GLAAD Just Gave Two Games The Same Award And I Have No Idea Why
The GLAAD Awards often serve as a reminder for how limited LGBT representation in gaming really is. There’s plenty of talk about games becoming more representative, and a lot of controversy around ‘politics in gaming’, but the reality is most games don’t feature any LGBT representation at all. If you include a gay relationship in any way, no matter how minor, you’ll probably make the cut – Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Hades prove that this year. That’s why it’s so disappointing that in the strongest year since the award began in 2019, GLAAD decided to give the award to two different games: The Last of Us Part 2 and Tell Me Why.
While GLAAD did give Dragon Age Inquisition a special recognition award back in 2015, the video game category is one of the newest at the ceremony. So far, it has done the opposite of its intention. It is supposed to celebrate LGBT representation in video games, but all it has done is highlight how far our medium is behind film and TV. The inaugural award went to Elder Scrolls Online off the back of a single quest, while Overwatch and Apex Legends, both games that only reference LGBT characters as a throwaway part of their lore, were also nominated. Apex Legends has a nonbinary character who uses ‘they’ pronouns, and that’s more impressive than Overwatch’s two cis white gays, but it’s hardly the pinnacle of what LGBT representation should be. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was also nominated that year, despite the DLC that retconned your potentially queer character into a straight relationship in order to conceive a child. Yet few people would argue with Odyssey’s inclusion because…. well, what else are you going to nominate?
That’s why it’s so disappointing that in a competitive year, rather than actually picking a single game, the award went to two of them. The Oscars would never say “oh these two films were super, I just can’t choose!” – having two games win at GLAAD underlines that LGBT people should be grateful for representation. That when two games go above the bare minimum, they should be showered with praise. Tell Me Why and The Last of Us Part 2 absolutely should have been nominated, but this was not such an outrageously queer year that a double win was necessary. I didn’t like it in Drag Race and I don’t like it now.
GLAAD also bumped up the nominees to ten this year, which I think sets a worrying precedent. As well as our two winners, the other noms were Valhalla and Hades, plus If Found…., Inkenfell, Immortals Feynx Rising, Borderlands 3, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, and Bugsnax. In any other year, each of those would probably have made the top five (I mean, ahead of Overwatch, right?), but there’s also a pretty strong core there. TMW and TLOU2, plus If Found… and Bugsnax are the obvious nominations, while Immortals is lucky to be there off the back of a rudimentary acceptance of non-binary identity. Borderlands 3 has good queer rep but it was up last year, Shadowlands’ rep was mostly downplayed, retrofitted, or expanded upon in the game’s book, and Hades and Valhalla don’t do anything special. Inkenfell, with its queer development team, probably should have been the fifth nomination, and that would have been GLAAD’s best field yet, but it was diluted by pretty paltry offerings.
This introduces two problems; it suggests that any game that exists vaguely near the queer experience needs to be nominated, and it means GLAAD now has a ten game shortlist to fill each year. If it goes back to five in 2022, that implies that gaming has taken a step backwards in terms of representation, and this idea of ‘celebration’ once again goes out the window. Despite a better than usual longlist, the shortlist should have remained at five, although the much bigger issue is the double win. Not everybody will remember the shortlist, but everyone interested in this sort of thing will remember the double win.
Of course, that introduces the problem of ‘but which game would win’ – and the answer to that is easy. Tell Me Why.
I know a lot of people – a lot of queer people especially – love The Last of Us Part 2, and I get that as a bigger game with a bigger budget and bigger marketing, more people are aware of it than Tell Me Why. But if we want games to be taken seriously as art (and in the context of awards for representation, we really should), we need to stop letting graphics or branding or even ‘game-goodness’ dictate our thinking. The Last of Us Part 2 features a transgender boy, a lesbian, and a young bisexual woman – all amongst the game’s most prominent characters. The lesbian is even the game’s lead. And it explores these identities in depth, but it does them from a very limited point of view. Lev never actually says ‘transgender’ (an infuriating trope in the context of representation), he is deadnamed, and not only is his story steeped in tragedy, it’s a tragedy that stems entirely from his transness. Meanwhile, Ellie and Dina (the queer couple) visit a gay bookstore and have no idea what the rainbow flag is, what queer culture is, and the game implies that the LGBT community at large has been completely eradicated. This in a world where people remember Jurassic Park, Pearl Jam, and still use the word ‘dyke’? I call bullshit.
Tell Me Why on the other hand explores being trans in a far more intimate, relatable way. There is still some tragedy, as there is in any life, but it is not rooted in Tyler being trans, he isn’t deadnamed, and he actually uses the word ‘transgender’. In fact, he talks about T-shots and binding and surgery and… everything a trans person can relate to in an incredibly realistic way. He is not just saying vague gay things before explaining them to the cishet audience. He feels like an actual trans person, not a trans character. Tyler can also have various different sexualities, which can result in one of the most ruggedly queer scenes I’ve ever witnessed in any medium. The lake scene is light years ahead of Ellie and Dina in the Seattle bookstore.
It really is okay if The Last of Us Part 2 is nominated for a gaming award and then doesn’t win it. But even though Tell Me Why is so obviously more suited for the victory (If Found… and Bugsnax should also have finished above The Last of Us Part 2, for the record), the biggest issue is that GLAAD gave the award to two games. Ignoring Dragon Age’s special recognition award, this is only the third year and the rules are already being bent. I’m sick of queer gamers being told we should be grateful for any representation whatsoever. GLAAD should be standing against that ideal, but instead, choices like this reinforce it.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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