Bully isn’t the first game to include gay content, of course. Games have long featured gay characters (either overt or implied) and even gay storylines, though positive examples of either were few and far between until recently.
Atari’s The Temple of Elemental Evil, released for the PC in 2003, is a good example: It gives players the option of rescuing and then marrying another male character. A year later, Lionhead Studios’ Fable (published by Microsoft and playable on Xbox and PC) followed suit by allowing players to flirt with, have sex with and marry other male characters. Lesbian gamers were thrown a bone that same year when Maxis’ The Sims 2 was released (by Electronic Arts) for practically every gaming platform known to mankind. It allows players to seek out relationships with either gender and take them to whatever conclusion they choose (sex, marriage, childbearing) as well.
Although the developers responsible for the above-mentioned games generally are more than happy to talk about their creations, their jaws tend to clamp shut when the subject of “gay content” rears its ugly head (and that includes the controversy-courting folks at Rockstar).
Thankfully, that’s not the case for Dene Carter*, creative director of Lionhead Studios' highly-hyped Fable.
Designed to be one of the most open-ended adventure games ever, Fable centers around an anonymous “Hero” who evolves throughout the course of the game based on the actions of the player. The hero can be molded into whatever kind of person the player desires: Kind, evil, handsome, ugly—even heterosexual or gay.
According to Carter, offering the ability to “play gay” was not, originally at least, an example of the developers’ social consciousness.
“It was not so much a question of overt inclusion as a reluctance to remove something that occurred naturally in the course of creating our villagers' artificial intelligence,” he says. “Our villagers each had a simple concept of 'attraction to the hero.' We'd have had to write extra code to remove that in the case of same-sex interactions. This seemed like a ridiculous waste of time.”
Once the option was “discovered,” however, Carter and crew embraced it, despite their reservations as to how the gaming industry and the general public would respond.
“While not everyone in the gaming industry is heterosexual, it was always a question: ‘Will this cause us problems?’ We knew there were some parties—those who frequent the online boards in particular—who would be violently opposed to such content, and would make their personal bias known in the most vocal and negative way possible,” he shares. “We considered the impact of such reactions, and far from discouraging us, it made us realize that a positive decision could be seen as an important stance and support of tolerance. Microsoft said from the beginning that they'd countenance almost anything we saw fit to place in the world, as long as it fit into the world! They were true to their word.”
In reality, the assumed negativity never surfaced. In fact, the opposite occurred, according to Carter.
“Post-release, we've had very positive reactions from many members of the gaming community,” he says. “This seems entirely logical; in Fable, if you don't agree with playing as a gay man, or gay weddings... you don't play as a gay character. Simple, really. Fable doesn't force you to confront these issues. It merely allows you a game-space to project your own personality into.”
*Note that the use of Dene Carter's name is an addendum to our original article, following a request from Lionhead Studios' PR agency, Edelman. Originally, these quotes were attributed to studio director Peter Molyneaux.