My Ex-Boyfriend The Space Tyrant was put onto Steam Greenlight last week. It’s gone as expected, mostly. It proudly presents itself as a gay adventure game in which you play Captain Tycho Minogue as he fights against a space tyrant who is travelling across the galaxy and destroying the lives of the free. It’s a sexual farce, just as the Leisure Suit Larry series is, and therefore features edgy comedy and plenty of innuendos, there’s also some romance in there. But it revolves entirely around gay male characters.
Not only that, but it takes on a camp and colorful aesthetic, and even has an “undies only” mode where all of the characters bare flesh and wear skin tight briefs and nothing else. The developer claims that it is the “gayest game ever made.”
While I don’t particularly want to highlight any foul comments regarding any topic, I think there’s cause to here. On Greenlight, anyone can comment on whatever they feel, however they feel. And given that it’s part of Steam, which is the largest digital distribution service for PC games, it’s fair to say there’s a lot of ‘gamers’ – to use that marketing term – using it and visiting the pages of Greenlight. They’re a representation of the general mentality of those who play games regularly. And while we can’t accurately say who the majority group in society who play games are, we can at least ascertain that most games are made to appeal to heterosexual male interests and desires. I should point out that it’s not just games that do this, but most media products.
It says a lot, then, when looking at what they have to say about a game that is aimed at another specific group that isn’t the norm. That is to say that My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant is made to appeal to the desires of homosexual males with its sexual references, comedy and romantic interests. Or is it? More on that in a bit.
Let’s drink some salt and then look at some of these…erm, revealing, but expected comments before moving onto something a little more hopeful.
“If this was lesbians it would be awesome, but its not. Get this shit off steam please.”
“Every game I saw on Greenlight, I gave it a yes, but I can’t give a yes to this shit, sorry but the game shouldn’t be on steam, I really hate it !”
“Brb making a game subtitled “A [currently fashionable special interest group that has fuck all to do with video gaming] [genre] Game!””
“GAY… my eyes are in flames”
Well, that was fun. But don’t get the wrong idea here; I actually had to put a little effort into searching out these comments among the others. The reason for that is because most people commenting were concerned with something else, instead of hating on it because there were gay characters. A lot of the comments, I’m happy to say, were supportive of the game, and many decided to make the same joke by announcing that the developer “had some balls” for putting a game of this ilk on Greenlight among all of the heterocentric games.
But probably the majority of the comments were more concerned with the portrayal of gay characters through their campness. Both straight and gay commenters raised the issue that the game could be unfairly portraying gay people and that it’s not progressive because of this and only goes to shove stereotypes into the face of players. It’s certainly a point of discussion. Quite clearly, this line of thinking has arisen due to the pushes that are being made for a fairer representation of female characters in games. And it’s great that people are prepared to call a game out on this kind of design.
However, I do feel that My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant is a reactionary work. It shows men and sexualizes them in the same way that women have been. And while I acknowledge that it would be better to represent gay male characters just as any other relatable character, I think that would be missing the point. Further, I enjoyed this comment a lot:
“It feels slightly exploitative (is gaysploitation a word?). Still, I suppose the world needs a few games like this, so upvoted.”
The idea of “gayspolitation,” I hope, would send some sparks off in this person’s head and others who apply this argument to the game. If such a word and idea can exist, then we have to recognize that a lot of games are “heterosploitation,” then. Leisure Suit Larry is the most prominent example of this, and the recent remake’s trip through Kickstarter and Greenlight wasn’t met with as many hostile and attacking stances across the internet. Instead, it was lauded as a vital piece of gaming history that many players were happy to see return. Of course, Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded isn’t quite as visually “shocking,” (though men in speedos isn’t so shocking, if you ask me) but how the women are viewed in the game and what role they play is near identical to the many gay pin-up characters in My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant.
I just found it interesting that while ‘gamers’ were quick to call out “gayspolitation,” they were embracing of the “heterospolitation” and very welcoming of the return of the series that was probably the most guilty of using it. Of course, this is speaking in very general terms, but one is forced to in such a case. That there was anger at the idea of a specific group of players having their desires assumed and unabashedly marketed at them is amusing to me, just because most players don’t realize that most games do this to them all the time.
In a way, the marketing for My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant is SO in-your-face with its appeal to a “gay audience” that part of me thinks that it isn’t even for whom it says. You could make an argument that the game’s marketing was constructed solely to piss off straight players, to whom games are often trying to appeal to exclusively by being about their relationships and lives. Part of me also thinks that those who find the game “insulting” are reacting that way because that’s what they think they’re supposed to do. I understand why it might be insulting, but on the other hand, this is so camp and ridiculous in its depictions that it’s clear to see it merely as a bit of pulpy fun, while also having a dig at other games and character depictions in its excessiveness.
There’s no right way to perceive the game, ultimately. There’s definitely a wrong way. But what it really comes down to is developer intention, and whether or not you think you can enjoy a sexual farce that has a very specific audience in mind. It’s not trying to be inclusive, but it is trying to find humor in gay relationships, and importantly, it’s not laughing at its characters, but with them. The jokes are certainly for a gay audience, but anyone can enjoy them. I don’t see what’s wrong with that, and if we can accept and enjoy heterocentric games (many of which are stylized similarly), then can’t we do the same with this?
Mainly, I just found delight in how quick people are to call these gay representations out and en masse, whereas many heterocentric games can get away it because it’s been accepted as the standard or it’s aimed at these people and they don’t realize how it generalizes their desires as well as the groups in society that the characters belong to. I hope it opens some eyes to how games are made to appeal to people through marketing and design.