05 October, 2016

The Hottest Men Are From Mars

Admittedly it’s the sincerest men I want to discuss, but, ‘The Realest Men Are From Mars’, doesn’t quite convey the gayness of what is to come. Aside from screenshots of hot videogame men, this article does contain spoilers, the most egregious being of The Technomancer.

The Hottest Men Are From Mars banner


These thoughts have been gnawing at me since I penned my review of The Technomancer earlier this year, for two reasons; the primary the subject of this article, and what I perceive as the criminal under appreciation of The Technomancer. There are many reasons I previously described the game as creatively honest, but it was its portrayal of Lucky (Andrew) that I found most profound.

Born on Mars, Lucky’s childhood, indeed existence, was one of brutal hardship. He was no ordinary child of poverty however, Lucky possessed the gift of Technomancy; his body the home of a lightning storm, poorly contained in his case. Protagonist Zachariah is also a Technomancer, and Lucky is the only Technomancer amongst his full-time companions. Zachariah first meets Lucky in Ophir, where he, a one-armed bodyguard and his merchant patron have been detained by a street gang. A little while after freeing them, the player may choose to help both with different missions, Lucky’s being to setup a meeting with a Technomancer teacher.

Zachariah learns of Lucky’s past; his time with the Technomancers – some ten years earlier – the loss of control of his powers, resulting in the loss of his arm,  the scarring of Zachariah’s face,  and the deaths of other students. And subsequently, his flight from the Technomancers. This rather unassuming way of introducing a major character, disguising them as minor by treating them like countless other one or two time mission-givers before they join the player’s party, is the way of The Technomancer, one of its qualities I do so love.

The Hottest Men Are From Mars lucky arm

Lucky is later met in Noctis, the hidden merchant city, where he joins Zachariah. By talking to and fighting beside Lucky, paying attention to his political and moral leanings, the player can raise his opinion of Zachariah, as with all the companions. This leads to discussion of his past, much of which Zachariah may already know. At no point during this friendly relationship does Lucky blurt out his gayness, he gives no advanced warning to unsuspecting players. He simply continues to be Lucky; fairly easy-going, fairly humorous, but mostly kind and supportive. He’s just a nice guy, an extremely rare breed amongst those of the Mars, and it’s not conveyed through sappy, cringe worthy dialogue – he comes off as pretty genuine.

The Technomancer’s companions are well written, I might say excellently, save the weird instances; particularly poorly sold lines, or conversations that require parsing and consideration, possibly due to imperfect translation. The companions interact with each other as much as with Zachariah and there are past relationships between them; the game acknowledges them as more than Zachariah’s hired guns, as friends in many cases.

The Technomancer is shaped, quite evidently in spots, by the limited resources of its construction – I haven’t any hard numbers on budget or staff size, but it’s clearly not Mass Effect, or even the Witcher. Not only is that not a problem for me, the game is all the more beautiful for it; for example, that Lucky is one of five fully fledged companions, not say ten or more, the likelihood the player will interact with him, thus his impact on the overall experience. Sure you can avoid or ignore Lucky, if you want – I certain did with Phobos, the burly mutant – but you can’t change who he is, and that might be the most important thing of all.

Zachariah can only ever be male, or more inclusively, is only ever portrayed so – as far as I’m concerned Zachariah can be whatever you want. You can change Zachariah’s features, including skin tone, but it is always ‘Zachariah’, with a distinctly male voice. In the context of Lucky I find this important; for Lucky is not the handsome female love interest turned gay if the player happens to play as a man, so far as the game content is concerned, Lucky can only gay. He doesn’t feel like a ticked checkbox, as is sometimes the case in Bioware games. For example, Theron Shan and Lana Beniko in Star Wars: The Old Republic; two enduring – and quite excellent – characters that both can be ‘romanced’ by any player character. So they’re bisexual then and there’s no problem? Possibly, but in their case sexuality has little to do with it, indeed character has little to do with it.  The Old Republic has no time for such nuance, it’s all about the player character; Shan and Beniko are only ever what the player tells them to be, and so I have never regarded them as bisexual. Mechanically I understand it, and I will never expect Disney’s Star Wars to unwrap any of its characters sexual leanings, or even admit they have them.  

The Hottest Men Are From Mars theron shan

Shan and Beniko’s fluid romances are almost forgivable when compared to the crimes of Fire Emblem Fates. Modern entries in the Fire Emblem series are as much graphic novel as turn-based strategy game, companion relationships are a huge aspect of the gameplay. Fire Emblem Fates added the series’ first gay characters; I experienced Niles first hand in Conquest and was almost insulted by the way he was written, fortunately I remembered it was basically anime – did I really expect anything else? I also didn’t much like the game, so fortunately that article never got written. But it’s Soleil, the lesbian character that troubled me the most. Were the protagonist a lady they could fall in love, possibly in a manner as awful as with Niles – I didn’t play Birthright, so I won’t speak to Soleil’s writing. However, were the protagonist a man – an anime boy of nebulous years actually – they could convert Soleil, marry her even, through drugging. This interaction did not appear in the western versions of the game, and at the time this controversy arose there was some debate as to Soleil’s actual sexuality, and the challenges of translating such a scene into English. (Destructoid [1][2]).

The sexuality of The Technomancer’s Amelia and Niesha is never really in question. Even were their dialogue not written so forwardly, they’re two pretty ladies in a videogame, of course you can ‘romance’ them. Now they could be bisexual – I believe there is dialog suggesting this for Niesha – just as Lucky could, but as the Zachariah may only ever be portrayed as male we’ll probably never know certain. Lucky is different from his female competition however; he doesn’t make passes at Zachariah, as they do. Though part of me dearly wishes he did, yet in this one regard far flung Mars is a lot like Earth of now, at least as I see it, where heterosexuality is more than just the norm. Because of this I was convinced, for the longest time, that The Technomancer wouldn’t allow me to advance Lucky’s relationship. Thankfully, I was wrong.

In most games sexuality is either not addressed or is inherently straight – as used to be the case in Star Wars with female Stormtroopers, you to have to pretend the gays are under helmets. In videogames where choice is concerned, sexual bearing is often accentuated, made perfectly clear to player. Only in a videogame, upon third or fourth meeting – not dates I might add – would a character tell you how they disappointed their father was upon finding out they liked boys. I’m looking at you Dorian.

The Hottest Men Are From Mars dorian pavus

Dorian Pavus, from Dragon Age: Inquisition, is a mage from Tevinter, a dashing and flamboyant one at that. Now I know he was written by a gay man, David Gaider, with the intent of creating a ‘legitimately gay’ character – meaning not bisexual, or indeed the noncommittal player-oriented-sexual discussed previously – first brought to my attention by Luke Karmali’s excellent piece on videogame gays and the lack thereof. I’ve met gays every bit as flamboyant as Dorian, perhaps more so  – while those that have come to mind didn’t grow a moustache and record a cover of I Want To Break Free, one did have an Abba phase. In this instance I believe it is it’s less about the quality of the writing, rather Dorian is a victim of Bioware’s less than subtle mission and relationship progression, resulting in something like this:

You’ve spent a whole five minutes talking to me and so I must blurt out this past of mine – a full half of my being – so you may help me with this quest. Then we can be friends, or we can kiss, I can lose my shirt if you want, just remember I’m gay!

I came around to Dorian over time, because at least he’s got some fun lines, and attitude, certainly more than Bioware’s other gay.  

The Hottest Men Are From Mars steve cortez

Again I’m being sarcastic, there are more than two – though not many – but when it comes to Steve Cortez, I can’t help myself. It’s really quite simple, Steve Cortez is the weakest, least sincere character in the whole damn series – the Vorcha whose one line goes, “I’m going to tear your face”, is at least twice as genuine in its portrayal. For me, Steve Cortez always felt like an unintentional joke; it’s the end of the galaxy, everyone’s lost someone, but it’s the gay guy that can’t keep it together, so much so that he needs his commanding officer to tuck him in at night. What is his purpose, to show the player gays can love too, that they have families like anyone else?

The Division’s Doctor Kendal; the medical mission-giver just happens to mention her wife; it’s a casual thing, though by no means subtle. It is worth noting that the player character in The Division is little more than a camera with a penchant for winter wear; in short they never speak, let alone can develop relationships. Yet Kendal’s comment has real purpose, relevance in this modern, ostensibly believable world of The Division.

Like Cortez and Dorian, and every other non-player character since the dawn of role-playing games, Lucky has his problems, the kind that only the player can resolve. However, just as the first conversation option isn’t, “how do you like your men”, it isn’t, “tell me of the past that haunts you”, surprisingly ,The Technomancer demonstrates some understanding of a little thing called small talk. The Technomancer frequently puts the pace of its story ahead of its mission structure, subtly in place of clarity. Sure time passes unevenly, and some established relationships are both complex and poorly explained. But in the case of the latter, the result is mystery, much more engaging than the vast majority of videogame plots quite frankly – they of course benefit by never being clarified.

Lucky’s sexuality does get clarified though. Zachariah may choose to enlist his old, creepy drunk  doctor friend, Scott, to build Lucky a prosthetic arm – assuming Scott is around, he does have his own problems after all. Flexing his new limb experimentally, Lucky teases Zachariah, pretending to be caught in a surge of his long sequestered Technomancer powers. In the moment I was convinced it was ‘real’, that he would explode, die or kill someone – the game is not above such betrayals.

The Hottest Men Are From Mars lucky zachriah

Later, Lucky asks to become a Technomancer once again – by the time this arises, young Zachariah may well be the grandmaster of the Technomancers. Should Zachariah accept this, they travel to an old habitation dome, where Lucky is tried in combat against Martian monsters, as Zachariah was with his master, Sean, at the beginning of the game.  After which Zachariah offers Lucky water, and the secret of the Technomancers; that in this world of mutant oppression, of human xenophobia, that they too are mutants.

Zachariah learns this very early in game, too early for the player to grasp fully what it means. Having it spoken again, revisited so, was for me a revelation of sorts; I had been told, I had travelled, and then I understood – or groked, because come on this has Heinlein all over it (Stranger in a Strange Land, 1961)! This moment is only attainable with Lucky, it’s not a mechanic, he is the only Technomancer in Zachariah’s party. That gives him a responsibility, a narrative importance, made all the more astounding by also being the only gay man in story that can only be experienced as a male character.

Approaching Lucky later, Zachariah sees Lucky at his most uncertain, relentlessly, heart-meltingly sincere, he admits that in Zachariah he feels a companionship and intimacy he’s long been without, It’s quite a bit different than a relationship with Amelia or Niesha, who both make their willingness to sleep with Zachariah quite clear, far in advance. While in all cases the result is sex, in largely recycled ‘join me in my mutant shack’ cutscenes with Zachariah’s partner swapped out, Lucky’s relationship is portrayed most closely to freely admitted love. To reference Heinlein again, quite literally two water brothers growing closer.

There are many instances of excellent writing, subtle and meaningful in The Technomancer, it’s why I will always think of it first as a fine piece of art, and secondly as a mediocre game. Lucky will forever remain foremost in my thoughts of The Technomancer, and is the only explicitly gay videogame character that I have yet encountered, that was written large, and felt genuine. While I love of Frostbite-shaded biceps Dorian, my heart belongs to Lucky.

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