Jan. 28, 1999
Videogame's Cheap Shot
by Steve Friess
Alabama housewife Gwen Bentley
was shocked when she heard her 10-year-old son exclaim that
he had blown the "gay guy" to bits with a bazooka.
Her son was playing Deer Avenger, a US$20 ideogame
that turns the premise of the game Deer Hunter around. Instead
of humans stalking deer, the Deer Avenger player takes the role
of the venison and hunts down stupid people. One of the quarries
is Tree Hugger, a lavender-clad sprite who runs through the
forest flailing his wrists and pointing out rainbows. A sample
Tree Hugger call: "Does anyone want to see my nipples?"
Tree Hugger bothered Bentley, who read about
the brutal October slaying of gay University of Wyoming student
Matthew Shepard. "I just thought about the recent violence
and said, 'Is this something our kids should be seeing?'"
Some gay-rights groups are asking the same
thing. "There's nothing mentioned about sexuality, but
they are classic gay stereotypes," said Loren Javier, interactive
media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Javier said GLAAD has never dealt with a case
of possible homophobia in computer games and admitted he found
himself amused by Deer Avenger. But he speculated that some
folks may be sensitive because there are so few representations
of gays in games. To be sure, Tree Hugger's designers insisted
they didn't mean to portray him as gay -- he's just granola.
"This is a parody of environmentalists,"
said Simon & Schuster Interactive's Jeff Siegel, who created
the game with Late Night with Conan O'Brien writer Brian McCann.
"It never even entered our minds that it could be perceived
Still, it's hard not to see gay stereotypes
in Tree Hugger when he says lines like: "I feel like King
Special, ruler of Specialness Valley."
"Puleeze! The guy is as queer as Boy George!"
wrote David Warner-Gammick in an email. Warner-Gammick and his
gay partner David said their 12-year-old son also pointed out
what he called "the flaming little blond guy with the flower
in his mouth."
So far, no one's up in arms about Deer Avenger.
The game is full of other caricatures, including inbred hillbillies
("Well, gotta go find my sister!"), arrogant New England
yuppies ("I love to exploit migrant workers!"), and
sexist white trash ("I've seen better shots in the WNBA!").
The humor helped to vault the game into the PC Data Top 10 and
could spawn a sequel. Siegel pointed out the box states the
game isn't suited for young kids anyway. Javier said he's planning
to write a blurb mentioning the game for this week's GLAADAlert,
a bulletin sent out Thursdays to about 80,000 recipients. He
said he won't condemn it, but will bring attention to it as
something that "might offend people."
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