MIT GAMBIT Game Labs Explores LGBT Characters in ‘A Closed World’

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.

Source: MIT

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  1. 0
    State says:

    Why exactly is the grouping always LGBT? Transsexualism has nothing to do with homosexuality, but it just seems like a convenient grouping due to the rare nature of transsexuals. If people are concerned over the portrayal of transsexual characters then they need to make sure that disabled are always included (due to the more common occurrence of that minority in society).

    Having said that Saint's Row 2 actually had a transsexual as the main character (although this was on a technicality).

  2. 0
    Neeneko says:

    Perhaps in terms of personality, but I think it can be argued that gays in america encounter a special class of issues and problems that strait people do not, and that is a domain that be explored.

    Though personally I think a lot could be done just be integrating GBLT characters as just regular people with plotlines that do not focus on what makes them differnt.   Ideally both types of plotlines would be in play in gaming.

  3. 0
    Kajex says:

    I think the issue here is that the group doing this is immediately assuming that LGBT "content" would revolve around their likes and dislikes, which may or may not conform to "the norm". I'm sure a substantial amount of gay people find it rather offensive when others around them come to the assessment that most gay people fit the gay stereotype. Most times, the only thing that sets them apart is who they cuddle up with when they sleep.

  4. 0
    Vake Xeacons says:

    Developers have a hard time portraying ethnic characters because they are mainly Asian/Caucasian men.

    Developers have a hard time doing relationships because they've never been laid.

  5. 0
    DanHoyt says:

    Games have a hard time portraying everybody other than caucasian/Asian-looking men. Games have a hard time doing relationships overall romance or not.

    I think Mass Effect did a pretty good job. Shepherd and Liara is some kind of alternative lifestyle depending on how you classify Liara if you were a woman and you went after her. It also wasn't forced which was kind of nice.

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