While it’s never made explicitly clear what orientation best describes Ryu, Johnny Cage, Guile, Sub-Zero, and the rest of the characters from smash ’90s fighting games like Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat, the movies, cartoons, and cut-scenes suggest that they’re mostly about a bunch of straight people beating the hell out of each other (and occasionally shooting each other with fireballs and stuff).
That’s something that Michael Venker, creator of the Android/iOS game Ultimate Gay Fighter, sees as a void in the market. To that end, his game–which will be available on Google Play and the App Store in January–is described as “the first gay video game,” and features a collection of gay stereotypes taking one another on in brutal head-to-head combat.
“The game came to me with friends maybe five years ago. I had been talking for years about how it would be a fun small project to do, and an Okcupid date convinced me that this game would be amazing,” he laughs. “I originally was trying to write a script, and I was rambling off all my inane ideas–and he was so focused on that one that after the date I agreed with him: There were virtually no games, let alone fighting ones, with all gay characters in bad ass action. And with the LGBT community having a massive economic clout, I thought that was unusual and that we should go for it.”
To that end, the game features various stereotypes of gay people, personified in fighting form: Timmy Spears, “The Twink,” can battle Sappho Ethridge, “The Lady Lover”; Gogo Gary can take on Bardwell, “The Bear” (who, to be fair, is really not all that different aesthetically from Street Fighter II‘s Zangief); and so on. The game features the tagline, “The only colors in this rainbow are black and blue.”
According to Venker, the stereotypes are a send-up of the presentation of different groups in fighting games of the past, which have notoriously based their characters on cliches. (Street Fighter II‘s Indian character says things like, “I will meditate, then destroy you” and blasts opponents with “yoga flame”).
“The game is supposed to be a satire of past fighting games,” he says. “Fighting games, and video games in general, having a running reputation of being very stereotypical in their character portrayals–whether it’s how they draw women, or how they represent minorities. My game is merely a play off of what has come before, while at the same time, I kind of view it as a celebration of my gay brothers and sisters. It truly is an absurdist route to take.”
Still, while it’s intended as satire, it’s also not hard to imagine that any one of the characters in Ultimate Gay Fighter could have been legitimately plugged into a Street Fighter II-style game–which raises the question of whether it’s as much a send-up of that tradition as it’s just another participant.
For his part, Venker has been a bit surprised by the feedback he’s received from within the gay community. “It’s extremely divided–some people love the humor and see that the game is a parody and a play on stereotypes, while others feel it’s extremely offensive and distasteful,” he says. “I knew this game was going to be controversial, but I really didn’t think it would be so divided. I guess it’s because I’ve lived with this idea so long–I kind of figured that everyone would be in on the joke, but that’s not the case.”
Still, while it wasn’t his intention to stir up controversy, Venker is comfortable receiving criticism. “I actually am proud of the dialogue it’s creating,” he says. “I am glad that when my gay brothers and sisters feel offended and feel as though someone is attacking their community, they will speak up. I think it’s good that we have so many fighters in our community.”
Ultimately, “fighters” are what Venker is interested in within the gay community–and if those fighters take on his own game for depicting gay fighters as “Gogo Boys” who attack their opponents with tanning beds, the result may be that everyone learns what an ultimate gay fighter looks like.