When I was a teenager, I had a crush on Liquid Snake.
Liquid Snake was the villain of Metal Gear Solid, released for the PlayStation in 1998.
Liquid was like a romance novel cover boy gone bad. He had long blonde hair, chiseled abs, and wore a trenchcoat with no shirt underneath. His swagger and confidence kept him warm even though he marched around barechested in Alaska. There was a certain bromoerotic tension between him and his clone, Solid Snake. His name was Snake, for fuck sakes. Snaaaaake! And his voice. Oh, that voice! Rich, bold, and dripping with attitude. There was a lot to love. Plus, I was only fifteen.
I’m exaggerating about my lust for Liquid. I wouldn’t lust after a video game character like that until I tried making Raiden do naked cartwheels in the sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty in 2001.
I was obsessed with Metal Gear Solid and I went online to learn everything I could about the game. I emulated earlier titles in the series to learn about the backstory. And I researched its creator and its voice actors. That’s how I learned that the voice of Liquid, credited as Jimmy Flinders, was actually named Cam Clarke. Many voice actors used aliases to get non-union gigs.
Even though I didn’t know it, I had grown up listening to Cam Clarke. He was Leonardo on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Igor on Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and a variety of voices on my favorite afternoon cartoon, Eek! The Cat.
The next year, Cam Clarke released an album of gay love songs. I don’t remember how I heard about it. I probably read it on PlanetOut or Gay.com or some other artifact of dial-up internet. He was singing popular songs sung by woman about men. He also covered songs sung by men about women and changed the gender of the words, like altering the Beatles “Something” to be “Something in the Way He Moves.”
It was exciting for me to learn that Cam Clarke was gay. He didn’t have a “gay” sounding voice. (By contrast, I was often called “ma’am” at the Taco Bell drive-thru.) He played characters who were traditionally masculine. Tough guys. Buff guys. Good guys. Bad guys. He wasn’t ashamed of his sexuality. And video games were almost exclusively a heterosexual environment. Everything was a heterosexual environment in 1998, but videogames especially so. Plus, wow, Leonardo was gay. Why was my favorite Donatello? (It’s the stick.)
As a teenager I had a tendency to desperately obsess over any man I knew was gay, there was so few of them out there. I was able to pick Clarke’s voice out of anything, even if I didn’t know for sure he was in it. He was in games like Grandia II and Escape from Monkey Island, leading me to develop an awkward attraction to the neurotic, tattoo-chested Meathook. Clarke was also especially noticeable in anime, like the English dub of Akira. His voice was like a comfortable blanket to me.
My obsession with Clarke deepened when watching Game Show Network. I loved classic episodes of the Family Feud. Another of my dreams was to travel back in time, be a guest on the Feud, and get kissed by Richard Dawson. One afternoon, I watched reruns of a gimmick week on Family Feud. Each episode featured singing families, like the Lennon Sisters and Sister Sledge. One of the families was the King family, a group of musicals sisters who had a variety show in the 1960s. Everyone had a variety show in the 1960s, and I wasn’t familiar with this one.
Gene Wood, the iconic announcer of the Feud, introduced the King family: four women and one young man. The young man’s name stood out to be instantly: Cam Clarke. He smack in the middle of the row, the one guy in a group of ladies. He was like a male King sister. As someone who grew up in a family of all women, I related with him even more. We had something in common!
I told my cousins that Liquid Snake was on Family Feud in the 80s. “And he’s adorable!!” I kept to myself. Clarke was tan and thin with a bright smile and curly blonde hair. He was playful, fun, and good at Family Feud.
The show was filmed sixteen years prior, about a month after I was born, but I didn’t care: I wanted to marry him.
I was a teenager, so I couldn’t order Clarke’s CD. It wasn’t carried in any stores near me, growing up in Mississippi. Eventually I forgot about it. My ears perked up every time I heard his voice in a game or in a cartoon. His presence in a variety of games deepened my nostalgia for them.
Although I don’t obsess over video game characters anymore (as much…) I still play video games, and Cam Clarke is still in them. He was recently interviewed by The Game Informer Show about his iconic role as Liquid Snake.
In addition to that, I was delighted to learn that Clark voices the main character in Fire Emblem Fates, a fantasy strategy RPG for the 3DS. The main character has limited customization. You can pick his (or her) name, hairstyle, hair color, and voice. The male character has three voice options, and two are performed by Clark.
I was upset when I realized I couldn’t figure out which voice he was. All three voices sound so similar, but I knew he only did two. All the voices lack the charming hamminess of his cartoon voices from the ’80s and ’90s. Fire Emblem really ought to embrace its campy side.
I picked the voice option that sounded most like him. If I picked the wrong voice, that’s fine. Using my imagination to pretend it’s him takes only a fraction of the brainpower I used imagining him as my husband over a decade ago. (It doesn’t hurt that the other voice is performed by Yuri Lowenthal, who voiced the Prince of Persia in Sands of Time, another of my video game crushes because the further you get in the game, the less clothing he wears.)
I must have picked the right voice, because it awakened all these memories of discovering who he was, seeing him on TV, and, like almost every memory a gay person has, the sharp twinge of loneliness that shades in all the details.
I decided to listen to some of Clarke’s covers on YouTube. I particularly enjoyed this one, which makes it look like Liquid Snake is singing “I Will Survive.”
His CD Inside Out is out of print, but Amazon still has a thorough product page. On it, Clarke explains why he made this album.
There are love songs in everyone’s life that have special meaning. Especially those we heard when we ‘came of age’,” explains Clarke. “Well, when coming of age also includes the realization that you are gay, you learn to overlook the fact that every love song has a man singing about a woman (or vice versa) and your experience is from the outside looking in. I often thought, wouldn’t it be nice if I could hear love songs from my perspective? So, here they are, tailored by me the singer, for you the listener. May you enjoy this man to man experience, from the Inside Out.
His statement was daring, especially for 1999. I admire his bravery. I wonder if he worried about risking his voice acting career by doing this. Maybe the voice acting community isn’t as homophobic a place as Hollywood was, and in some places, still is. What Clarke said about music in 1999 still applies to today. (Consider Sam Smith, who changed the lyrics of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know?” “How will I know if he’s thinking of me?” became “How will I know if you’re thinking of me?” And he has the nerve to proclaim himself a “gay” Oscar winner. Sit down, Sam.)
Clarke could say the same thing about video games and the basic idea would hold true. Games are catching up with gay representation, but for many years, in games where you could form relationships with other characters, I would make my main avatar a female character so I could pair myself with a man. I first remember doing this in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, making myself a female Jedi in the hopes of getting it on with Han Solo wannabe Carth Onasi.
With the Fire Emblem series, I stopped doing that. In the previous game, Fire Emblem Awakening, I made my character a man, and I lived as a bachelor for the majority of the game. I formed support relationships – the Fire Emblem version of dating – with mostly male characters, even though I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere. Other characters began pairing off and having children, while I was alone. Eventually I settled down with Anna, the greedy merchant who reminded me of Anya from Buffy.
Anna and I had a daughter together, and then we barely spoke to one another again. I felt like I was roleplaying a different gay life than the one I lead, entering an unhappy marriage in order to pass as straight. (My daughter with Anna was killed in battle almost immediately, making me the worst father ever, but that’s a topic for a different day.)
Fire Emblem Fates, released this year, is the first game with a gay love interest for the main character and I’m curious to see how that pans out. Fates is divided into two paths – Birthright and Conquest. The gay male character is present only in Conquest. I’m unsure if I’ll pair myself off in Birthright. With Clarke as my voice, I feel like that would be a betrayal. Not that he would care. He’s an actor, playing a part.
In Conquest, there is one gay male option. One. It’s more than zero. His name is Niles. If there were multiple gay options, I’m not sure I’d choose him. But he’s the only one, so I feel obligated to choose him. To make him my husband. I feel like a high school student, with his photo taped up in my locker, staring at him across the cafeteria and hoping he will notice me.
Unlike my Awakening character, who lived the life of a closeted gay man, my Fates character is hitting a little closer to home – finding the one person in the crowd who is like him and who might like him. Maybe it’s something in the way he moves, or something in the way he speaks. Even if know we aren’t compatible when we meet, we won’t say a thing. We’ll tumble headlong into a relationship and see how that works out.
In real life, it never does. The outcome is the same as the one who tries to pass as something he’s not. Both relationships are unhappy and unsatisfying. Fire Emblem, however, is a fantasy. The matchmaking is guaranteed to work out — provided your mate isn’t killed on the battlefield. But in the safety of our own castle, we can live happily ever after.