First, EA BioWare’s Mass Effect 3 had an expanded gay plot line, causing gamers to give the game a 38 user rating on Metacritic, a game the actual critics gave an 89. Then the same studio got hit by a letter-writing campaign from the Florida Family Association for including gay characters in Star Wars: The Old Republic. EA and Lucasfilm responded with a Yoda-endorsed counter-campaign on Allout.org. The cynics among us might first think this is really a reaction to EA’s disastrous PR snafu in being named by the Consumerist as the worst company in the world. As far as I can tell, that result had more to do with a clunky debut of Origin, and people getting upset it’s not Amazon. EA’s PR had a nice bit of perspective about that, commenting that BP, AIG, Philip Morris, and Halliburton must have been glad they weren’t nominated. Granted, EA can’t say too much, or they come off a little sour grapes. Well, I don’t work there anymore, and I can say pretty much what I want now. And here’s what I think of all this.
Here we have a large corporation actually doing the right thing. It’s supporting its own creative talent in moving our art form forward. Casey Hudson, executive producer of Mass Effect 3, is tremendously thoughtful and eloquent in explaining the gay story line in Mass Effect 3, speaking to how the deep simulation would break down for its conspicuous absences. And with Star Wars, EA now has a slightly less eloquent but perhaps more effective response, by puppeteering Yoda into a corporate gay rights activist. While some might sigh at this, and honestly a part of me does too, I mean that’s my Yoda, there’s a far bigger issue here than the rules around manipulating a puppet.
Homophobia is alive and well in our core gamer demographic. Teenage boys still use the word “gay” as a term of derision. That’s where the Florida Family Association actually gains traction to lower the user rating of a spectacular game. They’re playing off the still-present homophobia in vocal game customers. You hear it in voice chat in console multiplayer games too. As an industry, we back off from taking too strident a position, we want to engage since they’re our customers. Well, enough of this. Making this a dialogue just legitimizes their attitudes. For example, Kotaku put out a piece yesterday, titled “Star Wars Could Only be Gayer if They Gave the Millennium Falcon a Handlebar Moustache.” It tries to argue through humor that Star Wars already features homosexual characters, so the current objection is inaccurate on the merits. There’s two problems with this. First, it perpetuates broad stereotypes, and adopts the shorthand dismissiveness of the ignorant construction around the word “gay.” Put more simply, imagine if the title were “Star Wars Could Only be Blacker if…,” and the article were supported by anachronistic black stereotypes. You would then be pandering to racists who perpetuate a suppressive social dialogue. Second, arguing the merits implies that their point of view actually has merit. It does not. We should all instead adopt a zero-tolerance policy on intolerance, and ready the banhammer for anyone misusing the word “gay” on our blogs, forums, and networks.
Homophobia is just fucking wrong. Grow up, gamers. Evolve. For your own self-interest, nobody’s going to take you seriously if you keep up this bullshit. For the rest of us, you’re making us look really ridiculous. We can’t defend this industry from political muckraking with you making this ignorant racket off to the side. You’re keeping us in the toy box.
We are supposed to be an art form. We express ideas. We present stories that you help tell. No other medium in the history of our species has enabled this communal storytelling to this extent. It’s pretty extraordinary. We can push the political envelope like Star Trek did in the 1960s, and by putting the player in control, they see different perspectives directly and personally. And you get more sex and violence. Everyone loves that.
But finally, you need to realize that homosexuality is reality. It’s not in the closet, it’s really here and valid. It deserves to be out and in front. Nobody deserves to be shut in, and the world is finally opening up to accepting homosexuality. Gay marriage will be universal, as it should be. All your giggling, bible-thumping, and generally poor argumentation is just old now. Enough. The sooner you stop saying and thinking really ignorant things, the sooner we can all put it in the past, and move forward.
SF: I’ll agree that using the term “gay” derisively doesn’t speak particularly well for the user, but I’ve just accepted it as an evolution in language (much like our use of dumb, idiot and so forth). That’s a minor point. The broader point is something I deeply agree with. More than anything, I want video games to present compelling worlds, and I really dislike the idea that these universes would lose depth for the sake of a vocal prejudiced minority. I get that there are moral attachments that a person may not be willing to forsake for a game, but I gotta be honest: why are you playing a game devoted to murderous mayhem across galaxies anyways? It always seemed like the various good books spilt a lot more ink on the crime of killing a man as opposed to banging him. Shit, they put the killing bit in stone on the mountain top.
I think this is a broader issue we have to accept as games have become “democratized.” When games became for everyone, frat bros included, we lost a bit of the nerdy outcast credibility that would have allowed things like a gay Shepard to slide by relatively unnoticed. I don’t expect the people to change any time soon, but I certainly hope games don’t buckle under the pressure and begin pandering. Thankfully, EA took the high road on this one.