A Philosopher's Blog

Darth VaPaula: Gender & Video Games

Posted in Aesthetics, Philosophy, Technology, Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on March 26, 2012
Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars: The Old Republic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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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11 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on March 26, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I don’t know what is more disturbing, that the FFA is worrying about this stuff or that you are…

    Meanwhile, the U.S. is floundering:

    I was in Australia earlier this month and there, as elsewhere on my recent travels, the consensus among the politicians I met (at least in private) was that Washington lacked the will for meaningful course correction, and that, therefore, the trick was to ensure that, when the behemoth goes over the cliff, you’re not dragged down with it. It is faintly surreal to be sitting in paneled offices lined by formal portraits listening to eminent persons who assume the collapse of the dominant global power is a fait accompli. “I don’t feel America is quite a First World country anymore,” a robustly pro-American Aussie told me, with a sigh of regret.

    Well, what does some rinky-dink ’roo-infested didgeridoo mill on the other side of the planet know about anything? Fair enough. But Australia was the only major Western nation not to go into recession after 2008. And in the last decade the U.S. dollar has fallen by half against the Oz buck: That’s to say, in 2002, one greenback bought you a buck-ninety Down Under; now it buys you 95 cents. More of that a bit later.

    I have now returned from Oz to the Emerald City, where everything is built with borrowed green. President Obama has run up more debt in three years than President Bush did in eight, and he plans to run up more still — from ten trillion in 2008 to fifteen and a half trillion now to 20 trillion and beyond. Onward and upward! The president doesn’t see this as a problem, nor do his party, and nor do at least fortysomething percent of the American people. The Democrats’ plan is to have no plan, and their budget is not to budget at all. “We don’t need to bring a budget,” said Harry Reid. Why tie yourself down? “We’re not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution,” the treasury secretary told House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan. “What we do know is we don’t like yours.”

    http://www.nationalreview.com/blogs/print/294304

    • magus71 said, on March 26, 2012 at 3:12 pm

      TJ,

      I read this article this weekend, penned by a favorite author of mine, Mark Steyn. Pretty much hits the nail on the head.

    • anon said, on March 26, 2012 at 3:18 pm

      I love that article.

      America is in debt but we can’t have national health care like other countries is better shape than us because that would be “job-killing” anti-american communism (even though it isn’t).

      Obama is responsible for all of the debt that has occurred during his administration (lets ignore everything that happened under bush that didn’t magically go away once he left office).

      The US gov would “fund” China’s war against Taiwan since the “free market” is completely innocent about having companies in the US send manufacturing jobs over there. That couldn’t fund them at all could it.

      Everybody like to ignore Greece’s problem was exuberated by lack of tax collection (oops, I guess having more $ in the pockets of the citizens didn’t really help).

      OMG, a dollar is worth less at one point in time than it was at another point in time, omg who understands currency??? Certainly not anybody who is scared about that fact.

      Also, it seems like most people still don’t understand, and refuse to even try to understand, how national debt is different than the debt of a family.

      • magus71 said, on March 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm

        “Also, it seems like most people still don’t understand, and refuse to even try to understand, how national debt is different than the debt of a family.”

        Yeah, you’re right. Most families don’t have printing presses that print cash.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 26, 2012 at 4:07 pm

      Well, my worry extends to writing a brief essay about the matter rather than pushing for a campaign against a gaming company. So, if you are worried that I am wasting my time, worry not.

      Also, this matter does raise some important underlying concerns that extend beyond video games, such as the general status of LGBT folks in the real world.

      I guess your point is that the topic of the post does not really matter because there are some standard Republican talking points that are far more important and apparently should be our only or main focus in our discussions. :)

      • magus71 said, on March 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm

        Mike, you’re Democrat is showing.

      • T. J. Babson said, on March 26, 2012 at 10:54 pm

        I apologize, Mike. It was actually a good post. It’s just that there is so much happening right now–ACA in the Supreme Court, the Trayvon Martin killing, gas prices threatening to derail the recovery, Americans unwilling to come to grips with deficit spending–it struck me as strange that you were focused on an issue that only a handful of people out of country of more than 300 million are interested in.

        I agree with Steven Weinberg. Secular humanism and atheism has won. There is really not much point rubbing it in:

        Where I think Dawkins goes wrong is that, like Henry V after Agincourt, he does not seem to realize the extent to which his side has won. Setting aside the rise of Islam in Europe, the decline of serious Christian belief among Europeans is so widely advertised that Dawkins turns to the United States for most of his examples of unregenerate religious belief. He attributes the greater regard for religion in the US to the fact that Americans have never had an established Church, an idea he may have picked up from Tocqueville. But although most Americans may be sure of the value of religion, as far as I can tell they are not very certain about the truth of what their own religion teaches. According to a recent article in the New York Times, American evangelists are in despair over a poll that showed that only 4 per cent of American teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. The spread of religious toleration provides evidence of the weakening of religious certitude. Most Christian groups have historically taught that there is no salvation without faith in Christ. If you are really sure that anyone without such faith is doomed to an eternity of Hell, then propagating that faith and suppressing disbelief would logically be the most important thing in the world – far more important than any merely secular virtues like religious toleration. Yet religious toleration is rampant in America. No one who publicly expressed disrespect for any particular religion could be elected to a major office.

        http://pierretristam.com/Bobst/07/wf011907a.htm

        • magus71 said, on March 27, 2012 at 8:42 am

          Secularism won decades ago. Sniping at Christians is like hunting cows; it’s not much of a challenge and they don’t fight back very well. The days of Richard the Lion Heart are gone, and yet the left fears Christians more than militant Islam. It’s quite easy to see the extant to which secularism has won; just take a look at how chaplains act in the Army–they’re embarrassed to talk about God.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 27, 2012 at 5:33 pm

          No need to apologize-I took no offense. Mainly I wrote the post because I play SWTOR and my friends were discussing whether or not there would be rainbow colored lightsabers in the next patch.

          As you note, there are many more important issues than whether or not the Old Republic is going to allow male PCs to go about in space drag.

  2. urbannight said, on March 29, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    I love this game and am mildly obsessed with it. Not totally obsessed as this week I have not been playing because I’m working on a TARDIS project. I’ve seen a lot of discussion from people annoyed at not being allowed same gender relationships. Partly because it might reflect their own preference and partly because some characters wouldn’t be limited to one romance option. Which is a little stiffling if that character is one of the last companions you get.

    But I find it rather disturbing to see people hijacking a very good blog to discuss totally different issues. If you want to have a rational discussion on that issue, write such a blog yourself to open the dialogue. Don’t hijack another person’s effort to discuss a different topic.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 30, 2012 at 10:25 am

      While I am not much for the romance part of the game, for some folks that is an important part of the narrative. I’m morally fine with people being given a full range of options-just like in life.

      How is the TARDIS project going?


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