Heroic Homosexuality: Being Gay in Rogue Legacy

rogue legacy gay

Rogue Legacy takes players on a genealogical adventure through a mysterious castle filled with evil creatures and action-RPG elements. Each time your character dies, and he/she will (a lot), you are dead for good. But now you may choose one of three heirs to continue the good fight. As an heir you have traits that differentiate them along with different classes. You’ll find a barbarian with color blindness, a paladin with dwarfism, and perhaps even a homosexual mage. One of the traits in Rogue Legacy is even listed as “Gay,” described as “You’re fabulous!” and a further description of either “You’re a fan of the man” or “You like the ladies” depending on your character’s gender. I was curious, and a bit skeptical, about this trait as it seemed like it could either be funny, hurtful, or perhaps even moving.

Traits in Rogue Legacy are often used as funny diversions and small gameplay changers. There are some traits that will change the game altogether, like vertigo’s ability to flip the screen upside down, and other traits that do little to impede your progress, like being bald. When this trait was discovered by the gaming community it caught a little bit of flack, naturally so. People didn’t like the word choice the game used and, perhaps more importantly, they believed the game was saying homosexuality was a disorder or that it was being depicted as something wrong with the character. This was not the case at all, in an interview with Penny Arcade Rogue Legacy lead designer, Teddy Lee said:

[It] sucks, cause we never call it that, but everyone keeps using the negative terms, which automatically makes other people assume that the gay trait is negative

The majority of people that had a problem with gay being in Rogue Legacy stated that it was portrayed as a deficiency or disease of some kind, and that is simply not true. Rogue Legacy deliberately uses the word “trait” and keeps the idea of genetics, deficiencies, or diseases out of the picture altogether. Words like disability, disease, and deficiency all bring with them a negative connotation. The word trait can be defined as dealing with genetics; it can also be defined as: a distinguishing quality or characteristic, typically one belonging to a person. Celebrities and organizations constantly utilize different traits of people as not deficiencies but as unique characteristics. Rhetorically, when people ask what is unique about one’s self, I’d venture to guess that the majority of people would answer that question with a characteristic or trait that defines them in some way rather than their job or hobby. Many people looked at the gay trait in Rogue Legacy and were immediately resentful towards it, without giving it a chance to explain itself. To me, it’s a subtle way to tell the world that anyone has the potential to be a hero.

The moment I saw this trait I selected that very character. I just had to see what happened. When I selected other heroes with other traits they were fairly obvious at first glance. Cellar Door uses fairly ridiculous gameplay mechanics to depict the traits, often times bordering on ridiculous and downright silly. Tunnel vision meant I couldn’t see incoming attacks, ADHD made my character move faster, and alektorophobia made my hero deathly afraid of the chicken legs used for health. Be it a male or female hero, my gay character didn’t have any noticeably different traits and played exactly the same way with no gameplay changes whatsoever. I smiled at that. I only encountered two differences throughout nearly 20 hours of game time. Firstly, there two statues, male and female, that give you health and mana before a boss fight. Which statue gives you what depends on your gender and sexual orientation. When your hero is male and gay, the male statue is the one to dole out health and mana, etc. Secondly, the ending of the game is changed ever so slightly if you happen to win with a gay hero and it makes for a smartly edited ending indeed.

However, the question remains: why have the trait in there at all? Well, if they didn’t have the trait in the game what would the majority of players think? If you’ve ever played a game with a silent protagonist, say Half-Life for example, do you assume that the character is gay or straight? To many of us we allow the game to give us those clues through its character development and gameplay. As a straight male I can only speak for myself but I typically find myself assuming a character is straight unless presented with evidence to the contrary. If a character flirts with one of the opposite sex I assume their straight and if the character he/she is flirting with is of the same sex I assume the character is gay. Games have become sophisticated to the point where many gamers don’t need to fill in the back story or life choices of a character; it’s all there for us to take in. Having the trait there sends a message to the player saying “Hey! This character is gay, and that’s that.” If a gamer chooses not to play that character for that reason, or any other reason, that’s their choice but props to Cellar Door games for putting the trait in their to begin with.

Another question that has arisen from the gaming community can a gay hero trait have an heir to whom he can pass on his armor and wealth. Just because someone is homosexual does not mean they’re unable to reproduce. And for those of you hiding behind the defense of “it’s just a game,” please come out from under your rock and join the conversation. Games have become too in-depth and sophisticated over the past fifteen yeears years to ignore as simply a significant piece of entertainment. When games like Rome: Total War can be used to make History Channel shows more appealing and when games have movies created after them, you know it’s more than just a game. We’re entering a time where games and their creators are making serious statements. Developers are using their form of expression to help their audience understand their message and it’s no different than a novelist placing political messages in a book. Games like Cart Life, Rogue Legacy, and The Swapper are proving that games can have just as much to say as any big budget movie. Is the gay trait in Rogue Legacy the best possible way of sending that message? I don’t know, but it sure got people talking. And we need that.

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  • HenryKropf

    Just a quick note, I’m pretty sure the sexuality of the player character actually does make a cosmetic difference, but only if you win the game with them. I would assume saying more would be a spoiler.

  • Jon Fisco

    “Firstly, there two statues, male and female, that give you health and mana before a boss fight. Which statue gives you what depends on your gender and sexual orientation. When your hero is male and gay, the male statue is the one to dole out health and mana, etc. Secondly, the ending of the game is changed ever so slightly if you happen to win with a gay hero and it makes for a smartly edited ending indeed.”

    I was aware :) but thank you.

  • http://www.plus10damage.com/ David Russell Gutsche

    When I first saw the trait, my initial reaction was not one of negativity. Rather, I thought it was normalizing. This one is balding. This one is super fast. This one is gay. Sure.

    It’s just included. It’s not a big deal. I like that.

  • Meg Townsend

    David: that’s the general thesis behind Jon’s article. All of the push for gay rights is essentially about normalizing homosexuality the same way that heterosexuality has been throughout history. :) That’s why when people say, “I don’t mind if people are gay as long as they don’t shove my face in it,” it’s extremely revealing. It’s also why it’s especially frustrating when people, as Jon points out, take issue with gay people reproducing. It’s terribly narrow and ignorant. LGBT people are just people.

    So I agree!

  • thestage

    It may be “normalizing,” but claiming that there is something inherently positive in the “trait” is a bit of a stretch. Every trait in the game besides homosexuality is a negative genetic condition or defect. The associations here are extraordinarily clear, whether they were intentional or not. And they’re clearly not intentionally negative, to be sure, but the use does not normalize homosexuality, it normalizes the idea of homosexuality as a defect. That it was not intentional speaks to this engrained mindset. Why in the world would homosexuality ever come up on a list like this?

    Granted, it’s hard to be particularly offended simply because the game is so aggressively stupid (note: I like the game, I think it’s well designed; it is still stupid), but the whole point of what I will label “Other-studies” is that those things that are innocuous are often the biggest part of the problem.

    • Will

      There are plenty of positive trait in the game, like the peripheral artery disease that makes it impossible to set off spike traps, or the gigantism that makes you bigger and thus have a larger sword swing. The traits run the gamut from doing very positive to very negative things.

      • thestage

        positive in the game, yes, but all undeniably negative in real life. it is cute that some of them are coded positively in the game (and I was going to mention this), but that fact is essentially irrelevant. it is the grouping that matters. if you want to say “being gay is normal” you probably shouldn’t go about that by lumping it together with a host of minor physical defects and mental imbalances. indeed, the whole trait system, whether we include homosexuality or not, is pretty offensive and poorly thought out. everything is played for a gag. it’s one note stupidity, like the ubiquitous ISN’T HE SO FUNNY gay character from the 90′s.

        oh, and gigantism is usually bad in the game :O

        • http://www.plus10damage.com/ David Russell Gutsche

          I wonder — and this is just a thought — if being gay is not completely normalized in an INTENTIONAL way. Honestly, being gay is a minority thing. Like balding. It is a way people are that is not the general conception of “totally normal human being.” And, even in today’s culture, it’s seen as something that’s a bit negative, simply because it makes you stand out. I don’t think it SHOULD, but it still does.

          I’m still trying to wrestle with why it’s lumped in with other things that are pretty clearly diseases. That isn’t flattering.

        • pookums

          But the assertion that every single other trait in the game is a genetic defect isn’t even true… Granted, many of them are, but what about endomorphic or ectomorphic body type? Nostalgia? Eidetic memory?

          • http://www.plus10damage.com/ David Russell Gutsche

            Hm. Ding. True. These are just “ways that people are.” Good call.

  • ch3burashka

    The best response to the “gay” trait came from some forum (NeoGAF or the like), where someone asks, “What does it do? It’s almost as if he’s a regular person” and the response to that was “I think that’s the point”. We gamers expect every variable to affect something – that’s the point of games; to figure out systems, exploit them for our end goal (usually massive damage), so when devs through a curveball, we become confused – surely they didn’t spend time/money on a feature that doesn’t actually affect the game?! But no, sometimes that’s just what’s needed. Good on Cellar Door, a very clever and inconspicuous statement that, really, shouldn’t have to be made, but here we are.