The Florida Family Association, best known for badgering companies into pulling advertising from TLC reality show All-American Muslim last year, is hard at work ranting about a new target: BioWare/EA game Star Wars: The Old Republic. This isn't the first temper tantrum that supposedly pro-family groups have thrown over The Old Republic, just the most recent.
The headline of the alarmist new missive asks: "Will the makers of Star Wars video games create Darth VaPaula, a (mock) transgender version of Darth Vader - RuPaul, for kids to choose as their action player?" The mock-up image at the top of this post comes from their website.
Everything is wrong the FFA's claims. Their insistence that BioWare is going to start gender-bending Darth Vader and warping vulnerable minds indicates a bigoted point of view and a complete misunderstanding of how video games work. Their complaint appears to have nothing to do with reality, either in the physical world or in the game they're panicking over. They insist that, "[I]f BioWare ... adds LGBT characters for kids to select as their action figure it could be something like Darth RuPaula, a combination of Darth Vader, one of the most popular Star Wars characters, and RuPaul, the renown transgender cross dresser." That has no relation to the game or to future changes proposed for it.
For those unfamiliar with the title, Star Wars: The Old Republic is a massively multiplayer online game, where players log into a virtual Star Wars-themed world and play characters they customise heavily from a number of species, appearance, class, and alignment options. All players must choose a gender — either male or female, no third options, nothing non-binary — for each character at the moment of its creation.
Romances in SW:TOR, as in other BioWare games, are initiated by the player at his or her choosing, from a limited selection of companion characters. At the moment, only heterosexual relationships are available, but BioWare has promised since before the game's December launch to add same-sex options in the future, which is the source of the uproar.
The FFA's argument rests on the back of the old workhorse, "Won't somebody think of the children?!" Their alert claims, in among all of the language begging readers to send e-mail to EA:
An overwhelming percentage of the 1.7 million games sold are being used by children who do not need to be introduced to this propaganda.
LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) activists are demanding that the makers of Star Wars video games add LGBT characters for kids to select as their action figure when playing the games.
Studies observing MMORPGs throughout the past decade have found that overall, the player's average age is in the mid-20s, and that roughly 75% are 18 or older. The game is not designed for or marketed to children, though undoubtedly a number do play; it's designed for people with credit cards, who can pay the monthly fee.
Children and teens, who never thought anyway but heterosexual, are now given a choice to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in their game player.
Children and teens, who choose non-social agenda characters, would be forced to deal with lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender characters chosen by other players.
I am shocked to find that when I step out of the front door of my apartment into the world, or when I take my avatar and step into a shared virtual world, that I can't control the people I meet. Other people are going to have the audacity to live the lives and take on the identities that they choose, rather than the ones that I choose for them? And here I thought that by sheer force of will, I could make the rest of the world conform to my tastes and expectations alone.
It's also quite impressive that the Florida Family Association knows that only 100% heterosexual minors have ever picked up this video game! That's statistically amazing. You would think that in 1.7 million active subscribers the odds are somewhere between 50,000 and 170,000 (3-10%) are likely to identify as gay or bisexual, or even mildly curious, but no! This box apparently comes with a built-in filter meaning only straight players touch it. It's the game — not burgeoning hormones, brain chemistry, inherent identity, curiosity, attraction, or even choice, but this one game — that's going to make all the kids suddenly gay!
Just trying to reach the reality of the game-that-is, instead of the game-that-is-argued-against, is challenging enough. Under that mask, Darth Vader could have spent three films wearing the pinkest, most sparkly lipstick Imperial credits can buy, and no one would ever have known — nor would it have mattered. In the world the FFA lives in, the existence of a same-sex partnership option for the small percentage of players who choose to pursue it magically invalidates all other available choices or paths.
Whether or not any particular group accepts it, queer folk and their allies are gamers too. Sometimes, people choose romances in games just to see what happens, what with games being an essentially consequence-free virtual world. And I refuse to believe that a significant portion of players who choose f/f pairings in games aren't straight men.
In short, the FFA's values certainly are drawn from a long time ago, but the reality they inhabit doesn't seem to be in this galaxy, or even in one far, far away. Realistically speaking, the Florida Family Association is one very determined man, David Caton, who has an opinion he's determined to bully the world into hearing. And that opinion is about a very strange game in his head alone, not one that actually exists.