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.
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.
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.