Darth VaPaula, Gender and Video Games

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I play Star Wars the  Old Republic. I live in Florida. As such, I was somewhat interested when the Florida Family Association decided to launch an email campaign against Bioware regarding the plans to allow LGBT relationship options in the game.

Lest anyone think that the game is some sort of sex-fest, the relationships between a player character (PC) and a non-player character (NPC) is rather limited. Essentially you get to engage in fairly tame flirting via selecting tame response options and there is some dialog that involves mild sexual themes. For those looking for racy action, you will find much much more on prime time  shows than you will see in SWTOR. While Bioware does an excellent job crafting the personas of the NPCs that the players interact with, I have never been particularly interested in game romance myself. After all, I can do that in real life and I prefer to spend my game time killing bad guys with a light saber, something I cannot do in real life (yet).

However, I know that some players really get into the romance options in Bioware games and it is a rich part of the narrative experience for these folks. As such, I can see why the folks at Florida Family Association are a bit worried. I, too, have been worried when I heard friends speak endlessly of their intimate relationships with NPCs. Of course, my worry is rather different than that of the FFA.

The FFA seems to have two main concerns regarding the possible inclusion of LGBT options in SWTOR:

• Children and teens, who never thought anyway but heterosexual, are now given a choice to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in their game player.

• Children and teens, who choose non-social agenda characters, would be forced to deal with lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender characters chosen by other players.

In regards to the first problem, if these children and teens (although the game is rated T and hence is intended only for teens) have “never thought anyway but heterosexual”, then they would presumably not chose any of the LGBT options in the conversations with NPCs. Unless Bioware radically changes the game by adding an orientation button, a PC’s sexual orientation is shaped by making choices in various conversations (such as picking a flirt option). As such, kids and teens who are purely heterosexual prior to playing SWTOR would presumably not select the LGBT options. After all, if their minds are devoid of any sexual thoughts other than heterosexual, why would they pick anything else? To use the obvious analogy, if I only think about playing a Jedi, the fact that I have the option to play a trooper would not compel me to play a trooper. That is, if I lack trooper tendencies, I won’t play a trooper in the game. Or real life.

It might be countered that the mere option for such in game behavior could lead the heterosexuals away from their heterosexuality. After all, Plato argued at length in the Republic regarding the corrupting potential of art. As such, perhaps SWTOR could turn kids and teens away from the “hetero side” to the “gay side”. This, of course, assumes that any orientation other than heterosexual is morally wrong-which is an issue that is beyond the scope of this essay.

One obvious response to this line of reasoning is that the kids and teens in question will also face the same options in real life. That is, when encountering actual people in the real world they will sometimes have LGBT options for real. As such, this worry about SWTOR seems rather pointless: if the kids and teens are not going to go to the “gay side” in real life, they surely will not do so in SWTOR. Likewise, if they would go to the “gay side” in SWTOR, then perhaps they would do the same in real life anyway. The game merely allows them the chance to select from options that are available in real life already and there seems to be no reason to think that the game would make straight kids gay.

It might be argued that while straight kids and teens can resist the “gay side” in real life, SWTOR would lure them to the “gay side”, perhaps with cookies. As noted above, Plato did argue that art can have corrupting influences that bypass our normal defenses against such things. For example, Plato noted that while a manly man will not give in to sorrow when faced with tragedy in real life, he can easily be seduced to giving into such unseemly feelings via the nefarious influence of the arts. By analogy, kids and teens who are heterosexual in real life could thus be seduced to the “gay side” by the nefarious influence of the video game. This sort of reasoning is, of course, analogous to that used to argue that video games and art corrupt the youth into being more violent or sexual. After all, when not corrupted by art humans have no interest in either sex or violence.

One obvious reply is that if video games have such a powerful impact on the sexual orientation of the youth, then the lack of LGBT options in SWTOR should have converted LGBT players straight. After all, if the availability of LGBT options is a threat to heterosexuality, then the availability of heterosexual options should be an equal threat to LGBT players. The presence of both options could, presumably, cause players to oscillate in their orientation as they are lured from the “straight side” to the “gay side” and then back again. One would thus assume that the person’s sexual orientation would be set by their last interaction in the game. This, of course, seems rather absurd.

It might be claimed that LGBT options are just so appealing that a heterosexual kid exposed to such options will be lured into picking them, contrary to his/her true sexual orientation. The same, it would need to be argued, is not true of heterosexuality.

One obvious reply is that if the LGBT options were that seductive, then most people would be LGBT.  But this is not the case. Another obvious reply is that if LGBT options are so appealing, then perhaps people should chose them. After all, it generally makes sense to pick what is most appealing. To use an analogy, when I pick my dessert I go with the option that appeals to me the most and take that to the be best option. Likewise, if LGBT is such an awesomely appealing choice over heterosexuality, then perhaps people should be picking that rather than struggling to resist it. Of course, if LGBT options lack this special appeal to people who are nominally straight, then these options present no “threat” in the game or in life.

The second problem, as the FFA sees it, is that kids and teens “would be forced to deal with lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender characters chosen by other players.”

My first reply is that the way the game works, players are not forced to deal with the relationships between other PCs and NPCs. That is, the substantial conversation interactions that involve romance take place without other players being involved. As such, if the folks at the FFA are worried that players will be forced to see LGBT sex or even substantial LGBT conversations, then they are worried about nothing. All they will see is the usual killing and looting that form the majority of the game play. As such, they are worried about something that will not really happen.

Of course, it can be countered that players will encounter some LGBT comments or remarks in the course of play and this takes me to my second reply.

Second, kids and teens are already “forced to deal with” LGBT in real life. They might not realize it, but unless they are kept in isolation they are no doubt regularly encountering and interacting with LGBT people. After all, people do not have “straight” or “LGBT” nameplates over their heads in real life. As such, the worry about encountering LGBT characters in the game seems rather absurd.

Third, there is the obvious moral reply. Imagine if someone said that they were worried that their Christian kids and teens would be forced to deal with Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Or that their white kids would have to deal with Hispanics, Asians, and blacks. Such views would be regarded as nothing more than the expression of hate and prejudice. The same certainly seems true of the FFA’s view here. After all, if the KKK does not have the right to demand a racially pure SWTOR, then the FFA would seem to lack the right to demand a gender pure SWTOR.

The FFA does offer an additional argument against the inclusion of LGBT options in STWOR. The FFA contends that because the Star Wars movies did not have any LGBT characters, they should not be in SWTOR.

On the one hand, this does have some small appeal. After all, a game based on a movie universe should reflect that universe. So, for example, since the Star Wars universe lacked Vulcans and Daleks in the movies, they should not be in the game.

On the other hand, this argument is easy to counter.

While the Star Wars movies did not show LGBT characters (as far as we know), there is nothing to indicate that the Star Wars reality is devoid of LGBT. After all, the movies only follow a limited number of characters and there are only a few relationships (Han and Leia, Anikan and Padme, R2 and C3P0). As such, to infer that because there were no open LGBT relationships in the Star Wars movise, then the Star Wars universe is devoid of LGBT relationships would be an odd inference. This would be  on par with inferring that because the movie did not show any dentists, the Star Wars universe lacks dentists.

Another obvious reply is this: suppose the Star Wars movies did not show any female Smugglers (Han Solo’s class), would it follow that the Smuggler class should be restricted to male characters? It would seem not. After all, there is no universe defining reason why a female cannot be a smuggler. Likewise, it is not inherent to the Star Wars universe that it be LGBT free. After all, the opening does not say “In a totally straight galaxy devoid of LGBT…”. As such, Bioware can add these options and still be within the known canon of Star Wars.

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  1. swallerstein (amos)

    I live in Chile and in my apartment there is a boy who will soon be 11.

    He and his friends don’t know much about history or literature or science, but they know the facts of life, what being gay means, how to use a condom and much more than Kinsey ever dreamt of way back in more innocent times.

    I doubt that kids in Florida are any more naive about such themes than a kid in Santiago de Chile.

    So whether or not they play the game you mention
    (this kid plays lots of games), they probably already know everything puritanical adults want to hide from them.

    So let kids play the game.

  2. It could be argued that the game is not set in a movies’ universe, rather in George Lucas’ universe.

    The movie was made from a screenplay set in a much larger universe, a universe hence expanded upon by a few hundred books set in diverse timelines. All these books, comics, games and movies make up what is now the whole universe and in a few of these books there have been some “semi-homosexual tendencies”, or hints thereof. Thus I would argue that the existing universe is not completely devoid of homosexuality and other “debauchery” (in FFA’s eyes).

    They haven’t said anything about them slave girls (human, Twilek, what not) and slavers (Trandoshan and many more) have they? Keeping slaves is thus just fine and dandy.

    Imho, these GCB’s should just grow up.

  3. Corran,

    Interestingly, there was no condemnation of slavery, oppression or violence.

    As you note, the Star Wars universe does go beyond the movies. After all, the Star Wars Kinect game features a dancing Boba Fett. Surely a universe in which Fett dances is a universe big enough for LGBT relationships.

  4. I think it should be banned.

    The homosexual lifestyle choice is an unnatural lifestyle to lead.

    Your penis does not belong in a man’s butt hole.

  5. While I do agree that my particular penis should not be in such a place (after all, I have a girlfriend and I should be faithful to her), you need to provide some support for your claims. Otherwise, there is no real reason to accept what you say as being plausible. After all, someone could just reply back:

    “I think it should not be banned.”
    “The homosexual lifestyle, which is not a choice, is a perfectly natural lifestyle to lead.”
    “Your penis does belong in a man’s butt hole.”

    And have as much grounds for the claims as you do. That is, none. 🙂

  6. Every time I read something like this I’m flabberghasted. In the game you are regularely given the option of murdering a person in cold blood or letting him go free and lie to your employer about it. (yes, I play a bounty hunter).

    Cold blooded murder is fine and dandy. Killing thousands of humans/human looking aliens for the experience points is A-OK. Mild flirting with someone of the same sex? Heressy! The game must be banned!!!

    Am I the only one wondering about the priorities here?

  7. Gargnob,

    I just started playing a bounty hunter recently myself-love the class so far.

    You make an excellent point. Not only in regards to SWTOR but more generally there is a rather odd obsession with “protecting” people from sexuality and sexual orientations other than straight. At the same time, violence is generally tolerated quite well (I think the Daily Show did a clever segment on this recently). A political example of this would be the fact that some folks are rather fixated on same-sex marriage as the gravest threat to the United States, yet applaud when political candidates talk about how many people have been executed in their states.

  8. Mike,
    You’re right! They are from Florida, USA. I live in Sweden. That might explain why I find the topic incredibly strange…
    We HAVE same sex marriage. We DON’T have executions. But this group is trying to change the way the game works for ME and the rest of the players. MANY of which are non-American.Ok, I’m guessing, based on the fact that there are many non-American servers. Dang it! Now they’ve got me pulling statistics out of thinn air. That makes me a sad hunter…

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