Video games have been my home since I was young, and today I'd argue that they're even more than that — they're part of my livelihood. But the experiences they've given me have always been narrow, filtered through the eyes of one beefy white guy after another.
Yes, it's hard enough to get developers to add women as playable options into their games, let alone minorities with fluid sexuality. Yes, there are a hundred reasons we've heard that seem to gently take our hand and explain why it can't be done. It's disheartening, predictable and, sometimes, bullshit.
Games can change. We just need to learn a thing or two from Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.
Why it matters
The Kim K. game is a mobile social sim in which you create a character and do your darndest to push them up the hill to fame. Two more steps to the left and it could be a brilliant piece of satire; one step right and it's just another throwaway game banking on someone's star power and pop-culture notoriety.
And just like that, I was suddenly in control of my sexuality
The game has blown up on the app store and is already on track to make around $200 million this year. And why not? It's not that bad of a game. Completing errands while changing outfits, networking and becoming BFFs with Miss Kardashian herself isn't that far removed from the fantasy of most games. Instead of slaughtering monsters or saving the world, we're upping our follower count and building friendships. Furthermore, the game manages to accomplish something that many video games today can't even muster.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood's best-kept secret is actually hidden in plain sight: gay relationships.
Early on in the game, my female avatar cruised into a socialite who accused me of macking on her man. It wasn't true, of course. I'd been trying to network with the guy. One fairly catty chat later, I found myself kicking it in Kim's mansion for comfort. When she offered to hook me up with someone, she did so in the most mind-blowing way.
"Maybe you're looking to meet girls?"
And just like that, I was suddenly in control of my sexuality.
I tried the same scenario with the male avatar, feeling like I'd unlocked some special trick. Kim was happy to oblige, and I found my pompadour'd bro on a date with a dark-skinned gentleman in a white suit named Steven. Suddenly, Hollywood felt like the most progressive game I'd ever played.
Does that sound unremarkable? It's not. We live in an age where major developers refuse to include same-sex relationships, and where we still have to praise those that do. It's a gift they give us, that choice — not a basic right that's extended to everyone.
Gay characters in games are too often played up for laughs, or worse, defined by their sexuality. We can never forget that straight is considered the default, and in the eyes of these games, gay characters are an "other." The choice in Hollywood is given so simply, and the game moves on as if it's no big deal. This isn't just refreshing; it's groundbreaking.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is low-hanging fruit for a lot of easy criticism: materialism; our obsession with fame and stars; and even Kim herself. But just for a second, let's shelve our cynicism. Let's put aside our opinions on sex tapes and fashion and superstars and tuck away our disdain for anyone whom people believe get rich by "doing nothing." Instead, let's circle back, take a good hard look at our favorite games and ask one very simple question.
If this goddamned Kim Kardashian game can get this right, then why can't we?