Gay Jedi Warriors Fight BackApril 12, 2012 No Comments
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Actually, some time in the 1980s in a flat in Wimbledon, south west London, my Dad got really excited because the first Star Wars film was on the telly. Having taken my older brother to see all three films in the original trilogy at the cinema he was keen for me to see them too. And I did. And I loved them… What’s not to love for a small boy? Sword fights (laser sword fights, doubly cool), space ships, droids, Chewbacca, the terrifying Darth Vader… It was a fairy tale in space.
Crucially for someone of my Dad’s generation who had grown up with Flash Gordon and his ilk, the Saturday cinema serials from which Star Wars largely drew it’s inspiration, he could enjoy them too. That was the beauty of the Star Wars films; despite being aimed at kids they could be enjoyed by children and adults alike, as a bit of light-hearted entertainment.
Which brings us to the present day and a rather ugly story that has been playing out over the Internet. Gaming company Electronic Arts (EA) and their development company BioWare have been targeted by a group called the Florida Family Association (FFA), an organization whose stated aim is to “educate people on what they can do to defend, protect and promote traditional, biblical values.”
The Florida Family Association’s ire has been prompted by the fact that EA’s Star Wars computer game, The Old Republic, allows players to explore subplots where they can enter into same-sex relationships with other characters. In this badly written, badly punctuated statement the FFA calls on it’s supporters to email EA and Lucas Film in protest. It blames LGBT activists for putting pressure on the company to include same-sex options within the game.
Now, apart from disagreeing with the FFA’s obvious disdain for homosexuality, I can accept that, from its own point of view, it may have some valid points to highlight. But there is something unpleasantly hateful about the way it does it. In one particularly bizarre paragraph we are treated to the statement:
“There were no LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) characters in any of the Star Wars movies.”
Obviously they didn’t notice C-3P0, the camp android butler, and his close friend R2-D2. But in some ways it’s a fair statement. There are no explicit homosexual relationships shown. Equally there are several characters who we have no proof are heterosexual (Obi Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Lando Calrissian, Mon Mothma, Admiral Ackbar, Wedge Antilles, Greedo, etc.) but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt on that one. What follows next seems rather a large leap of logic:
“So if BioWare, the maker of Star Wars video games, adds LGBT characters for kids to select as their action character it could be something like Darth RuPaula, a combination of Darth Vader, one of the most popular Star Wars characters, and RuPaul, the renown [sic] transgender cross dresser.”
Helpfully, they’ve also knocked together a photo of this. Now, I accept flippancy and satire as much as the next person but I’m not sure if they’ve hit quite the right tone with this one. Is the insinuation that all LGBT people are drag queens?
In a statement to the computer game industry news website Gamesindustry International, EA’s VP of corporate communications, Jeff Brown, confirmed that the company had received “several thousand” letters and emails of complaint. He added: “EA has not been pressured by any groups to include LGBT characters in our games. However, we have met with LBGT groups and sponsored industry forums to discuss content and harassment of players in online forums. In short, we do put options for same-sex relationships in our games.”
Others have waded into this (cyber)space battle, with US lobby group the Family Research Council (“promoting Faith, Family and Freedom”) publishing a post saying “on the game’s website, there are more than 300 pages of comments — a lot of them expressing anger that their kids will be exposed to this Star Warped way of thinking.” This thread can no longer be found, something Brown defiantly explained by saying “we don’t tolerate hate speech on our forums.”
From the other side of the Force, gay rights organization AllOut has asked supporters to sign a letter in support of EA. After 60,000 signatures were verified the petition was apparently hacked to add signatures and AllOut has, for the moment closed it. Meanwhile, in the UK, broadcaster, journalist and gaming enthusiast Charlie Brooker and national treasure Stephen Fry have both tweeted in support of EA.
And so the battle rages on, a storm in a teacup, blowing round the backwaters of the World Wide Web.
What are the actual issues at play here? Those who object to the game argue that children shouldn’t be exposed to homosexuality but surely this depends on the extent of the exposure? Explicit sexual content of any kind would surely be unacceptable. As Brown points out the game has been rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) as suitable for teenagers upwards, and featuring Blood and Gore, Mild Language, Sexual Themes and Violence. Taking that rating into account parents can surely make up their own mind if it is suitable or not.
Old Republic is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), i.e. one that can be played online as part of a community. One argument is that, by introducing same-sex relationship options, EA is just allowing gamers to play out an important part of their real-word persona as part of the game. It remains purely an option, not a compulsory element.
Introducing a slice of reality in the Star Wars universe may seem a galaxy away from the escapism of the original films. But audiences grow up and, as I observed before, adults as well as kids have always enjoyed Star Wars. Even Lucas Film has announced that it is developing a live-action Star Wars TV series but that the episodes will be “complex, dark and adult,” with rumours pointing to a Sopranos in Space type of idea. Surely this won’t be acceptable for all ages, either?
A final thought. It always struck me, even as a small child, that in the original films the evil Empire was made up of a bunch of uniformed, Caucasian, human men, whilst the Rebel Alliance was… well, an alliance, one made up of colourful, varied alien races. They seemed more inclusive and tolerant of difference than the bad guys. That was the moral lesson I always took from this simple tale of good versus evil.
Bearing that in mind, I think I know which side the game’s critics would be on.