BioWare’s Heir On Sexism, Racism, Homophobia In Games

By Nathan Grayson on March 27th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

GDC was jam-packed with brilliant talks, and I missed far too many of them because infinity appointments beckoned. One of the absolute best I *did* see, however, was Mass Effect 4 designer Manveer Heir making an impassioned plea to developers for more diversity in games. He gave a talk equal parts well-reasoned and resolute, arguing not that all games should change their icky ways, but that our industry’s predominate pattern needs to shift away from generic leads and hurtful stereotypes. ”I sincerely hope that you are ready for that challenge, because I sure as hell am!” he bellowed before being mobbed by fellow designers. I caught up with Heir afterward to discuss some of his talk’s finer points and how BioWare’s become more sensitive to these issues as time has progressed.

RPS: One of my favorite arguments you ended up dissecting in your talk was the classic scapegoat of, “Oh, my fantasy game takes place in a setting kind of loosely based on Medieval Europe, therefore it must be sexist to be ‘realistic.’” But clearly, that doesn’t always have to be the case since, you know, fantasy.

Heir: I think that we fall into this default that medieval Europe Middle Ages is the baseline of how we start from fantasy, and so therefore we implement things like sexism against women where women are usually like prostitutes and subservient to men and often won’t have fully fleshed out characters and they’re very much oppressed.

I want to question why we always do that. Not why one individual game ever does that, but why most of the time there’s a large pattern that keeps on emerging there. I think a lot of it is the cultural biases that we have. The implicit things that we’re thinking about, we’re not actively thinking about, it’s just that’s our default.

I think if we become more aware of that we can then make someone making a fantasy game go, “Whoa, do I need it to be that way? Why is that?” Because it is fantasy; it’s not required. That is just how fantasy emerged and we just all started copying it with things we were all inspired from, but we could do better, we could rethink that and we could see how that’s problematic and maybe avoid some of the problems. I believe that.

RPS: But then a lot of people hear that and – even with your very deliberate disclaimer – think you’re suggesting that all games should never reference the less savory elements of that time period or infuse fantasy settings with them. And then everyone starts crying wolf over censorship. What can you really do at that point when people just seem to want to react that way?

Heir: Yes, I understand that push back, but I don’t view it that way personally. I think any individual game should have the right to be whatever it wants to be. If it wants to be a game about oppressing women and that culture and it wants to comment on that, that’s fine. It’s more, to me, that every game shouldn’t be that way. We need more representation across the board so you have to take a larger look at everything and see what is the pattern that emerges versus one individual game, but if we do that, we can hopefully improve.

But you know what? If a game… Yes, once you just go hard on the historical Middle Ages and then really try to build realism, that’s fine, but also make sure you understand all the levels of the realism, like who we are. Who are the real women and people of colour that actually existed in the Middle Ages? They didn’t not exist, but they’re not represented even in film and books and things like that often.

RPS: I remember [Ubisoft Quebec narrative director] Jill Murray’s GDC Next talk about that. Making games about women who went against the grain throughout history, especially given that women have been living and existing and doing stuff of their own accord since, you know, the beginning of time. There’s more to history than just the few stories we hear over and over and over again in pop culture.

Heir: I touched on that in my talk where I was like, women in history, there are very powerful women who broke out of the mold. There are a lot of women who did not conform to the standards that you can find if you read historical books. Frankly, there are women that you will never know about because the books are mostly written by men and you don’t get to find some of that. Someone even told me about a Tumblr that was people of color in the Middle Ages that was like, “Yeah, these people actually existed.”

RPS: Right now sexism gets the most vocal focus in the gaming industry, but that’s far from the only issue. Racism and homophobia are still without a doubt major problems that we need to tackle as well. What, in your opinion, is the next step there?

Heir: I think the advocacy track at GDC is a great start here. I think there’s a conversation that’s happening and that conversations are good, it’s important, it’s difficult, it’s uncomfortable and those are all good things. But it’s a start. I think we have all these problems. We have women who feel marginalized at conferences like this.

There was an incident, apparently, at a party where a woman got groped and that’s highly inappropriate at a conference of professionals. I would love to be coming to a GDC where I don’t hear that story. And that’s cultural. We have to combat and rethink our culture as people and our influence on that culture as being makers of the things our culture consumes.

RPS: You argued that if we want to see a system change, well, this is an industry made up of people who design systems for a living. So make a new one, test it, change the rules, etc. How do you apply that mentality at BioWare?

Heir: I think it’s the same things you could do at any company. It’s not specific to Bioware. If you’re working in an organization, first you notice a problem and you assert a discussion on it, an open and honest discussion, with people and see what others think. Maybe you would try to persuade them that you really think that they don’t understand what their problem is. Then you come up with some solutions of like, “Hey, I think you’re actually not realizing that you’re depicting this gay person in a very stereotypical and negative way. Maybe here are some ways that we cannot do that while keeping the core of who this character is.”

You can offer solutions. And frankly you’ve got to keep banging your head at it and try and get more people around you to help. For me, I’m very fortunately surrounded by super smart, very passionate people who think like this and we have these discussions frequently. So at that point it’s just about persuading other people around us. That’s not specific to one company, though. I think – and I hope – I can encourage it through the entire industry.

RPS: BioWare isn’t perfect by any means, though. You’ve evolved a lot over the years – Mass Effect 3 was lightyears ahead of Mass Effect 1′s paltry options for homosexual characters, for instance – but you’re still working in triple-A. So you’ve got your share of male gaze-y female characters and whatnot. Where do you draw the line there? Where do you say, “We can include this in our game. This character being hyper-sexualized (or what have you) makes sense” versus “Hmm, maybe we’re contributing to a problematic pattern here”?

Heir: You’ve got to speak up as a developer any time you see something that you don’t like. I know I always do that. I’m the first person to go, “This is problematic for me and this is why,” and you’ve got to at least bring it up and give someone the chance to fix the problem. Ultimately, we all have bosses in the world so unless you’re a one person studio so you can try to influence it up, sometimes you may change people’s minds and sometimes you won’t. I think if you have the conversation in general, people’s minds will get changed eventually – even if not in some specific instances.

RPS: I feel like indie development has taken a large lead in depiction of characters and cultures outside the traditional videogame mold. Can triple-A – large, creaky, and unwieldy as it is – close the gap any time soon?

Heir: The Last Of Us has won every major award that I can think of this year, it’s widely considered to be the best game that came out last year on the triple-A release. GLAAD just gave them an award for one of their characters – I can’t remember that guy’s name, but he was gay and it was a positive gay representation because him being gay was not the primary focus.

So you don’t have to make games about being gay. You can just make characters who being gay is a part of who they are because that’s not the primary identity of them. So I think we can do things like that. I feel like that’s coming out of the notion of challenging, like well, why does this character have to be straight? Couldn’t he also be gay? It doesn’t have to be important to the story, but it could just be part of his personality and it’s, those people would exist in this world. I believe he’s an evil character so those people should be morally bankrupt, or I believe he’s good. Either way, those people can exist.

RPS: There is a vocal crowd in the gaming community that despises the idea of diversity in games, though. Or at least, they hate how much attention the conversation gets relative to how under-the-radar it used to be. But those people are also acclimated to very simple characters, and I have to wonder if they they think characters who are, for example, gay, transgender, or what have you will be entirely defined by that all the time.

Heir: I think we’re still growing as a medium and when it comes to writing. I think there’s been a major maturation in the last five years of our challenge in writing. Again, Naughty Dogs does amazing work. A lot of studios are starting to do really amazing work with narrative in games, at the triple-A level and at the indie level as well. You’re starting to see them paying more attention – whereas back, I think 10, 15 years ago, it was like, “OK, there’s a princess, go get her.”

We’re telling more cinematic stories now, and we’re taking some of the Hollywood stuff and that can be problematic at times, but I still think that it’s working and we’re doing a good job with that. I think that’s kind of moving away from the really simple characters that used to characterize gaming.

RPS: How has all of this gone for you, both personally and professionally? Have you witnessed change over time? To what degree have you experienced it yourself? I mean, I know I definitely didn’t come up understanding how hostile the gaming industry was to many people. I had to learn it.

Heir: Absolutely. I think dialogue, I look at my own personal views on the world ten years ago and how highly problematic they were. I was coming out of college then, and I would use a lot of very vulgar slurs, not thinking about the effect that that could have on underrepresented people. But I grew up – in part because conversations happened around me and I was listening to them and I found myself thinking, “Well yeah, I actually agree with that completely, but oh, I didn’t realize I was contributing to that problem. It’s not that I was trying to. I’m not against that.”

RPS: Your talk definitely showed that. But at the same time, it was part of something called the Advocacy track. I doubt people who don’t already agree with you are going to show up for that kind of thing. How much do you think these sorts of talks help, really? Or rather, do they bring anyone new into the fold?

Heir: I think it all happens from conversations, so I’m a better person today because of the people that I listened to back when I was coming up and continue to listen to now, whether it’s my friends, my family, or other people. Conversation in conferences and companies and stuff was a big part of that. I do think it can actually change and affect the culture.

RPS: Change has become something of an odd notion in modern society – especially on the Internet. No one ever forgets. If you carve out a persona as a problematic figure or make one big mistake, many people define you by it, rarely allowing room for the possibility of change, learning, or growth. I have to wonder if, witnessing that so frequently on a larger scale, it causes many people who’d otherwise be inclined to listen and grow to instead stick to their guns.

Heir: Yeah, it’s a problem that anything you say will be around forever. I’ve seen that in the world, like mistakes I made or pictures of me doing stupid things in college exist forever. That’s unfortunately the way the world works. You see it in the way politics works and things being dragged up from the past.

But I think rational people can understand that people are growing. We’re growing every day, we’re changing every day and I hope most of us are getting better every day. Me as a person, I can speak for myself, I would try to control the narrative of saying, “Look, if I did do something past, I’d acknowledge it, I would admit that I was wrong, I also use those things that I’ve done and here’s how I can use them. Change.”

I’ve heard and seen a lot of people like that in the industry who have said problematic things that either have changed or are trying to change or at least making an effort. Some will fail and some will succeed, but that’s okay, they’re willing to do the steps, willing to have the conversation around it as well.

RPS: Like Penny Arcade, which at least seems to be trying now, even if its efforts are somewhat misguided.

Heir: Unfortunately, I can’t talk about that. BioWare has involvement with Penny Arcade and PAX and stuff like that.

RPS: A lot of game studios are still predominately staffed by straight white men, which can sometimes lead to a fear of representing more diverse characters and ideas. Like, most devs aren’t bad or even ignorant people, but I think many of them go, “Oh, I can’t speak to that life experience. I might mess it up big time.” So they don’t even try.

Heir: That’s the harder problem because for one we need to diversify the workforce. I didn’t even talk about that. That’s a whole different problem with getting more women, more minorities. It’s almost a catch-22: we only represent certain characters, less people of color, less LGBQT, less women might play games or get into games or at least want to work in games and therefore the cycle continues, so we have to find ways to fix that diversity in the workforce problem and I don’t have solutions for that, to be frank.

The second is, men write women characters all the time, sometimes very, very poorly, but sometimes very well. That usually happens out of research and challenging your biases, running your stuff by people who, maybe, are from that representative and being like, “Am I making a mistake here? Am I thinking about this in a stereotypical way? Is there an assumption I’m making as a man? Am I looking at you with a male gaze?”

I think we can achieve that by – we’re talented people in this industry, we’re really highly talented people. If we can build crazy cover systems and we can build branching narratives or we can procedural worlds, you’re telling me we can’t fix that problem in writing? We just have to make an effort. We don’t often make an effort. It’s the path of least resistance, is how we do it. So I want to challenge the idea that that needs to be the path of least resistance, or even say that it definitely should not be.

RPS: Games also have potential to be a powerful tool for empathy, given that they can allow us to live someone else’s experience. Stepping into somebody else’s shoes can be healthy and educational, but it’s also like… should groups that have already been oppressed or marginalized have to take the responsibility of educating people who, by all means, have treated them terribly?

Heir: No, they shouldn’t have to and there’s also a thing where basically, a lot of those groups probably don’t want to play games where they’re also oppressed when that’s what they deal with in real life. I sit and I talk to all these groups that deserve the ability to participate in fantasy construction. Most of our games are fantastical in some way or another, and so it doesn’t have to be about that impression of it.

It could be empowering or it could just a trait. I haven’t actually played it, but I believe Rogue Legacy has a trait where you’re gay and I think it makes no difference at all. It changes nothing, but you can have it. I was like, that’s hilarious. It’s a funny commentary. It probably takes very little time to do and I think that’s a nice little nod. I’m not saying that’s the full extent that we should ever go to, but that’s one way to go.

RPS: Do you think things are headed in a good direction overall? I’ve asked a lot of people this question during GDC, and responses have been all over the place, from emphatic yeses to, “I barely feel comfortable walking the show floor.”

Heir: I think they’re improving. Slowly. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to good yet. I think we’re not terrible, but we’re probably bad. This is where I would want it. So we’re making small steps, but we could be making so much faster, and I think the conversations start with that. There’s obviously going to be push back, but I think if we keep doing it we’ll keep making those steps. And if we keep being cognisant then we can make larger and faster steps.

I think momentum happens at some point. Then all of a sudden people are like, “Well, yes, why can’t I have another really strong woman character hero? And why can’t she be gay? Why can’t I be a transgender character? Or why can’t I express myself in whatever way I want in a game? Why is my only option binary gender?”

RPS: Thank you for your time.

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546 Comments »

  1. liance says:

    This was a fairly interesting interview, that should have lead to some interesting discussion I was looking forward to reading. Instead, I find the comments thread derailed and ruined by individuals who very well know what they’re doing.

    They’re not even making conversation: they’re just drowning out other people’s attempts at rational discussion with silly voices. Poor show.

    • Muzman says:

      Yeah, it was friggin annoying actually. Even more so than most other articles like this, the opposition comes from only a couple of people. And there one is far and away dominant. Kurbster isn’t exactly trolling, but the sheer volume and paucity of substance he weighed in with was grounds for kicking him out the the thread early on I think.
      Too late now of course.

  2. bobsterfetto says:

    Maybe I should care? But somehow I don’t…is it because I’m a straight white guy? (clean living btw) Or maybe it’s because I grew up in the eighties and watched Cannonball Run to many times? Help me, please. I want to care!

    • bill says:

      You don’t really need to care. But you should probably be at least mildly glad that some people do care and that that might lead to more interesting game characters in the future. Which you will probably benefit from.

    • tormos says:

      honestly if you don’t get violently angry at the very notion of including underrepresented people more, then you’re fine in my book. We can’t really (and don’t want to) force you to care about things that don’t interest you. (although I would suggest that even if you have no interest in social justice better and more varied representation for women and minorities in video games will make for more interesting stories)

      • bobsterfetto says:

        I’m not angry at all. Intrigued, but not angry. I thought we already had games like that these days, at least more and more gender progressive games are being made? Are you fussing over a problem that are currently being solved? I’m not trying to be rude here, I’m just trying to grasp what you want. I guess you don’t demand “Goddess of War: Kratiana”? But rather a viable alternative in some selected games?

        • jrodman says:

          Some games feature leads who are female, or nonwhite. Female or nonwhite characters who have real depth are comparatively rare (even if we were to pretend nonwhites were a minority). Often times such characters are not leads and are stereotypes or charicatures. However progress is being made. These characters with depth do exist here and there. It is of course currently very much the exception.

          This is sort of like TV or movies in the 1950s to 1960s. Black people would be in them but were only afforded fairly specific types of roles. We now look back on that time as strongly racist, but it was a matter of debate at some point.

          There are two reasons this sort of things matters. The first reason is that by not including these alternative views, characters, stories we make games poorer. We select from a smaller palette of experiences and thus limit the possibilities. The second reason is a general trend of non-inclusion can make the players who are not represented feel unwanted, or actually harm them in a social sense that is difficult to quantify but nonetheless real.

        • tormos says:

          Ultimately what I personally would like to see is simply a more inclusive industry (that is one where all sorts of people are represented in interesting ways). The reason why we don’t have one isn’t that video games magically only can be made by/ to appeal to white dudes, but because until very recently relatively little attention was paid to inclusiveness and the way that it impacts video game narratives. You’re right that there is progress being made, and it’s important that we recognize that even if we’re not yet at the ideal stage. The thing is, though, that voices which might be pushing for this sort of thing in video game development are being ignored, either by not being hired (as video game development continues to be dominated by straight white men), or simply by feeling unable/unwilling to speak up and share their ideas. In my reading, this is what Heir was calling for, that is encouraging people who already work making videogames to speak up if they support more inclusive/better represented women and minorities.
          Finally, in response to your God of War comment, ideally I’d like to see a few things. I’m not demanding that every game be an exploration of life as a queer woman of color. I would,however like to see some games where a character is female/gay/black/whatever without that being their defining characteristic or super consequential (much like the way that my roomate’s homosexuality basically doesn’t impact my life other than how it determines who he brings home after a night out). So for example, maybe the generic grizzled COD hero’s nostalgic picture of his sweetheart happens to be of a man (or said hero happens to be a womand etc). Obviously there’s still room for straight white male protagonists, but having a little bit more variety would be nice. Additionally, i would like to see more women who get characterization rather than just being sex objects etc. Of course, nothing here would prevent there being games made about the life of a queer woman of color, just as it wouldn’t prevent games being made about the life of a straight white man. I’d just like them to coexist rather than having one narrow demographic crowd all the others out.

          • bobsterfetto says:

            Thanks for the answers above. Good points, and I agree on most of them. I just hopes for some subtlety, and not some Bioware eager beaver trying hard to be progressive and just ends up making clichéd nonsense. That goes for all skincolour\genders\sexual preferences. Beside that, i’m all for making characters more interesting, i mean whats not to like about that?

          • jrodman says:

            Sure, hamfisted games of all stripes have their drawbacks.

          • bill says:

            What they said. But I think it takes a stage of basic / token / hamfisted representations just to break through to the stage where things can be handled in a more nuanced/natural/taken-for-granted way.

            TV shows back in the day had to go through a stage of inserting the token black character who was defined that, and the stage of having dramas that were defined simply by having a strong female character. But that helped to normalise such things*. Which meant that they could be handled with more nuance and flair, and less focus, by those that followed.

            *to some extent.

  3. bill says:

    That was a nice interview. It addressed the key points without getting too aggressive about it.

    I think the key point is that adding a wider range of deeper characters to gaming doesn’t really hurt anyone, and it doesn’t mean that all characters have to be like that.

    Personally, I think just getting people (mainly developers) to consider the matter is half the battle. They don’t need to be forced to do anything. They don’t need to compromise their artistic vision. They don’t need to not do white male protagonists if they want. They just need to be aware that they don’t need to default to white male heroes and sexy/victim princesses. They can continue to do white male heroes and sexy/victim girls as long as that is a conscious choice that fits the game, not just an automatic default.

  4. Archer666 says:

    Bioware has always sickened me with their exploitation of other sexual orientations. Just because you shove a horribly written gay/lesbian into your game, doesn’t mean you’re progressive. Or when you make everyone bisexual just so the main character can bone/be boned by anything he wants. It’s lazy and sleazy. That’s how Bioware’s been the last couple of games.

    So yeah, this interview may be interesting to this guy’s opinion on things but it’s ultimately meaningless. This article comes across as kind on the smug side.

    • jrodman says:

      I would say by that progressive is a comparative term, and against the backdrop of the industry the action is progressive. As compared to the full spectrum of modern politics, it isn’t very impressive of course. And yes they are fairly clumsy. But so are the straight bits.

    • bobsterfetto says:

      If Bioware are taking it upon themselves to be the front runner in gender progressive games…well prepare to cringe. I got pissed of when i saw the horrendous portrayal of hetero romances in ME and DA, it’s just..who talks like that? The gays got theirs to. Transgenders have this one chance in time, to be left alone and unspoiled by horrible games trying to be progressive. If they complain now, they might get more than they bargained for. Stay silent, and you might get away unscathed. Godspeed!

  5. LennyLeonardo says:

    There’s a little debate about the word “homophobic” above, and it got me thinking. This probably isn’t an original thought, but anyway: is the “phobia” part maybe a denial of responsibility on the part of homophobes? The implication is that homophobia is involuntary, an illness, even (kind of ironic…). Maybe we need a new word?

    • jrodman says:

      Do you think they will ever take responsibility while continuing to hold those views anyway?

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        Probably not, but it’s interesting that the language we use to condemn them actually – in a weird way – absolves them.

        • bobsterfetto says:

          deleted

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            Not sure you meant to reply to my post.
            Edited so as not to derail my own thread

          • SanguineAngel says:

            In a way, I think most people are not really to blame for their prejudice. We get conditioned to think a certain way by every tiny facet of society – from the toys we play with as kids or the clothes available to buy in shops to the media we consume and the throw away comments we hear and later use every day.

            It’s quite difficult to step outside of that even if you can recognise it happening. I think change on this scale can only be a gradual thing – generational perceptions altering. That’s only possible if we talk about these things openly and affect the environment we bring our children up in.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            @ Sanguine: Yeah, there’s some truth to that. I like to think that examining the artifacts of our conditioning – like the word “homophobic” – can help us to distance ourselves from it. But yeah, it can be hard to even recognise the problem, and many even go nuts denying it, like some above.

          • SanguineAngel says:

            LennyLeonardo: Yes I would have to say I agree. The word homophobia is unquestioningly weighted toward negativity. I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing as I wonder if the distaste might lead to some self-reflection.

            I know at least one person who’s prejudices are very deeply ingrained indeed but who is definitely trying to change his own attitudes. I have to admire him for that. This is in part due to the perceived negativity such terminology generates.

            However, I am not unsympathetic to the person further up the thread to whom you refer. They have identified themselves as homophobic as described by the general media and feels victimised by the label and I can see why.

            Editing: removal incorrect information!

  6. bobsterfetto says:

    If games truly is an art form, shouldn’t the artist be able to do as he please? Is catering to a minority, or a majority for that matter, truly something we want to demand? Should we demand that Martin Scorcese portrays more gay characters in his pictures? Well, you can ask..but i don’t think there is any logic in getting all up in arms if he honestly refuse to comply with your request.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      The problem here is that those artists are already forced to make concessions in these areas and compromise their artistic vision in order to conform with perceived market trends. The fact is that many big businesses believe that the typical straight white male game character we almost always see will sell more than anything else and so we hear of countless developers forced to make that and many other similar changes in order to maximise profitability.

      The stupid thing is that not only is this reasoning more supposition and correlation rather than solid fact but it is also self-perpetuating. As more games conform to an outdated idea of what marketeers believe audiences want there are less chances for games to successfully break that mould and prove them wrong. The less games successfully breaking the mould the less games will want to take the risk of doing so in the future.

      Likewise, I am certain that Scorcese has been forced to compromise his own artistic vision often to conform to market trends too. In current culture, profit rules above all but as individual consumers that’s not so great for us. Although to be absolutely fair, I am sure sometimes these people are right and make worthwhile corrections. However, by and large the motivating force for changes will be saleability

      Artistic vision has already been compromised. In the AAA market you will probably never see a game the way a developer intended

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        I’m pretty sure he wanted Gangs of New York to be longer.

      • bobsterfetto says:

        LennyLeonardo: Hehe :)
        Sanguine: But why is it that the few games that, at least try to be progressive comes from really large devs\publishers? By this logic shouldn’t we see more of these kinda games from indie, or smaller devs, who are more free to pursue their artistic visions?

        • SuicideKing says:

          I think you have it the other way around, indie is where the most progressive games have been in recent times, if not always.

        • SanguineAngel says:

          bobsterfetto: I don’t think I can agree with your assertion in the first place. My impression is that we have seen relatively few games come out of the major publishers that I would describe as progressive, or that in any way buck the trends. Those very few that are bold enough to present a female protagonist almost always fall back to the woman as a sex symbol.

          I’ve seen your other posts here and they have been very respectful and conscientious. I believe we agree on a central point – that developers should be given the creative freedom to decide their own content. I don’t believe devs in the AAA marketplace have that freedom and I am dubious that smaller studios who depend on the success of individual titles to literally make their living will always be able to take a chance against conventional wisdom and self-doubt as far as saleability goes.

          It feels like there’s a shift in some parts of the industry that is more liberating – crowd sourced projects appear to be a godsend and I am very hopeful for where this could lead.

          Beyond this, I do believe there is still the matter of an ingrained prejudice that needs to be tackled. I doubt that many people in games (or really in life) are maliciously prejudiced, we’re all a product of the environments we grow up in. I think it is worthwhile having these discussions as it allows everyone to engage with the subject and the ideas as the will. I am confident that there are devs out there who will, as the result of Heir’s talk, for example, re-evaluate their own work and reconsider what they actually want to create.

          I know some people are tired of talking about it and some people who feel that we shouldn’t keep saying these things; that once is enough. However, it is still worthwhile bringing these discussions into public forums where it can affect social change, no matter how slowly. That the topic of gender representation has gained such traction in the media we consume can, to my way of thinking, only be a good thing. It will allow devs who have the creative freedom to engage with those issues to do so if they wish (and anyone else who’s listening).

    • bill says:

      I don’t think anyone is talking about demands. (though sometimes we have to shout a but more loudly at the beginning to get noticed). People are just saying that there are a wider range of options out there than the ones currently being used.

      That isn’t really compromising an artist’s vision, it’s simply giving them a wider palette to work from.

      No one would complain or get up in arms if Martin Scorsese decided to not include any gay characters in his movies. But I might be sad if every movie contained the same basic character archtypes.

      • bobsterfetto says:

        I get that bill. I’m all for telling and expressing wants, but I really do get a feeling that there are some entitlement and demands from both sides of the corner. My point is that if a dev loud and clear express that she is not interested in portraying gays or transgender in her game, that is fine be me. and vice versa. It really doesn’t matter, because these changes are already happening anyways, the future is now and all that. I’m relying on the general progression in gaming as an art form, developing naturally despite stereotypes, finances, marketing people and pre conceived notions on what gamers will buy etc. Artists did radical stuff without people telling them to, in the past, and they will continue to do so in this modern age.. I think gaming will evolve towards the same conclusion, with or without demands.

        • bill says:

          Maybe so, but it does tend to take some shouting, or at least mentioning the issue to get change started.
          I agree that change is happening, and it’s mainly happening voluntarily, within the industry. But I think one reason it’s happening is a greater awareness and willingness to talk about such things.

          Once the ball starts rolling it’ll probably continue under its own power.

          As for me, it’s up to the developers what kind of characters they want to portray in their games. But hopefully they at least give it some thought and choose for a reason, not just defaulting to white muscle guy and white sexy girl.

        • jrodman says:

          I think it’s legitimate, if a developer says loud and clear, that they don’t want gays or transgendered characters in their games as a *general thing* to question what that’s all about. It certain SOUNDS prejudiced. I think challenging such a developer repeatedly seems totally reasonable.

          If they don’t happen to be part of the vision for a *particular work*, that’s entirely another thing, especially if that work does not include large numbers of people, player-created people, or a strong attempt to sell itself as providing open player agency (interpreted as the do-what-the-player-wants-to-do school).

  7. jaguar skills says:

    RPS, when you figure out why your staff is exclusively white and mostly male, you’ll figure out why games are being made to pander to that demographic.

    • SuicideKing says:

      What on earth has that got to do with this? RPS needs decent writers, and hire in accordance with that and other decisions (that are best known to them). It’s not like the content they create is about games in which white males do masculine stuff only….

      …Which is the point.

      And anyway, i think you’d agree that there’s a huge difference between a 100-strong AAA studio and a gaming website run by (now) 7 people and a few freelancers.

      And seeing that i’m not white, and a fair few of my friends read RPS, i think their being white doesn’t affect the content they put out too much.

      • jaguar skills says:

        Most people making those games are also white males. People write what they know. When they veer away from that in any medium it gets awkward, see any Tarantino film or the black characters in GTA.

        Now if you had minority voices at the top of a creative team, perhaps that would change. Until then, I hope the middle class white males making these games keep getting shot down by the money men when they propose a game about a wheelchair bound black lesbian autistic girl, because they’d fuck it up anyway. If you want to be an auteur and do something interesting, you go indie. Moviemakers have known this for decades, why do we think it’s going to change with gaming?

        • jrodman says:

          If, in the United States, you do not count people from the so-called Middle East as white (and most OTHER American whites don’t) then whites are a minority.

          In my state of California, whites are a minority by any measure.
          In the world, whites are a minority by any measure.

  8. SuicideKing says:

    Wow, some comments are extra shitty today. I had to block Kurbster or whatever his name was, to make this thread more readable.

    • Harlander says:

      On the other hand, it’s nice that threads like this bring out the people saying horrible things in unpleasant ways out of the woodwork, so you can go through and get all the blocking done in one go.

      • jrodman says:

        YOUR MUM!

      • pepperfez says:

        I have had the most satisfying block party in this thread and now am again convinced that much of humanity may deserve to exist.

  9. Ender7 says:

    This person is an example of one of the reason why (bioware and other) games suck now. They are so hell bent in making ALL games politically correct, inclusive, anti-trope, non-offensive, and turn the game into a propaganda peace that they forget the game is supposed to be FUN. If you want a game to be all that, then fine, make a game and show by example. Correction, make a GOOD game and not the horrible things that have come out of eaware lately. However, do not FORCE this view on every developer and call them sexist, racist, whatever because they are butthurt because they are not included in some unrealistic politically correct utopia. Funny thing, Mass Effect 3 was targeted to every group and made strides to really bring gamer women in by allowing you to be a famale character. What was the percentage of people choosing the female avatar? only 18% and most of that was probably dudes playing it. No matter how hard that people do not want to listen, the vast majority of hardcore players will still be strait (white?) men for a varitey of reason. If devs want to target that market then they should and people should respect them for it instead of attacking them like children because they are not getting their way.

    • Muzman says:

      I think you’re talking out of your backside. Tell us all these examples of games compromising their ’89 Schwarzenegger-movie spirit to avoid the nasty boo boos from RPS and the like.

      This argument that ‘the market has spoken so shut up’ is beyond idiotic. If the market has spoken then what are you worried about? Loud PC SJWs that offend the MRAs and SWMs should be of no influence or consequence and the market will bear that out, right?
      Or maybe it’s a little more complicated than that.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Your name suggests you prefer Orson Scott Card. Just saying…

      • bobsterfetto says:

        Orson doesn’t like gays and seems like a unpleasent sort of person, but still manages to write great books! Why, i never..

        • jrodman says:

          Eh, I think great books is a matter of taste here. I did certainly enjoy Ender’s Game as a 16 year old, but there was also a lot of drek. He’s also one of those authors where the disturbing parts stop seeming like an effective device when you realize how it’s the author shining through.

    • Unknown says:

      As I said earlier, show me just one example of a game developer who was FORCED to change their artistic vision in order to be more “politically correct”. Just one.

  10. waltC says:

    Not this, again!…;) “Railing on incoherently, he shakes his fists at the skies and screams about…nothing.”

    Here’s my contribution:

    Homophobia was actually never a word in the English language until very recently. Literally, it would mean “the unreasoning fear of man,” or “the unreasoning fear of one,” or “an irrational fear of the same, ” etc. It’s slang that has been adopted unwittingly by the unwashed masses as a word to be used as a defense mechanism against people and thoughts that disagree with the tenets of the homosexual mindset. IE, “If you disagree with us, we will slap a disparaging label on you, as opposed to listening to you.” Thus the origin of “homophobia” and “homophobic” as a slur.

    To further illustrate the slang root of the word, and its inappropriateness and inaccuracy, note that nowhere in the word “homophobia” is the concept of sex of any kind included. Sex is present in both the words “heterosexual” and “homosexual,” however. Hetero literally meaning “with different, other”; homo meaning “with same,” and thus do the meanings of the real words heterosexual and homosexual become clear.

    Also note that there is no equivalent slang word “heterophobia” used to describe the gay mindset. Indeed, we might realistically say that the very non-word “homophobia” is itself a form of “heterophobia.” It’s actually very funny when you think about it, as so much is revealed in the examination of words, both real and slang.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      valuable contribution! You have corrected a misconception by me of the word’s usage and history. Thanks

    • pepperfez says:

      You make a compelling case that a monolingual speaker of classical Greek wouldn’t understand the contemporary meaning of “homophobia”, so I think that unasked question can be put right to bed. On the other hand, “heterosexual” is equally nonsensical with its mishmash of Greek and Latin roots as is, for that matter, “monolingual”. Yet we seem to understand each other when it comes to those words, so I’m not sure how “homophobia” should be any different.

    • jrodman says:

      Yes homophobia is a new word. Or a neologism if you prefer. The history of word creation is full of error. It might even be the majority method by which new words enter a language. So you shouldn’t try to force words to fit into some kind of logic when they don’t, because it’s very common that language modifications do not care for any sort of axioms.

      Separately there is no “homosexual mindset” or “gay mindset”, and the term is kind of homophobic. It’s lumping an entire class of people into one fictionalized entity. Almost any group features some political, social and intellectual diversity, and unless it’s a political group or intellectual group you’re describing, then painting it one color isn’t ONLY generalizing, it’s also wrong. With gays (or straights) it’s particular farcical, because the set of people cuts across every gender, societal, racial, political, and any other line on the planet. There’s no coherence to “what gays think” because gays come from everywhere and are raised by everyone.

  11. Vaelconda says:

    I was going to read some articles by both cis and trans women on their experiences, and how they feel matters can be improved. Then next time one of my white cis-male friends exhibits a problematic behaviour or attitude, I was going to attempt to explain, based on the articles I’d read, why that behaviour is unacceptable, also offering to link them when the opportunity presented itself.
    Finally, I was going to sit in my kitchen anonymously writing a game about a black, bisexual, cis-female mage’s efforts to maintain her compassionate outlook in the face of racist attitudes following religious exile from her homeland while debating on whether to act on her attraction to a widowed pseudo-Celtic barbarian cis-female party member.
    Does any of that help? Because I don’t want to hurt the cause at all and I realize I’m not fully equipped to be an ally without guidance.

    • Vaelconda says:

      Righto, thanks for the info. Um, what is a creepy orbiter? I was being a little tongue-in-cheek with the latter half of that post (I mean, I am writing that game, but more because I feel like there’s an interesting, relatable story in those characters rather than a deliberate effort to win anyone’s approval – I’ll be upset if it draws accusations of appropriation, but I’d feel worse for not writing it all).

  12. Vaelconda says:

    On the one hand, I like that they’re trying, but on the other I despise the legacy of the 90s – I tried, and therefore no one can criticise me, I am the best me that I can be. I mean, self-esteem is great, probably, but there are limits.

    I wonder. If we go with a fantasy setting that is so very not medieval Tolkienism, but is instead very much its own animal, and assume that in this setting various prejudices do not exist – misogyny, for example – but that new ones do – Orcophobia, say (I know traditionally this has been achieved by non-human species clumsily emulating real ethnicities and cultures, so in this case I’d go for a non-human that is integrated into one cosmopolitan nation, but not another).
    Is this then negating the narratives and struggles of those marginalized groups? It feels, to me, that having a homosexual character in such a setting who is not subjected to oppression or prejudice is a positive step, but maybe I’m wrong?

  13. HugobertingtonEsq says:

    I’m still pissed that there was NEVER any option to have a gay romancering between MaleShep and Garrus

    But no, even Bioware didn’t want to hack that plot out

  14. Tinta1 says:

    Comments sections for articles like these have really convinced me that you can pretty much ignore people who use terms like “social justice warrior” un-ironically.