Games are not exactly well known for their sensitive handling of homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender issues. Sure, BioWare titles and The Sims have traditionally allowed you to pursue same-sex relationships, but the issues surrounding these partnerships are never explored by the story. New research by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) lab aims to change this situation.
"Rather than having it be sidelined of there for a one-off joke, games can and should be doing something explorative and expressive on the topic [of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) content]," says Todd Harper, developer of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab-developed title A Closed World -- a research project designed to specifically include compelling LGBT content rather than have it tacked on as an afterthought. "[Our] project addresses a very basic idea about identity and representation in mass media. Think about the first time you heard someone famous was different in the same way as you, or saw someone different in the same way on TV or in a movie. It gave you a little rush of good feeling. This is the way I sold the project to the interns. Cultural content shapes our reality."
A Closed World is a JRPG-styled game in which players take on the role of a young resident of a village whose beloved has disappeared into a forest, which local lore claims is a place of no return. The game seeks to explore ways in which games can present LGBT content as well as the challenges a development team faces when trying to sensitively handle material about someone regarded as different from the perceived "norm."
"It's not an easy topic," explains Harper. "And people come into the situation with lots of different expectations and backgrounds. But they embraced it as a team." He cites the example of his Singaporean student interns attending the Boston Pride Parade almost immediately after stepping off the plane and starting orientation. "Once I got over the moment of shock, I really felt a smile slowly spread across my face. They were a super close-knit team, which I think was a tremendous asset in terms of the progress of the project. Plus, it was reassuring to me to see them taking an interest in the 'subject matter,' as it were."
Was the experiment of A Closed World a success in exploring LGBT issues, however? Play it for free and find out.
This article originally appeared on GamePro.com as MIT Explores LGBT Content in Video Games