You ever play a game and have a character — main protagonist or not — leave an incredibly long lasting impression on you?
I have, a handful of times. Some of my faves include Link from Zelda (still mad he’s not Zelda), Kratos from the God of War franchise, Master Chief from the Halo Franchise, Ellie from The Last of Us, Ezio/Desmond from The Assassin’s Creed franchise, and Hannah from Until Dawn.
And there’s more where those come from. But besides Ellie (who is also queer), none of these characters have left quite the impression that a certain Zigmund Ortega has.
I know what you’re thinking: Who the FUCK is that?
Well, he’s a character in a series of games titled The Freshman, The Sophomore, and The Junior, and all of these games come from an app called Choices (which itself is an interactive narrative hosting/storybook app that was created by Pixelberry Studios, a successful offshoot of EA) and every time a new game comes out, he continues to surprise the shit out of me.
This is the case for several reasons and I’m gonna start with the most important one (SPOILERS AHEAD):
1. Believe it or not, the man is probably one of the first and finest instances I have seen of positive bisexual representation. Especially for cis men.
I talk about representation for bisexual folx all the time. Until I am blue in the face really. And I’ve talked about how different that representation (and struggle) can be for cis men and cis women.
But I’ve never seen a character that nails it quite like Zigmund “Zig” Ortega.
Or as I like to say, the rich man’s Beck (from Victorious).
Why, yes you can Z — I mean, Beck.
You meet his character between The Freshman Book 3 and Book 4 and if your character is single, the two of you hit it off very quickly, and if your money (read: diamonds) is right, you can date him right away.
And you also find out right away, albeit very casually, that he is bisexual.
I’ll be honest: I was left shocked. Flabbergasted. Discombobulated.
Mind you, I know now that being queer doesn’t have a “look” and that anyone can be as queer and as fluid with that shit as they want, but when I was first coming to terms with my sexuality like two or three years ago (when I started playing the game), I’ma be honest:
I did not expect something like that to come out of Ortega’s mouth.
I say this because Ortega looks like your standard bad boy (complete with tattoos, a leather jacket, and everything) who has a “troubled past,” but this time around, he is of color (Brown/Latinx, which I will get to) and that affects how his story and character is perceived.
I naturally expected his character to be with the bullshit when he met my stand-in, so imagine my surprise when several chapters later, he’s explaining his anxiety to me about being a bisexual man (of color) and how he used to think he was confused or it was bad to be such a thing, but how he now recognizes it’s not, because all people are hot and he’s not gonna shit on himself for recognizing that. And since my character’s choices thus far had led her down a more queer path herself (she had been so-so dating Kaitlyn, another female character of Asian descent, but that fizzled out — in my mind — due to complexities of what it means to be queer AND out in both the Asian and African diasporas [the former of which Pixelberry actually does a dope job at addressing]), they bonded over that and, well, fell in *deep like* lol.
What a babe.
This is super important for a variety of reasons. Mostly because it highlights how different bisexuality is perceived based on gender (Ortega was not surprised when he learned my character was bisexual, but I was gobsmacked when I learned he was — and that’s because it is “accepted” more in women/femmes) and his character and proud ownership of his sexuality starts to get into a concept that is inextricably tied to the discussion of men/male-presenting individuals and their emotional, physical, and sexual expression.
Which is, you guessed it, toxic masculinity.
And also brings me to my last point:
2. His character is one that intentionally recognizes toxic masculinity and does his damnedest to fight against it.
While The Sophomore gets into this a bit more, this is something that is pretty intrinsic to Ortega’s arc and his existence as a character and that is made clear upon his arrival.
NPCs (non-playable characters) in the game can rarely get away with saying something virulently misogynistic in his presence without him threatening to beat the shit out of them.
In addition to this, it is revealed that his “dark and troubled past” actually amounts to him having beat the shit out of his sister’s abuser after he had been caught beating her. And because the system sucks ass (yes, Pixelberry goes there), it is Ortega who is disproportionately punished and has to serve time and carry that stigma of being an ex-con (who is of color, so double yikes). But you know what? Ortega makes it clear that he would do it again, because it was the right thing to do and tbh, I haven’t been this attracted to a fictional character since Trunks of DBZ and Inuyasha…of Inuyasha.
I regret nothing!
But his commitment to fighting toxic masculinity doesn’t stop there. There’s another storyline where Ortega charges himself with addressing another male character (this time Black) who is incredibly toxic about boundaries and who is also struggling with their sexuality, because they’ve been led to perceive bisexuality as being “full gay” and thus “weak” and BOY, I don’t think you realize how invaluable it was to see this unfolding on these virtual pages between Black and Brown (specifically Latinx and/or Hispanic) men.
I say this because both groups have to deal with their own versions of toxic masculinity (the latter as Black hypermasculinity and being hypersexed and the former as a concept known as machismo — which is just as toxic, suffocating, and dangerous) and it was honestly refreshing to have Ortega address all that even though he doesn’t name it.
And you know what? He didn’t have to. Because I got what he was saying right away, with none of the big, clunky jargon you usually get when discussing a social justice issue like this, but with all of the empathy.
It’s so…stunning to me because that empathy is rarely extended to men of color. That space for expression is rarely given.
And that’s pretty much why Zigmund Ortega is a helluva character. And while I don’t know where Pixelberry Studios will be taking his character next, if that path is as amazing and eclectic and inclusive and critical of toxic masculinity (patriarchy) as he is now?
Shiiiiiit. His character will be one who goes down as one of the bisexual greats.
And it will be well-deserved.