Geek Out: Why marriage equality matters in video games

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The first woman I married saved my life at least a dozen times before we made it to the altar. We got into a fist fight the night I met her. I won. After that she said she’d follow me anywhere — and she did. Down into Bleak Falls Barrow to fight off Draugr and recover a map of ancient dragon burial sites. Up the Seven Thousand Steps to High Hrothgar to talk with the Greybeards about my newfound ability to absorb dragon souls. She even helped me run inane errands at all hours of the day and night. Collecting frost salts, ice wraith teeth, and Daedra hearts for elven merchants and helpless orcs. Finding precious gems for an Argonian pawnbroker. Retrieving flutes and drums for the bards at the college in Solitude.

We fought together, side-by-side, for days at a time, and then she’d head back home and I wouldn’t see her again for a few weeks. It was a comfortable companionship, but the night she noticed my necklace, everything changed.

I’d found it in a chest in a Dwarven ruin. It helped the longevity of my Restoration spells, so I wore it pretty much all the time. I didn’t know Nords used jewelry to signify their marital status, but Uthgerd the Unbroken sure did. When I caught up with her at the Bannered Mare one rainy night in Whiterun, she was sitting in the corner, chugging Black-Briar Mead, like always. (Uthgerd liked the good stuff.) She usually greeted me with gruff affection. “Wanna hear a bit of Nord wisdom?” she’d say. “You don’t know a woman until you’ve had a strong drink and a fistfight with her.” Or sometimes, “Keep walking, soft gut; I’m more woman than you can handle.”

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But that night, she said, “Is that an amulet of Mara? I’m surprised someone like you isn’t spoken for.” And I found myself saying, “Are you interested in me?” She said she was, asked if I reciprocated, and the next thing I knew we were standing in front of a priest at the Temple of Mara, pledging our fidelity and love to each other until the end of our lives (which, frankly, could have been ten minutes after the ceremony; Riften was flush with thieves and vampires). After our wedding, I moved into her house and acquired a Lover’s Comfort Bonus (skills improve 15% faster!), one home-cooked meal every day (magicka, health, and stamina regeneration are increased by 25% for five minutes!), 100 gold pieces per day (from the store she set up to help support our gay little family!), and she still followed me around killing wolves and sabre cats for me.

I really didn’t know marriage was an option when I started playing Skyrim; I was in it for the dragons — but discovering that I could get married to another woman was one of the best moments of my whole gaming life. It was better than finding out I could play as Princess Peach in Super Mario Bros. 2, instead of playing to rescue Princess Peach. It was better than discovering I could play as Lady Kitana, the first lady street fighter, in Mortal Kombat II. It was better than when the female Yuna became the main character in Final Fantasy X-2. (It wasn’t better than the moment I realized my female Captain Shepherd was actually going to hook-up with Liara T’Soni in Mass Effect 3, but I didn’t know that yet.)

I’ve been playing video game since I was five. I got a four-switch Atari 2600 for Christmas when I was in kindergarten and an original NES console when I was in fourth grade and at daycare after school I used to do other people’s homework for quarters so I could play Discs of Tron at the laundromat. But like so many of the other things I was into (comic books, baseball cards, sword fighting), video games were a boy’s world. They were designed by dudes for dudes, marketed to dudes, and played by dudes. Even most of the “strong” female characters (like Lady Kitana, for example) were implemented into games for their sex appeal.

The gaming industry has made some huge strides since Ms. Pacman was heralded as the most female-friendly video game of all time, but none of them — not even playing as Willow or Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds — felt as epic to me as stumbling into a gay marriage in Skyrim. Oh, sure. I enjoyed the subtext of Carol and Greta in Fallout 3. And, yeah, I liked the hints of bisexuality in Saints Row. And obviously seeing Knives Chau and Kim Pine smooch in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game was a fun time. But none of that compares with the truly immersive experience of having your RPG character get hitched to another lady, and becoming a more effective character because of it.

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Instead of feeling like I was elbowing my way into a straight boy’s club and having to stand on guard every second I was inside, it felt like relaxing into a place I’d always considered home. The same was true for Mass Effect and also for Sims3. I was gay and no one in the game cared even a little bit. I didn’t face discrimination. I didn’t have to justify my marriage. I didn’t have to hide my sexuality from anyone to stay safe. I slept in the same bed as a woman at night and kept on kicking ass during the day.

It’s hasn’t been all smooth sailing since Skyrim‘s characters started getting gay married (in 2011) and Femshep took Liara to bed (in 2012). There’s still plenty of sexism and homophobia in the gaming industry. Last year’s Bioshock Infinite featured an infantilized damsel in perpetual distress. Assassin’s Creed can’t be bothered to include female characters in its co-op multiplayer. Same for Far Cry 4. And Nintendo has completely resisted the #Miiquality campaign to bring gay characters to Tomodachi Life, a real bummer since the game’s draw is the deeply customizable personalization of individual Mii characters who receive exclusive content if they get married.

But on the upside, it looks like the main character for the new Legend of Zelda for Wii U might actually be Link’s daughter. And, even more impressively, Fantasy XIV‘s new marriage system will allow weddings between all genders, races, and creeds. It’s actually a pretty amazing move since hints about the marriage patch back in 2012 were quickly followed up with statements promising the game would not include same-sex marriage because they didn’t want to wade into a politically charged controversy. The marriage equality tide has shifted so rapidly over the last 18 months that not including same-sex marriage would have been an even bigger controversy. (Seriously, ask Nintendo.)

I sometimes still drag out Skyrim and play with new character builds, because it’s relaxing to me to ride a horse around in the snow and shoot dragons out of the sky with my bow and arrow. My girlfriend is only into sports games, so RPGs are a  new thing to her; she likes to watch me play like it’s TV and ask questions. “Why is that assassin attacking you?” (“Because someone took out a contract on me with the Dark Brotherhood.”) “Why are you wasting your time picking flowers?” (“Because I need them to craft healing potions.”) “Why isn’t your axe making people glow purple anymore?” (“Because I need to recharge the shock spell with a soul gem.”)

“Is that woman flirting with you?” she asked last time I played. And yes, she was, because I had convinced the East Empire Company to release her shipment of spices. “It’s a fine day with you around,” the NPC said. My girlfriend laughed and fell asleep ten minutes later with her head on my shoulder. I put the game away and tucked her into bed, because real life is better than RPGs — but it’s nice when RPGs reflect the truth of real life.

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