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EA Admits Games Can Do Better For The LGBT Community

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Initial post: Mar 11, 2013, 6:18:02 PM PDT

EA Admits Games Can Do Better For The LGBT Community
Evan Narcisse

Yesterday in New York City, Electronic Arts held a special event focused on [gay] issues in gaming. And it happened mostly because the company itself was willing to face its own stumbles in presenting gay characters in its video games.

The impetus for Thursday's Full Spectrum event-co-sponsored by the Entertainment Software Association and the Human Rights Council-began after the controversy surrounding the addition of Makeb, the so-called (not by EA) "gay planet" to the company's massive online game Star Wars: The Old Republic.

When I spoke to the folks from EA who were at the event yesterday, they all acknowledged that the publisher had "stepped in it" with Makeb.

"It," in this case, is the sudden controversy that erupted when they added same-sex romance options to The Old Republic.

From one corner of the internet, the publisher was getting blasted by anti-gay activists who felt offended by the inclusion of Makeb. And criticism came from gay advocates, too, who felt annoyed at having to pay for access to a place where those romance options were possible, though segregated from the rest of the game's universe.

According to VP of corporate communications Jeff Brown, it was the intensity and volume of the response that made EA decide to hold a forum where LGBT issues in both the creation and playing of games could be discussed.

Brown's colleague Craig Hagen was one of the organizers of Full Spectrum. While he acknowleged the pride he felt in EA creating a place like Makeb or allowing same-sex relationships to happen in their Mass Effect games, Hagen also said the company could have done better in crafting those options. Mass Effect didn't allow for male same-sex relationships until Mass Effect 3 and Makeb was added to The Old Republic more than a year after the online game's launch.

Hagen describes EA as a progressively tolerant workplace but a studio that still is learning how to do things right. "Ten years ago, it was very easy for me to move into the EA Sports studio [where Hagen works out of], to identify as a gay man, and to bring my partner to studio and company events without any experience whatsoever of homophobia. I saw the same sex relationship benefits that EA offered when I was hired."

"I was involved with the development of the transgender policy that EA adopted," Hagen continued. "I was around when Sims [included] same gender content. I saw all of that. Then when something like Mass Effect or the latest episode of Star Wars occurs, I just stand back and go, even as progressive as EA is, we still make mistakes and we still have a long way to go."

I asked Hagen what he would say to LGBT players who feel embattled in an online game like Battlefield 3. How would he tell them to hold on? "I don't know that you tell them," he answered. "I think you have to demonstrate to them...by the encouragement and the continual development of additional LGBT storylines in our products. The reinforcement inside of EA that this is an environment where you need to feel comfortable, free, and open to develop the right kind of storyline, the appropriate storyline that not only reflects the developer community but reflects the gamer and the consumer community out there."

It's not an "it gets better kind of message" then, I posited. It's a matter of actively making it better?

"Yeah," Hagen said. "That's the point of what [journalist and Full Spectrum panelist] Hilary Rosen made: it's not about defending ourselves, it's about defining ourselves. We recognize we're not perfect. No one is perfect. We're going to make mistakes. When we make a mistake let's learn from it and let's get better."


I threw a generalization about competitive online gamers at another Full Spectrum panelist Matt Bromberg, who helped found eSports company Major League Gaming before becoming general manager at BioWare Austin. Because of the hyper-aggressive nature on online gaming, it would seem that the players who spent the most time in the hothouses of FPS lobbies would be more likely to lob offensive epithets like "[gay]" to their opponents. But Bromberg said that wasn't the case. "My experience was the opposite," he countered. "I think the more skilled and hardcore a gamer is, when they get really good, their interest in spending time griefing people or doing really anything other than playing at a super high level drops to almost zero."

During the panel that Bromberg participated in, the idea was put forth that RPGs are a genre where progressive inclusion of gay characters and storyline possibilties can happen easily, because those games are all about options and crafting a virtual identity. I asked Bromberg if there was anything stopping a same-sex romance from being the main path, and not just a secondary option.

"I don't think anything does," he answered. "I think it goes back to, `What's the authentic story being told?' You're fighting off a race of machine creatures who are going to destroy the world? That's probably the main story. I think underneath that story, there's all kinds of combatants with all sorts of preferences. But I don't think anything stops it other than someone writing a game where it's authentic and meaningful and can sustain a whole game."

Posted on Mar 11, 2013, 6:30:25 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 11, 2013, 6:34:55 PM PDT
DVvM says:
Good for EA. They've been pretty consistent about this sort of thing:

See, for example:





They may be a soulless company that's run by accountants and ruins developers, but they've at least got this part right.

Posted on Mar 11, 2013, 6:34:06 PM PDT
GarionOrb says:
EA's done some crappy things in the past, but I'm glad they're taking this route. I think the fact that they've included same-sex relationships in their games is a pretty big step, along with Lionhead and Bethesda.

Posted on Mar 11, 2013, 6:34:56 PM PDT
I knew I could get you two to agree on something. :-)

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013, 6:43:15 PM PDT
J. Pardee says:
I would agree. EA is kind of a terrible company in some ways but at least they are open about trying to support the LGBT community.

Posted on Mar 11, 2013, 6:53:24 PM PDT
mattfixit says:
lol "anti-gay activists" is as much a misnomer as "pro-life hitler".

Posted on Mar 11, 2013, 7:07:14 PM PDT
Dragon Age II

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013, 7:08:52 PM PDT
DVvM says:
One of my favorite games of all time.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013, 7:10:52 PM PDT
It's no Alpha Protocol. :D

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013, 7:12:57 PM PDT
DVvM says:
I still need to play Alpha Protocol, but this is the "DVvM doesn't play video games" time of year (since it's the hot time for one of my other hobbies.)

Posted on Mar 11, 2013, 7:13:03 PM PDT
aidenraine says:
wait... people still play TOR?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013, 8:05:08 PM PDT
It'll be there waiting for you once you're ready to experience its "come to Jesus" experience.

Posted on Mar 11, 2013, 8:14:45 PM PDT
Shanghaied says:
I'm not trying to give off an anti LGBT vibe, but this sounds like EA trying to hide behind a watershed issue to try and deflect some bad PR.

I mean, yeah it's great and all that they want to represent this group and they should, but how is this going to cover the fact that they've been stripping value out of their games for long? Why care about championing one group when you can't even champion your own customers?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013, 8:18:02 PM PDT
DVvM says:
No, EA has actually been incredibly consistent on this. They've been easily the most LGBT-friendly gaming company for at least the last five years.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013, 9:32:16 PM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013, 9:33:03 PM PDT
DVvM says:
Four different people apparently.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013, 9:35:51 PM PDT
Other hobbies? Heathen!

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013, 9:41:27 PM PDT
Shanghaied says:
Yeah I'm aware; I mean it's been consistently included in Dragon Age and Mass Effect for several years. But I think you're furthering my point.

Why bring it up now? A convenient reminder that they aren't all that bad?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013, 9:54:52 PM PDT
DVvM says:
Well, they're actually sponsoring an event to further awareness of the LGBT community that's been in the works for some time that just happened this past weekend.

So that's why they're covering it now.

The lead time on something like this is sufficient so they didn't just decide to do it as a reaction to Dead Space having microtransactions or SimCity not having enough servers, or whatever.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013, 11:49:58 PM PDT
Voice of god says:
Well, four different accounts.

Posted on Mar 12, 2013, 12:45:54 AM PDT
Brandon says:
In all honestly...this is nice of EA but it's a dirty PR tactic to gain back the customers they have been losing for years and currently. Other developers/publishers have been supporting gay and lesbians for years. EA is just jumping on the band wagon. I'm all for gay and lesbian rights but EA should look at the big picture here. Almost every year a class action lawsuit is filed against them in federal court because they are always breaking laws or policies within the entertainment & gaming industry. How many of their games have failed in the past few years? I know I'm beating a dead horse but look at SimCity that released on March 4th. It turned out to be a complete failure because they decided to go 100% DRM. The list goes on...EA needs a complete overhaul if you ask me.

Posted on Mar 12, 2013, 4:20:36 AM PDT
Articles like this make me think EA is about to shoehorn a bunch of LGBT stuff into games. It's bad enough that they shoehorn security into their games, along with microtransactions. This wouldn't be in issue if EA would actually spend some time on it instead of making it an "add it or we stop funding" type of deal. If they actually cared about these kinds of things then they would work with developers instead of holding a gun to their head.

Posted on Mar 12, 2013, 5:48:12 AM PDT
+10 points for EA, and other companies like Bioware and Bethesda that include this kind of thing in their games. Bethesda still wins Cause I got to have an Argonian as my husband though!

-5 to Dustin McLain.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013, 6:06:03 AM PDT
Next thing you know the'll be shoehorning in Asian characters as well, ugh.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013, 6:07:48 AM PDT
Wait, shoehorning means "including in a way that isn't a joke," right?
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Discussion in:  Video Games forum
Participants:  26
Total posts:  69
Initial post:  Mar 11, 2013
Latest post:  Mar 13, 2013

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