Games are increasingly a part of our most formative experiences. As those who grow up with the technology feel their way through life, memories, feelings and realizations can be tied to moments, characters and settings found in our favorite games. Jason had one of these moments.
I think it’s important to start something like this with a disclaimer of sorts. This isn’t something that I am a researched professional in, or even something I have cogent thoughts on. This is about desires and emotions and thoughts that I have not fully navigated. While this can make one prone to bombastic, underthought statements in the moment, I want to assure you, dear reader, that I offer you nothing but emotional truths from the core of my person.
Voldo’s ass made me gay. The spandex, the straps, all of it. I looked at that dang ass, and it made me gay.
Let’s walk it back.
It started in the Gamecube aisle of a Blockbuster in the fall of 2003, which is, strangely enough, how a disproportionate number of my formative experiences began. Looking for a new game to keep me occupied, I landed upon Project Soul’s recent smash hit SoulCalibur II. Whether due to my at-the-time unparalleled love for the Zelda series or my mushy, underdeveloped ten-year-old brain, the console-exclusive marketing strategy of including Link worked on me, and I snatched up a copy to rent as soon as I saw the cover.
I had never played a fighting game before but I knew they weren’t as fun alone. Later that day, a friend came over to sit cross-legged in front of my TV and fight to the death, and we were immediately faced with a problem. Neither of us were familiar with the roster of pugilists, so our choices were entirely rooted in aesthetics. We spent what felt like hours moving from character icon to character icon, studying the models as they popped up.
I noticed him almost immediately.
Voldo’s portrait betrayed his character. What looked like a piece of rejected Clive Barker concept art was so, so much more. I chose him and in an instant that spindly freak took his side of the screen, body undulating as he walked in place to the rhythm of a song only he could hear. It seemed like a good tune. I wanted to hear it.
Of course, he was more than his gait. He was the skin-tight suit he wore, allowing him to slither across the arena. He was the gigantic codpiece that he loved to show off in thrusting motions. He was the horrifying crab-walk thing he did on the tips of his knife hands. He was his blindfold, which kept him from seeing the light of day.
He fascinated me. I didn’t know what to make of him and I couldn’t stop trying to figure it out. My friend selected a new character every round, trying out different styles and types of fighter. I stuck by my man, never straying for a single round. My friend thought it was weird and kept telling me to try someone else. It was almost worse that the pleas for me to change my character weren’t made with the intent to hurt me. My friend was just genuinely uncomfortable with Voldo. What was intrinsically alluring to me caused a base-level rejection from someone I was close to.
I didn’t change, but I lied. I said I liked how creepy he was, that his knives were cool. Anything that would allow me to hide the interest that seemed to disgust my friend.
Because life has a way of making the absolute dumbest moments the didactic ones whose ripples can be felt in your life for decades, my friend selected Ivy as his fighter for our last match. A female fighter with a sword that broke into a whip, Ivy was perhaps the only character in the game with as suggestive a move set as Voldo’s. Their outfits were equally revealing and, for what it’s worth, equally impractical.
“She’s hot,” my friend said, ogling her as the character select screen counted down.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “Super hot.”
Even at the time, it felt like a binary presentation of something I couldn’t face. Here were two characters, both stripped down and reduced to their bare sexuality. Representations of sado-masochism and primal lustful energy. I was attracted to both of them. They were artistically created for that to be the case, and it was working like a damn charm.
But I had trouble engaging in an authentic way about it with my friend. Not that there was any meaningful conversation that could be had between two pre-teens staring at scantily clad 3D renderings, but it was something that followed me. It still follows me.
As I grew up, I forgot about Voldo (somehow) and continued to face this problem. I would see a guy out in the real world – a human being without the codpiece or blindfold, you know the kind – and feel those same twinges of indecision. Any thoughts of attraction were swept away by the fear of being told to change my character. Of being found out. Any romantic feelings towards women were met with intense judgment of myself, treating it as an active decision to suppress those same feelings towards men.
Because of this constant war with myself, I started to believe it. I thought I was a coward, I thought I wasn’t actually attracted to men at all and that it was something I was getting myself worked up over. I had forgotten Voldo at this point, but I wish I had kept in touch.
This carried on past high school and university, into my young adult life. I told myself repeatedly it was too late to come out, which is a ludicrous thing to tell yourself, but delusion and self-hatred is a powerful thing.
I was fortunate enough to go through one of the worst stretches of mental health stability in my life and come out the other side with a therapist and a group of friends whose support can’t be accurately measured or described. I began to work on improving myself, namely how I spoke to and thought of myself.
And one night, it just clicked.
It was late at night on the back patio of a bar in Austin, Texas. I was covered in a thin layer of sweat, gathering like dew in the humidity, and I was on the nth round of drinks with my roommate.
A guy walked out onto the patio, past our table, and time stopped. I could feel my breath leave me and refuse to come back, before catching it after what must have only been a few seconds. This happened often – noticing men – and was almost always accompanied by bad feelings. This time was no different.
But I recognized it in the moment for the first time ever. I didn’t remember Voldo, but I remembered very viscerally the feelings of the day I saw him for the first time. How bad they were. I knew I didn’t want to feel that way anymore, I didn’t want to hinge those feelings on how other people treated me.
“You know, I’ve been thinking lately,” I said to my roommate quickly, before I could stop myself. “Fuckin’… guys are cute, right?”
It hung in the air. I felt like I had dumped out over a decade of shit onto the picnic table we were at, I was waiting for the bomb to go off. It never did, though. My roommate accepted it as truth, smiled, acknowledged that I felt that way. A weight wasn’t off of my shoulders but I felt it lift for the first time, ever.
I’ve talked to a few other people about this since. Any time I try to broach the topic, I feel those same pangs of self hatred and fear of judgment, but I’ve started to push through. Ironically enough, this will be how some people that I know find out that I’m bisexual. I find something oddly poetic about Voldo helping me out with that, lending a helping hand in navigating coming out despite my neuroses.
Of course, I might just be feeling the positive vibes from sourcing the screenshots for this article.