Bi Default: Video games boost bisexual visibility like no other media

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Photos: Bioware, Besthesda Studios.

When it comes to LGBT, the B is often forgotten about. But when it comes to video games, bisexuality is a mainstay. 

The industry topples television media, where bisexuality is sometimes treated as a joke (very recently was it compared to webbed feet in ABC’s The Real O’Neals).

But video games not only include them, but give them statue. And when it comes to inclusion of bisexual main characters, role-playing games are most likely to get it right. 

The wide array of customization in open world action role-playing video games like Bioware’s “Dragon Age” and “Mass Effect,” as well as Bethesda’s “Fallout” and “Skyrim,” allows players to be whoever you want to be. You can change their gender, skin, hair, name and personality to your liking. You even have freedom to romance other characters, which is where sexuality comes in.

Let’s hone in on to the “Dragon Age” series for examples. Across all three games in the series, there are 16 serious fleshed-out romance options. Among them, fifty percent of the romanceable characters identify as bisexual. Only the third game had two specifically gay and lesbian romance options.

Now compare that to television. In GLAAD’s 2016 “Where We Are on TV Report,” the organization analyzes diversity in cable networks and streaming services. The report showed that thirty percent of the 278 LGBT characters were openly bisexual — the majority of which are women.

Among these bisexuals, GLAAD came to an unfortunate conclusion about the representation of bisexuals in television media: bisexuals are too often depicted as “untrustworthy, lacking a sense of morality, and/or as duplicitous manipulators.”

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“Creators overwhelmingly choose to portray bisexuality as a villainous trait rather than a lived identity,” said Alexander Bolles, senior strategist at GLAAD. “This trend of inaccurate portrayals undermines how people understand bisexuality, which has real life consequences for bi people and their wellbeing.”

So, despite the prevalence of bisexual characters in television media rising up by 30 percent compared to last year, they are repeatedly being pushed into harmful stereotypes more often as they are just portrayed as regular, everyday people.

Compare that to games like “Fallout” and “Elder Scrolls,” two long-running game series made by the company Bethesda. The player is free to begin a relationship with any romanceable character regardless of gender. In this way no single character can necessarily be isolated as a harmful bisexual stereotype, because the romances are about the characters, not their orientation.

“We kind of liked pushing boundaries a bit,” openly gay developer Tim Cain told The Daily Dot. Cain is one of the original creators of the Fallout series. 

“Not always with violence. We wanted a game which is full of social commentary. So [same-sex marriage] was just another thing we were doing. I don’t even think anybody in the team really argued over it. We didn’t think ‘Oh my god, this an amazing thing.’ It was just ‘We’re going to cover every possible base here.’ And then we moved on.”

Fallout 4’s protagonist can be played as either straight or bisexual, depending on player decisions. You always have an opposite-sex partner when you begin. After that, who you romance is up to you — be it male, female or robot.

Comparatively, you don’t often see bisexual main characters in television media — but it does happen. In CW’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi series “The 100,” protagonist Clarke was identified as bisexual.

Clarke became the network’s first bisexual lead, according to the Advocate. Show creator Jason Rothenberg stated her bisexuality was not inspired by a need to appeal to LGBT fans, but out of a necessity to create a complete world.

"We didn’t think ‘Oh my god, this an amazing thing.’ It was just ‘We’re going to cover every possible base here.’ And then we moved on.” — Tim Cain, Fallout Developer

“Sexual orientation fits in the same place that gender identity and racial identity fits within the world of our show,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “The characters in the show are not concerned with those things. They are only concerned with whether they are going to live and die … Nobody ever classifies anybody, as in, ‘She’s a woman leader,’ or, ‘He’s a gay soldier.’ It’s just not in our show’s vocabulary.”

But not all was won in terms of bisexual representation. Cue the long-running “bury your gays” trope, which dictates LGBT characters can not have happy endings — usually leading to them being killed off in media. Just moments after Clarke is intimate with her first same-sex love interest, her partner is immediately murdered"

When it comes to killing off bisexuals, television media follows the “bury your gays” trope often. Shows like “Empire,” “The Catch” and more feature bisexuals dying in violent ways. This trope is more easily avoided in video games, as romance options are most often entwined with characters that are essential to the story — and likely unkillable. The trope is even less likely when the bisexual character is a protagonist.

Look at Borderlands, a first-person shooter developed by Gearbox Software. Anthony Burch, lead writer for Borderlands 2, confirmed that Axton — one of the game’s main protagonists — is bisexual. The game also has other bisexual characters, including Mister Torgue.

“We wanted to make our cast more diverse and inclusive, and it cost us effectively nothing to do so,” he wrote. “In the future, I’d like to be even more overt in discussing the sexuality of gay or bisexual characters … but these first tiny steps are still worthwhile, in my opinion.”

Television media is representing bisexuals more than ever. It is (slowly) beginning to shed common tropes as well. Here’s hoping they’ll follow the video game industry’s lead in portraying bisexual characters just as they should be portrayed — as people, no different than anyone else.


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