Same-Sex Romance Comes to Star Wars

“Always two there are, no more, no less: a master and an apprentice.”

Yoda’s observation about the Sith is about to take on a whole new kind of meaning, and let’s not even think about those long lonely nights on the Millennium Falcon. BioWare, Electronic Arts, and LucasArts are set to introduce same-sex romance to the Star Wars universe via their costly flop Star Wars: The Old Republic. In a desperate bid to attract players, the MMO went free-to-play in November following a precipitous drop-off in subscribers, but with some estimates placing the budget in the $200 million territory, the likelihood that it will ever be profitable is minimal.

In the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion, BioWare will allow romantically suggestive encounters with same-sex non-player characters (NPCs: the characters a player meets who are not controlled by other gamers). This falls short of the promised same-sex “companion romances” BioWare had promised. (A “companion” is a more significant NPC who accompanies the player.) If precedent is any indication, what this will mean is that restrictions on gender are (more or less) eliminated, potentially making every non-companion NPC functionally bisexual.

Some will write this off as a desperation measure by BioWare and Lucas, eager to score some cheap free ink. I don’t see it that way. BioWare has been consistent in their efforts to put same-sex romance into their games whether it fits or not, in both the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series. We saw the same thing with Skyrim, with comical results like hulking brutes offering to court male heroes, marry them, and then sit around at home tending the hearth. It reminded me of this:

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As games mature, we have to expect that more aspects of the human experience will be drawn into their narratives and design. There’s no reason to assume a fully fleshed-out Star Wars Universe might not include characters with same-sex attraction. The problem with current approaches is that–due to limitations of the medium–they tend to make everyone bisexual. The results are absurd, and role-playing games that include romantic subplots and quests can wind up populated with people who appear to be willing to hook up with anyone and anything. (Did I mention the alien-human romances of Mass Effect?)

If we’re looking (in the US) at a gay population in the neighborhood of 10 million out of a population of about 300 million, we’re looking at a very small population indeed. Let’s be optimistic and say that 500,000 people are still playing SWOR. If we assume that 3% of the population is gay or bisexual, that means BioWare is devoting money, time, and resources for a failing game to cater to about 15,000 gamers. By comparison, there are about 245 million Christians, roughly 78% of the population. If the percentages of the population mirror those of MMO gamers (and, by and large, they do), then that’s 375,000 gamers.

So, something else is clearly going on here, and it’s simply BioWare following cultural trends by catering to a very tiny category of gamer. I won’t fault them for the impulse: as creators, they are tasked with exploring the human condition in its many variations and permutations. The percentage of the population which is, say, Jedi or Wookie is even smaller than the percentage that’s gay. It’s clear that BioWare feels this is necessary in the interest of fairness, but more to the point: they’re being led by the current cultural moment which is placing gay issues front and center in all things, whether they fit or not.

BioWare says this is “broadening” the audience to include gays. Fair enough. I’d argue, however, that it’s narrowing the experience for much-larger audience which has no reference point for, or interest in, same-sex romance. It really wouldn’t take much to implement a “sexual preference” switch to turn-off these same-sex advances for straight gamers, rather than having to field a same-sex proposition and decline it. I somehow managed to get through 3 years at an art school in Greenwich Village in the 1980s without getting propositioned by a single gay person (yeah, yeah: keep your comments about my appearance to yourself), so we’re not talking about a universal experience. Must we assume that no one in the Star Wars universe (full of characters with all sorts of extraordinary powers) posses gaydar, or even a long ago and far far away version of Grindr?

The problem is that the scenarios are just absurd, as are most romantic subplots. Game romance–and game sex–has never risen above merely being awkward, and it’s usually just silly. BioWare has handled it better than most, but even they’ve created some truly eye-rolling moments of pure cheese. Most of the romance in Mass Effect (which included SSA) barely rose above the level of bad Mary Sue fanfic.

A bigger problem–and one not lost on BioWare and Lucas–is that we’re talking about Star Wars, a cultural touchstone. If Star Wars is perceived as “going gay,” that’s one more bastion that falls in the culture wars. In reality, romance in the Star Wars movies has always been either a minor feature (the old-fashioned Hepburn/Tracy romance of Han and Leia) or universally derided (the annoying Anakin and Padme courtship). This has very little to do with the dramatic integrity of the game or the Star Wars universe, or with catering to some kind of overwhelming consumer demand. It feels like yet another cultural “eat your spinach” moment in which we’re being schooled on tolerance for our own good. That’s certainly their right as creators, but could they give the rest of us the option to turn it off?

UPDATE: My wife thought my original title–Star Wars Goes Gay–was too flip and didn’t catch the tone of the piece, so I’ve changed it something more sober. My point–overlong, as usual–is that creating universally bisexual NPCs is bad design, that the majority of people don’t want to experience same-sex propositions, and that some sexual preference switch during character creation would be a welcome feature. There also needs to be content advisory for games that include same-sex romance.

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • http://www.twitter.com/DayvyG David Gormley

    It’s just nonsense to divide the population into 3% gays and 78% Christians. There are many gay Christians and there are many Christians who are accepting of homosexuality (for example, not only are most Catholics okay with the gays, consistent majorities of them support gay marriage). Many Christians are obviously not as offended by homosexuality as some of the writers on Patheos are and so I think it would be wise to stop conflating “Christians” with “opposition to homosexuality” … it just doesn’t make sense.

  • http://dymphnaswelt.blogspot.com Phil

    My english is not that good, thus I hope that people understand me…

    Some time ago was a discussion about the possibility of same-sex relationships in Dwarf Fortress (one of the best games ever btw). A couple of people were complaining about the lack of same-sex relationships in DF, another couple said they would rather stop playing than accepting Thorin lovin’ Gloin.

    To discuss the possibility of same sex relationships in games we have to ask ourselves what the reason for heterosexual relationships is. In a lot of strategy games (and in DF as well) the answer is simply: To get the next generation of game figures. Thus, relationships are a game mechanic. If its not a game mechanic, its of no use for the game. It might be a nice distraction at first but in the long run it will be as tedious as this small guy who appears in microsoft word when calling for help.

    Its similar to the problem of religion in games. Why do my Troll Berserkers in DCSS (Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup) pray to Trog? Why is my Lost Soul Death Mold in ToMe worshipping Melkor? For no other reason than to obtain a measurable advantage. If I put enough effort into worshipping Trog I am able to call ogres and trolls as companions who beat the carp out of my enemies – pretty neat! Would I pray to a God so that my character would have everlasting life after playing the game? No! Would I worship a God to find hope in him? No again! Thus, as a faithful catholic I would find a game which reminds me every day of praying the Angelus tedious to say the least.

    So, whats to make up of all that? If people would include same sex relationships they should also include some interesting (or at least funny) game mechanic with it. The more this relationship is present in the game the more interesting and game-changing this mechanic should be. How are the cultures in the game stand to SSRs? As a world simulator and generator, Dwarf Fortress would be an opportunity to investigate really interesting outcomes about clashes of culture etc. But as long as its only about two guys holding hands I would say “Screw it” (which is also true for heterosexual relationships in games).

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    You’re the only one conflating Christianity with “opposition” to homosexuality. Nothing of the sort was stated or implied. I was just contrasting a small sector of the population with a larger one. And, quite clearly, if only 3% of the population is gay, the gay-Christian population is smaller than 3%.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    Your English is fine! I mostly agree with your points: unless romance has a narrative or mechanical function, it’s a waste. “Narrative” gives designers a lot of leeway. BioWare’s work tends to be heavily character driven, and if they’d like to integrated gay characters in the interest of diversity, that’s their prerogative.

  • victor

    It sounds like BioWare is falling victim to the Smurfette Principle here — only they’re not just reducing one character’s sex to a personality ‘trait’ but reducing the sexuality of every NPC to a personality trait, as you say. They fell victim to one of the classic blunders: they’ve put political correctness (or political expediency? Hipster mollification?) ahead of telling a good story with recognizably “human” (or at least coherent) characters. That the pandering is so blatant really just illustrates what hacks they are — at least in terms of storytelling.

  • Bill

    This is a biased piece that can not be taken seriously due to the author’s clear prejudice.

    Seriously, dude. Go start a hetero-supermacist group or something like that.

    Start looking at robes and hoods, Thomas, so that they can be ready when you go burn a Sony Playstation on some gay family’s lawn.

    You moron.

  • victor

    Dude! Thank you so much. I really needed a laugh, and this is the funniest thing I’ve read in ages. :-)

  • Bill

    A recent poll of college students in the U.S. was quite informative in this area.

    When asked about ‘Christianity,’ 92% of those polled stated that what they MOST think of when they hear about ‘Christianity’ is that ‘Christians’ hate gay people.

    92%.

    One can only imagine what Jesus might think. That 92% of young people affiliate his name and his teachings with the hatred and degradation of human life.

    I can’t imagine him being happy with this.

  • Frank

    Those the believe the Word of God and His created order understand that homosexual behavior is a sin. No getting around that no matter who calls themselves Christian.

  • Frank

    I cannot imagine Jesus being happy that people have abandoned Gods design for sexuality and marriage.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    “Heterosupremicist” is my new favorite fake word. Thanks for sharing it!

  • Mark Shea

    Wow! The Legion of Menacing Visigoths for Homosex is ever-vigilant against the slightest hint of Thoughtcrime, even when it’s not there.

    Attention, Tom McDonald. Tolerance is not Enough! You. MUST. Approve! Homosex is the source and summit of all that is noble, good, right, just, and beautiful on planet earth. Anything less than a full profession of faith in that Creed will be dealt with by swift and terrible punishment!

  • Tim

    “not only are most Catholics okay with the gays, consistent majorities of them support gay marriage” – That is complete horse manure.

    ANY “Catholic” who supports SSM is quite frankly not very Catholic. Just read the Catechism of the Catholic Church to know what Catholics believe to be true and why. All other opinions are simply misguided opinions.

  • Tim in Cleveland

    I didn’t know what a “mascist” was (let alone a super-mascist), but it’s in the urban dictionary so it must be a real word.

    “Mascist: An oppressive person or dictator who forces, badgers, cajoles, or coerces other people to attend Catholic Mass.”

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Mascist

  • Tim in Cleveland

    Your comment reminded me of this:

    “A new study provides disturbing answers to questions about how much students actually learn in college – for many, not much – and has inflamed a debate about the value of an American higher education.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/18/45-of-students-dont-learn_n_810224.html

  • victor

    By the way, Thomas, the meeting has been moved from Tuesday to Thursday this week. Please show up early so we can rehearse our anthem. You were a little pitchy on the second “Hetreo” right before the chorus of “Über Alles” last week.

  • Mark Shea

    Sheesh, Tom. Can’t you read? It’s “hetero-supermacist”. There are macists (those who are bigots in favor of mace over pepper spray), supermacists (those who wear blue tights and a cape while hectoring strangers in the park about the glories of mace), and hetero-supermacists (those who wear blue tights and a cape while hectoring strange women in the park about the glories of mace). Get a brain, moran.

  • Patrick

    I keep here this “broadening” of the gaming market, which cracks me up. Even the most “progressive” games have ridiculous outlooks on women. Seriously, the recent press about how the gaming market needs to be open to more female programmers is hysterical, when their average woman in a game is designed for a horny fifteen year old.
    As far as sexuality in gaming goes, it doesn’t bother me much as long as it’s an optional choice within the game. If it it was mandatory to participate in and/or somehow use it as a reason for forced acceptance, I’d be pretty annoyed. Since Bioware makes fantasy type games with many open options I feel it’s kinda shrug worthy.

  • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

    I’m curious about where these college students got this information or this impression. I wonder what the statistic would be if broken out along lines of church attendence or participation? Certainly, no church I’ve ever encountered – with the sole exception of Westboro Baptist, certainly an outlier if there ever was one – has preached hatred of gay people.

    On the other hand, many in the mainstream media conflate “thinks is wrong or sinful” with “hates.” It would not surprise me if this misunderstanding (to be charitable) has spilled over into the academy as well.

    Moreover, considering the large number of high profile denominational leaders (I’m thinking of liberal Protestants, mainly) who actively promote same-sex orientation and relations, I wonder if 92% of college students really would not recognize these people or their denominations as “Christian”? Somehow, I doubt it. I’m more inclined to think there’s something hinky in the study itself.

  • MountainTiger

    “BioWare says this is “broadening” the audience to include gays. Fair enough. I’d argue, however, that it’s narrowing the experience for much-larger audience which has no reference point for, or interest in, same-sex romance.”
    The apparent assumption that only gay gamers are interested in same-sex relationships in games is bizarre. I’m a straight gamer, and I’ve played some of these subplots. I’ve also played through with both female and male characters and watched movies and read books that include same-sex romance. Somehow, I’ve never felt that doing any of these things narrowed my experience. There are, no doubt, some gamers who feel included by such plots and others who feel repelled. I’m skeptical, however, that this is more than marginal to most gamers’ decisions. If including same-sex romances narrows a game’s audience, why have Skyrim, the Mass Effect games, and the Dragon Age games done so well commercially? In the absence of better data on gamers’ attitudes, I will continue to believe that this is a marginal issue to most gamers.
    Further, this article falls into a common trap in covering these games by focusing on “”same-sex propositions.” In Skyrim and the Bioware games I have played, starting these plots takes effort from the player; if you don’t want your game to include a proposition from a same-sex character, you simply don’t pursue an NPC of the same sex. Likewise the content advisories: I don’t know if The Old Republic currently has a “sexual content” advisory, but both Bioware’s other recent games and Skyrim do. It seems that your stance is that there should be an additional warning for including same-sex sexual content, which seems redundant; those gamers who care whether a game includes such content can easily find the answer on their own.
    I am onboard with the complaints about universal bisexuality and bad writing. These aren’t really complaints about sexuality, though, simply game design. I’m all for less content reuse, better writing, and making romantic subplots (if included at all) relevant to the rest of the game world, something that most games fail to do. This has nothing to do with attitudes towards homosexuality or even general sexual content in games and everything to do with liking interesting games with rich storytelling.

  • chaos-engineer

    Well, if you act in a cruel and hateful manner towards gay people, then everyone’s going to assume that you hate them. Even if you piously mouth the words, “I’m a Christian, so I don’t hate anyone, not even Those People.”

    And you have to admit that the problem goes beyond Westboro Baptist. There’s a very large portion of Christianity that’s been loudly and consistently on the cruel’n'hateful side of every gay-rights issue for years now. (Anti-sodomy laws, “AIDS is God’s judgment”, employment discrimination, civil unions, and now gay marriage.) Real Christians need to do a better job of standing up to them if Christianity is going to survive.

    Oh, and since some people on the thread don’t understand this: If your religion teaches you to be persecute your fellow man, and the only reason you can give is, “God told me to be cruel and hateful”, then that doesn’t mean that persecution is a virtuous act. It means that you’ve been seduced into an evil religion and should find a better one before it’s too late. If you want to stay with Christianity then the Episcopalians would be one good choice, but there are lots of other options, too. If you want to try a non-Christian religion, I’ve heard good things about the Jedi, but I don’t have any personal experience there.

  • Ken

    Games tend to be targeted at a younger audience.

    Most young people today don’t see any problem with LGBT relationships since they have come out (and are continuing to come out) of the closet. Interacting with people in such relationships are a normal part of life now for most people who know or have met more than 33 other average couples.

    Normal relationships are now part of normal games.

    Get over it and move on. Or don’t play that game. I don’t care which.

  • http://www.twittter.com/MasterThiefEsq MasterThief

    If only the ME designers had spent nearly as much time on the ending as they did on the fan-demanded romances…

  • Carys Birch

    Thank you! I am also a straight gamer, and I sometimes opt to go through the same sex subplots. I played the (apparently shocking?) romance with Liara (yes, an alien eek!) with my female character in Mass Effect. It didn’t weird me out or turn me gay and I appreciate the variety.

    I don’t understand the assumption that anyone who is not LGBT would automatically oppose the existence of same sex romances in games (/movies/books/other media). Some of us, I daresay many of us, do not.

  • Carys Birch

    Surprise! There has already been same sex romance in Star Wars games! Bioware’s much earlier Knights of the Old Republic allowed a female protagonist to romance Juhani, a female alien NPC. It’s actually more overt than what they’ve done in the past with bisexual characters, because Juhani was ONLY a romantic option for female characters.

    Guess Star Wars was already ruined forever. Sorry to spoil your fun.

  • kenneth

    A content advisory for games with same-sex romance elements? I have a better idea. Restrict sales of the game to those mature and man enough to speak up for themselves when a digital NPC propositions them!

  • deiseach

    Eh. Why do I think that this will appeal most to straight males who will play female characters in the hope of getting some pixel girl-on-girl action? And then complain about the lack of nudity and sex scenes when their hopes are dashed?

  • kenneth

    Sexual identity is an absolute non-issue among those under 40, and certainly those under 30 these days. It’s about as important to them as right or left-handedness. The young folks are actually much more mature about the whole thing. They have gay friends, they have straight friends, they have bi friends. They respect that and move on and engage each other on the levels of being human that comprise the other 99% of day to day life.

  • Zachary Martinez

    So, you are complaining that, while playing a computer game, the computer game may offer your character an opportunity for same-sex romance, which I understand, you are free to decline, with no long-term negative consequences for your advancement in the game – and you want an option added to the game to prevent the game from even offering you that entirely optional game sub-plot… Seems to me to be making a mountain out of a molehill, to take offence or discomfort at a computer game offering you the entirely optional ability to participate in such a sub-plot. If it doesn’t interest you, or if you have moral qualms, just say no and move on.

    In real life, I’ve been propositioned before by another man (who was rather drunk at the time, by the way, but then I guess so was I). I told him I wasn’t interested and he never propositioned me again. Next time I saw him sober, he started to apologise, but I told him I wasn’t offended and to just to forget about the whole thing. I saw no reason to be shocked or horrified by the incident. If someone expresses an interest in you, whoever they are, and you for whatever reason don’t share that interest, just politely decline and move on, and if they accept your decision and it ends there, then there is no reason to even think about the episode any further.

  • Don Harryman

    As a confirmed homosexual, Star Wars fan, and someone with no interest at all in gaming, may I say that most costuming in Star Wars and other sci fi or fantasy genres is pretty gay, and although I am completely unable to offer any proof, I’m sure lots of gay people are involved in their creation. I mean, capes, cod pieces galore–its pretty obvious.

  • kenneth

    And seriously, are not R2 and C-3PO THE gayest couple ever to hit the big screen!

  • H

    Can’t you see a link between a lack of female programmers and the way female characters are designed?

  • Rose

    It’s not just gay people who want the option of playing homosexual characters. I am a woman and I enjoying roleplaying gay men. I know a lot of other women who do too. Part of the fun of these games is to be able to do things you never could in real life, to explore options that are normally closed to you.

    As for the complaint that it makes the characters all bisexual- it’s a fantasy. There aren’t any lightsabers in real life either. I don’t even see why it would be a problem, religiously, if people wanted to play a gay character. It isn’t real. If you murder someone in a game, you’re not a murderer in real life. Also, all of us have the capacity to indulge in homosexual sex if we want to. It’s why there’s lots of gay sex in prison. Everyone’s potentially bisexual in terms of their behaviour, even if they naturally have a strong preference for one sex or the other.

    In reality, it’s people who are disturbed by homosexuality that are in the minority. Most people either don’t care, or enjoy it as part of life’s rich variety. It’s easy for you to avoid it as well, just don’t buy the expansion pack or, if you do it, don’t pick the homosexual options.

  • Harevy

    Which version of ‘god’s design’ are we talking about? The one where a man could have as many wives as he wanted? Or one wife, but a couple of concubines on the side? Or maybe it’s the version where a widow was forces to marry her husband’s brother? Or the part where ‘marriage’ was generally treated as a business transaction?

    Or did you miss the part where Jesus didn’t discrimate (which there is canon for , in Mathew I believe).

  • Harvey

    ‘ rather than having to field a same-sex proposition and decline it’

    Onoes, someone I might not be attracted too has hit on me? Whatever shall I do?

    Welcome to real life, dude. This is not a big deal … if it was, women would never leave the house.

  • Thomas R

    What college? What poll? I’m skeptical 92% of college students agree on any one image of Christianity. The closest I find is a Barna poll of young non-Christians that states 91% of them say Christianity is “anti-homosexual.”

  • Thomas R

    In a curious way, as an orthodox Catholic, I might have less problems with this kind of stuff in a science fictional setting than elsewhere. (Curiously though gay stuff seems almost rarer in media Sci-Fi, though fairly common in the print kind) There are cultures on Earth with varying views on homosexuality. Science fiction is in a way exploring other worlds and other ways of thought. For me, as a Catholic, this doesn’t have to mean just going into some syncretism. You can recognize, maybe even tolerate, that the Yarn People of Nylar IV (or whatever) have a different understanding of sexual morality without agreeing to it. It can be useful to understand other cultures to better appreciate your own or something.

    So if it was like “On this planet the king has both male and female concubines”, something that happened in Han China, I think that could be okay with me in a way. If it’s a specific feature of a culture, one you may or may not embrace depending, but I take it this game isn’t like “Sid Meier’s Civilization” or “Carmen San Diego” or something. I could see it in something like those though. (“Shaka has built Stonewall Bar he gets mumblety-peg points”, “The criminal has a boyfriend he reads Garcia-Lorca too, which one of Carmen’s gang likes that poet”, etc)

  • Thomas R

    Not saying definitely Shaka was gay. I’ve heard rumors, but mostly I was just thinking of a character in “Civilization.”

  • R.M.

    You can be OK with gay marriage being OK on a secular societal level without wanting it to be present within the Catholic Church.

    Just as many in the Catholic Church don’t look upon non-Catholics who have gotten divorced with judgment. It’s just not something that’s allowed in Catholicism.

    I don’t think anyone outside Catholicism should tell Catholics how to run their church. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s OK for those same Catholics to go ahead and vote against the secular marriages of non-Catholics just because it happens to be a same-sex marriage.

    SSM can be legalized without any harm being done to the Catholic Church just as divorce was legalized before it without ill effect upon the Church.

  • Frank

    The one that our biology supports.

    Jesus does not discriminate. He accepts everyone who turns away from their sins.

  • Frank

    Sins hurts everyone.

  • Frank

    Actually sexual identity is everything to those under 40. Sadly so.

    That’s why they accept it so readily because they mistakenly believe that your sexuality is your identity.

  • John Reid

    The point that people miss in this article is the “eat your spinach” approach, as the author aptly calls it, is what is annoying. I am under 40. I have no issue with gay people. Let them marry. Let them do what they want. Makes absolutely no difference to my or my children’s future.

    However, the pandering really is pathetic. I cannot stomach playing DA 2 again because all it reminds me of is how Gaider and his Bioware liberal wingnuts are schooling me in what I MUST accept. As others have said here, this is no longer about “accepting” others, it has no changed into “approving and being seen to approve”. It is a sickness in the Western world. Counter-Enlightenment almost.

    Aside from all that, making all characters bi-sexual is sloppy and lazy design. They are trying to be all things to all people and that never works. It is a shame that the rest of the story, graphics and game play of DA is so good because people are buying these games in spite of the shoddy characterization. One thing other publishers/developers need to realize is that people won’t buy/not buy a game because of this issue. Make a good game and leave political pandering to the airbags in government.


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