those issues addressed at all amongst the endless praise.

I know, I know, “Stop waiting for mainstream culture to throw queer people scraps! Focus on queer creators in queer spaces!” I promise I hear you and espouse that approach to media consumption more every day. I guess I just want to vent a little and shake my fist upward at the mainstream for continuing to keep even the conversations about queerness in the margins. It is profoundly uplifting to see writers like Heather Alexandra and Danielle Riendeau writing pieces on a known TERF and Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist’s ridiculous inclusion in Mortal Kombat 11. Regardless of my frustration with mainstream gaming conversation, I try to take a little solace in these voices being published on visible outlets like Kotaku and Waypoint. We need exponentially more of that.

That’s all I have for you this week! As always, let’s continue to uplift queer creators and maybe consider sharing some of the links I’ve shared in this piece to try and elevate the conversation a little. An immediately cool thing you, dear reader, can do right now for queer people in a gaming space is check out Waypoint’s 72-hour gaming stream to support Trans Lifeline! The stream will be going through May 5th and you can make a donation to Trans Lifeline now at savepoint.stream! If you’re catching this column after the stream is over, here’s another link to Trans Lifeline where you can donate whenever! Trans rights!!!

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