SWTOR and ‘the gay planet’ — visibility alone isn’t enough anymore

(There’s kind of a spoiler for Fable 2 somewhere in this, if anyone really cares.)

Thanks to the upcoming Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic, soon we’ll be able to experience same-sex romance options on par with those already available for heterosexual relationships! But only on one specific planet – which you have to pay for – and only for use with high level characters. And I lied, they’re not on par with the straight options because they’re just some flirty dialogue and not actual companions.

*heavy sigh*

The revelation isn’t exactly new, having first been announced on January 2nd in a developer blog from Executive Producer Jeff Hickman:

Topic #4: Same Gender Romance: Any news on this front would be great… Answer: First of all, I want to apologize that this is taking so long to get in the game. I realize that we promised SGR to you guys and that many of you believed that this would be with a companion character. Unfortunately, this will take a lot more work than we realized at the time and it (like some other pieces of content we talked about earlier in the year) has been delayed as we focused on the changes required to take the game Free-to-Play. As we have said in the past, allowing same gender romance is something we are very supportive of.

Secondly, I want to reveal today that we are adding SGR with some NPCs on Makeb and do intend on pursuing more SGR options in the future. More details to come!

With this new planet and the options it presents, gay players get the same wonderful feeling of exclusion and societal claustrophobia that a bug caught under a child’s cup feels – trapped, like we’re a strange creature to be examined and kept at a safe distance ‘cause we’re icky.

Of course, that’s not a perfect example. Bioware’s track record of inclusion throughout their history shows that they’re fine with gay people and probably even have some LGBT friends in real life, and therefore, couldn’t possibly do something offensive without meaning to. And that’s the problem.

They just didn’t think about this through to the end.

Bioware, wouldn’t it have been smarter and less offensive to push off ‘Same Gender Romances’ until they could implement them into the entire game rather than create a homosexual ghetto on the fictional planet of Makeb? Or, you could have shipped the game with equal opportunity sexy time options and avoided the whole gated sexuality mess. With this half-hearted band-aid effort, your LGBT fans seem like they were the last thing on your mind while developing The Old Republic, and that sucks.

The worst part is, I’m not even surprised. The representation of LGBT people in AAA video games still sits at the level where being included at all is a big deal. LGBT characters are still largely defined by their status and rarely — if ever — do homosexual characters slip out into the night without either the developers or players making a huge fuss. We’re just people. We don’t need all this extra nonsense surrounding us, and (generally speaking) we certainly don’t enjoy being called out because we’re gay, for good or ill.

Much of the time, games that have become iconic for their representations of LGBT characters, like Mass Effect, Bully, or Persona 4, only fall into the progressive category if you choose that path. They can, and often are, rigidly heterosexual in practice.

Let’s look at a more specific example. The Fable series establishes that sex and sexuality are a choice for the hero. Be gay or straight or whatever, get freaky with the locals, and even marry whomever you can successfully woo. While NPC characters in later entries do have established sexual identities, marriage offers an insignificant diversion that adds nothing to the character.

Same-sex romance got an upgrade in Fable 3, but the core mechanic is still problematic.

In a sense, it’s exactly what we need/want — games where being gay or bisexual means literally nothing and shows true equality. The people of Albion don’t care, and being not-straight neither takes from nor adds to your interactions with anyone other than your partner. While sexuality is a complicated and personal topic, making it ‘no big deal’ is the civil rights daydream. But the fact that it’s a choice for the player undermines the whole concept since it’s not a canonical “the King of Albion was gay” instance.

In fact, during Fable 2′s postgame dlc See the Future, the developers reveal that you had a kid. Oops, you were gay? Too bad, we needed to set up the third game and don’t like adoption.

Mass Effect 3, for a second example, got a lot of praise for including gay relationships, but Shepard doesn’t have a canonical gay status, so it’s only the tiniest of steps. Shepard can be gay, but usually isn’t. At best, it vaguely appeases the LGBT crowd while letting bigots and homophobes continue playing in an all-straight, whitewashed world.

One could argue that Mass Effect and Fable are games about choice and personal authorship, which lends them an entirely different kind of importance. That’s true, but it doesn’t move us forward if the only real examples of homosexual relationships are unsteady choices thrown against a background of hundreds of forced heterosexual romances in other games.

Lasting progress demands games where the developers and writers say “This hero is gay,” not “This hero can be gay.” Visibility alone isn’t enough anymore.

Not only are these progressive titles missing the important canonical homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered characters they seem to take credit for, they also reinforce the stupid misconception that it’s a choice.

In it’s simplest form, we need Final Fantasy X, but with Yuna replaced by a male summoner. Force the characters in a love story, or, at least, in a story with some emotional weight, to be gay. But instead, I guess us queers are supposed to be so honored that we’re a part of the game for once that we should ignore poor representation.

No. Enough. We’re not thankful to be included this time. Give us a call when you’ve got a 100-hour love story RPG epic about two men or something, not another appeasement make-your-avatar-kiss-another-boy-but-only-in-this-one-spot stuff to show that you really care about your fans. You can do better than this.

  • Tyler Humphrey

    Man, do I /love/ getting freaky with the locals.

  • http://twitter.com/Telanis_ Telanis

    Congratulations! Like Fox, Kotaku, and that hitherto-irrelevant site who started this, you have successfully jumped on the bandwagon and exploited a cause for page views. And without so much as adding an original opinion or knowing anything about the game! You must be proud.

    BioWare’s made it clear that they haven’t been happy that same-gender romances aren’t in the game. This is the first step towards fixing that. It is not exclusion or regression, is progressing from nothing to *something*. The gay romances start on the new planet because that’s where the new content is. They’ve made it clear they will continue adding more options (including “canonically gay” characters which may be in the next epansion for all you know) with other new content and planets and are looking into adding options for past content. THIS IS A GOOD THING.

    If you cared, you should have been there during Beta when it was known this wasn’t in the game yet, or at very least at launch, making your opinion known. Others were, and BioWare has listened to them. But you’re opposed to that? Pure ignorance.

    • http://twitter.com/DrydenGG Mike Barrett

      I’m guessing you didn’t read my piece all the way through to the end. It’s not really about SWTOR or some stupid planet, it’s how this kind of “choose to be gay” form of inclusion is paltry and not as significant anymore as people keep saying they are. We need games were the sexual orientation of a character is set, from the beginning and written as such.

      All these games with gay romance options are exactly what you said — a first step. A handful of games taking the same step, over and over again. It gets us nowhere at this point. We’ve already taken that step, let’s try taking the next one and have a game where the lead is gay. No choice. Is gay.

  • Hra’r'odik

    There is no “homosexual ghetto”. Where do you people come up with this nonsense? There will be people throughout the NEW planet makeb, which is where all the NEW content is. Not everyone on makeb will be gay and there will not be a specific area to go where all the homosexuals are. They will be spread out amoung the general populace just like everyone else. They can’t go back an change people into being gay because then it doesn’t fit the existing canon and would then deprive all the players who maybe wanted to have a SG romace with a companion but couldn’t at the time. Bioware is adding a some homosexuals into the new expansion to test the waters. If there is a massive public backlash, kinda like this article, then the will be ZERO chance o seeing SG romance in any truely significant way.

    • Mitch

      It’s a ghetto because the only gay characters in the entire universe are in one planet, not because the planet itself is teeming with homosexuals. And, if there is a massive public backlash against such heavy-handed inclusion, developers in the future will be even more keen to include same-sex/same-gender romance right from the get-go rather than shoehorning it in.

    • http://twitter.com/DavidEdison David Edison

      The argument “don’t make a fuss or you’ll never get anything,” however oft-used, is still wrong, and reeks of an intimidation no self-respecting person would accept. “We” people come up with these terms through simple sociology. If you want to understand the context of the term “gay ghetto,” a Google search will serve you well: your ignorance of a thing doesn’t make it any less relevant.

      Yes, all the new content is on one planet. Another way of saying the truth is that all of the gay content is on one planet. If you know about the cultural ghetto phenomenon, this is not unimportant.

  • Seriously?

    As someone with beloved immediate LGBT family, let me just say that … this article is ******* stupid. The new content they’re adding is the planet, so the new content of type X is, guess what, connected to said planet. “Homosexual Ghetto”? What is this website and why would I ever come back here with this kind yellow journalism?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andres-Ruiz/1349119083 Andres Ruiz

    For the most part, I agree entirely. Where is the harm in including same-sex relationships just as easily as they would for a male and female? Honestly, I doubt that’s something that needs “a lot more work” than they realized, but if it’ll be there eventually, then whatever that’s something. Still, coding doesn’t discriminate, so how hard can that be? I do say though that in Mass Effect, they never really make it a point that Shepard is straight either, so I never minded that. There are still some things like in the clubs, there are no male exotic dancers (well, they’re Asari so they technically might be, but that’s not that point), nor do you dance with any generic male NPCs on the dancefloor, but honestly, that’s not a big deal. I certainly wasn’t looking for any of that when I played them.

    In all though, you bring up a fine point in how it shouldn’t be an extended effort to let a character, who is supposed to be, in a sense, a virtual representation of you, be whoever they want to be. If anything, they might as well make the player character asexual, like in Saints Row: The Third, which is just as fine. As a note though, I would also love to see a gay romance story as touching as FFX in a game, because why the hell not.

  • Mikey

    Ohhhhh, good idea.
    Yuna sure looks good as a man…Hey, someone hack X and X-II and make yuna a man. Pretty please?