Queer Tropes in Video Games

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Award-winning video-essayist Anita Sarkeesian has returned with a new video series on Queer Tropes in Video Games. The three-part miniseries examines the depiction of queer people in games, much like Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games looked at the representation of women in games.

Sarkeesian has never shied from controversy, and her new series will likely trigger strong reactions again. She was subjected to considerable harassment including death threats and smear campaigns against her after the debut of the first series in 2013.

The series moves from criticism in gaming’s early years to the progress of the depiction of LGBTQ people in more recent games. You can check it out below.

How OnlyFans changed sex work

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“With a G-string and a strobe light, he could make as much as $1,000 on a good night.” Sounds like a line from a bargain-bin paperback at an adult bookstore? It’s actually printed in the New York Times.

The paper took a deep dive into the very profitable (for a select few) world of OnlyFans, the service that lets users subscribe — for a monthly fee in the $10 range — to their favourite thirst traps. In return, subscribers get access to models’ photos and videos. As part of its report, the NYT spoke with Matthew Camp, the go-go dancer turned OnlyFans entrepreneur who’s been doing very well for himself.

“If the four main quadrants of the gay approval matrix were daddy, twink, bear and boy next door, [Camp] seemed to sit smack in the center, not falling neatly into any of those categories but appealing to the potential audiences for each.”

With his broad gay appeal, Camp quickly began receiving offers from adult film companies to appear in scenes. “Having sex for money is appealing,” he said. But $1,000 seemed low for something that would sit on the internet and brand him for life as [and adult film star].

So he turned them down and instead used a PG-13 feed on Instagram to build a following of more than half a million. About a year ago, as the club scene continued its slow death, he moved to Hudson, N.Y., and signed up for OnlyFans. Weeks often went by without him posting a single picture or video. He didn’t show a full penetrative sex clip for the first nine months, yet he still regularly took home more than $10,000 a month.

Camp wagers that his success with the platform comes down to a human desire for intimacy. The irony, of course, is that the intimacy he and other OnlyFans models offer comes fully synthesised. Which isn’t very intimate at all.

“Tumblr was filled with the most extreme sexual experiences you could see and I think a lot of people were turned off by that. It’s not what they’re looking for. They want more intimate experiences. They want a boyfriend experience. They want to fantasize about someone that they want to have sex with and not feel disgusted by it.”

Read the whole NYT piece here…

Sweet Pool

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It’s amazing how visual novels have taken off in English-speaking regions over the last decade. Even so, one genre has had an especially tough time breaking through via official translations. This is the boys’ love, or BL, genre featuring male/male romantic relationships. JAST USA then announced their brand JAST BLUE to exclusively focus on these titles.

It was huge news and meant that games from the Nitro+Chiral catalogue would finally receive an official release despite being years old at this point. Sweet Pool is the first game available from the JAST BLUE brand. It’s one heck of an initial title to make available to English-speaking audiences.

The game begins with our protagonist Youji returning to school after an entire year off. He didn’t want to miss school — his poor health made it a necessary move. Fortunately he has one friend in class with him named Makoto. The two make quite an odd pair. Makoto’s playful behavior contrasts with Youji’s reserved nature.

As the school year begins it looks like Youji has hope for having a pleasant, if uneventful high school experience. Almost immediately, however, he finds himself in trouble. For some reason, it appears he is getting new symptoms from his ailment — and they’re far more distressing than anything that came before. The weird thing is that they somehow seem connected to interacting with his stoic classmate Tetsuo. Everything spirals out of control from there. Read more…

One Night, Hot Springs

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A great thing about video games is that they let us experience things from a point of view we won#t otherwise be able to take. Even better is when you are given the opportunity to play out different scenarios from that person’s perspective. It allows you to not only learn about what the world can be like for another person, but to, in a small way, inhabit and experience it because of the agency that games can provide.

One Night, Hot Springs is a visual novel that does just this by having you experience a very specific moment in the life of Haru, a 19-year-old trans girl from Japan. One day, seemingly out of the blue, she gets a call from her oldest friend Manami. Manami is turning 20 (the legal age for an adult in Japan), and her parents are paying for her and two friends to go on an overnight trip to a hot springs resort.

Haru is reluctant to go on the trip because traditional hot spring baths in Japan tend to divide by gender. She’s worried about potentially making a scene regardless of which bath she goes to, as she is still legally male and hasn’t gotten gender-affirming surgery, but lives as a woman. Things unfold like in most visual novels; the crux of the experience lies in you being presented with different choices to make on Haru’s behalf.

Only playing through the game once doesn’t give you the full picture. Completing all of the endings gives a much greater sense as to who Haru is and what she goes through. And there is a level of empathy and caring that the other characters have for Haru that manages to show how important an accepting environment can be.

One Night, Hot Springs is free to play on Steam

The best esports player of the year is gay, black and a furry

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“I’m gay, black, a furry — pretty much everything a Republican hates — and the best esports player of the whole year.”

—Dominique “SonicFox” McLean, American esports player and four-time Evolution Championship Series winner, in a speech accepting the award for Best Esports Player at the The Game Awards 2018.

McLean is famous in the esports community not only for being a skilled gamer, but also for his open embrace of his sexuality and SonicFox furry persona, including wearing his fur suit to gaming tournaments.

The 20-year-old gave a nervous, excited speech while accepting his award Thursday evening, donning his blue fox furry head as he walked up to the stage before stating in disbelief, “I really won this shit.” Calling the award — which is voted on by a panel of international gaming journalists, all well as by members of the public — a “big honor,” McLean said he “just really really [enjoys] playing video games competitively” and that he doesn’t compete for the fame. Instead, he joked, “I kind of just enjoy the rush of beating people up” — a nod to his preferred genre of fighting games.

The highest-paid fighting game player in the world, McLean also referenced during his speech a $10,000 donation he made last month to help the father of fellow gamer Curtis “Rewind” McCall, who is undergoing stage three cancer treatment.

He then gave a series of shout-outs to his team and friends, before ending on a bold declaration of his sexuality and identity that drew cheers from the crowd.

“As you guys also may know — or may not know — I’m also super gay,” McLean said. “I wanna give a super shoutout to all my LGBTQ+ friends that have always helped me through life. Obviously I’m a furry, so shout out to the furries…. Guess all I gotta really say is I’m gay, black, a furry — pretty much everything a Republican hates — and the best esports player of the whole year I guess. Thank you so much!”

McLean made headlines and drew praise in August this year when he came out publicly immediately after winning the 2018 EVO championship. “I’m gay,” McLean tweeted, before reminding any haters, “also the best [Dragon Ball FighterZ] player on this fucking planet [don’t] forget it.”

To Trust an Incubus

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When Kenta began his job at Japan’s Inner-Dimensional Institute, he didn’t expect that he would become its test subject. The institute recently obtained four hunky incubi (male sexual demons) from another dimension, but these evil creatures can only speak by “bonding” with someone else… and Kenta is that someone. This is the plot of To Trust an Incubus, a recently released gay sci-fi yaoi/bara visual novel.

For three months, Kenta will live in quarantine to try and bond with one or more incubi. But while each one is muscular with a bedeviling set of horns, they’re also passionate. And potentially lethal — Kenta could fall in love or end up dead.

To Trust an Incubus is the latest “dating simulation” video game designed to appeal to gay gamers (and straight women). Other recent examples include Dream Daddy and Coming Out on Top in which players try to seduce a collection of hot dudes, each with their own temperament and personality.

To Trust an Incubus is a rather explicit game. There’s sexual language, non-consensual groping and non-graphic mentions of past torture. The game demurely covers up each character’s sexy bits with cutesy stickers (unless you download the uncensored patch), but the intercourse is otherwise on full display with graphic illustrations, moaning and narration

When so many video games feature straight male heroes saving damsels in distress, other are finally giving gay people a chance to explore dating and desire in new and fantastic ways. Even players who dislike sexualized storylines can still explore queer identity through other recent titles like Newfound Courage and Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker, paving the way for a new generation of action, puzzle and role-playing games with queer characters at their forefronts.

Newfound Courage

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Newfound Courage is an adventure game with a gay protagonist that looks to offer an experience different from other games in the queer space. It’s a narrative-driven coming-of-age adventure that finds inspiration in stories like Love, Simon and games like To The Moon and Fable.

“While in recent times we have started to see many excellent games featuring gay males, they are often either underdeveloped as characters or the games are sexual in nature,” developer Curtis Campion said. “Right now, if you want to play a non-sexual game with a gay story, there are not a lot of options out there. I want to change that.”

Players will fill the shoes of Alex, a young man who lives in a town obscured by the shadow of The Vault, a “mysterious institute containing the knowledge of a long-dead civilisation.” Alex sets off to solve the mysteries of the Vault while at the same time dealing with feelings for another young man named Jake

Campion said Newfound Courage is a game that he’d love to have played as a young teenager after being captivated by Fable back in 2004. “[It was] the first video game I ever played with any sort of gay character. You played as a male character, who was a total badass, and could sleep with and… marry other male characters. It was the first time in my life I felt represented in any media. It had a big impact.”

Campion wants to pay it forward by creating a title that helps to further normalise gay protagonists in video games “Newfound Courage is unique because gay men in games are often either highly sexualised, underdeveloped side characters or side options in otherwise straight stories,” he said. “I plan on telling a wholesome and emotional story about a gay hero, while still making sure it’s suitable for all ages.”

Featuring a soundtrack by award-winning composer Jessica Kelly, pixel art by Kurt Prieto and editing by Lee Arthur, Newfound Courage is planned for an early 2019 release on Windows PC and Mac.

A lot of people will try to measure their dick with their iPhones now

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Apple released an update to iOS, the operating system running on iPhones & iPads, last Monday. Among iOS 12’s new features is the Measure app, which gives people the ability to measure things with their cameras using an “augmented reality” ruler — just point your camera at something and bam! The ruler will measure it. Naturally many people immediately thought about using the Measure app on their penises. But you should know that the Measure app may not be entirely accurate for this kind of measurement.

In one test someone used the Measure app to figure out the dimensions of a picture frame. The frame was 78 centimetres by 101 centimetres, but the app said it was 63 centimetres by 82 centimetres, a nearly 20% difference.

When that same user repeatedly measured a 55-centimetre wooden flute with the Measure app, it gave three different length measurements — 51, 53 and 57 centimetres — each depending on the lighting.

This news comes as a real bummer for guys & girls around the world. Whether you’re insecure or proud of your penis length, odds are that what we’d hoped would be state-of-the-art penis measurement iPhone technology will say your penis is shorter than it actually is! (Which, yeah, could help you catfish guys by adding a few “augmented reality” centimetres, but you wouldn’t do that, would you?)

Perhaps we’ll just have to measure our penises in photographs the old-fashioned way: by comparing them to water bottles, toilet paper tubes and video game controllers. Thanks for nothing, Apple!

Grindr kicks of Kindr campaign

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Grindr wants to take a step to combat racist and shaming language on user profiles. RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant The Vixen, former Queer Eye host Jai Rodriguez, Joel Kim Booster, Malcolm Robinson, Rakeem Cunningham, Ray (Emilio Amador), and Jasmine are featured in the “kindr” campaign from Grindr against sexual racism, speaking about their experiences of racism on- and offline.

“If you don’t put ‘no Asians’ in your profile, it doesn’t mean you have to f**k Asians now,” says Booster. “It just means I don’t have to see it….For you to say ‘I know what every Asian guy looks like and I know for a fact that I would not be attracted to any of them?’ That comes from a racist place. Because you don’t know what we all look like. That’s ugly.”

“You don’t know what the person on the other side of the phone is going through,” adds Rodriguez. “You have no idea what their experience is, or what else they have going on, or what that comment might do to them.”

Grindr, also released a statement further elaborating on the Kindr initiative:

Sexual racism, transphobia, fat and femme shaming and further forms of othering such as stigmatization of HIV positive individuals are pervasive problems in the LGBTQ community. These community issues get brought onto our platform, and as a leader in the gay dating space, Grindr has a responsibility to not only protect our users, but also to set the standard for the broader community that we serve.

Online discrimination has reached epidemic proportions affecting not only Grindr but other social networks. Our ‘Kindr’ initiative is a rallying call for Grindr and our community to take a stand against sexual racism and all forms of othering.

Grindr can tell anyone your exact location to room-level accuracy

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The developers of gay hook-up app Grindr have always claimed that the geo-locating functionality is vague enough to be convenient rather than unnerving. That may be true of the app itself, but the data it provides third parties can be easily exploited, according to an investigation by Queer Europe.

The site found that using a third-party app – the unimaginatively named “Fuckr” – users can uncover up to 600 Grindr users within minutes. That may sound similar to the main app, except that Fuckr deobfuscates the location, bringing it to an accuracy of 2 to 5 meters (6 to 16 feet). Given the app can also leach the photo, this is an early Christmas present to stalkers, opening to the potential to tie down users to a single room of a house.

It works through trilateration. In-app, Grindr will tell you that someone is “X feet away”, but by creating virtual accounts around the target, and then moving them closer and further away, a third-party app is able to get a more exact figure from the original data. Because Fuckr has access to Grindr’s private database, this is just scratching the surface of the information it can draw out: body type, ethnicity, HIV status, last HIV test date and the kind of sensitive sexual information you’d be unlikely to garner from a LinkedIn leak.

But it’s not just the stalking concerns which are a real problem here. Although Grindr has disabled location tracking in countries where gay men face persecution like Russia, Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, there are plenty of nations where it’s still enabled. In other words, gay men and trans people with Grindr accounts in Qatar, Turkey, Algeria, Abu Dhabi and the United States could be pinpointed by those looking to harass, arrest or much worse..

GitHub, which hosted the app’s repository, has disabled public access to Fuckr, but that doesn’t stop the main issue: the API is alarmingly open to abuse, and a private API in the wrong hands ceases to be private. For the time being, it’s best to disable location services for Grindr until the company gets its privacy house in order. Please stay safe.