Star Wars and homosexuality, two words you don't often find in the same sentence. Turns out Bioware may have decided they're so uncommon as to be anathema to their upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic, a Windows-based MMO due out sometime next year.
Well, anathema in the pre-game's official forums, anyway.
After a user expressed concern that Bioware had "disallowed" the use of the terms "gay" and "lesbian" on the boards in a thread titled "GLBT discrimination in forums?" a Bioware forum moderator dropped in and posted this:
As I have stated before, these are terms that do not exist in Star Wars.
Kotaku picked that up last night, replying
OK, but...they do, uh, realise that the people actually playing the game do not exist in Star Wars either, right? They're real people?
...followed by a torrent of comments ranging from the power legitimacy of forum moderators, to the sexual orientation of Chewbacca and C3PO.
What was it Luke said approaching the Death Star... "I have a very bad feeling about this?"
It's not the first time the issue's been raised, of course. A couple years ago, I wrote about Blizzard upbraiding a World of Warcraft user for attempting -- within the game itself -- to solicit memberships for her GLBT-friendly guild. After sufficient public pressure (the issue hit Slashdot and shot from zero to 60) Blizzard backed off, sent the user an apologetic email, and put WoW's policy on sexual discrimination up for review. The end result -- probably a net positive -- was a separate guild-recruiting channel where GLBT-friendly guilds were given full voice.
So here's the thing. The question as I see it isn't, as Bioware's forum moderator intimates, whether "these are terms that...exist in Star Wars," but whether you can have a massively multiplayer game of any kind that isn't fundamentally susceptible to the social reality-driven needs of its fanbase. Maybe Star Wars really doesn't include terms like "gay" or "lesbian," but where authorial fantasy rubber meets the road -- a road populated with millions of living, breathing, emotionally complex individuals -- publishers may find it increasingly difficult to play the "mythology card" when attempting to justify gag rules.
Put another way, when you turn a certain amount of authorial control over to endusers, you ineluctably relinquish a certain amount of creative rigidness. The debate's simply (or perhaps not so simply) a matter of how much latitude is sufficient to accommodate player needs without compromising the core mythological experience.
UPDATE: Seems the original thread has been unlocked, with new replies appearing after the BioWare moderator's post, including this one:
Once again, I'm impressed BioWare.
I was getting ready to get very, very angry over this, but did a quick test and noted that the words "gay", "lesbian" and "homosexual" aren't filtered anymore. And then the reopening of this thread... I think you just prevented things from getting quite ugly.
I've dropped Bioware a note requesting clarification on the (non-explicit) discussion of same-sex relationships on the forums and in the final product. I'll let you know what's what if they get back to me.
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