Go gay or go home
I'm not making any moral judgement, but all western RPGs should have a gay or lesbian story option or no romance options at all. The rhetoric represented by the recent Fox New article about the Star Wars: The Old Republic is not indicative of today's culture or is it the way to make money in a modern western RPG.
To be clear, I do not believe that every single video game should have a homosexual representative, nor do I believe that every roleplaying game should have a homosexual scene. I am not here to push a homosexual agenda nor a heterosexual agenda for that matter. I am pushing my agenda as a gamer and someone who likes to see games succeed.
To understand where I'm coming from we have to understand specifically which games I'm referring to.
Hopefully, everyone here understands what a roleplaying game is when referring to video games. If not, then let me Google that for you. However, determining what constitutes a western RPG might be a little fuzzy.
Without giving a huge history lesson into the origin of the RPG, let me just say that the western world took the tabletop RPG model and made it a personal experience. In contrast, a JRPG (meaning Japanese roleplay game) is traditionally about about a specific character on his or her specific quest. Whereas, a western RPG generally focuses on encapsulating the player's personality in the character on the screen.
For example, the Legend of Zelda series of games, a JRPG, tells the story of Link in the land of Hyrule and his struggle against the tyrant Gannon. In contrast, the Ultima series, a western RPG, is about the player. The opener to the series even asks the player a series of questions to determine the starting location, and the other subsequent choices in the game are based on the player's choices.
Controversy sets in when games start introducing the idea of love and romance in the RPG. I'm not saying that JRPGs are above controversy. Remember the how androgynous Sephiroth was considered when he first appeared in Final Fantasy VII? However, nothing sparked more controversy than Mass Effect -- a mature rated game, mind you -- when it introduced the idea of characters actually sleeping with each other, specifically your character sleeping with a non-player character. Yet sex in movies and other entertainment had been depicted more graphically for decades. A good chunk of the issue stemmed from the idea that Shepard was a representation of the player in the game. Shepard's choices were the player's choices. There was a strong connection, which leads to my statement: Western RPGs should have homosexual options or not have romantic options at all.
If a western RPG, a game where the avatar mirrors the player, were to have romantic options yet not include (in a board sense) romantic options for everyone, then it is effectively cutting off a good chunk of its audience. According to the Williams Institute, there are approximate 25 million (11%) Americans who admit to same-sex attraction. From a business perspective, that's too many people to ignore. Anecdotally, I believe the number is a lot higher among gamers. And if you have a game that does not include them, it excludes them. It would be similar to not having a Hispanic character or women characters. With 38% of gamers being women, can you imagine the uproar if say Skyrim released without an option to make a female character?
Roleplaying games can be impactful, relevant, and exciting without romantic options at all. In fact, a good chunk of RPGs work that way. We can go back to the Ultima series for examples of western RPGs without romantic options. Or if designers want to have romance in their stories they can take the JRPG route like Heavy Rain and L.A. Noire.
If we look back to Star Wars: The Old Republic, its design mistake was veering from the path that BioWare had already set in its previous games. Even the precursor Knights of the Old Republic had a lesbian romantic option. And now because the game is releasing gay romantic options in a post-launch DLC, it appears to be an after thought. It also get more negative attention from conservative groups. I can't see that being positive for business.
I know people can cite many moral reasons to be for or against same-gender romance in games. But the bottom line is that this is the entertainment industry. If we want a game to appeal to the largest number of people, we have to consider ideas that will appeal to everyone.
I'll step off my soapbox now, but I want to know what you think. Let me know in the comments below or send me a message via Twitter.