It's not always easy being gay, in the real world or the virtual.
But while progress in the everyday world of work, society and relationships has given us the chance to lead our lives as openly -- or flamboyantly -- as we want, our comparative lives in videogames can remain rather staid and, unsurprisingly, straight.
'Fable 2' is a rare game that makes being gay a natural part of a gaming world.
While gaming has grown as a mass-media entertainment, videogame aesthetics often feel trapped in a tweener boy's perspective, where every massively muscled man is an overcompensation for physical geekiness and every large-breasted woman is a direct descendant of Princess Leia's skimpy bikini appearance in Return of the Jedi.
While online role-playing games like World of Warcraft allow GLBT gamers to build their own guilds and societies, the sandbox nature of the game -- just drop in and do whatever you want, whether killing giant spiders or sewing silk purses -- means there's no involving overall narrative in which the orientation of a character (gay or straight) plays any role.
Console games for XBox 360 and Playstation 3 generally offer more narrative, but almost exclusively force players to experience them from a straight, male perspective -- even lead female characters are designed to satisfy the needs of straight guys, who are the only people in the world who would design versatile armor for women that can be worn to both battles and beaches.
One high-profile and refreshing change to that perspective is Fable 2 , a game that allows you to be as flamingly gay or bruisingly butch as you want to be. An open-world fantasy, Fable 2 presents players with myriad choices, both moral and mundane, all of which shape how your characters appear in -- and interact with -- the world. Set in a European-style magical world of peasants and castles, heroes and villains, the story makes your choices an integral part of the experience.
Sex and marriage play important roles in the game and unlike, say, California, you can marry whomever you want -- as long as your courtship is effective. Flirt with any one of the local bachelors and you may soon find yourself setting up a domicile with him and bringing home presents of flowers and chocolate. Want to have sex with a prostitute? Go for it, but be sure to buy a condom first. Prefer to dress your beefy warrior in frilly frocks and a sassy bob? No one is going to stop you.
It goes a long way toward building a connection with your character, rather than just moving an on-screen figure from one location to the next.
Choosing an appearance for your character is one of the easiest and quickest ways to express your big gay self in a game, but not all games are designed for that level of control. Run-and-gun games like Gears of War 2 are heavily invested in the pre-designed, hyper-masculine lead characters, so it's unlikely the developers will soon allow you to deck them out with some tasteful rainbow accessories. Of course, the men of Gears are so overly muscled and eagerly male-bonded that they verge into camp, so they may already be gay enough for you.
Character design from Fable 2
Other gaming genres offer more chances to gay your characters up. Fighting games have long been a schizophrenic blend of dress-up dolls and straight-boy hormonal urges -- this is the gaming genre, after all, that has pumped millions of dollars into breast physics to ensure that oversize mammaries have the perfect bounce, while constantly rewarding skilled players with...new outfits!
The recent Soul Calibur 4 takes those elements to new extremes with a character-creation system that lets you put together your own ridiculously clad fighters -- for once, men and women both can enter a sword battle protected by nothing more than a metallic codpiece. Strike a blow for equality.
Sean Bugg writes about videogames for Metro Weekly and on his blog, BuggBlog, available at www.metroweekly.com. You may see him lurking on XBox Live and Playstation Network as ''seanbugg.''