I have to admit that, for the last few months, I have pretty much abandoned Star Wars: The Old Republic. Instead, I have been trying to play Skyrim, though I may have to abandon that due to my in ability to adapt to the lighting scheme. Part of the problem that I have with SWTOR is the lack of same-sex relationships. A year after being promised them, they still will not be coming in the upcoming expansion Makeb.
Apparently, Electronic Arts, or EA Games, admits that they screwed up with Makeb, and screwed up big time. Evan Narcisse over at Kotaku attended an event focusing on LGBTQ issues in gaming held by EA.
Jeff Brown, the VP of Corporate Communications at EA, admitted that they held the forum due to the major criticism that came at them after the announcement of Makeb. LGBT activists were especially upset, as Narcisse noted, over having to pay for Makeb, which is the only place where those romance options are possible, and the fact that it feels segregated from the rest of the game’s universe.
It is especially disappointing since EA Games and BioWare have done a much better job catering to the LGBT Community in other games. EA Games has had same-sex relationships in their successful game franchise The Sims, and in the third instalment, they implemented full out same-sex marriage. BioWare’s Dragon Age games have same-sex marriages and relationships.
Narcisse writes that:
Brown’s colleague Craig Hagen was one of the organizers of Full Spectrum. While he acknowleged the pride he felt in EA creating a place like Makeb or allowing same-sex relationships to happen in their Mass Effect games, Hagen also said the company could have done better in crafting those options. Mass Effect didn’t allow for male same-sex relationships until Mass Effect 3 and Makeb was added to The Old Republic more than a year after the online game’s launch.
Hagen notes that EA has been progressively more tolerant, and said:
“Ten years ago, it was very easy for me to move into the EA Sports studio [where Hagen works out of], to identify as a gay man, and to bring my partner to studio and company events without any experience whatsoever of homophobia. I saw the same sex relationship benefits that EA offered when I was hired.”
“I was involved with the development of the transgender policy that EA adopted. I was around when Sims [included] same gender content. I saw all of that. Then when something like Mass Effect or the latest episode of Star Wars occurs, I just stand back and go, even as progressive as EA is, we still make mistakes and we still have a long way to go.”
Nicasse asked Hagen about LGBT players feeling embattled in some games like Battlefield 3. Hagen said “I don’t know that you tell them. I think you have to demonstrate to them…by the encouragement and the continual development of additional LGBT storylines in our products. The reinforcement inside of EA that this is an environment where you need to feel comfortable, free, and open to develop the right kind of storyline, the appropriate storyline that not only reflects the developer community but reflects the gamer and the consumer community out there.”
Nicasse then posited “It’s not an ‘it gets better kind of message’ then, I posited. It’s a matter of actively making it better? It’s not about defending ourselves, it’s about defining ourselves.”
Hagen said that “Yeah. That’s the point of what [journalist and Full Spectrum panelist] Hilary Rosen made: it’s not about defending ourselves, it’s about defining ourselves. We recognize we’re not perfect. No one is perfect. We’re going to make mistakes. When we make a mistake let’s learn from it and let’s get better.”
With regards to same-sex relationships being a primary part of the game, Matt Bromberg, a founder of eSports company Major League Gaming (MLG) and current general manager of BioWare Austin, noted that almost everything that isn’t directly the main story is, basically, a secondary option. Bromberg said “I don’t think anything does. I think it goes back to, ‘What’s the authentic story being told?’ You’re fighting off a race of machine creatures who are going to destroy the world? That’s probably the main story. I think underneath that story, there’s all kinds of combatants with all sorts of preferences. But I don’t think anything stops it other than someone writing a game where it’s authentic and meaningful and can sustain a whole game.”
Something to consider is that video games have come a long way story wise in the last decade. Women, LGBT people, and most minorities have had to struggle for acceptance inside the gaming world. When Blizzard came out with Diablo, there were two male characters- the warrior and sorcerer- and only one female character- the rogue. When Diablo II came out, it was still split unevenly between male and female characters. Diablo III has options for players to be male or female characters of each class.
Right now, though, unless it becomes absolutely clear that I can have a same-sex romance starting at the beginning of the game, I’m not really sure I’m heading back into SWTOR any time soon.