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Why I love being gay in WoW

There’s something that’s been bugging me for a while, and I’ve only recently managed to figure out what it is. The recent news that a sexual relationship in Star Wars: The Old Republic will be enough to earn your character Dark Side points has upset me. The ‘sex is evil’ meme is such a strange (and potentially damaging) one, and it’s sad to see it rear its prudish head in such an unexpected place. Even worse is the news that SWTOR will not allow same-sex relationships.

That’s a real line in the sand, as far as I’m concerned. You may think I’m over-dramatizing the issue – and I’ll admit that the title of this editorial is deliberately inflammatory – but I think it’s important. There’s a serious point at issue here, which is perhaps not immediately apparent.

Blizzard have already made this mistake, in a less obvious way, with World of Warcraft. The storyline for each new Goblin character dictates a relationship with another goblin of the opposite sex. If you create a male goblin character, you will automatically have a ‘girlfriend’ in the form of Candy Cane. If your character is female, she will have a boyfriend – Chip Endale. The silly names distract from the issue, but the fact is that (if one abides by the storyline Blizzard have set out, and from which no character has the capacity to deviate) every single goblin player character in the game is heterosexual, at least ostensibly so.

Is that such a big deal? Sex is rarely important in mainstream MMOs, sexuality even less so. The goblin storyline was overshadowed by another piece of controversy anyway – namely, that the goblin starting zone plot later forces you to murder your cheating boyfriend or girlfriend, literally ripping their beating heart out of their chest as vengeance for their treachery, which understandably made a few people slightly uncomfortable.

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Blizzard have always shied away from any explicit sexuality in their games. The realism of the game world, such as it is, is more often played for laughs than for serious intent. The few relationships that do pose a danger of provoking some genuine discourse (such as one of WoW’s very rare potential multi-racial relationships) are often erased from the game (in this case with a very heavy-handed center-stage plotline, which saw Thrall marrying a fellow Orc in an in-game marriage ceremony with the player as a witness). As for SWTOR, Jedi hardly have a great track-record as far as romance goes, with Anakin Skywalker’s doomed love ultimately driving him to asthmatic villainy, and his son coming within a hair’s breadth of sleeping with his own sister – there’s a case to be made to say that Jedi shouldn’t be allowed to have any relationships until they learn to do it properly.

These implicit statements of sexual normality are massively important, though, to me at least. They’re important because they mark a default. They lay down a set of parameters, saying “Here is a normal, standard situation. Any differentiation from this norm is deviant, different and (most importantly) not normal.”. That’s simply not good enough. It’s a very dangerous statement to leave unchallenged. Silence on a subject is all too often taken as assent, especially by bigots and idiots who hold the erroneous belief that the majority of people share their views.

It’s not as if I don’t understand the reasoning behind it – some of it, at least. Blizzard and Bioware are merely picking one path, to make things as simple as they possibly can. The sexuality of characters in the game, PC and NPC alike, is just not important. Indeed, focusing on it would detract from the core of the game (that being, in essence, ‘killing things and taking their stuff’). I understand that, and I’m sympathetic. The problem is that the wrong decision has been made. Instead of removing explicit sexuality from the game world, they have instead made sexuality a definite part of the game world – but only in a very specific flavor. Like it or not, that sends the message that only one type of sexuality is necessary in order to create a believable, fully-sustained world and background. As we all know, that’s not the case.

My main in WoW is gay, as are most of my other characters.. It’s not as if I’ve spent hours plotting out an intricate sexual history for each of my toons, but as a tabletop roleplayer and storyteller in real life, I can’t help but invest each of my characters with some basic personality and simple backstory. A lot of them – it turns out – are gay, including my main. It’s not something that makes a big difference to the way I interact with the world and the other players within it, but it’s something that makes a difference to my enjoyment of the game. More significantly, it’s a choice that I’ve made, and I’m glad that Blizzard have left any such decision – as none of them are Goblins – entirely up to me.

I’m not suggesting that Blizzard add a Sexuality drop-down menu to the character creation screen, and I certainly don’t propose making MMOs a flashpoint for sexual politics. I would have been happy to leave the question of sexuality to the individual interpretation of each player. Unfortunately, by adding an openly-stated ‘default’, Blizzard and Bioware are forcing players to either accept the decisions imposed by the game, or to actively stand in opposition to them. When a personal choice is singled out as so far outside the bounds of normality that the system simply doesn’t have the capacity to implement it, a dangerous and falacious statement is being made. Gay or straight, game or no game, that’s not something we can afford to tolerate.

arrow21 Responses

  1. N
    28 mos ago

    I agree with you on the basics of this – and in general. However, for Star Wars, if you want to stay close and accurate with the lore… Love, as in the sort that leads to physical woohoos, IS forbidden for Jedi. Platonic love has nothing to do with that but of course that is not the debate here :) Love simply distracts, it breaks concentration and later on in a relationship (or earlier on, depending on the respective temperaments of the partners) it leads to pain, the occassional flare of hate and a whole lot of fear/anxiety… All bad things that could or would lead to the Dark Side. Thats why Love is generally forbidden in the Jedi Order.

    On the other hand, all of this of course does not apply for the 2 classes on the Republic side that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Force or the Order (except maybe taking, heh, orders from them *ducks* We don’t know that yet.) . I definitely plan for one of my characters – the adventurous but -tiny- smuggler on the Republic side – to be a sexual creature so if flirting and doing the deed would/will give her dark side points I would definitely be dissappointed as I would have preferred for her to be kind of the chaotic good type instead pof neutral or chaotic evil, if you know what I mean… :-/

  2. Johnnie Ingram
    28 mos ago

    Yeah, you’re right @N – I was aware of the lore-based justification for the no sex rule. I still don’t like it (putting out the message that sex is a de-facto Bad Thing is not an attitude I can get on board with), but I can at least see the reasoning behind it. However, as you point out, that only applies to Jedi, not to any of the other Republic classes.

    They say the Devil has all the best tunes. It seems that the Dark Side has all the best sex.

  3. 28 mos ago

    I’m pretty sure they have better sex in hell than in heaven…

    OOOPS, off-topic, sorry!

  4. Ali
    28 mos ago

    Er… so how do they get more Jedi? Just wait for enough people with not-quite-enough-midichlorions (or whatever they were) to be themselves Jedi to get together for their babies to be Jedi?

  5. Johnnie Ingram
    28 mos ago

    @Ali – Damn good question, come to think of it.

    You mention midichlorians. I’m afraid I don’t know what those are, because they were only mentioned in those Other Movies which I have purged from mind and which don’t exist and which never happened and REPRESS REPRESS REPRESS.

    Sorry about that. I’m fine now.

  6. 28 mos ago

    I find it wonderful that games are finally allowing homosexual relationships in them at all. WoW is an older game now, it’s older than most of the computers it’s being played on, in fact, so it’s not a real surprise to me that sex and homosexuality have been basically ignored. I’m happy that other developers have taken up the issue, though, and have in some cases been willing to be open minded.

    I actually disagree that MMOs shouldn’t be a place for social politics. I feel that the very nature of many MMOs, that you blindly follow the orders of your leaders, is harmful to the human condition. I would like quests to be refusable, and there to be consequences for that; it wouldn’t really take that many changes, after all; a quest line is a quest-line. You might skip the experience gain and items, or you might be given an alternative assignment while an NPC takes care of it, or you might change the direction of the plot entirely, but I would like to see more options available. Maybe I don’t want to murder 30 vultures, Hemet. How about you do that and I’ll go deal with those corporate mining scumbags instead?

    Anyway, great post, and very thought provoking. I’ve only played one gay character in an RPG, and sadly I didn’t give it a fair shake (it was in a one-shot, after all, not in an extended campaign). One of my players, though, did a whole campaign as a gay paladin and did a fair and fantastic job at it. Of course he played a panty-thief in another one-shot, so…

  7. Anduin
    28 mos ago

    You must have LOVED the Sons of Hodir questline. I know I did.

  8. Johnnie Ingram
    28 mos ago

    @Stubborn – Lots of good points. I know what you mean – there have been a few quests that I’ve wanted the opportunity to refuse. It’d be really interesting to be offered a very stark choice once in a while, where your decision affects the plot of the zone. I absolutely loved the death knight starting zone. I only rolled a DK to try it out but loved the story so much that she quickly became my main. One of guildies hated it though. When I asked him why, he replied “I didn’t want to change sides at the end. My character *wanted* to be a Death Knight, and wanted to stay with the Scourge and serve Arthas.” That’s an option that never even occurred to me until he said it.

    @Anduin – Never did it. I’m a scribe. What happens?

  9. 28 mos ago

    I do think Blizzard is slowly getting better at this actually. Like those two druids on the Molten Front, Tholo and Anren… it’s not explicit, but then like you rightly observed, few relationships in WoW are. However, you only have to read the Wowhead comments for either character to see that a lot of people connected the dots. Baby steps I guess.

  10. 28 mos ago

    @Shintar – Yeah, I was very, very pleased to see that subtle touch in the Firelands.

    It reminds me of the gender situation with NPC leaders prior and post Cata. I did some statistics on the number of male and female leader NPCs before WoW, and had a frothingly angry editorial ready to go (it was something like 93% male, 7% female), when Cata came out, and all of a sudden Azeroth was hoaching with in-charge, non-sexualised females.

    I’m really pleased to see the needle moving slowly.

  11. Moonshine
    28 mos ago

    This touches on the part of the game that I like. You can really be yourself, unfortunately- many are. Of course, Blood elfs come to mind and I remember seeing an obvious twink in the quest line- Punch Ragnaros in the Face.
    In the end, tho’ … gay or straight, all that matters is know your class, play it well and don’t stand in fire.

  12. PopeJamal
    28 mos ago

    How awesomely Euro-centric. All is right with a world when it’s being run by light-skinned male and female characters with diverse sexual orientations.

    If we’re going to piss and moan about groups of people being underrepresented in a “throw-away” fictional setting, let’s at least get everyone included at the same time: All the cultural groups in Africa, the Asian continent, and let’s not forget the indigenous groups in the Americas, near the North Pole, and Australia. Because if we’re going to project our culture onto Azeroth, there’s no need to leave anyone out.

    If you’re going to “fix” the “gay thing”, then you’re going to have to “fix” the “race thing” at the same time, because they’re part of the same problem: our planet has been culturally dominated by heterosexual men of European descent for centuries, and it doesn’t look to be changing any time soon.

    When I first ran across High Captain Justin Bartlett in Icecrown, I almost fell out of my chair. In fact, I’m still half tempted to think that it was something that slipped past the QA people <.<

  13. 28 mos ago

    @PopeJamal – that’s an unfortunately sentiment, but it doesn’t really do anyone any good. Equality in representation is not a zero-sum game, and there’s not an “equality team” at Blizzard that only has a certain amount of work it can do and any time spent addressing orientation and gender stuff is time stolen from skin color and cultural concerns.

    I have heard at least one Native American say that she identified with the night elves because of their history of being pushed off their land by pale-faced newcomers. I had never thought of that, especially since the Tauren are clearly intended to be the Native American “race”.

    I’m not really going anywhere with that, there’s a TON of things to talk about with respect to Blizzard’s cultural representations in-game. I just think it’s really unfortunate that you characterize someone discussion their concerns about gender and orientation as “pissing and moaning” and effectively tell him to knock it off because other things are wrong too. Not really ok.

    I’m relatively indifferent to star wars. Never really cared about it, although I’ve seen the movies. I think the “no homo” thing is in large part handed down by Lucasarts, or at least that’s the vibe I got. It seems like they don’t want any icky fags or dykes ruining their IP. Whatever, I wasn’t planning on playing that game anyway.

    And Bioware in general – you know, when they make their REAL games, DA and ME and similar series in the future – started out doing a pretty good job with gender and orientation and they’ve only gotten better. It seems like every single game they release has more and better options for not just conventionally-hot-and-feminine-female pairings, and they’re even moving away from the super annoying one-twinky-guy-and-one-stereotypically-masculine-guy, all the way to allowing a variety of pairings that violate conventional gender norms in delightful ways. I love it! And now the Skyrim people have said your PC will be able to marry anyone they like and that likes them back, which is also delightful.

    There are still chainmail bikinis and legions of raspy macho white male protagonists (hi, Variann), but I think that we’re making pretty good progress.

  14. N
    28 mos ago

    @Ali – This might not be a hundred percent accurate, it is what I remember from reading about it.
    The force is in every living thing, even animals or plants have – to an extend – mid-ichlorians. Therefore, someone really doesn’t have to ‘inherit’ a certain ability with the Force (although it can happen, see Jaina&Jacen as Leias’ children). Anakin Skywalker himself is believed to have been conceived by the midi-chlorians (yup, bible analogy there) so that apparently is also a possibility. :)

  15. N
    28 mos ago

    @Johnnie Ingram – Oh, yes, definitely. That is the problem I always had with Star Wars and the rather strict black and white view of things. The Jedi Order essentially almost turn into the bad guy for me with no relationships, every who deviates has to be turned back or in the worst case (ahem) purged/killed, emotions are badbadbad…
    And the Sith (in the movies) go to the exact opposite extreme, apparently ONLY embracing hate as the best emotion and discarding all the others which is… a bit nonsensical, really. One can believe in a strong Empire and getting revenge on those that almost eradicated your people & banished you from your own homeplanet… and still not cut the head off of every person that has even slighted you a little. I actually like the Sith Code and think its more, hm, realistic than the Jedi one? Its just how they are constantly being portrayed as mindless ragebombs that irks me.

    Ahem. Sorry, totally OT rant here…

  16. Johnnie Ingram
    28 mos ago

    Thanks for all of these responses, everyone.

    While I agree with the essence of @PopeJamal‘s comments, I do think that the disparity in racial representation is a bit of a strawman. @Pradzha is absolutely right to say that

    Equality in representation is not a zero-sum game

    I don’t accept the logic of an attitude that states “because we can’t immediately fix everything, we should refrain from attempting to fix anything”. Stormy at The Asylum Wall has a great post on empowerment which is partly a response to my post, and which also touches on similar themes.

    Still, I think my main point may have been slightly lost. I made some of these comments already in response to Klepsacovic’s predictably excellent post at Troll Racials Are Overpowered so forgive me if I repeat myself now. My issue is not that there are no gay characters in WoW. I’m not, as Stormy suggested,

    “actively calling on Blizzard to address the dearth of affirmative LGBT characters and storylines in WoW”

    I’m not asking for Blizzard (or anybody else) to take any specific action. I just feel strongly that the acceptance of heterosexuality as ‘normal’ is not something that should be let pass without comment.

    I’d much prefer WoW to be a game where sexuality simply didn’t factor into anything. I see no reason why WoW can’t be a game in which the sexual orientation of either the players or the NPCs was simply not relevant. Unfortunately, by introducing the ‘your goblin is in a non-optional heterosexual relationship’ plotline to the goblin starting area, Blizzard have themselves made the decision to introduce sexuality to game. It’s not just a standard default in the absence of any stated sexuality.

    My point is this: if Blizzard are going to introduce sexuality to the game (which I’d rather they didn’t), then I want to see more than one type of sexuality.

    As I said in the comments to Klepsacovic’s post, I’m glad this has sparked so much debate. It’s always great to hear other people’s opinions, especially when they differ from my own.

  17. Kevin
    27 mos, 2 wks ago

    While I’m late to the party, alternative sexuality has always been present in WoW. I can say that with certainty as a former beta tester for vanilla WoW.

    Kinelory and Quae have been in the game since it was first released.

    “Attack me if you will, but you won’t stop me from getting back to Quae.”

    I also suggest you take a look at Jadaar and Asric.

    Jadaar: Remind me again why I tolerate your company, Asric.
    Asric smirks wryly.
    Asric: I have decades of practice handling blowhards like yourself, and I’m the only one you know here in this abominably freezing land.
    Jadaar: I should leave you to rot in this sewer with the filth.
    Asric: No doubt.
    Jadaar: You are beneath me.
    Asric: A lowly worm, I’m sure.
    Jadaar: Stop agreeing with me!
    Asric: You’re right, of course, it’s a terrible practice.
    Jadaar: AGH!

    Homosexuality in WoW is extremely difficult for Blizzard, because a lot of players will not look into the detail given for characters like Jadaar and Asric, or Kinelory and Quae. Its difficult to find a balance between people noticing their representation, and not blantantly pushing it out on center stage like Theralion

  18. Zelsya
    24 mos ago

    Heh… Also a bit late to this whole extravaganza, but still wishful to apply my thoughts, I feel that if Blizzard allowed for the option to follow a involved Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Straight storyline, that many people who feel left out in the cold would be brought more to light into the world, and that anyone not a member of a certain LGBTS faction would be able to test the waters of another lifestyle and see what’s its like to be gay for a day. I do wish that the realm of sexuality wouldn’t need to be drawn up, but in an ever-changing world with a rainbow of people, I think that things such as the minority communities shouldnt be ignored, and should indeed be incorporated. The main focus I have to propel me through this statement is the fact that, in order to have myself virtually accepted by Azeroth as a very feminine male, I felt eventually compelled to create a female character. It was sadly my only salvation from harrasent for being a gay male and representing that through my characters. I want to one day be able to again be my gay Blood Elf Mage, and walk through Silvermoon without being trapped behind and glass-and-plasma screen that has been established well enough to sheathe my sexuality. Why do people play World of Warcraft anyway? To go to work? To pay their bills? No. They do so as a way to escape society and it’s hatred. So why should the LGBT community have to be imprisoned into heterosexual norms in a mystical fantasy world as well?

  19. Richard F
    20 mos, 1 wk ago

    It’s a form of virtual genocide. Inflammatory? Gay teens are killing themselves in America in numbers that greatly exceed the teen norm. That’s not because homosexuality is evil and drives them to it. It’s because American culture is still very heterosexist and homophobic. Every “minor” bit of oppression adds up. Every kid who says “that’s so gay” and then claims his comment isn’t anti-gay adds up. Every Mormon and Catholic crusade against marriage equality adds up. Every politician, Dem and Repub, who argues against equal rights for gay citizens adds up. Every organization like the Boy Scouts that comes into schools to let kids know gay boys aren’t good enough adds up.

    It all adds up, and that includes the virtual genocide of these idealized universes in which there are no gays. That goes for shows like Big Bang Theory that can use gay jokes over and over and never have a single real gay person. It all adds up, and it adds up to teens in pain and adults who still are forced into the closet, leading double lives. This doesn’t help us. This causes divorce, pain, instability, and a lack of role models for young people.

    Genocide is the removal of unwanted minorities in order to “cleanse” society. That’s practically the same thing as creating a “cleansed” society where there aren’t any gays. Token crumbs are sometimes cited, like the two gay characters in some obscure Star Wars lore, as examples that the problem isn’t serious, but it is. Gay people are not tokens, not crumbs. We aren’t obscure. We’re all over society. We work hard. Homosexuality does enrich culture. There is nothing to be gained by pretending we don’t exist or trying to force us into the closet.

  20. Marie
    20 mos, 1 wk ago

    If it makes you feel any better, there IS a quest chain in the Blasted Lands that you have to choose to save your love interest. You’re a male Orc in the quest, and one of the options IS a male. :)

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