Moose Test: Finale and Implications
The Moose Test has been formed, tested, fixed, and retested. I now have an accurate litmus test for judging LGBT+ representation in video games. With the current Moose Test I analyzed the top 50 titles of the “PC Gamer Readers’ Top 100 list”.
In case you missed it, here are my previous posts to catch you up:
- Declaration of Intent
- Improving the Moose Test: Survey Data
- An Improved Moose Test
- Using the Moose Test on a Sample of Games I Own
- The Moose Test Applied to the Top 50 Titles by PC Gamer Readers
I chose the top 50 PC games as proclaimed by consumers because I believe it reflects the types of games the general public buys/plays. With these points in mind I found that 24 percent of games passed my test, and 76 percent failed (with 6 percent of games being actively harmful, and 8 percent of games attempting some sort of representation). I learned some interesting things about the video game industry, and the developers and publishers pulling the strings.
Games that Passed the Moose Test for LGBT+ Representation in Video Games
You can read about all of the games that passed the Moose Test, but I am only choosing a few key games to highlight some of my findings.
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
a. Developer: CD Projekt RED
b. Publisher: CD Projekt
c. Test: Pass
- Ciri — Bisexual/Lesbian
The number one consumer voted game of 2017 passed the test. Ciri is the pseudo-adopted daughter of the protagonist, a main character to the plot, and her sexuality is only briefly mentioned.
Points of contention: Although some will argue that she was forced to adopt a bisexual/lesbian lifestyle to protect herself and that it isn’t true to her character, the intention of her relationship cannot be confirmed. Therefore, I’m inclined to believe the story at face value. This game shows an eloquent way to include LGBT+ representation in a way that matters, but not have it be the focus of the game.
14. Life is Strange
a. Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
b. Publisher: Square Enix (Feral Interactive for OS X / Linux)
c. Test: Pass
- The entire game is about the two female protagonist’s relationship.
- By the end the player (Max) can have a romantic relationship with Chloe.
I chose Life is Strange as a prime example of how a strong narrative in games can influence the story. Max is the playable character who can travel briefly back in time to stop or correct events, and Chloe is her best friend from the past that kicks off the entire game. While this game makes use of lesbian themes and stereotypical tropes to lead the player into feelings toward the best friend, it is entirely possible to play without any romantic relationship between the two. However, if you take that route it’s a very different game and outcome. This is one of the few instances where being LGBT+ is ingrained into the core narrative, but non-LGBT+ options are available as well.
37. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
a. Developer: Kojima Productions (a subsidiary of Konami)
b. Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
c. Test: Pass (with reservations)
- Since the gameplay is a lot about committing war atrocities it could be perceived as negative, but because multiple, important characters are somewhere on the LGBT+ spectrum it passes. Negative portrayal isn’t limited to the LGBT+ characters, pretty much everyone has poor qualities.
This is an important game to discuss as it passing the test is on the limits of what is acceptable. First, it’s important to mention the break in stereotype. Most of the characters are spies/military/etc. but many of them are LGBT+. Second, part of my test is seeing if LGBT+ characters have a positive portrayal of the community, and this passes because it’s not the one LGBT+ characters that’s evil or bad. Multiple people, regardless of sexual orientation are good or evil. This is one of the only games on the list that accomplishes the most neutral take on their LGBT+ characters as people
Games that tried
This is important to look at, as it shows the most growth within the video game industry.
11. Fallout 2
a. Developer: Black Isle Studios
b. Publisher: Interplay Productions
c. Test: Fail +
- There is recognition of gay and lesbian sexuality, but none of it is imperative to story or game play.
- Fallout 2 features the first ever instance of same-sex marriage in a video game.
Fallout 2 is the very first video game to ever include same sex marriage. Combined with the fact that different sexualities were recognized, this was a very progressive game for the time is was released (1998).
16. Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn
a. Developer: BioWare
b. Publishers: Black Isle Studios, Interplay Entertainment
c. Test: Fail +
- The game originally did not include same sex relationships, but it did allow for mods that enabled this, which was a relatively new concept in the early 2000’s.
- Future iterations of the game include gay and lesbian romance options.
This is the first on the list that showed improvement from past iterations. When this game was first released in 2000, it failed the test. But, through public outcry, updates were added that included same-sex relationships. Re-released as an ‘enhanced edition’ in 2013, Baldur’s Gate 2 included these updates. What’s important about this title is that it shows that publishers are starting to listen to their consumers, and that developers are allowing for modified content in their games so that more players can tailor the experience.
a. Developer: Arkane Studios
b. Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
c. Test: Fail (I give kudos to this game, detailed below)
- If you (male character) attempt to make an advance on Callista while she’s taking a bath, she refuses. If you continue anyway you lose the game saying that the group was disbanded because of “irreconcilable hostilities.”
This game fails, but there’s one very interesting thing that deserves a mention. In one scene, when the male protagonist makes an advance on a female character while she’s taking a bath, you are given many opportunities to not attempt sexual assault on the character. If you absolutely can’t help yourself, or you try to be sneaky and use your powers to look at her ‘naked form’ Dishonored sends you to a veritable GAME OVER screen.
This is a topic for another article, but I found it cool that the female character (in 2012) had enough power to end the game in this way. This is the only game on the list that even remotely speaks against sexual assault, a topic often used ignorantly to demonize the LGBT+ community.
Games that are Harmful
Only three games out of fifty were actively harmful, but considering that these games may be the only LGBT+ representation someone sees, it’s still too many.
4. Dark Souls
a. Developer: FromSoftware
b. Publisher: Namco Bandai Games Japan: FromSoftware
c. Test: Fail - (ACTIVELY HARMFUL)
- Dark Sun Gwyndolin is the only confirmed LGBT+ character, in Japanese she refers to actions and herself with both male and female pronouns.
This is the first game on the list that has a negative impact on LGBT+ perception. In Japan, Dark Sun Gwyndolin is confirmed transgender as she uses both male and female pronouns to reference her past and current self, even when there is an absolute female pronoun. Additionally, in the US translation they make her transgender identity ambiguous, resulting in erasure. Beyond this, she is the only LGBT+ person in game and she’s a villain.
36. Crusader Kings 2
a. Developer: Paradox Development Studio
b. Publisher: Paradox Interactive
c. Test: Fail -
- Being gay is a trait some characters can have or develop. Being straight, however, is not. Having the gay trait leads to negative effects.
This test fails for one reason: being gay is a forced trait and being gay leads to negative effects. When your character is gay, they can hit on straight characters, but straight characters can’t hit on gay ones. In addition, having the gay trait makes you 5% less fertile(???). Not only does this reinforce the stigma that being gay is a bad thing, but it’s also inaccurate.
a. Developer: Ludeon Studios
b. Publisher: Ludeon Studios
c. Test: Fail -
- The controllable pawns in the sci-fi colony simulator can have a variety of sexual preferences.
- Outlined in this article the lead designer, Tynan Sylvester is a straight man with very narrow views of his perception of sexuality.
- Transgender doesn’t exist, bisexual men don’t exist
- Being gay takes up a ‘trait’ slot for the character (traits are harmful/beneficial aspects for each character like ‘nudist’, ‘bloodlust’, or ‘psychopath’) but being straight doesn’t take up a slot. They are defined by their sexual orientation.
RimWorld will never be a game I play, and I can say this with certainty. I discovered a controversy about lead developer Tynan Sylvester while researching the top 50. On the surface, RimWorld should pass because it has a variety of random settlers that can have any perceived sexuality. It fails for a key reason, being gay is a trait that your characters have. Suddenly being gay defines their role in society.
This isn’t the only issue, there are only gay and straight men, there are only bisexual and lesbian women, and there are no transgender characters. As reported in the article,
“Citing research he’d done for RimWorld, as well as his personal observations, Sylvester said that bi-curiosity is ‘quite asymmetrical between sexes.’ Bisexual men are uncommon in his experience and, from what he’s seen, end up only dating other men. According to research he cited in his comment, many women who identify as straight are often actually bisexual, and, according to anecdotal evidence, many men who identify as bisexual are often actually gay.”
His research is already outdated for a game supposedly still in testing. In response to the initial article, Sylvester said that some of the things Lo cited about the game’s code aren’t true to how things actually play in game. But code doesn’t lie. If the game doesn’t reflect what is coded then that’s a failure for the developer. The fact that he flavors the code with his own straight, male ‘experiences’ leads to a deeper issue.
While looking at the developers and publishers list, some things became apparent to me both for the games that passed or had an F+.
Dev — CD Projekt Red . Pub — CD Projekt
Dev — Gearbox Software . Pub — 2K Games
Dev — Obsidian Entertainment . Pub — Bethesda
Dev — Bioware . Pub — EA
Dev — Dontnod . Pub — Square Enix
Dev — Bethesda . Pub — Bethesda
Dev — Bioware . Pub — EA
Dev — Bethesda . Pub — Bethesda
Dev — Blizzard . Pub — Blizzard
Dev — Arkane . Pub — Bethesda
Dev — Kojima . Pub — Kojima
Dev — Bethesda . Pub — Bethesda
Dev — Black Isle Studios . Pub — Interplay Productions
Dev — Bioware . Pub — Black Isle Studios & Interplay Productions
Dev — Firaxis . Pub — 2K Games & Aspyr
Bethesda and Bioware followed by 2K Games are the top developers and publishers for games with accurate (or close to) LGBT+ representation. These are very large studios with the opportunity to employ an array of diverse designers, programmers, developers, writers, and other influential positions. Size of studio is the most deciding factor for whether or not a game will pass the test. This isn’t to say their aren’t small shops producing accurate games, but it is statistically more likely for it to happen in the vastly the large ones with enough funding to promote their games to the masses.
When you look at the three harmful games, it’s the small shops that seem to lose out. Taking Ludeon Studios with RimWorld for example. The potential for good and diverse game dev ended with the short-sightedness of lead developer Tynan Sylvester.
Why Does This Matter?
While conducting my research over the course of a semester, I received two death threats. One from an anonymous reddit user, and one from a Neo-Nazi/Reddit troll based in Sweden. They felt the need to send me threatening personal messages because I posted about LGBT+ representation in an open forum. Obviously, this needs to be spoken about until the LGBT+ community is just another accepted community. Given recent world events, it is more important than ever to achieve accurate representation.
Positive representation matters. With a medium such as video games, a lot of inaccurate or stereotypical messages are used for the sake of entertainment. It’s not difficult to challenge what the player thinks of the LGBT+ community, but it’s also not easy to do so in an honest, nuanced way. It’s easy to stereotype us as sexual predators, having mental illness, or as having evil intentions. It’s easy to demonize transgender people or use a lesbian relationship as Joe Schmoe’s straight, male fantasy because society reinforces it. We’ve seen this a lot. But there’s hope.
Twenty-four percent of games in the top 50 passed the Moose Test, with others trying to include representation. Bioware and Bethesda are making games that both pass the Moose Test and are some of the best-selling games ever made. It’s apparent that their writers, dev team, and those involved are diverse or are at least listening to a diverse audience.
I ask that developers and publishers use this test to help determine if their video games achieve accurate representation. If games fail it, then ask why. Is it because sexuality is never mentioned once for any character (which isn’t unreasonable), or is it because being LGBT+ has been deemed a negative quality? If it’s the latter, then any designer, writer or developer should be able to fix the problem. It’s the responsibility of the publishers to listen to the community. We’re saying, “be better,” and they’re saying “we’re trying.” It’s not enough yet, but the gaming industry is getting closer.