Playing Dirty: That's so gay

Every other week, Bonnie Ruberg contributes Playing Dirty, a column on sex and gender in video games:

Puppies are gay. Dancing is for homos. Even Link is a little queer.

"Gay" has become a strange, strange word. From happy to homosexual to stupid, it can mean many different things. But there's no ambiguity in an insult like "That's so gay" – the favorite homophobic tag line of defenders of the heterosexual norm. It's like a built-in security system: whatever doesn't fit in gets "outed."

Of course, there's no group that fits the heterosexual norm – young, male, straight – better than gamers. At least, that's how we're perceived, and often how we act: as a boys' club. We like big guns, fast cars, hot women. Maybe that's why we're so quick to attack games that lack traditional testosterone. Between forums, blogs, and general grumblings, gamers have declared everything from Nintendogs to Dance Dance Revolution to The Wind Waker (Bright colors? Queer!) "gay."

Rockstar's Bully, however, doesn't fit that list. It's not pretty, or cute. If you don't watch out, it might even beat you up for your lunch money. Like the Grand Theft Auto series before it -- and especially the oh-so-controversial, hidden hetero action in San Andreas -- it's a man's game. Which, perhaps, is why we're so surprised to learn that Bully, too, is "gay."

By now, we all know about Jimmy Hopkins' boy-on-boy kissing adventures. A few voices have leapt out in predictably outraged protest but, for the most part, the gaming world has been strangely accepting of Jimmy's bi-curiosity – surprising in a community where a normal evening on Halo 2 (you know it's happened to you) usually includes watching a preteen with a Xbox Live headset shoot ammo into your lifeless corpse while shouting, "You're dead, homo!"

Have we suddenly become tolerant? Has Rockstar taught us a valuable lesson about our right to choose sexual partners? It's hard to say, but given their track record, their intentions were probably less valiant. Even if they were trying to stir up controversy (and publicity), Rockstar has given us, in Bully, a litmus test for how we react to both the manly and the "gay."

Not that the two have to be opposites. In ancient Greek culture, all-male sex was considered the most manly kind, for the logical reason that it excluded women altogether. Remember, gay does not necessarily equal feminine, and feminine doesn't necessarily equal gay.

The larger question, though, is about the video games community itself. Whether or not we'd like to admit it, the same thing that makes us homophobic – our homogeneous demographic – makes us by nature homoerotic. What is gaming if not a bunch of guys sitting around playing together? Like many other manly pursuits, from team sports to watching porn with friends, games put men in a charged environment. Even if you identify 100% heterosexual, it's hard to deny guy-on-guy camaraderie has sexy implications.

And maybe, in the end, that's what really makes our community so defensive, even homophobic. We call other things "gay" to assure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no one will think we are.


Bonnie Ruberg is a writer, researcher, and all around fangirl with a big crush on games. Find more of her work at Terra Nova, Gamasutra, or her blog, Heroine Sheik. She can be reached at .

This article was originally published on Joystiq.