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Publishers: LGBT Equality is "Civil Rights Issue of Our Time"

Publishers: LGBT Equality is "Civil Rights Issue of Our Time"

Mon 15 Oct 2012 1:19pm GMT / 9:19am EDT / 6:19am PDT
Business

EA, Zynga talk about reaction to, and reasons for, stances against Defense of Marriage Act

Earlier this year, regional fast food chain Chick-Fil-A found itself at the center of a national controversy for its opposition to same-sex marriage. The company's stand on a divisive social issue made headlines for months, sparking boycotts and affecting the purchasing decisions of people on both sides. Whether one thought the company's position was principled or prejudiced, it was less than surprising coming as it did from a privately owned business whose management had a history of mixing personal beliefs with corporate policy (none of the chain's locations are open on Sunday). But at the same time as the Chick-Fil-A controversy was gathering steam, a handful of game publishers were taking their own stand on the gay marriage issue.

On July 10, dozens of high-profile companies, firms, civic organizations, and cities filed an amicus brief against the Defense of Marriage Act, which would legally define marriage as needing to be between one man and one woman. GamesIndustry International recently spoke to representatives from two publicly traded companies who signed on to the brief, Electronic Arts and Zynga, to ask them about the backlash their positions generated, from customers, employees, and investors.

"Zero," was how Zynga general counsel Reggie Davis described the blowback to the company's anti-DOMA stance. "None. Not a peep from investors, from the press, or internally."

"We're very vocal about our position, and people ultimately have an option to invest in the company or not."

Zynga's Reggie Davis

Electronic Arts head of global diversity and inclusion Ginger Maseda described a similar situation at EA, saying positive comments "far outweigh" negative comments across the board. And when it comes to the shareholders, she needed no such qualifiers.

"There have been no questions, comments or concerns raised from our investors with regards to support for LGBT initiatives in the community or having LGBT characters in our games," Maseda said, casting a net beyond DOMA and into the company's decisions to celebrate Pride Month and allow gay player characters in Star Wars: The Old Republic. "Essentially, it's been a non-issue from an investor perspective."

While the two publishers saw similar reactions to their anti-DOMA positions, they were less in tune on whether to portray it as a rare example of corporate courage to do the right thing regardless of risk to the bottom line. Davis didn't mince words on the topic, calling LGBT equality "the civil rights issue of our time."

1

Zynga allows same sex spouses in its Frontierville game, and supports an employee LGBT group called Zpride.

"There are 13, 14, 15-year-old boys and girls committing suicide throughout a lot of the country because they can't come to grips in their community with being who they are," Davis said. "And to me, it just takes the whole debate around 'some people don't agree with it,' or 'you're a public company; should you not do this because of your full representation to your shareholders?' We're very vocal about our position, and people ultimately have an option to invest in the company or not. As long as there's good disclosure around what your commitments are at the company, then people can make informed decisions as to whether they want to invest in you or not."

For EA's part, Maseda stressed that the publisher is trying to be inclusive in all things, and "part of inclusion is making everybody feel heard and that they have a voice." However, she added, "As a publicly traded company, I think it's important to listen to our consumers. Whether we believe it's right or wrong, it's all incorporated into what we do."

"As a publicly traded company, I think it's important to listen to our consumers. Whether we believe it's right or wrong, it's all incorporated into what we do."

EA's Ginger Maseda

Despite the lack of furor over LGBT support in the industry, Davis isn't ready to call this civil rights struggle won.

"We're trying," Davis said. "We're doing the best we can, but we as a world have a long way to go about being truly enlightened about this issue and other issues. I don't think there's time for us to spend a lot of time patting each other on the back about how enlightened we've all become, and would rather focus on what are the core battles, what are the decisions we need to win, and make it the law of the land that you can't discriminate and you must recognize marriages between two people of the same sex throughout the US. And we've got a ways to go still; this is not a slam dunk."

The general acceptance of LGBT communities in the gaming industry doesn't end with these two publishers. Gaymercon co-founder Benjamin Williams said that his efforts to launch the first convention specifically for the gay gamer community have met with universal approval from developers and publishers. Williams said that when he would approach companies about the convention, the most common reaction was simply, "How can we help?" That help arrived in a number of forms; EA has already signed on to be an exhibitor when the inaugural show launches next year in San Francisco, and Microsoft (another signee on the anti-DOMA amicus brief) promoted the show to its Xbox Live audience when it was just a Kickstarter project. (The organizers were asking for $25,000; they raised over $91,000.)

3

Same-sex couplings are an option in EA BioWare series like Mass Effect.

Even so, Williams isn't quite ready to call the industry enlightened. Even if the people who create and publish games have come to support the LGBT community, it's still common for harassment to come from other gamers. He generally stays away from online games, saying he prefers not to wade into "that mire of awfulness" where homophobic slurs are as common as first-person shooter sequels. Beyond that, he argues these companies should go a step beyond acknowledging the LGBT community and start making games for them.

"One of the things that's happened in the industry is that developers have this stereotype of who they think their audience is," Williams said. "They think their audience is straight guys who like a particular type of game. Then once they look at their sales figures and it says, 'Straight, middle-class white guys bought our game so that's our population.' Well yeah, they're the ones who bought your games because that's who you made it for. If you made it for a wider audience, you would find that your customer base is much wider. It's not just the stereotypical gamer population; it's women gamers, it's gay gamers, it's trans gamers. There's a much bigger customer base to take advantage of out there."

And that's an argument that should interest EA and Zynga shareholders, even if their stances on DOMA don't.

CORRECTION: This article originally suggested that same-sex options had already been included in Star Wars: The Old Republic. BioWare has said it will include those in the future, but has not yet implemented them.

31 Comments

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

263 989 3.8
Popular Comment
"One of the things that's happened in the industry is that developers have this stereotype of who they think their audience is," Williams said. "They think their audience is straight guys who like a particular type of game. Then once they look at their sales figures and it says, 'Straight, middle-class white guys bought our game so that's our population.' Well yeah, they're the ones who bought your games because that's who you made it for. If you made it for a wider audience, you would find that your customer base is much wider. It's not just the stereotypical gamer population; it's women gamers, it's gay gamers, it's trans gamers. There's a much bigger customer base to take advantage of out there."
One hundred million times this. "Games made by and designed for specific demographic get bought by that demographic" is not news nor a justification of the often narrow focus of many game studios/publishers. There are so many other people out there who want to buy and enjoy more games, but are put off by hostile online communities and specific-demographic game design. Design your game for everybody and everybody will want to play it.

Posted:A year ago

#1

Tom Keresztes
Programmer

644 260 0.4
Design your game for everybody and everybody will want to play it.
Akin to how people like politically correct things. Some people will avoid it just because it is designed for everybody.

Posted:A year ago

#2

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

263 989 3.8
@Tom Well, there's no accounting for people being deliberately contrary :3

Posted:A year ago

#3

Thomas Dolby
Project Manager / Lead Programmer

331 279 0.8
Games that cater to everybody are very hard to get right, they're incredibly rare. In fact I don't think I could name one game that I've absolutely adored, that would also be suited to everyone.

Instead people should realise that having such a wide variety of people wanting to play games means you should cater to a niche or a specific demographic, but just realise that there is more than straight middle class white guys out there.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Andrzej Wroblewski
Localization Generalist

102 69 0.7
Popular Comment
I think this matter needs some sanity... Let me put it this way (please feel free to apply my logic to your own discourses):

a) Would I mind if someone was to openly discuss my right to have a relationship with my fiancee? YES. I consider it a violation of my right to privacy if someone would openly undermine or even consider my right to have a relationship with ANYONE. Be it a woman, a man or even an imaginary friend or an object -- AS LONG AS IT DOESN'T HARM ANYONE IN ANY WAY.
b) Is it appropriate to "show off" with your sexuality? NO. Sexuality is something very delicate and there is a medical term for making it excessively public.
c) Is there any way to tell whether some relationships are illegal or inappropriate? YES. It comes down to the bottom line of harm to an individual or a society.

a+b+c) Just please stop showing off, start living your normal lives and ignore those idiots who either make their redneck stands against any type of relationship or simply show off their sexuality like if that was the only value that defines who they are. It's none of my business, it's none of your business, it's none of their business.

The only way to bring things to normal is to SHOW NORMALITY, not to show off with "we're so different, please accept us so that we could be even more different".

a) You're not. Accept that. (@those showing off)
b) They're not. Accept that. (@those who can't stand to watch)

Let's keep it this way and put an end to this farse. We've evolved even farther than anyone could admit... the majority of society is ready to be innovative in it's model, and those anti-gay movements are just either some extremists legitimately asking for certification (that's the opinion of a friend of mine who happens to be "merry" as she calls herself) or paid smoke-screens to obscure other important events.

On top of everything else... Honey Badger Doesn't Care.

Posted:A year ago

#5

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

181 200 1.1
Popular Comment
@Andrzej: You're insinuating that heterosexuality is the norm and openly acting out a different sexuality is "showing off". You might as well say the heterosexual lifestyle of wearing wedding rings, having pictures of your spouse on your desk, and holding hands in public is "showing off" and inappropriate because non-heterosexuals can't do it. Who are you to judge what is normal? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heteronormativity

Posted:A year ago

#6

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

263 989 3.8
I think the 'objective' is two big publisher/developers publicly supporting equality for LGBT people? Cause, you know, that would be a nice thing to have and the more people/organisations who support it the better.

Marriage serves as many purposes as there are married people in the world, and denying those purposes to some people purely on the basis of the gender of their loved one is kinda stupid. What does a person's gender have to do with how they can celebrate their love?

Posted:A year ago

#7

Adam Learmonth
Studying BSc (Hons) Computer Game Applications Development

16 7 0.4
Perhaps Andrzej didn't choose the perfect words, but I think he had a point. Why does there need to be an event "specifically for the gay gamer community"? Doesn't that just segregate us further?

Posted:A year ago

#8

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

263 989 3.8
Popular Comment
Oh wow, not this argument again. This has nothing to do with excluding straight/cisgendered people, it's about including LGBT people whose experiences and desires are often ignored or sidelined in favour of the straight, cis majority.

It's okay, guys! You're not being segregated, EA and Zynga are just shining a light on the fact that LGBT people are often discriminated against and that such exclusion and discrimination sucks! You don't have to be so weirdly defensive about the idea that being inclusive is good. They're not forcing you to be nice people, they're just trying to lead by example.

And Keldon... I didn't understand most of what you're saying there, to be honest, but did you really, basically say 'hey why should the games industry care about issues that may affect the lives and happiness of many of us and also our players?' Do you not see why some people might care about LGBT rights, even if you apparently don't?

Posted:A year ago

#9

Christopher Reeves
Junior Artist

2 0 0.0
Keldon: Oh and to add, this is not the civil rights issue of our time
http://www.ranker.com/list/7-worst-capital-punishments-for-being-_illegally_-gay/joanne

You are so totally, completely and utterly wrong.

Posted:A year ago

#10

David Thornhill
Studying Journalism

8 25 3.1
Pardon me for being cynical, but EA's stance on LGBT rights has always felt like opportunistic PR spin to me.
It seems like an attempt to turn a large corporation, who has made questionable choices in the eyes of their fans, into the shining light of the industry and essentially insulated them from all criticism. Because its a hot button issue, it distracts and confuses. Everyone forgets they were talking about a corporation saying its trying to make money out of as many people as possible (while doing very little to actually include said minority) and instead the conversation is diverted to LGBT/human/civil rights and how society is 'constantly condemning homosexuality.'
Off the top of my head, almost all criticism of Mass Effect 3 was dismissed as anti-gay sentiment.
Same with The Old Republic.
EA brought in Anita Sarkeesian to talk to DICE about gender inclusion in their games (despite the fact one of their most recent games had a strong female lead). If it wasn't PR spin, why bring in the face of the feminist-gaming movement? Rather than someone qualified to talk about it?
LGBT rights are already a key issue in the public mind. Same-sex marriage is happening. Its being passed into law all over the world (although sporadically at the moment) and its only a matter of time before it is fully legitimised. And its not because Electronic Arts said same-sex marriage is okay. Starbucks public supports LGBT rights. EA's stance and actions would be like Starbucks making something ridiculous like a 'Lesbian Latte.' Its a PR stunt that feels cheap, distasteful and ultimately insulting.
If they really wanted to help out the marginalised minority, how about including a physically or mentally disabled character?
There is still an incredible amount of stigma and confusion around disability. Disability is an issue hidden from the public eye because many people don't understand being mentally ill should be treated exactly the same as being physically ill. Many people write off depression as being a little sadder than usual and all a person needs is to be happy and get out of the house every once in a while. They think that physical disability is something strange that shouldn't be seen in public.
How about drawing attention to an issue that truly needs it?

As for Gaymercon, I think it is totally unnecessary. What is it about other gaming conventions that are so distasteful to homosexuals? What part of the convention tells them they're not welcome? The only thing i can think of is booth babes. PAX already banned them. And most people, homosexual or heterosexual, find them distasteful. If the publishers and developers are willing to get behindthe idea of including homosexuals, stop hiring booth babes. If all else fails, put the pressure on the convention organisers.
If the issue is that 'games for homosexuals' (whatever that may be) aren't given equal consideration at conventions, so what? If they're not AAA titles that command the largest space on the show floor; they're likely to be indie titles. And if you give more attention to pro-gay games, essentially you're excluding the other indie developers from being given a fair chance because they didn't make their games 'gay-friendly'.
Ms Hyland, your argument that it is about inclusion is flawed. If that were the case, homosexual gamers wouldn't be need their own little kiddies table while the grown ups get on with the real business of talking about video games. Gay gamers would be treated as equals.
While the premise may state straight gamers are welcome to the event, i think with a name like Gaymercon its going to turn away more than a few.
Its very name separates it from other conventions and makes people think its a gay only event. E3 isnt called 'Straightcon'. PAX isnt called PAX(cluding gays).
I have no problem whatsoever with social inclusion and dont care whether you're gay, straight, transgender or whatever. Its your business, not mine. It all just feels like a lazy attempt to seem socially responsible.

Posted:A year ago

#11
@Andrzej
Your argument presupposes that sexual expression is already equal, when it isn't. Gay people have pride parades, don rainbow colors, etc, because for decades when they were minding their own business, meeting in secret, the police were sent to arrest them for committing such "perverted" acts. Not for having sex in the check out line of the local grocery store.
Furthermore, your perspective belies the point that when gay men have met to have sex in restrooms for instance, it wasn't a symptom of---as you label---"a psychological disorder"---it was the symptom of a twisted society, that subjected a minority group to extreme oppression.
Frankly, I don't understand how you, as a person who has presumably never suffered any kind of discrimination based on your inherent traits, feel entitled to speak on the gay condition. Your comment seems emblematic of the classic, white man's "blame the victim" approach to all sociological problems.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Bill Garrison on 16th October 2012 3:47am

Posted:A year ago

#12

Curt Sampson
Sofware Developer

596 360 0.6
As for Gaymercon, I think it is totally unnecessary. What is it about other gaming conventions that are so distasteful to homosexuals?

What's so distasteful to you, David, that you single out this particular specialized convention as being "totally unnecessary?" Do you believe that retrogamers find E3 "distasteful" and that's why they go to Midwest Gaming Classic instead? Is that convention also perhaps "totally unnecessary?"

That they still excite comments such as yours is, I think, the most obvious argument that conventions such as Gaymercon are necessary.

Posted:A year ago

#13

Mats Holm
Technical Process Analyst

53 38 0.7
@David I have been with EA in one form or another now for 5 years, and I can promise you that almost all of EA's stance on LGBT is based on the employees rallying behind it. We have a great reward program for charity work, and with our HQ being in San Francisco, LGBT work is very common.

Posted:A year ago

#14

Tony Johns

520 12 0.0
in regards to the issue

I would love to see a day when I have kids that they could grow up to be who they want to be and marry any person they want, whether it be same sex or opposite sex

so in relation to my own family values, I support same sex relationships and don't think there is anything wrong with it.

One thing I do find contradicting is with the anti-gay argument of marridge being only between a man and a woman for the benifit for family togetherness, and yet many families are split up because of divorce and fights between opposite sex parents.

Posted:A year ago

#15

David Thornhill
Studying Journalism

8 25 3.1
I brought it up because that was the topic of conversation?
If you thought my language was too strong, I apologise. Im trying to understand why such a thing is necessary.
It was not clear in my post, but my point was the larger conventions seemingly give off an air of exclusion and I'm not sure how they do.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Thornhill on 16th October 2012 8:03am

Posted:A year ago

#16

Tommy Thompson
Lecturer in BSc (Hons) Computer Games Programming.

44 28 0.6
I applaud EA and Zynga for taking the stance. Sadly the world we live in means they had to take a side on an 'issue' that frankly should not exist. It's discrimination - pure and simple. The only person in the world whose beliefs, gender and sexual orientation you should question is your own.

Human history is plagued with eras of oppression against minorities that do not 'fit' with society. While the LGBT community is no longer outright prosecuted for their actions, there is still an air of oppression upon them in parts of the western world. If folk want to hold conventions/parades/parties to bring people from within a particular community together, so be it. Considering the people of this world are often quick to condemn others a sense of belonging does not hurt regardless of what banner you meet under.

Let's not forget that Alan Turing, one of the most influential people in the history of Computer Science was left humiliated in his later years as a result of being homosexual; prosecuted, subsequently chemically castrated and publicly disgraced for acting on his own beliefs.

Posted:A year ago

#17
Popular Comment
I think one need only look at comment threads springing up underneath versions of this story being posted on consumer news sites to see why events like Gaymercon have come into being, and why so much work remains to be done in terms LGBT issues in the games business in general (and in many other media businesses, I should add). This thread is by far the most civilised one I've read... and even here we've already had someone bluntly saying LGBT people should conform to societal norms and stop "acting up", a repetition of the confused notion that marriage equality somehow "devalues" the existing marriages of straight couples, and several people attempting to dismiss EA's position as cynical and PR-driven (which is essentially a dog-whistle way of saying "this isn't a legitimate stance for a company to take").

We're still not very good at this, as an industry. Northern European firms are better than most, but still not great - and beyond the enclave of the industry itself, the gamer community is often utterly terrible in how it handles minorities of any kind, including being deeply unpleasant in its behaviour towards LGBT minorities. As such, I think that any stand being taken by companies like EA to make LGBT people feel more included and welcome in what this industry does is hugely welcome.

Posted:A year ago

#18

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

263 989 3.8
Keldon, while I might have sounded a bit exasperated(there was an extremely heated debate about GaymerCon on this site quite recently, and seeing the same tired old attitudes reappear bothers me), you're the one coming across as overly defensive and 'awry'. I'm still having trouble parsing the grammar of your comments, so I'll leave it with this:
Further to that, in terms of this article why should we care? Are we the voice for LGBT, or any other political cause?
If by 'we' you mean 'everyone in the games industry', then why are any of us not the voice for issues that affect many of us as well as our customers? Why should we not care about it? Equality for all is a noble goal for every civilised society, and denying it to some people based on the tenets of religious or outdated cultural norms is rightly something to be derided.

Posted:A year ago

#19

Tom Keresztes
Programmer

644 260 0.4
Just quotes...
outdated cultural norms
Who are you to judge what is normal?

Posted:A year ago

#20

Tom Keresztes
Programmer

644 260 0.4
We're still not very good at this, as an industry. Northern European firms are better than most, but still not great - and beyond the enclave of the industry itself, the gamer community is often utterly terrible in how it handles minorities of any kind, including being deeply unpleasant in its behaviour towards LGBT minorities.
That attitude is not specific to the gamer community.

Posted:A year ago

#21

Keldon Alleyne
Handheld Developer

434 406 0.9
Although this is a 'civilised' thread in comparison, I'd quite like to exit this one. Not sure I really added anything to this discussion, and with it being such a sensitive issue I think it would be best to leave the discussion in the hands of those with the most emphatic views.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Keldon Alleyne on 16th October 2012 12:35pm

Posted:A year ago

#22

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

263 989 3.8
@Tom
outdated cultural norms
Who are you to judge what is normal?
Exactly! Many Western societal norms declare that, amongst other things, heterosexuality is 'normal' and homosexuality is not. Which, as enlightened human beings living in the 21st century, we can now recognise as incorrect and that both homosexuality as well as heterosexuality are perfectly natural facets of human sexuality. I'm glad you understand!

Posted:A year ago

#23

Tom Keresztes
Programmer

644 260 0.4
I'm glad you understand!

Posted:A year ago

#24
@Tom: No, it is not. However, we work to fix what goes on around us; that's the only way any broader problem with society is solved, by each individual and each sector taking responsibility for putting their own shop in order.

Plus, bluntly, the gamer community is worse than most. I've been engaged with a lot of different online communities focused on a lot of different interests over the years, and the gamer community is one of the worst, if not the worst, in terms of homophobic abuse. There's a lot of work to be done here (although to be clear, the "gamer community" and "people who play games" aren't the same thing - the "community" is a very small and often not terribly pleasant sub-set).

Posted:A year ago

#25

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

263 989 3.8
@Tom
I agree that 'right' and 'wrong' are simply matters of perspective. When it comes to judging aspects of human behaviour as 'normal' and 'abnormal' though, we can use our improved understanding of science, particularly biology and human psychology, to inform and improve what we consider cultural norms. Homosexuality used to be considered a mental illness, a malady of the human psyche that could be remedied with treatments like chemical castration(look at poor Alan Turing to see how well that sort of thing works out). Happily, this is no longer the case! Since the 70s the DSM no has longer listed homosexuality as an aberrant mental disorder, because it has been thoroughly proven that there is no harm in a person being attracted to someone of the same sex. It's just another way to be a human, much like being black/white/etc or male/female/etc. So, why are we still discriminating against our fellow humans by denying them the rights we readily grant others? Because social norms have, sadly, not moved with the science yet. Far too many people still see LGBT people as 'not normal'(where normal is seen to be 'straight and cisgendered') and so worthy of such discrimination.

Some religions might argue otherwise, but basing 'norms' on religious tenets does an injustice to anyone who doesn't follow said religion.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Jessica Hyland on 16th October 2012 2:43pm

Posted:A year ago

#26

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