Sex Appeal, Shirtless Men, and Social Justice: Diversity in Desire and Fanservice in Games

CLOUGH QGCon 2015 headshotSPEAKER: Michelle Clough

When we think of how to improve diversity in game narrative, we usually think in terms of representation: Are there characters or themes here that truly reflect our presence, our lived experiences, and our identities? Yet for many players, there is another question, much more rarely asked and even more rarely answered, that is just as important in respecting our sexualities and in staking our place in gaming and in culture.

And that question is: “Is there anyone here for me to drool over?”

This presentation will examine the need for games that engage with the sexual desires of under-served audiences – queer players, trans* individuals, even straight cis women – and not only acknowledge those passions, but to celebrate, inspire, andsatisfy them. Using sex positivity, personal experience, and a heavy helping of funny animated GIFs, speaker Michelle Clough aims to rework the concepts of “sexualization” and “fanservice” in games in a way that’s healthy, hot, and inclusive and that reflects the diversity of who and how we desire.

Due to speaker orientation/background, particular focus will be given to the sexual presentation (or lack thereof!) of conventionally attractive cis male characters, but the discussion will also cover the need for female characters who appeal to lesbian and queer audiences, attractive trans* and genderqueer characters, non-conventionally attractive male-identifying characters, and so on. The talk will touch on:

  • The pervasiveness of straight male gaze (ie “boobs and bikinis”) and the need for other “gazes” to be satisfied
  • The importance for younger players, particularly those questioning or exploring their sexuality, to encounter models of desire that work for them
  • Fandom as a space to express desire and attraction to game characters via fanfic, fanart, etc
  • How sex appeal, fanservice, and gender performance interact in non-Western games and media (e.g. JRPGs)
  • Negative reactions from non-minority gamers and audiences (e.g. scorn against fanfiction, reaction to Mevius Final Fantasy design, etc)
  • How more diverse/better fanservice (and being open about appreciating it) can benefit social justice causes
  • Player and developer libido and desire as a valid source of creativity and player appeal

Attendees will come away with insight on game fandoms as sexual spaces, on the implications of straight male gaze and its alternatives, and on the need for more diverse, desirable characters and for more acceptance of sexual desire.

Michelle Clough is a freelance writer, editor, narrative designer, and professional fangirl living in Vancouver, BC; her day job is in closed caption editing and timing. She identifies as cisgender, female, and straight-ish (emphasis on the “ish.”) Her game credits include lead writing/editing on 1931: Scheherazade in the Library of Pergamum, narrative QA in Mass Effect 3, and two well-received GDC Narrative Summit talks on male sexualization and writing diverse, healthy fanservice in games. She also cofounded the revived Romance and Sex in Games SIG for the IGDA with Heidi McDonald (based on the original Sex in Games SIG founded by Sheri Rubin and Brenda Romero).

Involved in video game fandoms since Final Fantasy VII, Michelle is particularly interested in games that present male characters as desirable, beautiful, or sexual in their own right, particularly in ways that challenge gender performance.