Published on January 21st, 2013 | by Fraser Brown10
That’s no gay planet! It’s just a bunch of unimaginative journalists
With countless outlets competing for traffic over the most pointless video game news, there’s very little that can be done to ensure that site x’s take gets more views than site y’s. Honest, analytical journalism could conceivably be one way, but that’s hard work and certainly won’t secure a number one spot on Google — and that’s what really matters. A much easier way to get people clicking on your news piece is to make a headline that is very search friendly. Something simple with keywords and other such nonsense. Add in a pinch of sensationalism, boil and then stir for fifteen minutes, and you’re on to something.
When BioWare announced the addition of same sex relationships to its latest Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel, it was as if the deity of shoddy journalism himself had bestowed a great gift upon his insipid minions. “Hang on a moment”, they squawked, “this all takes place on one planet? It must be a gay planet!” And lo did they take that sensationalist premise and run with it. That’s how Makeb, the world featured in the expansion, became a gay planet. Once again, the gaming press were making news, not reporting it, because, frankly, video game news can be boring, but tastelessness and homophobia are hot topics, and damn do they get hits.
Game developers are only just starting to stretch their legs when it comes to relationships. Straight, homosexual, ones slightly less simple to pigeon hole — few writers or studios have managed to create any that are particularly satisfying. Certainly, straight relationships have made up the majority, though the same can be said for the real world, but they are far from representative of any real couple, triple or what have you that I’ve seen or experienced.
One developer that’s made at least some effort has been BioWare, although it’s far from the only one. Whether it’s alien relationships, gay elfs or genderless blue people, there has at least been recognition that love and sex don’t just take place between guys and gals. So there was a certain amount of disappointment amongst some that Star Wars: The Old Republic did not continue this tradition, and only featured heterosexual relationships. While I don’t believe that it is a game developer’s role to pander to anyone’s desire to bone a member of the same sex, in a title that did offer many, many relationship opportunities, it did strike me as somewhat remiss not to cater to a group that had previously been at least somewhat represented by the developer.
It was a mistake. Not one, I think, that is nearly as egregious as the plethora of other flaws, particularly mechanical ones, that the game possessed, but certainly one that irked more than a few people. After many complaints, BioWare accepted that it had not, perhaps, done very well by its LGBT fans, and set themselves the task of broadening the game’s relationships. How they went about this is where reality and the one constructed by the press — who are all too aware of how dull most of the news they spew is — differs.
Many — far too many — outlets would have you believe that BioWare hastily shoved all homosexual characters on one planet and called it a day. Inflammatory words like “segregation” have been bandied around by people who are desperate to be congratulated for taking the moral high ground, and terms like “pay-to-gay” have been thrown around the internet with wild abandon; admittedly as much by people with no association with the press as by those who are entrenched in this dark and murky world.
Makeb hasn’t even been designed with just LGBT players in mind, it’s merely the new location where they can add the content requested by the community. It certainly doesn’t imply that these twenty or so NPCs are the only gay folk in the galaxy, either. Most NPCs don’t have any obvious sexual preference, which, by the logic used by many journos discussing this, implies that the only straight people in the entire galaxy are the ones who mention their spouses or lovers. Are we so desperate for representation that we would have everyone carry a badge that says who they enjoy doing the deed with? Does anyone really want to know the sexual preferences of a Hutt? Okay, okay, we all want to know that.
It’s offensive and insensitive, apparently, and BioWare are implying that homosexuality is uncommon and, from a game design standpoint, an afterthought. This is what we are told to think. Yet one person’s afterthought is another’s correction. There was an admission of a mistake, and a solution was implemented. The issue seems to be primarily that these new relationships are restricted to one planet, a world only accessible to those who purchase the expansion. But business is steeped in pragmatism, for better or worse, and sentiment or emotion aren’t particularly rational when the developer’s current goal is to make money. SWTOR was haemorrhaging cash and players before the move to a free-to-play model, and since that move it only makes sense to make people pay for additional, new content when much of the game is open to absolutely everyone for no money at all.
Why would shoehorning in gay romance options into existing content — where it might be overlooked entirely — be any better than adding it to new DLC? This way it gets more attention, and is easier to find for players who want to embark in a fictional tryst. And let’s not forget, this is a roleplaying game; make a gay character if you want, create a back story where he or she had as many lovers as you can imagine. One does not need a game to legitimise sexuality, even if it would be very welcome.
Complaints about BioWare ignoring their gay fans ring hollow, because who one fucks does not define them, especially in a game that’s about shooting aliens and carving stuff up with a lightsaber. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t have been homosexual characters in the game from launch, but it has the same impact on a gay person’s in-game experience as it did mine. There’re sure to be a good many straight men and women who found the game’s dull companions to be poor romantic partners, and I’m just as capable of playing a gay Jedi as a gay man is a straight Bounty Hunter. There was an issue in the base game, but to say it was an insult to homosexuals is insulting to anyone with an imagination. My Sith Warrior would have rogered Malavai Quinn at the drop of a holocron — trust me. Why not an insult to good writing or believability?
Beyond the problems with the vanilla game, all of this is rendered moot by the fact that none of these journos had even played the expansion. They got a press release, read people moaning on forums, and heard the announcement — from there they drew their own ill-informed conclusions. There’s an exceedingly good chance that the romanceable NPCs are awful, but that will be down to writing, not their fixed location on Makeb. Before we string a developer up for being tasteless, why don’t we actually wait and see what they created first?