Welcome to another edition of “The Casual Gaymer!” This is a bimonthly column from AiPT! Gaming in which I’ll share my thoughts, questions, and concerns about video games and the gaming industry as a queer person with limited free time. Missed the last edition where I spotlighted Spider Lily Studios and their puzzle-filled mystery game? Check them out here!
This week, I want to talk about eagles, and lions, and deer, oh my! That’s right, I too am playing the latest entry in Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem games and suprise, surprise! This game’s handling of queerness sucks! Sure, Three Houses very, very small pool of same gender pairing options for your player character (or rather, very small puddle, if you chose a male Byleth who receives a whole one choice that actually ends in canonical romance), but as this excellent headline for an equally excellent article from Waypoi–I mean, Vice Games put it, Three Houses may have some same gender pairings, but the game lacks “queer life.”
But that’s not really what I’m here to talk about today. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of why Three Houses is yet another Fire Emblem that fumbles queer representation, read Todd Harper’s article I linked, follow the ongoing discussion, etc. Look for it and you’ll find it. What I’m here to talk about is how uncannily Three Houses managed to take me back to my high school days as a lonely, queer young man yearning for the messy, yet exciting relationships all my friends were finding and coming up depressingly short. Because as I said, for a male Byleth who loves men, there is only one option, a Black Eagles student named Linhardt whose priorities are studying what he wants to study and sleeping when he’s not. Linhardt’s nice. He’s intelligent. He’s polite. He’s not my type.
Now, why is this feeling so familiar? Oh right! It’s just like when I was in high school, freshly out of the closet and aching for my Kurt and Blaine, Glee fantasy, but with only one other openly queer young man in school that I knew of…who wasn’t my type. Now, when I use the phrase “not my type” here, what I do not mean to say is, “I prefer a particular shaped body, which grows a particular color hair, and conforms to this set of attributes which my culture deems ‘attractive.'” What I mean to say is, we didn’t know each other and even if we did I knew enough about this person to know our interests are different enough that there was little to no chance of a relationship blooming. That’s kind of where I am with Linhardt too.
Even removing the still somewhat fraught power dynamics of a past-teacher, past-student relationship (as actual romance doesn’t happen till very late in the game even though Dorothea absolutely flirts with my Byleth long before the time-skip), and considering Linhardt as the player, not the character, our interests just seem to disparate. He’s in Black Eagles while I’m repping Golden Deer. He’s just not my type. To be clear, I am not looking at this amalgamation of pixels, textures, and voice acting as someone I would want to actually date. I’m just not interested in this character’s story for the time being, romantic or otherwise. I’ll have plenty of time to spend with him in my second playthrough where I will absolutely be choosing Black Eagles and pairing my future female Byleth up with Edelgard, but till then, I’m fine with Linhardt and I being in different classes, knowing we could date one another, but never will.
So there on the bleachers sit my high school self and my Byleth after the game’s time-skip when romance becomes more of a possibility. Both of us stewing in the frustration that there is only one person we know whose orientation aligns with ours, but no matter how many well-meaning straight girls tell us we should “totally ask him out,” he’s not our type. Though I’m a decade past those feelings now, it sucks thinking back to that feeling of isolation, like no matter how clearly I knew otherwise, it still felt like there were only two queer men in the world and the other one wasn’t my type so that meant I wouldn’t be dating at all in high school.
I’m not saying that I look at the lack of queer representation for men and masculine people in Three Houses and fully feel that isolation again, but my Byleth’s uncanny parallel to my high school self certainly makes me feel that lack of representation hard. I said I wasn’t gonna get too deep into breaking down how Three Houses mishandles queerness, but wow, what a situation that could be avoided were there more than one option for men or masculine people who are attracted to the same. Add Fire Emblem: Three Houses to the list of games I have to play on my CompartmentalizationStation, I guess.
That’s all for me this week! Which house did you pick? Sylvain’s the worst, right? Is it just me or is Rhea terrifying? Yes, I am still very much enjoying this game and have tons I want to talk about, even if the heteronormativity is so thick, you’d need one of the game’s Hero Relics to cut it.