GaymerX was an amazing experience, and while nothing tops the events at Voice Acting 101 I had a great time at the panels I attended. One of the bigger ones was titled “Electronic Arts – Why We Think It is Important To Create More LGBT Inclusive Games.” For all of their evildoings, EA has been pretty consistently awesome with its LGBT support and it only looks like their inclusiveness will grow in the future.
The first part of the panel went into some of the history of gays in games and why developers tend to avoid LGBT inclusion with Juhani from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic serving as an excellent example. In the game, Juhani’s lesbianism was something alluded to rather than outright stated, and BioWare’s David Gaider felt that the treatment of her sexuality highlights the larger problem that goes beyond simply not questioning a character’s sexuality to the obvious exclusion of LGBT characters.
This exclusion comes from a few different assumptions within development. First – and this one is less true every day but still holds sway – there’s the assumption that players won’t accept LGBT characters. All one has to do is read the comments on articles about anything even tangentially-related to LGBT issues on a gaming site to see why devs would make this assumption. Even though our support is constantly growing the haters are still numerous and belligerent, and it’s understandable why devs would rather avoid the issue altogether.
Then, there’s the assumption that “casual” and “serious” games operate on different rules, which is why The Sims can have gay couples, but Dom can’t come out and admit his feelings for Marcus Fenix of impassioned romance. I’m not sure if it reaches the level of “ironic,” but it’s at the very least interesting that the casual set and its looser set of limitations allow the medium to move forward and mature while the serious games stunt the medium’s growth with strict and arbitrary self-imposed rules.
Lastly, there’s the “ick” factor, which is pretty self-explanatory. It’s also pretty easily debunked as a serious issue. One of the presenters pointed out that the gay “ick” factor is an extremely low priority for devs as they have much more important “ick” factor issues to worry about, such as making sure your Sims don’t “woohoo” their siblings or neighborhood children, for example.
These factors put together can make LGBT inclusion a dodgy issue by casting uncertainty on the marketability of a game to the folks up top. While this makes it easy to vilify the higher ups as evil, it was clarified that they aren’t fundamentally bigots just fundamentally capitalist. Having a successful game with a gay main character would assuage those doubts, though a presenter suggested that the indie crowd would do it first and would possibly have to sneak it into the end-game, Samus style. Then, once success was had, the game industry at large would start doing what it does best: copying each other.
Towards the end of the panel, David Gaider told a story he had about two brothers playing Dragon Age that gave a fantastic illustration as to why LGBT inclusion is so important and why he wants to bring the GaymerX feeling to the online space. One of the two was gay but deeply in the closet, dealing with the fear that too many of us are familiar with of social and familial rejection. While playing the game together, the straight brother asked “Would you romance Alastair?” After a tense moment or two, the gay one came out. His brother told him, “I’ve known, and I accept you.”
For their part, EA seems to be doing what they can to foster LGBT inclusion in their games. The head engineer on the first Sims game was openly gay and “just implemented shit,” according to David “Rez” Graham who is the software engineer and AI programmer for The Sims 4. The question of homosexual relationships in the game was not one of “should we,” but “how do we?” During the development of Jade Empire, the entire conversation about sexuality in the game was, “Why don’t we just make the romances available to both genders?”
When all was said and done, the end of the panel gave one of the most amazing moments of support I’ve heard in a long time. According to the panelists, the attitude of EA on LGBT inclusion in their games is this: if you don’t wanna buy their games because of LGBTQ content, then – and I quote – “Fuck you.”