Hero stories, whether powered superheroes or just unpowered vigilantes, have always been a great medium for discussing diversity issues. Sometimes, this is very anvilicious, such as with the X-Men as a whole being a metaphor for various civil rights movements since their inception. Other times, it’s less so, such as Captain America or Superman sticking up for everyone, no matter who they are (though sometimes even those can get anvilicious). That’s one of the joys of these stories, they’re always able to promote actual human rights discussions without being blatantly about that topic.
So imagine my surprise when I found a series of games (a trilogy, to be specific) which do a great deal of justice to these topics. It’s called Heroes Rise (with each individual title having a subtitle of The Prodigy, The Hero Project, and HeroFall, in order), and they’re kind of like a video game version of a choose your own adventure novel. Literally, they’re just text with choices that shape the story, as well as stats based on your choices. The cool thing is that these games do diversity well.
In the first game, you’re the child of a pair of disgraced heroes who are imprisoned, and as a member of a government “powers protection” program, you essentially grew up in the slums of your city. One of the first things you do in the game is break up a fight between a pair of Ani-Gangers (animalistic powered individuals who bond together into street gangs). However, over the course of the games, you run into others who are also animalistic powered, some of the most oppressed in the world, serving as both heroes and villains. Additionally, issues of gender and sexuality are discussed in actual detail.
In fact, at one point in the second game, you witness an argument between two other heroes, one of whom is a trans woman, and the other manages to be two different gay male stereotypes (scrawny sissy and burly bear), alternating between the two because of his power set, and you get the option to join in, trying to settle it or not. Additionally, the game has a recognized third gender, Zehir, who are all androgynous genderqueer folks, as well a issues of gender coming up as part of discussions.
For example, one of the villains you’re fighting in the second game is a mosquito animal powered individual, a man who has the head and proboscis of a mosquito, as well as several legs attached to his torso. A point of discussion is that he manages to drink blood with his proboscis, though only female mosquitos actually drink blood, so the media goes into a frenzy trying to paint this character as potentially genderqueer. A zehir hero you met in the first game even goes on television trying to explain how whether or not this villain identifies as some form of genderqueer does not mean that the press should use him as justification for persecuting genderqueer folks.
On top of ALL of that, the overarching story of the whole series is an example of racism and homophobia in its narrative of unpowered people trying to regulate or eliminate powered people. From the second game on, there’s even a meter in your stats regarding public perception toward powered individuals, and how anti-powered they are. Early in the second game, one of the heroes you are working with, an unpowered individual (his abilities all come from tech) who is the face of the anti-powered movement even uses the “lifestyle choices” phrase to discuss what’s wrong with powered individuals. You can choose to call him out on it.
Now, as with what I said last week about how not every game needs to include queer options, not every story needs to tackle issues of diversity. Hell, Punisher has never been about the wider diversity, but there is a need for more stories that cover this topic. I just spent last month doing a Nanowrimo writing for the first time, writing a book that carries a great deal of diversity, but even at over 50,000 words, I’m only half done. I’m hoping to finish it in the next month or two and then maybe, just maybe, we’ll see it published. But I think this is something we need to see more, just as we need to see more decent forms of representation. Such as the fact that Hawkeye of Avengers fame is actually hearing impaired in the comics. Just take a look at this iconic image where he’s actually talking about it openly with a kid.
These have always been stories about real people who make a difference, and while some are way over the top and done badly, most hero stories done well will do a great deal of benefit when it comes to representing diversity. And that, to me, is what makes these characters true heroes. Have a good one, folks.