In As such, these developers have been repeatedly

In the aforementioned ‘Compulsory
Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’, Adrienne Rich defines heterosexuality as compulsory, asserting it must be
analysed as a political institution, similar to motherhood, by feminists to
understand its propagation within patriarchal society. Rich’s essay is part of
a larger discourse that has sought to problematise the pervasive norms and
assumptions of heterosexuality; exemplified by Rubin’s conceptualisation of heterosexuality
as a social institution, Witigg’s definition as heterosexuality being obligatory,
and Butler’s concept of the heterosexual matrix (Rich, 1980; Rubin, 1975;
Wittig, 1992; Butler, 1990). This body of work, which also includes many other
scholars, has led to videogames being defined as “the technonormative matrix”;
a “playing it straight culture” (Chang, 2017, p. 20).

Rich conceptualises compulsory heterosexuality as a system
that ensures romantic and sexual relationships are naturalised. One of the key
points in her essay is how heterosexuality is enforced through “idealization of
heterosexual romance(s)” in media; with implicit and explicit forces channelling
“women into marriage and heterosexual romance”. (Rich, 1980, p. 639).  Videogames illustrate this argument by
consistently presenting predominately heterosexual narratives that feature straight
male protagonists flirting, rescuing, protecting, romancing, and having sexual
encounters with female characters. These depictions position heterosexuality as
natural, preferable, and central to romance and marriage, reinforcing the norms
of heterosexuality found in wider society. Furthermore, female characters
cannot control or resist these actions, being scripted to submit to the heterosexual
male’s decisions, which reflects Rich’s argument that women are forcibly
positioned as heterosexual subjects (Rich, 1980). As such, these developers
have been repeatedly criticised for homogenous, hetero-normative, and harmful,
depictions of sexuality and romance (Chang, 2017, 20-31; Sherman &
Zurbriggen, 2014).

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Another central point in Rich’s paper is that women who
deviate from heterosexuality are punished, which meshes with Gaider’s argument
that the portrayals of sexuality in games repel non-conforming sexualities (Rich,
1980; Gaider, 2013). In this sense, when queer players are forced to perform as
a straight male character, the compulsory heterosexual structures within the
game become visible. Queer subjects are reminded of their positioning, and thus
punished, for being outside the normative group.

A fundamental element to Rich’s position is resistance,
which leads to the consideration that, when videogames are predominately created
for and played by straight men, how do queer women and other non-confirmative
identities challenge and dismantle the institution of compulsory
heterosexuality? (Rich, 1980). One potential solution is for feminist games
scholars to document and analyse problematic portrayals and representations of
sexuality while advocating for more inclusive and representative content. Furthermore,
encouraging diversity in who makes content and which subjects it is made for may
be more beneficial. However, while the earlier examination of gender and
employment indicates this may be problematic, there is also potential to support
the creation and development of independent games; outside the control of the heterosexual
male dominated industries.  

The nuances of Rich’s essay and the connection to videogames
as an institution of compulsory heterosexuality can only briefly be examined
here. However, it is apparent that there is potential in the consideration of utilising
Rich’s critique as a model to analyse the representations and any resistance to
heterosexuality in gaming, which feminist games scholars may wish to explore
further.