New research efforts at MIT explore how games handle gay, bisexual and transgender characters and storylines… badly. Inspired by the lack of serious LGBT characters in mainstream video games, Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab has developed a game called “A Closed World,” which hopes to answer straightforward questions such as "How can video games present LGBT content and what are the challenges that a development team faces when trying to include content about someone different from the perceived norm?"
In an attempt to answer these questions, several teams worked for eight weeks during GAMBIT's summer program as producers, designers, programmers, musicians and artists on some experimental games. Todd Harper, the GAMBIT product owner of “A Closed World,” led a team of nine interns from Singapore, MIT, the Rhode Island School of Design and the Berklee College of Music.
“This 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,” Harper says. “This is the way I sold the project to the interns. Cultural content shapes our reality.”
A Closed World is a console-style RPG that lets players take control of a young resident of a village where (on the outskirts) a forest exists that legend claims "is a place of no return." Because of this the forest is forbidden and what is on the other side of it is unknown. The hero's beloved, tired of the oppressive attitude of the villagers, decides to go there and the protagonist eventually follows after.
Harper notes that LGBT content is usually incidental and never drives the story, which is one of the core reasons for making A Closed World.
"Rather than having it be sidelined or there for a one-off joke, games can and should be doing something explorative and expressive on the topic. We started with my having mapped out the narrative of the game ahead of time. But in eight weeks we'd done something completely different.”
You can check out A Closed World here.