Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Virtually gay

Fox News announced that "‘Star Wars’ game segregates gay characters on gay planet", a rather ridiculously wrong interpretation of the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion Rise of the Hutt. They'll be even more shocked once they find out that after the patch you can actually be gay on any planet. But whether you are Fox News, a fighter for LGBT rights, or somewhere in between in your opinion, I have a question that applies to everybody: How exactly do you define a "gay character" in a MMORPG?

For me there are several problems here, the first being that there is no sexual reproduction at all in virtual worlds. Virtual characters don't have primary sexual characteristics, and thus no sexuality per se, at all. The second problem to me appears to be that the secondary sexual characteristics on which we base our impression of whether a virtual character is male or female do not necessarily correspond to the gender of the player behind the avatar. For two avatars to have a "gay" relationship, is it the genders of the avatars or the genders of the players that count?

Apparently Bioware and Fox News decided that the more important thing is the gender of the avatar. Thus Bioware is unlocking same-sex avatar relations between a player and an NPC, and Fox News is protecting against that in their drive to protect family values. Note that no sexual relations whatsoever are possible between two players. If you are having imagined virtual sex with a computer, is that sex heterosexual, homosexual, or just plain illusionary?

The real debate is obviously whether it is a good thing or a bad thing if gay couples appear depicted as a part of normal life in all sorts of media. Thus we get people protesting against a purple Teletubby with a handbag being too gay. If people grow up seeing gay couples leading a normal life all around them, the religious right has problems getting a majority against gay marriage or other rights together. But what people appear to fail to notice is that other players in Star Wars: The Old Republic can't even see what kind of a relationship your avatar and his companion have. The only thing Bioware unlocks is a way for people who WANT to have a gay relationship between their avatar and a NPC companion of the same gender to be able to see that. You won't see gay couples holding hands in a cantina on Tatooine. I seems to me that the possible effect of that on the sexual orientation or acceptability is a rather weak one.

Still Bioware hasn't removed all discrimination from the game. Why can't we kiss Wookiees or droids? There must be people out there who'd be interested in that.

Why would you listen to anything that comes out of Fox News?
Actually I read about this on Ars Technica yesterday and they were much bigger on the 'single planet' aspect than Fox. [Fox's article - like Ars - puts it in the headline but otherwise seems pretty accurate and objective; I will be surprised if most news reports reach the same standards.]

As for how to define it: the player is not the character. It is what the character does that defines the character.

Of course you can have a situation where a player of one gender fools another player into believing that the first player is the same gender as his or her character. Analogous things happen sometimes in real life too. It usually ends in tears.

Considering that the characters relationship in game with NPCs is the issue, I consider this a non-starter. If FOX wants to get riled up, have them take a gander at Goldshire. Actually, that's a nice idea: I could use a good laugh today from watching the FOX talking heads explode all over the sexual shenanigans at Goldshire and other places.
Why would you listen to anything that comes out of Fox News?

Because I consider it harmful to only listen to media who are sure to report only what you already believe in. If you don't challenge your beliefs, and refuse to even listen to what the other side has to say, you are in effect no better than Fox News.
I'd imagine FOX is doing this as a public service though it is quite possible that their audience might think that's a pretty neat idea.
Player/player sexuality is rampant in the game among RP (and "ERP") circles already, and has been....whatever Bioware reported, it has my wife's heavy RP/ERP guild up in arms about the idea of a "gay planet" when they want full open RP relationships with their companion characters as well, apparently. I don't know sometimes how much of Bioware's problems come from a toxic fanbase vs. poor press releases. Still.....for my wife and her oddball cohorts it matters little, as they have found more lucrative RP opportunities in Guild Wars 2, where they all seem to find fun in exploring sylvari pansexuality. She and I may both play the same MMOs, but we're definitely not even on the same planet when it comes to playing the same game! Myself, I miss the good old days when the sexuality of my avatar was irrelevant to a good story. Seriously though....are we as a society finding that we must live more and more viacriously through our characters? If I want a little sex in the relationship, RL is the place to be for that. I feel like an old guy defending his lawn when it comes to this issue.
Corso, one of the current (straight) romance options in the game, manages to be so resoundingly charmless that I've seen many non-furry people state they'd rather kiss a Wookie than reciprocate his interests. From the furry perspective, there's also a pretty sizable selection of options in the EU: Bothans, most obviously, as well as the ferret-otter Selonians, both of which are outright stated in the Rogue Squadron books to be open to interspecies experimentation (where allergies aren't an issue, at least).

The argument about sexuality is more than a little pedantic. You can well argue that Plan B is really just about interplay of pixels or bits on a DVD/Netflix stream, but if we're talking about a movie, what we see matters. The pixels show up in a way that represent a (in that case bisexual) story of a love triangle, whether the viewer is male or female. Likewise, the shown relationship between between a male Jedi Knight and Kira is going to be perceived as straight because that's the very thing it's trying to show.

And, practically speaking, that's kinda the only sane manner to evaluate relationships, and the only polite one. If you roleplay a romantic relationship with someone that plays crossgender, finding that out can't retroactively change your interests or sexuality. And it's both obviously and terribly rude to start applying such a crude standard to relationships where one partner is or discovers themselves to be transgender.

((You also probably will see gay couples holding hands in a cantina, because there are gay player couples and because despite our relatively low prevalence in the general population the various LGBT groups tend to be more common among more serious roleplayers. It's considered polite to keep stuff to /say or /tell if it's even remotely romantic, but simple emotes really don't fit that category. It just won't be between a PC and the companion.))

There's also the separate issue that the option of same-sex romance is stuck behind an expansion paywall and at the level cap. It's just a result of the development cycle, but it's both tedious and rather frustrating a mistake, especially given the long-standing issues both the Star Wars universe and Bioware have had with sane same-sex relationships.
what killes me is that even people who WANTED the relationships added, are getting riled up. becasue aparently bioware was supposed to performe miracles and overhault the entire game, ala cataclysm to include relationships retroactively, while simultaneously not penalizing people who may have maxed out companion affection and hit max level already. people wanted miracles and they want them NOW.

They are focusing on a single planet, even though its no different then any other addon content, aka expansion, but because homosexuality representation is involved, its suddenly a big deal. bioware is doing the only currently feasibly thing they can to give people expression they wanted. they are not ending it at Makeb. they are not ending it with npc characters only.

and you are absolutely right, on my server, in part of community that I hang out with, we have plenty of non straight characters all over the place. heck several of mine aren't.

I may not agree with a lot of Bioware's choice, but I'm feeling genuine sympathy for them at this point. because damned if they do and damned if they don't.
The whole idea of romantic relationships with NPC's is a bit odd to me, from both sides of the issue. As a player, I would feel horribly embarrassed to pursue a 'relationship' with an NPC. I would think that pretty much anybody who did so needed some therapy. It is a new low in human sexuality on the internet, and I didn't think that was possible.

From the developer side, I would be worried about opening a can of worms that leads to lots of heated controversy over a feature that is of zero interest to the majority of players. As you said, why not a wookie or droid relationship? Why not a gay wookie/human/NPC threesome relationship. Are you only allowed to have one relationship, cause the polygamists will be angry. Is there an minimum age for the NPCs you can have relationships with?

I mean it's just a completely unnecessary mess to create for yourself. You're inviting constant internet rage storms for nothing.
I agree with other commenters that the whole "gay planet" debacle is overblown and a side-effect of the typical MMO development model.

However, to address Tobold's point, there's two aspects to take into account here. First, if I'm an actor on television playing a gay male character who kisses another male onscreen, for example, even if I were a female playing said character (dressed in drag, if you will), the thing folks would cheer or object to is the portrayel of the gay kiss, regardless of whether the underlying actors/actresses gender or sexuality. In that, I see it as no different than you being the actor to your avatar in game. The important part is the representation.

The second aspect is one that I'm moderately surprised that you'd ask. Of course there's no sexual reproduction in virtual worlds. But generally, gay or straight people aren't having sex in restaurants, at the coffee shop or the library, or at the movies (well, usually :P). Romance and affection can be very big parts of why someone would be in a relationship. Not to downplay the sex, it's important, but it's not the only thing, and to many folks romance and affection are actually the most important thing. For lots of folks, being straight or being gay is more than just who you sleep with, it's about who you want to hold hands with at the movies, who knows you the best and who shares those sweet quiet moments with, who you want to build a life with. And that's what people want out of their role-playing game: the chance to experience that aspect of their character's life. The fact that there's no sex in the game is frankly immaterial to the question as a whole. If sex was the only thing that mattered, romance novel and soap opera industries would've collapsed before they had even gotten started.
Funny how the "socially acceptable" line keeps moving to accept more and more wierd crap. :P

Maybe in the next patch you can have relations with bantha, partake in cannibalism, rape younglings with your lightsaber (Anakin? :P) and explore the dark holes of everything that's been killed with your pet wookie.

Isolating gays to the gay planet sounds like a good idea. Too bad they didn't see it through.
The funny thing about my friends who are trans is that identity is a really huge thing for them, even more so in role-playing games. There is a crazy amount of self-insertion going on.

My Commander Shepard was a woman. I was rooting for this woman, sympathized with her, empathized with her, and nudged her along in the directions I wanted to see... FOR HER. So yeah, there's some puppetteering going on there, but not self-identification. Whereas my trans friends?

MASSIVE amounts of time spent on avatar customization, digging deep into roleplaying backgrounds that reflect an idealized personality that represents an aspect of themselves that they want to explore at that time.

I try not to pass a values judgement on self-insertion in games, or MMOs, it's just not for me. But it definitely seems to be a very big deal for some people - especially the type who write blogs about gender equality/identity. They're not being represented, and that's important to them because they want to insert themselves there.

Point B: Sexuality. It's not about reproduction or even fucking. It's about how one approaches and views the world with regard to their drives and preferences. Anything that clashes with your perception of those drives creates an unpleasant dissonance.

I can understand much of the frustration. The ideal, I suspect, for the gay folks would have been if existing NPCs/companions had additional dialogue and sequences scripted/recorded that allowed for the original game's romantic arcs to have an extra non-straight option, running parallel with the straight options. Romance arcs which, it might be added, are currently accessible for free. The gay options are walled behind payments.

So if you want the gay options, you have to pay. Straight options, you don't. It's a gay tax/levy. Sounds like textbook discrimination if you reduce terms to that point.
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Urgh its an RPG. You can be gay or straight in it and still RP it. If you're male and you roll a female, doesn't mean you're a trans.

Lets have the following 2 sketched situations:

*) 1. You are male. 2. You roll a female character. Your female character starts a relationship with a male NPC. Your character is straight, but you are gay.

*) 1. You are male. 2. You roll a female character. Your female character starts a relationship with a female NPC. Your character is gay, but you are straight.

(There are 2 more variations possible for the male gamer rolling a male character who starts a relationship with either a male or a female NPC, and 4 more variations for the female gamer who rolls either a male or female character who starts a relationship with either a male or a female NPC which brings us to 8 variations but they all have the same principle.)

So as you can see, right now, there is no completely gay or completely straight option unless: you are a male gamer, who rolls a male character and romances a female NPC or you are a female gamer who rolls a female character who romances a male NPC. In both of these cases I say though: wouldn't you rather wanna look at a character of the opposite sex who runs around (it doesn't make you gay or trans if you roll a character of the opposite sex).

After which I conclude 1) as moral as you can be about this issue there is no game design which would support your moral 2) the entire issue is irrelevant except in societies where people are like... OMG ITS ABOUT GAY, RUN and quit playing SWTOR. I feel sorry for BioWare. Although they shouldn't have perhaps added romance option in the first place.
FNO and Cam are pretty much proving my point.

Maybe I've off the rails here since I never even played SWTOR and I don't fully get what this is about, but it sure seems like Bioware has created a little minefield for itself, and all for a feature that I'd never even heard of (and therefore couldn't have influenced me to play the game) until it became a minor scandal.

oh... dear... some of the comments here.
1. roleplaying is not necessarily self inserting. on the contrary - for a lot of us, roleplaying is the OPOSITE of self inserting. any of you watched whose line is it anyway? they have this segment where each of the participants is given a role and they have to pretend to be that role, while the last participant guesses who they are. sometimes - its dating show. sometimes, its a party. but at the core? most roleplaying is like that. you are improvising and writing in real time. YOU yourself are not romancing whoever. you are NOT the avatar. you are the writer. some people are better at it then others. most people have multiple characters they play. its not just one self insert (though yes, those exist) its multiple characters, who sometimes even interact in their personal stories. its creative expression.

as for adding romances to existing companions? 32 voice actors. and that's just player characters. some classes have more then one romanceable companion per gender. now add to that the fact that you cannot just "flip a switch" retroactively, because you are effectively penalizing your oldest subscribers, people who are 50, people who finished companion content. so it has to be something new. it has to fit into already existing content. you want bioware to focus on essentially rewriting a huge chunk of the game, when their resources and time is limited and priority is on creating content that everyone can enjoy, not just select few.
for the last time, they did NOT "segregate the gay" anymore then blizzard segregated pandas. you are NOT paying for the gay, you are paying for new planet, new quests, new story, new flashpoints new operation, new skills.

as for bioware adding romances? its freaking bioware. they ALWAYS had romances in their rpg's. its like their calling card. bioware game comes with branching dialogue and romance options. that's their shtick. so please, some of you, get off your judgmental horses and stop making sweeping assumptions about people based on your own narrow views.
Leah, the point is you never RP every single aspect, every single detail. No actor is able to do that. No, not even the creme de la creme of Hollywood who get 1M for playing in a movie. No director is able to hide his style, nor a writer of a book. That's why people notice TL2 is by same people as Blizzard North, and GW2 by same people as WoW. They notice the influence. There's always something which shines through in your expressions (e.g. your RPing character). Like your personality. Or your sexuality. Or your humor. Or your creativity. Or lack therefore. Same with DM in RP game.

That's exactly why its a conundrum and why there isn't an ideal solution even for those who have the moral viewpoint gay = wrong (which I don't, I'm from Holland, I grew up not giving a rat what people do in their home). That is, apart from not having relationship option. It's there, so just allow the "anything goes". By the way nobody else sees or knows if you have a relationship with your NPC, nor which one it is. As with BioWare always having relation option in game. Well, they didn't think this one out by not allowing the (supposedly (which is not necessarily is; see above)) gay option. Admitting a mistake is one thing, solving such retroactively another. With a game dying, I don't expect they'd solve it retroactively.
Therefor = thereof.

Also BW may be experienced in whatever type of game ME3 is called but they certainly weren't experienced in making MMORPGs...
I'm sure I can reprogram SCORPIO to have romantic feelings but wouldn't that feel like rubber woman?.. wait, not entire rubber...
style, influence is not the same as self insert. or do you believe that published writers are essentially writing self inserts? several of you insinuated mental health issues for people who like role playing relationships. I supposed that means that anyone who's ever wrote fictional relationship - has problems in your world? what about people who have enjoyed one? what about people who enjoy adventure games? interactive novels? why draw the line at MMO RPG?

no, Bioware doesn't have much experience making MMORPG's they got Warhammer after it was already made. they pretty much tried to create a bioware multiplayer game. might not have been the most expedient choice, but they took a chance, and there are quite a few people who are enjoying their version of the world and MMO. me included.

dying? that's a matter of perspective. in a world where anything that doesn't have numbers of WoW is dying, maybe. but every day that I fire up the game? servers are heavy. there are multiple instances on every planet. I've been able to find groups for flashpoints with relative ease and that's considering that finder is server only and I'm realizing that quite a large number of the population, has no idea how to use it.

not adding SGR relationships in from the start? yes, that was certainly problematic, though after certain evidence within character stories, i'm more inclined to believe that it wasn't due to them, but rather due to Lucas art, that relationship didn't make it in. if its there? people know.

but what, they are not supposed to follow up on their promise that relationships will be added later? because its all or nothing world? they NEVER promised to add relationships retroactively, in fact they said in an interview that whatever they add, will not be with existing companions.

I'm just... flabergasted at people's willingness to find the worst possible spin on everything and people's propensity for "they shouldn't even try" I'm glad they are trying. I'm glad they are doing something. few small steps at a time.

lastly, you should really try playing the game, before you form such definitive opinions on it and people who play it.
To a degree, yes, but like I said when you are acting there's always a part of yourself shining through. I never said its all or nothing, I am saying it cannot be nothing and that it is very relative. I'm not saying Jack Nicholson is a psychopath; I am saying he uses his imagination, to play a psychopath, which reflects both a psychopath as well as himself. That's the type of role he's playing well, it wouldn't be a role Tom Hanks would play well though (or well, he kinda played one in The Terminal and Cast Away, but a completely different type). All of the 8 outcomes I outlined have a flaw in them which makes then imperfect from an anti-gay POV. As for the people who RP a relationship apparently they have a need to RP that because they lack something IRL. Else they'd RP being a bunny, or an airplane. Of course that isn't something nice to embrace if you're an avid RPer but I wouldn't take it as an offensive because it doesn't literally mean you're lacking in a relationship IRL, or that it is inherently evil if you would.

Warhammer, didn't that like massively flop? SWTOR is dying, yes. I know it isn't fun to admit when your game isn't doing well in the market. That doesn't make the game irrelevant or bad (but for the rest of us it is becoming more irrelevant by the day). Although it wasn't very novel anyway. There's not much innovative about SWTOR. I can't think of anything innovative from SWTOR right now, barring perhaps the large amount of voice dialogues. Problem is, those grow old once you listened to them all; they become a waste of time, and that's something which doesn't work out well in MMORPG. IMO, an experienced MMORPG developer would've known this.

Nice spin from the Leah marketing dept. on the servers being full but the fact the servers are all full is because the servers are massively merged!! I don't know the exact numbers, but BioWare knew when they merged servers that it'd be an argument in a discussion like this (I was actually paying to play on a dead server, with a few people playing on opposite faction). They took their loss, they had much higher expectations. There have been massive layoffs, and not much development. We'll see how the subscription numbers are next time, but they weren't very good before they went F2P.

If it isn't obvious yet yes I've actually played the game. I can write for hours about its short comings, and indeed unfortunately not much good about it. Its the same good ol' grinds like WoW, but in a less slick sauce, with at its heart a buggy and lagging engine, without the ability to mod with addons or macros, without any less is more paradigm on the spell dept and talent tree dept, and the same kill 10 rats quest mentality. PvP it has some good parts (we can sum it up "Huttball"), but also bugs, grinds, and massive imbalance. It isn't just WoW in space because the quality level is worse. The only people I know who still play the game one year later, are Star Wars freaks. Mind you, that doesn't count the fellows who are playing F2P till level 10 for 3 hrs a month. Those aren't generating income for BioWare, they're nice for the numbers.

Is there no reason I'd like to play SWTOR? Yes, there is: the 8 storylines are fun and written by professionals, but in order to get through them I must grind myself to level 50 playing quests I've already played. Quests which are rather boring, and only have 1 way to complete them. I suspect players will become very bored once they reach the end game (because alts aren't viable). Maybe you can explain what is so great about SWTOR.
I just want to be clear that I'm not upset about the gay relationships. I just think any relationships at all is a recipe for disaster because every sub-sub-group is going to feel discriminated against if they don't have their relationships included in the game.

As far as the mental illness thing goes--- I'd be fine with RP'ing a relationship with another player. RP'ing a romantic relationship with an NPC is a bit different. The amount of emotion over the issue indicates to me that there is a bit of self-insertion going on. Otherwise people wouldn't be getting so worked up over what pretty has to be the lamest thing ever.
well, the 2 of you have already made up your minds, so trying to debate with you is about as useful as writing those essays in Breakfast club, so I'll be relatively short and leave you to your made up minds after this.

personal experience with a game =/=PR. I don't care about pr department, EA has a notoriously bad one. I care about personal experience. is the game running? yes. are people enjoying it? yes. warhammer is only seen as a flop because fans decided that it should be a WoW killer. and naturally - it wasn't. wasn't supposed to be anyways. but I guess anything that isn't on a scale of WoW or closed to it - is a flop, right?

why do I need mods that I have to micromanage through frequent updates and hope that next patch doesn't break them when I get pretty much the same functionality from base game?

a good actor can play a character so far removed from their actual personality, they become virtually unrecognizable. best example I can think of is Jack Gleeson, but there are plenty more.

romancing an NPC is in some ways like reading a romance novel. with real life people, complications outside of in character interactions can arise. npc's are not alive and therefore safe. but there are those who thing that people enjoying fictional stories and relationships, must be lacking something in their real lives. because they cannot possibly enjoy them just because they do.
most people playing SWTOR are bioware fans. people who enjoy bioware style games. people who actually enjoy listening to voiced dialogue and playing through it with variations (and yes, there are variations, some more subtle then others, and yes, most quests CAN be completed in variety of ways. if you spacebared through everything and didn't pay attention, bioware game is not for you)

why npc's are important? representation. and promises that were made before release.
I've actualy been playing WoW recently. I'm not resubscribing. playing WoW actually made me appreciate SWTOR and its polish, YES polish a lot more.

but your opinions are your own. I mistakenly though that maybe another perspective could open them up some. oh well.
Look I ll put it that way and tell if helped you understand :)First of all I am male and this is what I will do...

-If I play a male character on swtor I will romance some female companions. But I will never (bliah) will romance a male NPC.

-If I play female character I will romance another female character (lesbian). But I will never romance a male one.

Does this makes any sense :)? I need a psychologist to tell me what's wrong with me :)
@ Leah yeah write the comment about the servers merged and therefore full off with a comment about PR dept… I don't think you're open minded on these matters yourself either. I don't care to convince you WoW is a good game. WoW has many, many flaws too. If you bothered to read my message I hinted SWTOR had some of the same bad traits WoW has (which suggests these are aspects I dislike in WoW). I would never argue the subscription rate of WoW means anything in terms of its quality. It just doesn't. BioWare marketed SWTOR also as a WoW killer. In that context the lack of subscribers _is_ ironic and valid. My preferred MMORPG right now is NOT WoW, and I don't play my preferred MMORPG (!!!).

Mods can indeed break in a game during a major patch, but that is really solved quickly these days in WoW. You can auto update everything with Curse. Good side is mods allow you to modify the way the client works. It is something very important (Quake and Skyrim are examples here). And if you think a base client provides you all functionality then you have no idea what all you are missing. If you've ever played an Ops you use Memories of Xendor most likely well that is possible because of third party program which reads logs. You can see the importance of ability to mod back in the world of especially the smartphone and tablet stuff like iPhone, iPad, Symbian, Android devices.

I don't know your example Jack Gleeson does not ring a bell, cannot comment on that. I can comment that virtually still means there's traits you recognise. I can comment that every actor I have seen in a movie (1200 fiction + non fiction titles and counting) in a main role and of whom I saw multiple movies, I was able to recognise them.

Voice dialogue, I already addressed, but you failed to understand. I said the _replayability_ is bad. If you do the same instance twice voice gets already boring. That does not work well in multiplayer (MMO) like instances!! (probly even less with LFG) Yes, you can make some different choices, but usually they do not matter much. Everyone just picks the choice for their side (light or dark) and highest roller wins; a failed system. The quests are 90% the same if you level up again, unless you level up opposite faction. So only unique part is the class quest (which I admitted is nice, but not worth the hassle to grind to 50 to)

As for polish. Certainly not in the PvP and raiding field. SoA bugging out for half a year for example, lol, the many bugs in WZs, imbalance in PvP, and on my main character 2 specs unviable for PvE (both DPS spec, only able to heal ) and 1 spec so nerfed in PvP completely useless. That 1 spec was the reason I rolled that class… so I reroll and they nerf that as well. I lost the willpower to grind a 4th class. Then there was the server merge and my friend Bloo was unable to retain (!!) his name because Bloo is one letter from Blow which is apparently an offensive word. He never meant his name to be offensive, but he's now on Tomb, and had to give his character a new name and he called his character Fapz. Apparently BioWare is OK with that name. Incompetent crap like this makes my skin crawl (I had to rename 2 of my 3 characters which were both quite rare names but 1 letter off a name someone else had).

@ Giannis that is in the very order you mentioned it, the most heterosexual option the game can provide. The second option is currently impossible though. Worse, one of my characters (my female sage) had only 1 male companion to romance. Now if it was just that one time I wouldn't be bothered, I RPed it off, but the script referred to it afterwards various times. How do we break up again? Ugh.
The way this story has been reported in the news is evidence that SWTOR can't buy a break these days.

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