There is a very interesting article in today’s Salon gay marriage in MMOGs, Why can't gay dwarves get married in Middle-earth? The article was surprisingly well-informed and they covered some key issues I thought very well. One interesting data point that was entirely unsurprising was the number of players who reported overhearing homophobic remarks in games. As we all know, the term “gay” is used regularly as a perjorative, lending a kind of pubescent playground atmosphere to some game communities.
What was the most interesting to me about this article, however, was that it highlighted a kind of theological discourse, not about gay marriage per se, but about player freedom. Of course gay marriage makes sense in open-ended free-play games like Second Life. And even in There.com, there are many male wedding dresses available at auctions and players engage in a variety of gay and trans-gendered play. The designers of “The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar” argue that they wanted to stay true to the source material, so they disallowed any player action that they thought contradicted the book, or even Tolkien’s sensibility (he was Catholic and somewhat conservative). But others in the article countered that players should have as much freedom as possible in the game. Even Rockstar, not exactly the bastion of gender equity, has an affordance for same-sex kissing in “Bully.” So it opens up some interesting questions about authenticity versus player agency. How much freedom should players be allowed to have within the context of a fantasy environment? Should the fantasy be theirs, or the “author’s,” whether that be the game designer or the author of the source material? I think these are interesting questions and I would be curious to hear what others think.