An Editorial by Shane Stacks
A fantastic battle has stormed the fabled lands of the Forgotten Realms, and unfortunately it’s not contained within the digital walls of the new expansion for the Baldur’s Gate RPG series. The battle involves the developers and the consumers and threatens the overall success of Siege of Dragonspear.
If you’re not totally familiar with the controversy, I’ll post some links below that cover the different sides of the debate at length as I don’t want to rehash here what others have already said so well.
Suffice it to say, however, that it does not involve the technical quality or accomplishments of the game but instead is a social showdown between factions that have their own deeply held beliefs, and unfortunately a game that has spent years in the making and many folks have worked very hard on has been caught in the middle.
To wit, here are the issues involved in the controversy whether one agrees with them or not:
- There’s a transgendered (very minor) NPC that some feel was shoehorned in for unnecessary SJW (social justice warrior) reasons and that even those who support the NPC’s inclusion feel should have been developed in a deeper, more meaningful fashion.
- A beloved character has a line of dialog that seems to marginalize #GamerGate folks despite the fact that other groups are loved on in the game for SJW-inspired inclusiveness.
- Existing franchise characters were mildly rewritten to fix social, non-PC crimes of the previous Baldur’s Gate writers and at least one Beamdog employee has basically confirmed as much during interviews. In other words, some feel Beamdog is saying “if you wrote these characters or enjoyed them previously … we need to correct that, as well as your thinking”.
- A Beamdog employee was quoted during an interview as saying “If people don’t like that, then too bad” when discussing some of the character changes to be more modern. This same employee has also been quoted saying they are a social justice warrior and they hope to make a lot of SJW games.
- Beamdog’s CEO made a forum post encouraging players to post positive reviews of the game to help countermand a flood of negative ratings from folks upset about the above. Some feel this was, if not actually breaking some kind of rule, then borderline iffy behavior.
- And yes, there are also bugs… but that is not what most people are truly upset about.
If you would like to go deeper before my thoughts below, by all means please do:
NOTE: These links cover a wide range of views on the issue. You will likely find things you both agree and disagree with. You may issue forth spittle.
- Beamdog statement on Siege of Dragonspear
- The ‘Social Justice’ Controversy Surrounding Baldur’s Gate’s New Expansion | Kotaku
- Beamdog cuts “ethics” joke from Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear | PC Gamer
- Opinion: The Siege of Dragonspear drama and the video game community | Gamasutra
- Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear Expansion Earns Ire of Gamers Angry at “SJW Issues” and Trans Inclusion | The Mary Sue
- Developer’s Response to Baldur’s Gate Controversy Misses The Point | Breitbart
- Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear Launches with Controversy | TechRaptor
- Forum Thread: Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear Released | RPG Codex
Feel informed? Ok away we go!
Is This Whole Thing Justified In The First Place?
Before I really begin, I feel it’s important to share that I personally feel the current drama slash blowback slash ripples of internet rage in the wake of the release of Siege of Dragonspear, the first new content for the beloved Baldur’s Gate franchise in many, many years is overblown. I understand how it has gotten where it has, but it is overblown and much perspective has already been lost.
Yes, there are some issues worth discussing that touch on the gaming industry as a whole, and yes Beamdog helped cause some of it, but the current situation is overshadowing a game that a lot of folks put a lot of hard work and their souls into and that I am quite enjoying playing.
So, please, buy the game based on whether you want to play aBaldur’s Gate romp, not on the fact that there is some drama over tertiary issues. If you remove the elements people are reacting to, it is essentially the same game… which ironically is part of the problem.
I’d also like to say I recently interviewed Beamdog’s Amber Scott and Phillip Daigle on my geek talk radio show, and had several email exchanges with CEO Trent Oster. They are all nice, pleasant folks that love gaming and love what they do and are real human beings.
So, please, direct any ire and bile at the game, not at them personally. This thing with personal threats and whatnot is absolutely ridiculous and if you are one of those folks that does that kind of thing: get a life. Or, more important, get therapy. Now. Ask your therapist to help you find a life. 4 out of 5 doctors agree, and the 5th is himself in therapy.
Having said all that, whether its justified or not the level of discussion on the issue has erupted and spilled out into the larger gaming blogosphere and forumsphere and has also been a topic of discussion among my gaming coterie.
So like a lot of other folks, I’m wading in.
My Side Is Not The Only Side
I am purposefully declining to give my opinion on the merits of the lifestyles and gender issues that have become a focus of this furball. I think we can have a substantive discussion on other overarching principles without getting into the social issues themselves.
One of those overarching principles is this: there are folks who have deeply held, fundamental beliefs that differ from your deeply held, fundamental beliefs. If you want them to respect your right to have your beliefs, you need to respect their right to have theirs.
That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, and they don’t have to agree with you… but we need to respect the right for others to have differing beliefs and opinions even when they are diametrically opposed.
One of the recurring themes I have heard in discussion of SiegeGate is a very dismissive attitude of those who have raised objections to content in the game (among both those directly involved, and among gamers just chewing over the subject), and some of that dismissiveness was evident in interviews before the game even released. This is disappointing to me regardless of what issues are involved.
It can be hard to grasp, but pro-SJW consumers and developers have a right to want to see greater inclusiveness of lifestyles and gender equality in pop culture, and alternately consumers also have a right to object to content that they perceive to be shoehorned in or a slap in the face and disrespectful of their beliefs in games they pay their hard earned money for.
It is a tricky path to walk, but it can be walked if needed. Implying that people who disagree with you simply need to shut up or even better die off so better minds can handle things… is not the way to walk the path regardless of which side you are on or what your beliefs are.
Other people are their own universes just like we are, they are not extras in our movie.
Intentionally introducing or commenting on hot button social issues, especially in public, has the potential to create a heated response.
If you go out of your way to include SJW type content in a game that will have a wide audience (which Beamdog very much did in Siege of Dragonspear) you should not be surprised when the hornets start flying around after you kick their nest. And make no mistake, there are a LOT of players out there who love Baldur’s Gate and consider it their nest.
Given statements made by Beamdog both before and after the controversy started, I’m somewhat puzzled by their surprised response at the uprising. We already know stuff like this happens.
“Wagging the Finger”
A friend of mine casually mentioned something to the effect that Beamdog should’ve just said they tried to be more inclusive and not gone on to also wag their finger at the fan base.
I feel this really gets to one of the main reasons the issue has gotten to the level it has.
I’m sorry Beamdog, you’re not the only actor in this unfolding drama and you are not a villain by any means and you are also being treated unfairly and shabbily in many respects, but this one aspect of your interaction with the public has helped fan the flames quite a bit.
Not wagging the finger would very likely have denied this blaze the oxygen it needed.
When I first read the “if people don’t like that, then too bad” quote from an interview with one of the game’s writers before the game even released it raised my eyebrows but I shrugged and moved on.
This same interview also had a quote from that writer saying basically that elements of the original Baldur’s Gate were were problematic (hear that fans? you should feel guilty for enjoying it right?) and more modern sensibilities needed to step in and save the day.
Finally, we have a hat trick where in yet another quote (this time from the Beamdog forums) the same Beamdog writer declared themselves a Social Justice Warrior and declared they hope to make many Social Justice games. When you tie all of this together, it does seem someone has an agenda to put their agenda into other peoples’ entertainment. In this case it’s entertainment with a lot of history and a lot of fans.
A later response by Beamdog’s CEO waving off the “too bad” remark as just being the result of a long day of interviews does not help the situation in my eyes. Because a) you are responsible for what you say and b) when people are tired is very often when true thoughts come out.
There was also an attempt in that response to mention that a previous Baldur’s Gate game quoted a sitcom so what is all this fuss, people? Ouch. Again, minimizing what your customers and potential customers are truly upset about.
So, on this one aspect, on this finger wagging, be on the right side of history attitude that I very much feel helped exacerbate the issue… I lay it 100% at Beamdog’s feet.
I truly hope that Dragonspear is successful, but any lost sales due to the controversy could have been either largely avoided or at least minimized without the finger wagging. Those who are upset feel they know the true motives, whether they are correct or not.
Art Goes Both Ways
Let me be very clear here that I have not seen anyone from Beamdog invoke the “artistic intent” argument and then try to claim that since games are art, we should just let the developers say and do whatever they want without criticism.
However, folks in my gaming circle have done so specifically related to SiegeGate, and I assume others are hearing it as well or claiming it themselves.
Art is not now, nor has it ever been, exempt from criticism and there is no expectation that it should be.
I’ll say that again.
Art is not now, nor has it ever been, exempt from criticism and there is no expectation that it should be.
If, as a game developer, you take the position that your game is art in addition to a commercial product and therefore that justifies the risks you take in your game, then you also should be prepared to take your lumps as well as your praise when your audience responds.
This also goes for gamers defending a developer that is not trying to make that argument themselves. If you try to make that argument with me, it is DOA.
Oops, I Slipped On All Of That Inclusiveness
Another wrinkle with the Beamdog situation is while they are striving be inclusive, they also gave Minsc an out of character line that marginalizes other folks (not to mention some of their responses seem to marginalize those who are upset). I don’t think they thought of it in these terms, I think they thought it would be a funny throwaway line and a wink at the players, but the end result is still the same.
So the SJW element of Siege of Dragonspear does not appear truly inclusive, it can be argued that it’s just lip service to lifestyles that are currently hip.
Just like art isn’t a shield, inclusiveness is a slippery slope.
This is one of the main issues I have with political correctness… it creates other problems while trying to solve others in a supposedly friendly but ultimately oppressive manner.
Let me make sure to note that Beamdog has stated that in retrospect the line doesn’t really add anything to the character and it will be removed.
Ok, having said all that…
If you like D&D and/or computer RPGs go buy Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear and play it and enjoy it. If you already own it but are folding your arms in protest, stop sourpussing and move on with your life. If you’re currently playing it, keep venturing forth! Beamdog, keep making games and thanks for the expansion!
I’m rather sorry SiegeGate has happened at all, and hope it blows over very quickly.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go gather my party so I can venture forth.