NPCs, it's okay to not be gay

| Monday, September 12, 2011
Jonnie of MMO Melting Pot seems to be unhappy about the absolute heterosexuality of virtual worlds of Warcraft and Star Wars.
Blogger and my laptop are disagreeing about how to add links, so I hope you don't mind a bit of copy-paste.

Let's try the usual disclaimers to start off: I'm not gay and I'm not homophobic. But despite being called a fag more than a few times, I clearly do not have an insider's perspective, so maybe I just "don't get it."

That said, who cares? I think we may be making too much of this. By we I don't mean myself, since I disagree with him, and I can't speak for you, the reader, so it appears that we was a terrible word choice.

Azeroth is a fantasy world. This is important is several ways.

First off, the cultures and views within it are not necessarily those of the creators. Second, these are not necessarily idealized cultures. In fact, I'd say that the portrayal of every major race in WoW has gotten progressively less rosy. All of the races have major flaws, with only the tauren, in my opinion, being able to truly say that the evil is isolated to one group, the Grimtotem. In other words, this isn't a perfect world, made so by the lack of homosexuality. Not much is said on it one way or another, beside "me not that kind of orc." It's not shunned or accepted, just not there at all.

Why should it be? From what I can tell of the science, homosexuality is not a choice, but a matter of brain chemistry. Yea, I'm trying to tip-toe there, because "brain condition" and "mental state" all make it sound like something is wrong. Maybe in Azeroth the genetics and brains just don't work out in such a way that homosexual behavior or desire exists. Is this so different from how there don't seem to be dark-skinned humans or white orcs? It's all just biochemistry and it would be strange to claim that an alien universe should work the same way as ours.

Of course it would be equally strange to claim that an alien universe shouldn't work the same way as ours, given the fact that we (useless we, once again) created it. The writers could have decided that the chemistry exists to create black humans and white orcs (they come in several colors already, what is one more?). But why would they? Do these things add to the universe? Do they make the stories any better?

Potentially, yes. It could be interesting to see how various sexual or romantic attractions could change the sub-plots in a game like WoW. Variety can spawn variety. Maybe the tendency to not read quests could be fixed by a bit of gayness. After all, nothing quite catches the attention like an unexpectedly bit of tauren uh, beef.

I'm going to leave that aside for now, since I don't thin I'm getting anywhere on that path. Instead, let's think about how there came to be a lack of homosexuality.

Maybe the writers just never even thought of it. This seems unlikely. So then we have to wonder, if it came up, where did it go? I'm picturing a committee sitting around working out some quest chains.
"Alright, dragons captured his friend and he wants us to go free him. Anything to add to that?"
"Why not make it his boyfriend?"
"Make them gay?"

Why not? Maybe they don't want to anger the people who would be angered by that sort of thing. Maybe it feels forced to them. These are things I could understand. WoW seems to be aimed at a very wide population. Some of that population includes people who think that rescuing a girlfriend is romantic and heartwarming, while rescuing a boyfriend means that Azeroth Jesus is crying. As for the second, when does a gay character appear? I mean, when is it a natural part of the story for someone to be gay, rather than being a forced "hey look guys, we added a gay character for you, aren't you happy yet?" It's the paralysis of not wanting to do something wrong, so doing nothing at all.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who has the most double-standards of all?
I'm trying to imagine if WoW had been made by a majority gay development team and they acted the same way, creating a world in which everyone is gay. Would I play this game and think "oh yea, sure, everyone is gay, so what? Just coincidence and dev habit, not like it matters." I doubt it. I'd probably think it was a little strange. I mean, an entire world in which everyone is gay? How obviously forced! So maybe the reverse is the same.

But that's silly. Let's face it: an entirely gay universe would need some other means of reproduction, meaning that homosexuality wouldn't be the same. In the real universe, homosexuality is not "normal", is is the exception, not the rule. It is unusual. But that doesn't mean it is wrong. Somehow this distinction fails to sink in for many people, that different is not wrong. But by the same token, not wrong doesn't mean typical.

Games could benefit from a bit more gayness, not because it is politically correct or polite, but because it would allow for more variety in story-telling. And that's the key, it should be for the story, it should add to it, rather than being forced in. If it is going to be forced in, then it is just as ridiculous as the crusades of homophobes, who might be all in favor of gay relationships in TOR, as long as they gave dark side points.

In conclusion, I have no conclusion.

P.S. Upon a second reading, I noticed this phrase "When a personal choice is singled out" Why would anyone ever choose to be gay? It sounds pretty stupid, if you ask me. Who in their right mind would choose to be hated and discriminated against? Doesn't sound like much of a choice to me. Maybe the underlying self isn't a choice.


Oestrus said...

I think this also operates under the assumption that we would know said character is gay just by looking at them or by listening to them talk (or reading their associated quest text).

There could be gay characters already in the game that we don't know about because they don't act openly gay. Who is to say that Garrosh Hellscream isn't a gay or Moira Bronzebeard isn't a lesbian?

I think I agree with you that there needs to be a reason why a gay character is added to the game and not just for "See, we did it!" I also think it's important to have a character that fits that image well, rather than an obnoxious stereotype that's meant to highlight that character above all else.

Really nice post.

Oestrus said...

(I didn't mean to say "a gay," in regards to Garrosh. Sorry about that.

Syl said...

This sums up many of the thoughts I have on the matter, but frankly fail to force into a half-way comprehensive WoT. you seem to manage brilliantly when you're not trying to be coherent. ;)

The thing is, this is not so much a question of representation and equality, as it is a fundamental question of how far you want to take the simulation in an MMO like WoW. WoW is not exactly big in that respect to begin with. would I mind a sexual orientation feature? certainly not. do I think it's needed? No. it strikes me more as something that makes sense for a Second Life context, for example.
When I roll a character in WoW, I too just jump into a "default mode". I might get to create a rough likeness to myself, but as far as physical attributes go, I play a default - it's not like I was able to choose the big boobs or long legs. this is not my body and as such secondary. it's the personality I add to my toon that makes it me (or not) in WoW. is someone's sexuality part of his personality?

The trouble is of course, that the "default" is just an average set to represent a majority, rather than including everyone. and very easily an absence can be interpreted for a judgement.
I agree on your point about variety, but I see no area in WoW where sexual orientation even has a meaning or place. so encountering a gay NPC would feel forced to me - not because different is wrong/unnatural, but choosing to make NPCs homosexual is "sexualizing" the game in a way that it otherwise isn't. none of the heterosexual relationships in WoW are actually emphazised to be somehow active statements. and as Oestrus said, half the time we don't even know who is heterosexual or not.
I simply don't care either way and I don't want to have to care about who is screwing whom, gay lesbian straight or feral.


Stabs said...

I think worrying about this too much is a sign that someone is obsessing.

I have a friend who is very paranoid about racism. As a result he never fails to check any situation for what race people are and consider it. How many black people are in the room?

Our interactions with other people (even virtual non-player people) are transitory and are cognitively limited. We can only consider so much.

Last time I bought a paper I was looking at and thinking about the headlines as I bought it. Was the shop assistant gay? No idea. Were they the same race as me? No idea.

I've some sympathy for someone who feels alienated but I don't think the answer is to challenge difference and demand affirmative action. It's not evil to be straight, nor evil to be gay. For most people it's just fact, something you're born with, as fixed as species or gender.

If you worry about race sexuality or for that matter species when an orc gives you a kill ten rats quest I think you're too obsessed.

Ratshag said...

"none of the heterosexual relationships in WoW are actually emphazised to be somehow active statements."

I has ta disagrees with Syl on this one. Pretty recentlies, I went on a journey with Aggra fer ta rescue Thrall. Alongs the way, I hears about how she loves him, he loves her, they both wants fer ta have orclings one day, and she thinks he yammers too much. Afters, got ta witness a touchin' ceremony what you humans would call a "wedding", and I got me a spiffy cloak. Felt pretty darn active ta me.

Then there's Mankrik, Cowlen, Alex's pretty-boy consorts, the original crazy "Love is in the Air" bugger, that woman what locked her husband in the outhouse... No, we ain't in the bedroom while they's humpin' and pumpin' havin' ta, I dunno, click when yer mouse cogs on sumthin', be we's definitely activelies involved in some aspect of they's hettrosexualifications.

Clockw0rk said...

Since I read the linked post I have been thinking similarly; you summed up well how it might feel forced and how WoW overall just ignores most sexuality all together.

And the one time it does have an obvious relationship it felt so "LOOK WE'RE IN LOVE!" that being the union of Thrall/Aggra. Meanwhile I was glad to see Tholo and Anren...until they started saying "My best friend..." in every single quest and statement to the point where I was not being shown, I was being told. By the time I finished the Molten Front I would roll my eyes when I saw "I'm on my way Tholo!".

So I guess what I am saying is that I think WoW as a setting is better off NOT addressing the issue and letting people assume what they will; cause they are TERRIBLE at showing relationships. I recall once finding a house in Ironforge that had a male night elf and two female gnomes with different surnames...and wondered.

Anyways sorry to babble, but to say again, fantastic post, and great comments by Oest, Syl and Stabs.

Chris said...

"Let's face it: an entirely gay universe would need some other means of reproduction"
This isn't a huge issue in a universe where you can stop time, bring back the dead and ride dragons.

MMO Melting Pot said...

Thanks for the response, Klepsacovic. Great post, as usual.

I think perhaps I didn't adequately get across one of my main points. I'm not saying that Blizzard should make WoW more gay, or should introduce obviously gay characters just to fulfill a quota. In fact, like many of the commentators here and on the original Melting Pot article, I'd be just as happy if sexuality weren't a part of the game at all. I really don't care very much whether Garosh is a friend of Dorothy or not. I certainly don't want to see "an entirely gay universe" - I have a degree in Drama, so I've already had a glimpse into that particular nightmare future.

My only concern came from the fact that Blizzard (and Bioware to a lesser extent with TOR) have introduced sexuality to the game. Like it or not, that's what they've done: every male goblin had a girlfriend and every female goblin had a boyfriend. Things like that make me twitchy. It may seem like a small thing (indeed, it *is* a small thing) but when 'default' decisions like that are allowed to pass without comment, it reinforces the very subtle but insidious statement that heterosexuality is 'normal' and anything else is a deviation and 'not normal'. I believe that one of the best ways to avoid that is to challenge those assumptions whenever they arise.

Thanks for all the really interesting comments, everyone. I'm glad this has sparked so much debate, and it's always great to hear other people's opinions (especially when they differ from my own).

-- Johnnie @ MMO Melting Pot

Klepsacovic said...

@Oestrus: What is the image of a gay person, if not the stereotype? If we disregard that, we're left with so-called "straight-acting, straight-appearing", which unless explicitly stated to not be gay, won't be noticed.

For everyone, I'd check out a radio show calle This American Life, an episode called "Sissies", number 46.

@Syl: I took a few stabs at coherence. Somehow they didn't quite get anywhere.

Maybe the problem is the term, homosexual, which implies that the entire basis of the difference is sexual. Given that sexuality isn't given much attention in WoW, it is understandable that homosexuality, if taken only as a sexual parameter, is excluded.

@Stabs: It may be an excess of obsession (as opposed to a moderate level of obsession, of course) which causes this, but I wonder if that is the only sensible approach. If we were all race and sex blind, then it would work itself out, but if there is an active force opposing equality, then it would be necessary to actively support it.

@Rashtag: Good point. We need more examples like this if we're going to have an evidence-based approach to this issue.

@Clockw0rk: Maybe WoW just needs more relationships in general, regardless of sexuality. Come to think of it, it sometimes seems like they go out of their way to avoid them, with everyone seemingly being orphaned or their partner dead by the time we meet them.

@Chris: You make an excellent point. Clearly Warcraft is fertile (pun intended) ground for a Massively Multiplayer Online Gay-Playing Game.

@MMO Melting Pot: For that particular quest, we might ask why there is no choice for a male partner, or none at all, but at that point we're running into the problem that WoW, and many other MMOs, put you on rails to tell one story, that written by the devs, and you do not get to alter that. In this context, sexuality is irrelevant, as is most everything else, with little beside race, sex, and class being influential in quest dialogue, and even then, usually just as a "Hello, [sir/madame] [race], I have heard you are a powerful [class], can you help me?"

Given that the game is on rails and the relationship as well, I'd say this is just not the fight to choose. TOR might be worth wondering about. But maybe single-player games are a more worthwhile medium. I'm pretty sure that elf assassin in Dragon Age was hitting on me and we're both definitely male.

Anonymous said...

As I see it, any MMO game should be agnostic about a player character's sexual orientation. It should let me play a character as straight or gay or asexual without assumption. If I'm going to be in a world interacting with other players' avatars, our collective sexual orientations are going to play out.

For the most part, I think WoW does a pretty good job of supporting player choice. You can /kiss and /flirt with whomever you like. Those emotes and their animations are part of the game UI. You don't get an error message if you sit down at a picknic basket laid out by somebody of the same sex. My disappointment is in the cata quests where they seem to have taken a socially conservative turn rather than remaining more neutral.

Clockwork said...

@Klep: Quantity is not as much my issue as quality, the most recently added relationships came off too forced for my taste...I even read the Cataclysm book that was supposed to build up the Aggra/Thrall relationship and that didn't help. Blizzard lately feels like they are "Telling" more than "Showing"...and with games I think it shouldn't even be showing, it should be "Experiencing". The new Eastern Plaguelands has a set of quests where you are working with a group for a long period; this is the closest they have come to actual character development that I have experienced in Cata thus far, I felt like I knew that group by the end.

@MMO-Melting-Pot: I suppose part of it is perspective; my goblin does not have a girlfriend, he has a troll priestess he's attached to (consequently played by my SO). Maybe it's just because I am jaded by Blizz but I more or less disregard the things they ask my character to do just to reach level 85. I mean, my Holy Paladin is also apparently guilty of torture (see Borean Tundra) which the actual "character" I play him as would never do. However I do see why others might be bothered by their avatar having proscribed traits; I think in the case of the goblins Blizzard got so excited by their idea that they didn't stop to think "Hey someone might be offended by this." Which does not excuse it, one hopes in the future they will correct it. I mean technically it also means all goblins have a "Servant", their Hobogoblin racial ability.

@ No one specific: However it has made me think about to what level sexuality in game needs to be treated. We can't necessarily censor or restrict creativity by saying "All secret monastic orders must allow marriage," the Jedi do have a problem with marriage due to that whole Passion = Evil thing. These days I like to think of it as:

The Jedi would have Order at the cost of Liberty.
The Sith would have Liberty at the cost of Order.

Which is a simplified way of putting it, but is the guideline I see them taking. As I am not in the Beta though I will have to see if the "Love" choices affect non-Jedi characters in the same reason a Smuggler or Soldier couldn't find love (on the battlefield? :P)

Shintar said...

First off, Ratshag's comment genuinely made me lol. Such a way with words...

Secondly, I think I understand what you mean, but... maybe this is one of those things that are hard to understand if you've never been on the other side of the fence. For example I recently read a book series that is a massive sausage fest. It covers a whole universe and in many stories women don't feature at all - without the authors trying to make a point or anything. It just comes across as them thinking that women aren't interesting or needed for anything. I didn't mind initially, because there's nothing wrong with telling a story about guys only, but the more the fictional universe expanded, the more I was saddened and confused by this complete lack of "people like me" in the world. When a later installment finally featured some women, I nearly fell over myself with joy. I don't need quotas, but there is something slightly unsettling about other people painting an entire world that has no room for people of a different sex/race/whatever, apparently without even giving it a second thought. And WoW is a world.

snuzzle said...

The only thing that annoyed me about the heteronormity of Azeroth is the fact that a baby goblin HAS to have a boyfriend if she is a girl and vice versa. I would have LOVED Blizzard to give us the choice. Pick Candy Cane or CHip Endale. Your choice. That would have been lovely.

And, as I recall, while there aren't any blatantly homosexual characters, there are a pair of female night elves in Star's Rest in Dragonblight who shamelessly flirt with one another... well, one shamelessly flirts, the other plays hard to get ;)

And there are still others, though much more subtle, if you just look hard enough.

It is a bit sad though that the choice isn't there, or that it isn't made ... to fit into the world better, I guess.

Syl said...

Shintar makes a big point here. I kept thinking about this topic the past 2 days, also trying to compare it to how I view the gender issue in terms of female NPCs/heroes etc. in MMOs; it's not exactly the same situation, still we're basically dealing with 2 gender-specific topics of representation, both of which are probably in the same "stage of progress" when it comes to social acceptance (the feminist/women's right movement is about as old where I live as gay movements, roughly starting in the 70ies, often cooperating). if you asked me whether I'm happy with the way women are portrayed in AoC for example, I'd have to give a clear NO to that. apparently WoW has progressed in Cata here which I applaud. imo it's only right to react to such a huge percentage of your player base.

We have a hard time perceiving issues that do not exist in our mind / are simply not important; not in the sense of "not an important issue", but I live in a mental culture where being gay is as good as being heterosexual, to an extent where I hardly notice it anymore. and that's great, but how representative am I really?, what I'm trying to say here is, it might feel forced to encounter it in an MMO for a while, but maybe that's part of the process and we need to deal with forced/quota until it's simply so common that it becomes a (visible) standard once more. after all, this is how it works in the real world - women can keep dreaming of social/work-/politics-related equality. it's simply not gonna happen without some forced quotas here and there.

I also get where Johnny/MMOPot is coming from; either you implement sexuality properly or not at all. either it's important and people get to choose, or it's not important and you skip it entirely. I can't say I disagree, although I still personally find WoW very a-sexual as a whole.

Please disagree with me more - I love it lol. :P and you've just shown how much it matters who's playing the game. I never noticed these things, tbh the only WoW couple I remember are Jaina and Arthas...and we know how that one worked out!

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