Star Wars videogame maker BioWare continues to struggle with the 1990s' fourth-most challenging social issue, namely "Should we be nice to the gays?" (The 1990s answer is here.)
As previously noted, BioWare has come round from their original no-gays-in-space position and agreed that, since their game Star Wars: The Old Republic allows for fantasy relationships between 101010101s (a.k.a., "characters") of the male and female persuasions, it should do likewise for players who want to pretend to be gay princesses, scoundrels, droids or Wookies.
To be fair to BioWare, the company previously supported human equality by permitting gender-agnostic-relationships in previous titles such as Dragon Age and Mass Effect. For unclear reasons, however, its latest Star Wars game was coded straight and narrow.
In what should probably be seen as an admirable attempt to correct that misstep--but is being characterized in some quarters at least as yet another blunder--BioWare has announced that it is bringing a limited degree of equality and tolerance to The Old Republic by means of "Makeb", a gay-friendly planet to be added in a coming paid upgrade called "Rise of the Hutt Cartel". From the BioWare blog:
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!
PCGames N explains the situation admirably:
When I say that Makeb is a gay planet I mean that it is the only location in Star Wars: The Old Republic in which you can be gay. It's the one planet in the universe where flirtatious dialogue options will appear in conversations with similarly gendered characters. It's the only planet on which you can kiss somebody with similarly shaped genitals as the screen fades to black and "doing it" music starts playing.
That's very strange. Why have all the space-faring homosexuals been exiled to Makeb? Even weirder: why do players have to pay real money to visit this extraterrestrial homo-haven?
The answer is simple enough. All gay content is to be confined to one planet simply because BioWare Austin neglected to include any gay companions in the initial release of The Old Republic. They carefully and consciously created over 40 companion characters, 10 of them romanceable men, 10 of them romanceable women, while the rest presumably just stare sexlessly into space. They are all fully scripted characters, all voice-acted and, for some arcane reason we may never understand, all as straight as teen pop stars.
This was an oddly regressive move from a developer who, in previous RPGs, had created player controlled characters who can sling and wrap their sloppy crotch-meat around anyone who’ll have them. BioWare's Dragon Age invented the "herosexual" almost out of coding laziness, where you need only flex a greased bicep before a slew of pansexual male and female NPCs would magically appear inside your pants and start latching on to whatever organs they could find.
But for better or worse (in The Old Republic's case definitely worse: if you really want to keep your crummy, awkward romance scenes you cannot continue to create narrow-minded sex-fantasies for straight white men while feeling piously self-satisfied about including a modicum of sexable male characters for your female players — try harder or ditch the entire thing until we can all act and make games like grown ups) that’s what happened. Let’s file that under “whoops we forgot what century it was” and get back to Makeb, where men and ladies are having the kind of filthy sex they could literally only dream about on Tatooine.
BioWare, in response to demand from fans, decided to bring gay relationships to The Old Republic. They’re doing this in a paid-for update called The Rise of the Hutt Cartel, and including it as a new feature alongside things like World PvP and the ability to copy your character to the Public Test Server. However, the clinically acronymed SGR (same-gender romance) won’t add gay companions for new players. Nor will it turn any existing companions bisexual. Instead it will place some gay NPCs on this new planet of Makeb, meaning gay romances in The Old Republic aren't as developed as straight romances, exist behind a paywall, and are for high-level characters only.
BioWare's problem is clear. The Old Republic is remarkable for its vast amount of recorded dialogue, so even if EA haven’t already sacked all their actors and sold all their microphones, it would take significant resources and time to bring just one fully voiced gay companion into the basic, free-to-play game. The Old Republic's executive producer Jeff Hickman has promised a greater effort will be made at some point in the future, but for now gay players just have to make do with being relegated, which is probably an improvement on being totally ignored.
So BioWare earns the ire of some (including me) by being homophobic in the first place, then finds there are technical impediments to correcting the mistake and earns more ire from others by attempting a half-measure. Criticizing Makeb seems a bit uncharitable to me. At least BioWare is trying to resolve the problem, and it has acknowledged that this isn't a complete solution. But they brought the criticism upon themselves by making a bad call in the first place--if it was their call; maybe it was Lucasfilm, or someone else, but in any case BioWare is left taking the blame.
Criticism is coming from both sides, of course. Those who want to live out 1980s' social values in a Star-Wars-themed fantasy world (better there than the real world, I suppose) are complaining on the BioWare forums. PCGames N quotes the following comment:
Please, please, please Bioware, Lucasarts, and EA do not allow [same gender romance] in Star Wars The Old Republic. It will ruin the game and make a lot of people leave it. I'm only suggesting my opinion because I love this game so much and I don't want to see it go down the drain. As a subscriber, I'm asking all of you to change your mind. Star Wars is a family based story with nothing to do with SGR.
Ah Star Wars, the family-based story of a genocidal maniac who cuts off his son's right hand with a laser-sword while attempting to convert him to the "dark side". Heart-warming, isn't it? Let's not corrupt that sort of winning morality with any same gender romance.
I never have understood why anyone would want to simulate romance in a videogame. I still think videogames are for wholesome fantasy activities like commanding missiles and slaughtering Nazis. But I'm not a gamer, and I may be getting old.
When this whole homophobic fuss first broke out I condemned Lucasfilm and BioWare. Now that BioWare is trying to fix things, I'm starting to feel a little sorry for them. Or at least I would if it weren't for this.