In the 1920 and '30s, cinema was slowly reaching its maturity as an art form. The introduction of sound added a chaotic new element just as existing elements like editing, shot selection, and the Hollywood production system were refined. The medium was gloriously, almost frighteningly, alive.
And so, in 1934, the Motion Picture Production Code, known as The Hays Code was introduced. Named after the censor and Republican National Committee chairperson Will Hays, the Code was intended to stop film’s ability to display girl-on-girl kissing, fervent voyeurism of the young female body, and successful gangland crime, among other things. The Supreme Court-approved censorship laws prohibited the distribution of films with such content or forced them into costly re-edits.
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Until the waning and ultimate demise of the production code with the advent of the MPAA rating system, some 20 years later, artists were forced to carefully maneuver around outright expression of a character’s homosexuality. Hitchcock’s Rope, to take one example, is very literally about homosexuality. This was clarified explicitly, many years later, by the film’s writer, Arthur Laurents, who was also gay, in the documentary short Rope Unleashed. But this fact is never stated in the film itself. The nature of the intense relationship between the main characters was communicated subliminally through selective omission, because it had to be.
While there is no modern Hays Code equivalent in contemporary American video games (the ESRB rates but does not censor) the manner that LGBT characters are being introduced to a broader audience in major games is through this same blowback-wary method of diligent self-policing. The writers allow space for an audience member to overlook or deny the homosexuality of a particular character if that’s the way they would prefer to see things.