Homosexual! Gay! Lesbian!
“[T]hese are terms that do not exist in Star Wars”, according to Sean Dahlberg, message board moderator for the Star Wars game The Old Republic. These words were banned from the message boards, and conversations about characters’ sexuality were closed.
And cue backtracking by the game’s publisher, BioWare. The closed threads have apparently been reopened and the offending words have been unbanned.
Now, I sort of understand where Mr Dahlberg was coming from here. Homosexuality is a modern concept. Same-sex relationships aren’t, but framing it specifically as ‘homosexuality’ is anachronistic, and after all, Star Wars did happen a very long time ago. (Or not at all, depending on your grip on reality.)
It is not unreasonable to suggest that people in the Star Wars universe had no concept of homosexuality, even though it’s been demonstrated in a couple of Star Wars licensed properties (including BioWare games) that same-sex relationships do exist in that universe. (Not in George Lucas’s own work, of course; he only has camp comedy characters.)
That said, there are other concepts that don’t exist in the Star Wars universe that seem perfectly acceptable to talk about on the same message boards. Like, for example, Star Wars. Or XBox. I suspect that, even within the game, people can probably get away with mentioning these things.
The question is, should players be able to identify themselves within the game as gay when gay people don’t exist in that setting? And the answer is; it’s a game, for God’s sake. It’s just a game. If someone wants to identify themselves as gay - or Asian, or Jewish - in a game that doesn’t recognise those concepts, it is not going to unravel the essential verité of an artificial world where people fight each other with lightsabers while communicating via keyboards and headsets.
One suspects that “these are terms that do not exist in Star Wars” was a bit of a figleaf explanation. Discomfort with homosexuality seems unusually prevalent in geek culture.
Back in 2006, games maker Blizzard booted a gay player group from World of Warcraft, leading to a similar outcry. They backtracked too. XBox Live recently caused problems by banning users who identified as gay, claiming that this was “sexual innuendo”. They later adjusted their position to say that they were trying to ban people who were using words like ‘gay’ perjoratively. Even that is a figleaf; a blanket ban that destroys the visibility of the group you’re claiming to protect is clearly not a sensible solution.
Sensitivity to gay issues in the gaming world may be some distance behind that of other entertainment media. In gaming, there may still be a widespread misconception of sexuality as a depravity, rather than as a valid part of a person’s identity that might form the basis of a sense of community.
Among the comments from gamers on one message board discussing the Old Republic incident were these gems:
“There will be children playing as well do you intend to flaunt your sexual preference in front of them?”
“I don’t mind the fact that someone’s gay, but whining about it every single time something doesn’t recognize gay people is just ridiculous.”
“Does homosexuality seriously have to infiltrate every facet of life until they force it in your face and make you accept it? And if you don’t really care for it, you’re called homophobic and a bigot. It’s REALLY getting annoying.”
Uh-huh. I can only imagine how annoyed you are, you poor dear.