June is Pride Month, which means plenty of LGBTQIA+ positive celebrations, a ton of corporations parading as allies, and terrible twitter jokes that don't land well. Normally, game devs tend to seep out of the woodwork to express support for the community during June, and that's awesome. Things went a bit awry this year, however, as God of War (2005) Game Designer and Director David Jaffe attempted to make a joke out of homophobia by retconning Kratos as a "raging bi-sexual."
That is, Jaffe crafted a tweet saying "when I was working on the origins of Kratos for the first games I knew he was a raging bi-sexual until he settled down with his wife," before immediately following up (in a separate thread) with the comment "sadly, that last tweet was a lie." Jaffe was attempting to defend a fan-image of Kratos in Pride gear.
Unfortunately, Jaffe's twitter feed became immediately embroiled in arguments over his decision to, effectively, queerbait a group of people all so he could poke fun at a few others. He did provide a statement, eventually, which essentially boils down to this – the original "raging bi-sexual" tweet was intended to mock the immediate backlash of homophobes who just couldn't grasp the concept of a hyper-masculine character being anything less than straight, and while Jaffe "kind of agree[s]" with folks who are upset at the retcon change, he doesn't regret his comments in the slightest.
There's a lot to unpack here, so we'll start with the backstory and some general knowledge.
Queercoding is the act of giving characters traits that suggest they aren't heterosexual or cisgendered, without openly confirming that they're queer. Basically, think every single Disney villain. You wouldn't exactly be surprised to find out that Jafar were LGBTQIA+ now would you? There's a reason for that, and that reason is queercoding.
Queerbaiting is a marketing technique where a creator hints at a same-sex romance and then never deliver.
Pinkwashing is the practice of a company, public servant, or creator presenting themselves as gay-friendly and progressive in order to downplay their bad behavior. So, pretty much every company with anti-LGBTQIA+ policies that puts out Pride merch and changes their logo to a rainbow every June.
Now for today's example in, well, all of the above.
While the J K Rowling comment is an immediate red-flag for anyone who cares about Harry Potter and LGBTQIA+ representation in mainstream media, I'll assume most of you don't sit on twitter and dissect Rowling's political stances in relation to her work. Essentially, Rowling has taken a ton of flack for queercoding her characters, assigning them LGBTQIA+ identities ex-post-facto, and being the kind of feminist who excludes trans folks. Yes, J K Rowling is a TERF. She's come under fire for queercoding her characters, mainly because, in no scene of the books, plays, or films based off her work, do any openly LGBTQIA+ characters appear. We never get a moment of Dumbledore admitting to his love for Grindlewald, even in retrospect. We don't see gay couples in the background of Hogwarts. None of the characters identify as queer or trans.
Which basically means that the LGBTQIA+ representation in the Harry Potter universe is a case of queerbaiting. And if you want to be mercenary about it, it's also pinkwashing as Rowling can use "Dumbledore is really gay" to sell more books to LGBT folks.
So Rowling isn't exactly the person you want to be following after when it comes to LGBTQIA+ representation in your projects.
Now, if Kratos were actually intended to be a bisexual character, I'd have plenty of commentary for Jaffe on why making the most misogynistic icon of the video games bisexual retroactively was a bit, well, questionable. After all, Kratos isn't even slightly queercoded. Sure, the guy is a Spartan, but his entire character was designed to be so hyper-masculine he deserves his own entry for toxic masculinity bingo. I've already discussed my hatred of the franchise's tendency to fridge women and keep supporting Kratos's bad habits, even in the 2018 "reboot" so we won't get into that again.
And while there is definitely a place in the community for a narrative about a misogynistic disaster bisexual who murders his way through multiple religious pantheons, the God of War franchise is not that story. It's emphatically not that story. God of War is just a male power fantasy about a guy who goes off to murder a bunch of gods because the women in his life have a tendency to die a lot. The "reboot" shakes that up a bit by giving him a son to yell "boy" at every few lines so we can sit there and judge his terrible parenting.
Which brings us to the real problem with Jaffe's joke. For one, it isn't funny. This isn't even a "I'm too PC to find that funny" moment, it's just not a funny joke. It pokes fun at a group of people in the most opaque way while alienating the group of people it's supposed to support. Because if Kratos were bi, retconning it into the narrative 14 years later is one hell of a queerbait.
For another, the fact that Jaffe immediately confirms this to be a lie is the ultimate trick of queercoding, isn't it? It's a lazy way to pretend to be an ally without actually having to put your money where your mouth is. And while Jaffe is vehemently anti-homophobe, this joke doesn't make him much of an ally.
Which has now affected the current God of War team at Sony Santa Monica, as Cory Barlog tweeted his support of the bi-Kratos theory.
And finally, Jaffe's vehement defense of his joke seems to indicate that he hasn't really understood just what he broke.
After all, queerbaiting your audience so you can make a bad joke (solely for your own amusement) at the expense of homophobes is not the way to go about supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. In fact, it just serves to alienate both sides of the equation.
Which brings us to the moral of this story, kids: No, Kratos was never intended to be bi, which is probably for the best. And you really shouldn't retcon-reveal a character as LGBTQIA+ as a "joke." I can assure you, it isn't funny.