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The Illusion of the American Election

By: Atmanah Parab

As a kid, I don’t remember thinking much about politics. The founding fathers with their cherry trees and boat rides across freezing rivers seemed more like mythological characters than people to me. Their lives, their impacts, and their paradigms for existence were far separated from the world I lived in.  I was far more preoccupied with demolishing pancakes and watching fireworks with my family on the 4th of July than to even truly consider my own country. It seemed then that the United States had been around forever. I could not conceive of a world without the structures I knew. Understandable; I was, after all, a kid. In addition to this, my parents, Indian citizens, had little interest in American politics or any desire to express their political will in a country that had not yet become their own. As I learned and grew, things started to change. 

In middle school, I learned about the birth of democracy in Greece where pebbles and urns were the first ballots and ballot boxes. I learned about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and wondered if I would know if and when the political and social structures around me were crumbling or whether I would live to see the death of an empire. At this point, I still saw American politics as something far different than I do now. Politics to me was: the structures of government, neat checks and balances, and flow charts that showed a bill becoming a law. None of the grey areas, chaos, or high stakes that politics can have in real life. I was aware that there were two parties. I watched the presidential and vice-presidential debates, rooting for Obama wholeheartedly because I believed in the presidency and the “good” of the Democrats and American government in general. 

 But as I’ve come to learn through high school debate, many political science courses, and existing as a human being in the United States, this sh*t is kind of messed up.

 Why do politicians seem to value winning the electoral game over making a truly positive impact on the lives of their constituents? Why do we not have universal healthcare, a commitment to education or science, and the blood of the Global South on our hands? And most currently relevant, why on earth are our elections the way they are? Why are we always stuck choosing between the lesser of two evils and two parties only? Why does the electoral college still exist?

You see, now that I’m 20, the founding fathers have suffered a mighty fall from the mythological. I now recognize them as the creators of a purposefully restrictive and exclusive political structure. As much as living in the United States in 2020 is vastly different than in the late 18th century, the decisions made  based on the context of life then are still applied to the America that I live in now. This leads to many of the problems that plague American electoral politics.  The way that parties and candidates function within the American political sphere is neither beneficial to their constituents or democracy at large, however, the kicker is that this behavior is necessitated by the structure of American electoralism. 

The first and often overlooked component of the maelstrom of misrepresentation we find ourselves in is the First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system. This is something so inherent to the process of American electoralism that when I first learned that there were alternatives, my mind was blown. FPTP is a form of plurality voting where the candidate that accrues a majority of the vote wins the election regardless of which percentage of the vote was won. For example, if three candidates A, B, and C are running for mayor and A wins 35% of the vote and thus the seat. However, B and Cs vote shares account for 65% percent of the vote. Meaning that the elected candidate was only truly representative of 35% of the electorate. Under FPTP, candidate A winning is fair and obvious as the single candidate with the most votes, but this is not a highly representative system. Alternative electoral systems either allow for ranked voting, ensuring that the votes of citizens are not wasted beyond their first preference, or have an increased emphasis on proportionality, and take into consideration vote shares. The reason this matters is because the majority of large-scale American elections, supposedly built on the ideal of democracy and representation, occur through FPTP. Even if we take aside the electoral college (which simply compounds these issues) there is a fatal and obvious failure at achieving true democratic representation even simply on the level of the winner-take-all mechanism of FPTP. 

Unfortunately for us and proponents of true representation, the effects of the electoral college cannot be overlooked. Probably the most maligned feature of our current electoral system is the electoral college. Pew Research Center polls consistently show that the majority of Americans would like to abolish the electoral college and yet it exists. We are taught that the electoral college was a compromise made to assure the voices of less populated states would not be silenced by areas of high population concentration. There is a barely veiled vested interest in reducing the potency of the public vote in the electoral college, especially given that at the time it was put into action, less than 6% of the nation’s population fit the requirements to vote. In modern-day America where the population is increasingly concentrated in either smaller geographical areas (metropolitan areas) or spread thin across vast swathes of land, the electoral college results in the votes of some being worth far more than others. A vote in Wisconsin is worth sixty-six Californian votes. 

However, because the Electoral College is a part of the Constitution and amending it to a more representative form of election such as a national popular vote or ranked-choice voting would result in a complete transformation of power in the political sphere, there is a hesitance for those in power to allow such a change. While people may vote, it is land that speaks. The electoral college creates an inherent imbalance in the value of different regions and it shows in the attention that candidates give to key issues and the lack of care dedicated towards uniquely urban issues. 

This matters because regardless of how voting potency is distributed, a majority of Americans are facing a dilution of their power as citizens and voters. The electors for a given state are obligated to vote for the candidate elected by popular vote in their state even if the margin that the candidate wins by is extremely slim. All electoral votes for a state going to a single candidate winning by a slim margin is a gross misrepresentation of the citizen will. In addition to this, people of color tend to stay in urban and metropolitan areas adding to the generalized institutional racism inherent in American society. The victories won through this electoral system are only perpetuated by office-holders who use their authority to gerrymander and disenfranchise. 

This combination of electoral systems leads to a huge and forceful oversimplification of the country’s policy preference. It is also the reason why voting for the third party is a risk.  Often third parties stray from mainstream/centrist politics and advocate for “radical” change which puts off a fair chunk of American voters. Any votes for third party candidates are likely to have the electoral effect of simply detracting from the vote share of one of the two main candidates rather than winning any elections resulting in what political science scholars call a ‘wasted vote’. This isn’t fair to the citizens of the United States or the political process because it effectively shuts down anything outside of the main two parties and devalues progress simply for the maintenance of power and electoral control. While all our votes do matter, we have to get real and wonder how much they matter and whether it is fair that things are the way they are. 

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Aliya Hunter: The Future of Theater

By: Sai Siddhaye

Borne of the turbulent political climate of this era, Aliya Hunter is one of a generation of young artists channeling their activism into their creative pursuits. Originally from southern California and presently a student at UC Davis, Hunter’s interest in performing arts collided with her passion for social justice during college, creating a drive to use her talent to make waves. Her calming presence and charming manner are still present within our socially distanced phone call, through which her infectious laughter crackles merrily. 

“I think it was a series of moments,” Hunter ruminates, “that made me realize I wouldn’t be happy without [theater] in my life”. Hunter has been acting for several years now, and recently began exploring new facets of theater. “I love acting the most; I’m hoping to get my MFA in acting… but I do really love directing and writing too”. Hunter is dedicated to creating multidimensional characters who embody the marginalized identities that are so rare to see in the media. Her conviction to create the representation that she would like to see is evident in her work, which focuses on the complex process of navigating life during and after trauma, and carries strong feminist undertones. 

Hunter began her newest endeavor of writing and directing this year. “In terms of writing, I really like drawing from my own lived experience as a woman. Watching a lot of representation of gender minority characters is really frustrating sometimes, because I don’t think there are a lot of realistic and nuanced representations of them”. Hunter’s work is heavily colored by her own life as a queer woman of color. It illustrates the most brutal parts of living in a world that was not created for you, yet also showcases the silver lining of finding pleasure and community by virtue of being human. 

Hunter’s forthright manner of speaking about her work alludes to her passion for creating positive change through theater. She recounts that her favorite theater experience was acting in and directing OurStories, an annual production about survival and healing that the UC Davis Women’s Resources and Research Center runs. “I didn’t think it was a stereotypical theater experience; there were a lot of people who wanted to perform but weren’t necessarily involved in theater. So very different kinds of performers, but they all had incredible stories to share.” The use of theater as a form of group therapy is an innovative way that Hunter’s work has impacted her community, but she aims to spread her reach even further.

Hunter is also a member of Theater for Social Change, a performance arts group at UC Davis. “Our main goal is to highlight and give a platform and a voice to students of marginalized identities and allow them to develop their own work… and have more of a space than they would within the rest of the [theater] world”. Theater for Social Change was created in the summer of 2020, during which they collaborated with the Davis Shakespeare Festival and several UC Davis alumni to debut their online theater productions. They not only use classical and well-studied methods of production, but also use new technology and innovation to redefine what theater means.

Her most recent project with Theater for Social Change, Stricken, was a multimedia production that took place on the day before Halloween. “I had just had this idea to get a bunch of artists together and see what they could come up with about the idea of fear, which is what the showcase is about”. Stricken showcased many different types of fear in several different mediums; from interpretive dances about existential dread to comedic sketches about irrational fears, this performance displayed the full range of human emotion and creativity. Hunter’s performance in Stricken, titled Appetite, was the first time I had seen her acting. Her subtle emotional cues and authentic performance brought to life the stir-crazy yet exhausted character she played. This piece confronted disordered eating and a crumbling sense of reality in a candid manner that I have seldom seen in the theater world, and was the prime example of ‘showing and not telling’. As ever, her powerful performance was loaded with a poignancy that reflects the larger sociopolitical issues that influence her work.

During the start of the statewide lockdown, Hunter began writing her first play. Entitled THREE, this piece draws inspiration from her personal experience of isolation. “I wrote THREE in quarantine, and that was one of the first scripts I ever developed fully, I think just because the ideas I was thinking about were so heavily influenced by COVID. The idea of a person wanting so badly to avoid certain aspects of their life was really compelling to me, and inspired me to start writing THREE.” THREE examines the mental, emotional, and physical struggles of isolation, and was planned and performed entirely over Zoom. 

Perhaps because of the creativity that quarantine has sparked for Hunter, she is optimistic about the future of theater amidst the transition to virtual life. “I think acting–at least how I’ve seen it–can actually translate really well through Zoom. I feel confident in the future of virtual theater, actually. I think another perk of quarantine is that a lot of people are going to virtual plays now, because they have free time and they don’t have to go to physical theatres, which are unfortunately pretty expensive because they’re geared towards an older audience. So I think this is a really exciting time to gain a new audience of younger, more diverse people.”

Hunter represents a generation of trailblazers who have used the momentum of our geopolitical moment to pave the way for new artists to expand the medium of performing arts. It is people like her who will bring progress upon us.

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Harry Potter and the Fan’s Revolution

By: Nicole Wagoner

The name JK Rowling most likely rings a bell for you. For years she has been an iconic figure and inspiration in the lives of children and adults alike. Many young people grew up reading her world-renowned series Harry Potter, finding solace in the relatable characters and the thrilling story. Her books were an escape from the world’s chaos for children going through significant changes in their lives, and they grew into adults dealing with political burnout who continued to find peace in the story.

But JK Rowling herself does not seem to advocate for the serenity we find in the books. Recently, Rowling has posted on her Twitter account hateful statements about the trans community. 

On June 6, 2020, Rowling replied to an opinion article from Devex titled, “Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate,” mocking the article’s headline for saying “People who Menstruate” rather than saying women. This title is not something to be made fun of; the piece was attempting to be inclusive.

Rowling responded to the backlash from this tweet by stating on Twitter, “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth. The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women – ie, to male violence – ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences – is a nonsense. I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”

It is clear that JK Rowling is only trying to defend her offensive words. Still, she has only made herself sound more transphobic. Rowling completely disregards the difference between sex and gender and ignores why people feel the need to socially transition while not medically transitioning. She is undermining trans existence and uplifting herself as a cis woman.

Rowling’s most recent transphobic act was a tweet she made promoting Wild Womyn Workshop, which is actively transphobic and sells transphobic products. The store sells pins saying, “Trans women are men,” “F*ck your pronouns,” and “Sorry about your d*ck, dude.” This promotion is an action she has not attempted to defend. 

Rowling continues to act like a victim, which is a disgrace to the trans community’s struggles. She wrote a post on her blog talking about her “Reasons for Speaking Out on Gender and Sex issues” where she said, “Immediately, activists who clearly believe themselves to be good, kind and progressive people swarmed back into my timeline, assuming a right to police my speech, accuse me of hatred, call me misogynistic slurs and, above all – as every woman involved in this debate will know – TERF.”  TERF stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, which, if you have paid attention to this article, you know JK Rowling is. But she is clearly very hurt by this accusation, which I remind you, is true, so she victimizes herself.

JK Rowling claims she is not a trans exclusionist because of all the research she claims to have done on trans issues and all the other feminists she has spoken to about her opinions. She says in her blog post while talking about the support she has received,  “They’re worried about the dangers to young people, gay people and about the erosion of women’s and girl’s rights. Above all, they’re worried about a climate of fear that serves nobody – least of all trans youth – well.” May I remind you, JK Rowling is not a trans person and therefore does not hold the right to say what affects trans youth. The ignorance in her blog post truly makes one wonder if she has ever even spoken to a trans person. An example of this is from the same blog post where she says, “Ironically, radical feminists aren’t even trans-exclusionary – they include trans men in their feminism, because they were born women.” What am I even supposed to say to that? Do I need to explain why that makes zero sense? 

The bottom line is Rowling doesn’t have a point, she goes in circles and ends up making herself look more clueless every time she speaks out.

Despite the fact that everyone with sense knows how naive she is, Rowling’s comments have still hit the trans and queer community where it hurts. Harry Potter is the story of a misfit kid who wants to be “normal.” He gets harassed daily by adults and peers alike. He goes straight from being painfully invisible to unbearably visible in almost a day. His family is unaccepting of his true wizard identity. Does any of this sound familiar? It is an almost universal experience for people in the LGBTQIA+ community. Queer and trans kids grew up relating to Harry Potter. They felt understood, even if it was just for a minute.

Not only that, Harry Potter’s main storyline follows the fight against an unjust and oppressive government. The villains of the story, which continuously work to overtake the government, carry hatred for “muggles” and try to take away their rights. Historically, it is a global norm that the government actively fights against LGBTQIA+ rights. Queer and trans people everywhere are actively trying to get or keep the same rights straight and cisgender people get. With Amy Coney Barret getting put into the supreme court, LGBTQIA+ kids are more scared than ever.

JK Rowling has become the villain of her story. She is supporting the oppressive government that her characters would die trying to fight. She wrote a way for LGBTQIA+ kids to escape and is now bringing more into the world they feel the need to escape. JK Rowling has hurt her fanbase in a way that will not damage them permanently but will damage her permanently.

Harry Potter’s fans that are gay, trans, or allies, are taking back the franchise. As Daniel Radcliffe, the star of the Harry Potter, said himself, “… if you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred. And in my opinion nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.” Radcliffe also apologized for the hurt JK Rowling has caused. His comments reminded the fans that JK Rowling may have written Harry Potter, but the fans brought it to life. The franchise belongs to the fans.” 

The fans have done things such as blackout Rowling’s name on the covers of the books. Some of them also replace the name with famous feminists who have worked to make a better world for the trans community. They also commonly replace her name with other people involved with the Harry Potter franchise, such as Daniel Radcliffe

People on social media such as TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram have also picked up a joke that “Harry Potter has no author.” This joke is a popular way people are separating Rowling’s books from her name. This is normally hard to do and has proved infeasible for some people, but for others, this simple phrase signifies the larger goal of reclaiming the franchise as something for the misfits, just like Potter himself was. 

One of the biggest takeaways from this situation is that the queer and trans community fought back. Specifically, Generation Z and Millenials are tired of people throwing slander and hatred their way. So they sent the same energy JK Rowling gave to them back to her. The trans community will not stay silent, and neither will their allies. As Marsha P. Johnson said, “History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable, it happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities.” We are fighting for and moving towards a future where trans people are accepted and loved. The reality is, JK Rowling will be left behind with only her hatred and bigotry to comfort her.

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The Truth Behind Instagram Account @feminist

By: Cecilia Nguyen

This story was initially reported by Sam Sedlack (@samsedlackcreative) on Medium for Slay The Patriarchy in 2018. At the time of writing this article, Sedlack’s article was used as a source. However, that original article has since been taken down. It has been put back up as of Dec. 9, 2020 on Sedlack’s website. All links that referred to the article on Medium will now refer to this one. 

In a movement that strives to uplift, empower, and encourage women to challenge and fight against systemic inequalities in place, it’s disgusting and disheartening to see two white men profit off of their “activism” under the pretenses of being feminists, while not actually doing meaningful activist work and taking up space from women who do. Not to say that men can’t be feminists, but here’s how not to do it.

The Instagram account @feminist has reached over 5 million followers and is run by two businessmen, Jacob Castaldi and Tanner Sweitzer, Founder and Director of Social Media, respectively, of Contagious Creative, a social-driven agency “responsible for creating and managing a network of over 10,000,000 followers of Instagram communities.” Some other large activist accounts run by Sweitzer and Castaldi include @chnge, @march and @itsfeminism, which can often be seen being promoted in posts across their accounts, expanding their influence within the political sphere on Instagram. They treat these accounts (and their activism) as a business, focused on gaining a mass following and using their publicity to discreetly market their sustainable clothing company CHNGE, where Castaldi is the Founder and Sweitzer is the Chief Marketing Officer.

CHNGE donates 50% of their net profits to charitable organizations and has donated over $200,000 for the Black Lives Matter movement and $250,000 to other organizations. I am not trying to minimize their contribution in any way; Castaldi and Sweitzer are doing more than most fashion brands. But the way they publicize CHNGE on all of their “social activism” accounts, including @feminist, without any discretion that they are run by the same group of people, makes me question the morals and ethics behind it all.

@Feminist is at the forefront of social media activism accounts, but it truly does the bare minimum. Its feed consists of curated content from activists, artists, politicians, celebrities, and everyone in between in the form of graphics, photos, videos, memes, and Twitter threads. The page uses works of marginalized folk for their Instagram content, reposts them verbatim and then makes a profit (both influential and monetary) from its huge following and engagement. In one instance, CHNGE reached out to photographer Lauren (@_portraitmami) and Sancho (@sancho.smalls) after seeing their work in hopes of collaborating on a campaign highlighting LGBTQ couples within the Black community. When asked about compensation and making the collaboration a paid opportunity for the two, CHNGE did not respond.

It has also been said that CHNGE has used “paid media shares” to promote their account, attesting that even Instagram is profiting off these accounts. The original creators and activists don’t receive any compensation. The account is constantly branding themselves by putting their handle on their posts and stories, despite not owning most of them. With the amount of content they repost, it’s questionable if giving credit is enough. Behind the scenes, are they asking permission to repost content?

If you look closely, a majority of their posts are surface-level (skin-deep, if you will). They post empowering quotes and body-positive photos here and there and call it a day. Their “feminism” is shallow, trivial and hardly intersectional. Don’t get me wrong, I also find some body-positive images incredibly moving, but when it makes up half of the account’s grid, it gives the message that feminism is solely focused on how women should perceive their bodies. There are deeper issues that the account can also spread awareness about– child brides, femicide, and maternal mortality rates among women of color just to name a few. 

Sweitzer and Castaldi don’t care about feminism. They care about expanding their brand. Even something as small as their redundant, minimal, or non-existent captions are a clear indicator. With the handle @feminist, the account needs to use their platform to spread awareness about… you guessed it: feminism, and in its entirety. They need to educate about all feminist issues, support and uplift womxn of color, and actually add to the discourse about the movement to truly be called an activist account (if they even care to). 

Instead, the account is used as a marketing tool. The lack of moderation within their comments despite the abundance of hate and trolls the account often receives shows they welcome all and any types of traffic and engagement, as long as it gets people to their account. For those looking for a safe and empowering place, you will only be met with backlash and negativity within the first few comments. The more likes, comments, shares, and follows @feminist gets, the higher the chances a user will also end up following their other accounts unknowingly. And it will most likely be @chnge because of its frequent promotion and mentions; from there, the consumer will probably make a purchase from the company, and the cycle starts again.

I do believe that @feminist provides relatively educational and pallatable information and is a good start for those who don’t know where to start with their activism, but it shouldn’t stop there, and it definitely shouldn’t be your only source. Instead, try to follow actual activists or accounts that amplify marginalized voices. Some of my favorites are @rachel.cargle, @domrobxrts, @chimamanda_adichie, @blairimani, @jordanrisa, and @chellaman.

Whether you unfollow @feminist and any of their other affiliated accounts or not, that’s entirely your discretion, but at the very least, you deserve to know the truth. And it’s not just @feminism; there are thousands of accounts like @feminist on Instagram that post the same content with similar formats, and it would be impossible to target all of them. With social media activism at an all time high, it’s important for us to check our sources, do additional research in addition to what we see on Instagram or Twitter, and hold entities accountable for their performative activism. With @feminist, it’s the lack of transparency, performative activism, and capitalization of the feminist movement for me.

More additional information: https://medium.com/@SlayyPatriarchy/feminist-story-c1cec5ea1c30. [This page is no longer available. Please head to https://samsedlackcreative.com/2018/12/06/2167/]


Since this article went viral on Monday, December 7, @feminist has deleted over 1,300 posts from their feed. Below are screenshots of posts from November 9 and December 2 advertising @CHNGE, but they have since been deleted. 

Many more accounts have been linked to Contagious Creative including @activismfuckyeah and @feminist.lisa. For more information, please visit Talking Circle London’s Instagram post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CIh8R0HnZqY/

This article was updated at 6:53 p.m. PST on Dec. 8 to include screenshots, a link connecting Contagious Creative to CHNGE, and additional information/resources. The exchange between CHNGE and Lauren and Sancho was also added. 

This article was updated at 6:55 p.m. PST on Dec. 9 to include attribution to Sam Sedlack. Previous links referring to the Medium article were also updated.

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So, We Have VR, but Queer Representation is too Far-Fetched for Gaming?

By: Sarah Ansari

When young, children tend to gravitate towards characters that they see themselves in or that they admire, taking them on as role models who shape their attitudes and ways of thinking. The world grows more globalized in lieu of new technology, allowing media to be streamed across a multitude of platforms. Because of this, more people from different walks of life can access video game content from around the world in some form– as YouTube videos, simulators, or physical copies. Representation in video games is more important than ever; consumers wish to see characters in their favourite franchises they can relate to and find a role model in. 

There are about forty video game franchises where one or more games in the series has a queer character. The key word here is “a”. Within each game, there’s usually only one such character (seldom more). Oftentimes, the portrayal of queerness is not made explicit within the game either, but constitutes “deep lore”. Non-casual gamers would have to look through interviews and other supplemental material to find any information on the gender or sexual identity of their favourite characters. 

Take Toad from the Super Mario Bros franchise as an example. Although Toad is assumed to be male, Nintendo revealed in a 2014 interview that Toad was created without a specific gender in mind. While the presence of an agender character in a franchise familiar to even non-gamers seems progressive, the announcement of Toad/Toadette’s lack of gender only six years ago when the characters have been present in Mario since 1985 (and have stereotypically gendered traits) comes across as performative, especially since none of the games ever make mention of this information.

Although Nintendo is a Japanese company, a majority of its revenue comes from sales in the Americas. Around the same time period in which Toad’s agender identity was announced, the United States was going through political reform with the legalization of same-sex marriage (four states legalized it in 2014, and all fifty states had legalized it by 2015). While the timeline of these events could be coincidental, Nintendo had to be well aware of how Toad was perceived, yet they never made a public announcement of their identity until directly asked.  The information itself was revealed to Gamespot magazine, a popular gaming news company with a predominantly Western audience (the company does have a Japan branch, established in 2007, but it’s arguably less well-known than the American and UK branches). The original article was written by an American writer as well and published in English. As a result, Toad’s “gender reveal” feels more like a placating publicity stunt than a sincere attempt at representation.

Nintendo’s controversial portrayals of queer characters do not stop at Toad, however. The Fire Emblem series, known primarily through its multitude of characters in Smash (such as Marth and Ike), has recently begun representing LGBTQ+ relationships in-game, allowing players (in some games) to choose their gender and/or to be in a same-sex relationship.

The most recently released game in the franchise, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, is perhaps the most progressive installment yet, having a number of queer characters present in it. However, Fire Emblem games have a long history with their mistreatment of LGBTQ+ characters and the controversies that have arisen over the years are a reminder that not all representation is necessarily “good”, especially when it promotes harmful stereotypes or practices. The games themselves are strategy-based RPGs with battle mechanics that mimic a game of chess (using a turn-based system). The plots of the games revolve around politics and war, where players must fight against characters that, in another playthrough, might have been their allies and friends. Rather than being solely battle-focused, however, character interactions and relationship-building are prioritized, which is where the discussion of queer politics begins.

Before Three Houses was conceived of, Fire Emblem: Fates offered same-sex romance options– and came under fire for homophobic content. The game was sold in two different versions, Conquest and Birthright, each with vastly different plots (as they take place from different sides of the warring nations). In one version, the player controls a male main character, and is allowed one gay option; in the other, they play as a female and have a single lesbian option. The ability to play one storyline over the other, therefore, directly conflicts with the player’s choice of sexuality. Players looking for representation must sacrifice their choice in game route or must pay for the other version of the game. In addition, each of the queer romantic options is typecasted as villainous. The male, Zero, is casted as sadistic, while the female, Syalla, stalks potential romantic interests. Rather than uplifting a minority who might be excited about seeing some in-game representation, Fates makes a caricature of queerness.

In the same game, an openly lesbian character (Soleil) is only romanceable by the male version of the protagonist. The reasoning behind this pairing begins with Soleil continually being “distracted” by women on the battlefield. In order to remedy this “issue”, the player must give her a powder that causes her to see men as women and women as men. When the powder wears off, Soleil returns to finding girls attractive, although she makes an “exception” for the male main character. Not only does the scene imply that Soleil was drugged, but the fact that her sexuality is treated as a problem in need of fixing in reminiscent of gay conversion therapy. Within a few minutes of gameplay, LGBTQ+ players are ostracized and given a negative form of representation that can easily damage self-perception. Nintendo responded to the backlash by removing the scene from Western copies of the game, although evidence of it still exists online and in non-localized versions as a monument towards the microaggressions experienced as a queer gamer. 

In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Nintendo is much more lenient about the amount of romantic dialogue they include between characters of the same sex. However, the conversations are often portrayed as “friendly” despite undertones that suggest otherwise. For example, two characters, Sylvain and Felix, have an A+ support, the highest level Sylvain has with any character except one (and barring a paired ending). 

For context, support levels mark how close characters are to one another, ranging from C to S. Some characters only have up to B supports with one another, some have no supports at all. The “+” supports (C+, B+, A+) are not present in every pairing (some can have just C, B, A or C+, B, A, etc.). A+ is the highest support attainable barring a paired ending… which Sylvain and Felix have together as well. If they’re paired, the story details their life as they grow so close to one another that they pass away on the same day, as if “conceding that one could not live without the other”. The trope of two people caring for one another so deeply they die together frequents romantic movies such as The Notebook; arguably, if Sylvain and Felix were of opposite genders, the pairing would have been romantic, rather than friendly (they have another childhood friend, Ingrid, who automatically has a marriage option with them because she is female).

Other characters, such as the leader of the Blue Lions House, Dimitri, continually have (arguably) romantic interactions with both versions of the main character (Byleth), but are locked to romancing only the opposite sex. Dimitri lets Byleth know that their smile is “mesmerizing”– regardless of gender– and continually tells them how brilliant they are, how much they mean to him, and how they are one of the most important people in his life, yet he remains a romanceable option only to female Byleth. Many players feel as though the game even wants you to romance him with how heavily he is pushed onto the main character (who aside from one line is not treated differently by him, regardless of gender). Queerbaiting remains an issue due to the fact that homoerotic subtext is used to attract LGBT+ consumers, while the company refuses to alienate more “conservative” consumers. In doing this, queer players find themselves cast aside or told that their experience is secondary.

Let me be frank– Fire Emblem: Three Houses is my favourite game. I have nearly 700 hours in it, I’ve replayed it seven times, and I’m still not tired of it. It depicts the struggles of mental health, the horrors of war, the importance of relationships. I think it’s a masterpiece. But I would be an idiot to turn a blind eye to its faults– of which I’ve only scratched the bare minimum. There’s a proper way to represent queerness, and while Three Houses made an attempt, it fell flat in many ways.

Perhaps a better example of an LGBTQ+ character would be Bloodhound, from Apex Legends. The character is canonically non-binary, with their voice actor (Allegra Clark), one of their writers (Manny Hagopian), and a backstory video confirming this fact. I admittedly do not have as much expertise on Apex as I do Three Houses, but from what I’ve gathered, Bloodhound is a smash-hit amongst the queer fanbase because they’re written… like a person. They do not embody harmful stereotypes and their sexuality isn’t made into their personality. Instead, they’re treated with the same attention and respect as any other character in the franchise; Apex Legends isn’t merely trying to win “representation points”, but is making an attempt to be more inclusive towards its audience. 

One problem with how LGBTQ+ people are represented in the media circles around companies attempting to make a singular character a “catch-all” for an entire demographic of people. I mentioned earlier that typecasting queer characters as villainous is harmful. However, I feel I must elaborate more on that. The representation becomes harmful when the villainous characteristics are portrayed as entwined with queerness. If the only LGBTQ+ representation that a game offers is a villain, the game is implicitly sending a message that “good” people are heterosexual and cisgender and “bad” people are the opposite. Queer characters can be villains, so long as there is representation of queerness amongst the heroes as well. When cisgender, hetero characters are written, their sexuality is given no thought– seen as the default. Instead, they are written as a person before all else. While queerness is an important part of identity and should not be entirely written off, it should be discussed in productive ways that open conversation and should not automatically become a character’s personality. While this article focused mainly on Nintendo games, save for the brief mention of Apex, they are not the only company at fault with their portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters. Rather, they’re the company I feel most qualified to criticise because of how involved I am with their games, moreso than any other company. While we can enjoy the media we consume, we have a duty to not turn a blind eye to its failings. Criticism of the things we enjoy sparks conversations about how they could improve and incentivizes producers to do better in the future. Gaming is, for most, a recreational activity, and people deserve to find comfort and camaraderie within the games they play. Perhaps it seems silly to some, but finding a character to relate to can shift people’s perspectives on their life and give them hope. And who are any of we to deprive someone that?