Gibraltar’s sexual preference doesn’t exactly impress me.
So I’ve been playing, like, a LOT of Apex Legends recently. It’s scratching the Overwatch and PUBG itches simultaneously, giving me little bursts of light-hearted shooting action, with abilities complex enough to create unique game feels without every hero feeling like they exist in separate video games. I like it. Big recommend.
But there’s one thing that I kinda like to forget about; the contrived sexual politics. See, it was revealed a few days after the game’s launch that Gibraltar is gay, and Bloodhound is, in some unspecific way, genderqueer.
At first, I was overjoyed to hear this news; it made some fuckheads on Twitter jerk their knees in anger, which I always enjoy pointing and laughing at, and it was much-needed representation for the queer community (Especially on Bloodhound’s part, I literally can’t name another Genderqueer character in gaming. At all).
…But when the bigoted apes bang their chests at the first whiff of gay, there is one thing they always come out with – “Ugh, Why sexuality even matter? Me just want shoot things!“, and, usually, it’s a fuckwitted thing to say, as stories explore characters and characters explore human experience, it’s inevitable that we stumble upon LGBT experiences. Having gay characters in our stories isn’t contrived, it’s a genuine reflection of the world we live in. Stories like The Last of Us aren’t ‘forcing’ some form of diversity by featuring queer characters, they’re writing a story about a common part of the human experience. If you can write a story featuring a soldier or a secret agent, you can write a story featuring a gay person.
But in this specific case – Do they have a point? ‘Apex Legends’, as great a game as it is, doesn’t have much in the way of a story – Unlike Overwatch which had an expanded universe of comics and animations, Apex Legends has a single cinematic trailer and a few text bios. Past that, the characters are conveyed simply through the ways in which they fight and the quips and animations they use along the way. They aren’t influenced by, say, politics or ideology or even outside characters – Pathfinder mentions he’s looking for his creator, and that’s about it. They are veneers of characters, not truly written with motivation and backstory in mind. They’re written to provide personality and flair to moment-to-moment gameplay. I can’t see myself becoming as attached to Gibraltar as I was to Reinhardt, even though I’ve more or less stopped playing Overwatch at this point.
Dialogue like this is the perfect way to establish characters and backstories; again, Overwatch has pre-match banter between characters that both adds to their backstory and gives the characters some additional personality and charm. Apex attempts this, but the scenarios in which the characters speak are purely functional – There are only so many ways a character can phrase the sentence “Mozambique here”, after all. There’s no extended universe, no context – It’s gameplay with a little added spice.
In other words, these characters are not influenced by their background. They aren’t products of a social experience, nor are they motivated by their environment or identity. Sure, we’re told that Lifeline is trying to raise money for humanitarian causes and that Pathfinder is in search of a purpose – But we’re never shown this in-game. Within the product itself, every character acts exactly the same; they remain chirpy as chips while slaughtering other people (And robots) for sport. An Apex Legends character’s ‘backstory’ is not a part of the media product, it’s not something that’s explored throughout the art piece. It’s a paper-thin excuse for the character to exist in this context. It’s a sales pitch to make you think the character is cool. In its simplest terms, the backstory is marketing. Gibraltar is gay because that wins the game friends – No other characters are confirmed heterosexual – except by omission from the announcement – so it’s not like this is some random detail. Gibraltar’s sexuality was written as ‘gay’ not because it informed the character or just because it was a single detail that formed part of a character’s identity – No, it was, just as the apes say, added to win gay points. Or, to put it more delicately, to curry favour through the tokenistic use of progressive politics. This is not a Tracer from Overwatch – A character whose backstory is merely added to by the revelation that she lives with her girlfriend – This is a scrap of progressive thinking applied almost at random. Any character could have had this gay label slapped on them and it wouldn’t change a thing. This is not a detail a writer took genuine care over, it was a marketing point added so it could be part of a press release during the game’s launch. It was added to make the game look nice. Gibraltar’s queerness was added to make money and no other reason. Sexuality exploited for profit.
If Gibraltar is a good example of a gay character, then Octane is clearly a sparkling example of how to depict the life of an amputee.
Better luck next time.