Mortal Kombat’s first gay character… Can we get over it?
The cat is out of the bag. NetherRealm’s latest game, Mortal Kombat X has the first gay character in the series. He is called Kung Jin, a former thief, and an archer for the Shaolin monks, and in some flash-back cut-scenes his sexual orientation is revealed. This was brought to the gaming media’s attention through Gaystarnews, and I am not sure if this is because they have the best gaydar out of the gaming media or because nobody else felt that it was newsworthy. Not that you really need a good gaydar to figure out that Kung bats for the other team, as when the character Raiden describes him as “Self-loathing” and tells him “They care about only what is in your heart; not whom your heart desires”, it’s rather clear that you are playing as a back door bandit. Furthermore, the game’s cinematic director, Dominic Cianciolo announced on twitter that it was intentional and it was to his delectation that people have picked up on it. The tweet read as follows: “I see people are picking up on the subtle exposition contained in Kung Jin’s flashback. Glad we have observant fans!”.
This information has since been spread by Kotaku, a site that receives vigorous criticism from the #gamergate movement for what they believe to be unsatisfactory journalistic ethics and shameless pandering to the whiny demands of “social justice warriors”. One Kotaku user named Gourmag, writes in their comment section; “Why make this fact stand out. It would have been better if people saw this character as an actual character/person, now people will see this character as that GAY Mortal Kombat character. It’s Dorian all over again.” I almost feel bad to say it, but I think he is right. Dorian was the first openly gay character in Dragon Age: Inquisition who received viral media attention because of his disposition, although even the first game was laden with bisexual characters that would sleep with you regardless of your gender. The only difference is that Dorian will not sleep with you if you are female because he is fully gay and he will not let you forget it. I’m sure most gamers would agree that representation is by no means a bad thing, but where do we draw the line? How do you differentiate a meaningful portrayal that has a purpose, and a portrayal whose sole purpose is to meet a quota, tick a box or shut up some obnoxious hecklers?
Well for a start, we’re talking about Mortal Kombat… a fighting game. Is sexuality even relevant in a fighting game? Aside from skimpy outfits and jiggle physics (those are part and parcel of the genre), there is no sexuality required in a fighting game- and for that same reason just about every character’s sexuality is up to debate. Take Zangief from Street Fighter, part of his charm is that he is a big, gruff, hairy testosterone machine, and yet between his speedos and bright red boots, something about him is very homo-erotic. He even made it onto gaygamer’s Top 20 Gayest Video Game Characters. His sexuality does not need to be confirmed or explored- it can remain ambiguous, like nearly every other character in the genre. With just minutes of cut-scenes to portray and define each fighter, there’s little knowledge of their history and little development to be had. So why get into a very loaded subject like homosexuality? And where do you end this pursuit for inclusiveness? What is next; Fighters in wheelchairs, trans-gender fighters, fighters with dementia, fighters with cerebral palsy, fighters in their 30’s who still draw sonic the hedgehog comics with crayons? The gay community for decades have been protesting and campaigning to be treated as ordinary individuals, to receive the same benefits such as gay marriage and to be viewed no differently than if they were straight. Many video campaigns ask what the difference between a straight couple and a gay couple is. They all conclude with similar sentiment, that there is no difference, that love is love, and gender is inconsequential. So excuse me if I feel it is rather counter-productive for Mortal Kombat and the “progressive” media to raise so much attention to it. Why even bother to bring real world issues into a medium that is there to provide escapism and fantasy?
That is not to say homosexuality does not have its place in gaming. I recall, one of my favourite games, Bully had some homosexual themes present. It took place in a school with several different cliques and each one of these had one guy that you, Jimmy Hopkins, could romance if you wished. You could flirt with them, provide gifts and then make out, and, well that was it. Admittedly it was rather shallow, although less-so than Skyrim’s approach (at least in Bully your 15 year old gets to first base) and it was relatively similar to Fable in this regard, but without being overly-progressive and making three-quarters of the population of the game bisexual. However the difference between the representation of homosexuality in these games and in Mortal Kombat X is that there’s no narrative tied into the homosexuality in these older games. You are not unraveling subplots regarding how Jimmy or your Hero are confused about their sexuality, because frankly, you don’t need to. You’re there to kick some arse and defeat your enemies. Homosexual themes have as much place in a fighting game, as a golf cart has a place in a swimming pool.
The struggles you face should be those that you can immediately begin to address within the game, because is that not what gaming is fundamentally about? After seeing Princess Peach getting kidnapped by the evil Bowser in Super Mario, your initial impulse and thoughts should rightfully be “I’m going to go save her”, and should not be “Is Mario straight?” If Mario just breaks the fourth wall and says “I’m a self-loathing, gay plumber and I just got fired from my pornography job…in fact I’m not even a real plumber”, what do you do with that? How does that elevate the game in any way? It has neither place nor purpose and it’s a mere irrelevance, and inconvenience disabling you from fully engaging with the main plot-point.
It is possible that NetherRealm had an ulterior motive, well aware that gay characters = positive publicity, and overcompensating college liberals rushing out to buy the game in the name of social justice. But honestly, how is it news? Maybe the ones to blame are the games journalists that critique video games in accordance to the social justice scale (are there any “problematic” elements like any attractive women, an all-male cast, any damsels in distress? What about positives like strong empowered women and gay people). Judging a game’s merit based upon whether the developers have shoe-horned in any left-wing ideals (aka: propaganda) and subtracting points if they haven’t, may encourage them to play ball, and would explain these cases of superfluous representation.
I mean no disrespect to the developers of Mortal Kombat X, who may have had the best of intentions, to do their part in making video games an inclusive medium for everyone. No one can fault them for their purpose, if it was indeed well-intended and not merely a political statement. But to put it in the most basic terms, there is a time and a place for these kinds of themes, and in a game, particularly Mortal Kombat, it just does not sit right. And, while I have faith that most gamers won’t let a sexual orientation dictate who they play as, once any homophobic players catch wind of this, you can expect Kung to become their go-to punch bag. Didn’t think that through, did you?
– These opinions are my own and do not reflect the views of any of my fellow journalists at Load The Game –