When A Little Thing Is A Big Deal

Mortal Kombat, for any of my readers that don’t know very much about video games, is a wildly popular fighting video game series that revolves around an eclectic bunch of ninjas, special forces soldiers, monsters, and gods fighting to, unsuprisingly, the death in somewhat contrived scenarios. The latest installment in this series, Mortal Kombat X, was released a few years ago, and contained a wonderful easter egg in one cutscene of its story mode. In it, the god of thunder assures a troubled and rebellious young archer that the class of warrior-monks he is nervous about joining “care only about what is in your heart, not whom your heart desires.” On social media a few weeks after the game’s release its developers confirmed what many had suspected: the character was gay, and one of the video game’s actual gods had reassured him that nothing was wrong with this.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this decision drew both praise and ire, from the predictable segments of the population. While a great many praised the game for finally including an openly gay character, many others criticized it. In particular, one criticism was hurled at the designers: why make such a big deal out of it? That was the piece of protest I saw most often online, that somehow . People will, of course, be familiar with this as something that happens almost every time a character is revealed to be in any kind of minority, and before we move on to take a moment to address how ridiculous it is. One line in a single cutscene is so far from making a big deal about a piece of characterization that it couldn’t see the words “big deal” with an observatory. However, the real problem with this argument is far worse than a simple misunderstanding of what a “big deal” is.

This real issue at play here is about privilege and oppression. After all, the ability to see yourself represented in the media without it being something remarkable is just about the definition of privilege, a privilege that a great many minorities do not share. Ironically, the criticism of Mortal Kombat’s gay character: while the game did not make a big deal about its character’s homosexuality, the fact that it included a gay character at all is a big deal. Minorities being represented in the media means a hell of a lot to people in those minorities, which makes the griping about seem remarkably petty. 

Even worse, that griping can start to sound like a concentrated effort to keep minorities out of the media. Think of it like this: there are few enough characters dominating pop culture who aren’t straight white males to begin with. That whole swaths of the population react with complain whenever one arises seems almost as if these swaths of the population would prefer to keep it that way. Perhaps it doesn’t feel like that to you, or perhaps you feel like this is overblown. In response to that, I’d ask you to consider a simple question: are you white, male, straight, and of high socio-economic class? Answering yes to two or more of those, especially the “white” and “male” ones, largely mean that you don't have to proper perspective to let your own gut feelings decide this. You can’t understand, just as I can’t, what it is to go through life and see absolutely no one who looks like me on the big screen — or any screen. So, as a word of advice: don’t begrudge other people their characters like them, even if they crow it from the rooftops. In the desert, after all, even the smallest oasis deserves a shout of gratitude.

With excitement and optimism,

Alex