EA has been inundated in recent weeks with what GamesIndustry International understands to be "several thousand" letters and emails protesting the inclusion of same sex or LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) content in its video games, most notably Mass Effect 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic. When asked, EA confirmed that this has indeed been occurring, and unsurprisingly, EA has no plans to censor any of its games.
"Every one of EA's games includes ESRB content descriptors so it's hard to believe anyone is surprised by the content. This isn't about protecting children, it's about political harassment," Jeff Brown, VP of corporate communications told us.
The letters have been directed to EA's executive team, creative heads, its board of directors and just about anyone at a high level. Many of them threaten to boycott EA's titles if the publisher refuses to remove same-sex relationship content.
The letters also infer that EA was pressured by LGBT groups to include homosexual content in its games, and that this content is somehow forced upon children, exposing them to LGBT themes. Of course, those of you reading this already know how ludicrous this is. The games are not for children, nor do they force LGBT content on a player - it's merely an option for gamers who wish to replicate their real-life sexual orientation.
Some of the letters also complain that EA is deliberately deleting posts against LGBT issues on its official forum, which is true when the comments happen to violate discussion rules on hate speech.
"Trying to rally Americans around messages rooted in hate is a losing proposition"
Matt Kane, GLAAD
"EA has not been pressured by any groups to include LGBT characters in our games. However, we have met with LBGT groups and sponsored industry forums to discuss content and harassment of players in online forums. In short, we do put options for same-sex relationships in our games; we don't tolerate hate speech on our forums," Brown added.
We had suspected that perhaps Focus on the Family, led by James Dobson, was somehow involved, but as it turns out, many of the letters have been coming from Florida, and it's rather apparent based on this call to action for Star Wars that the Florida Family Association is directing a campaign against EA because of the same-sex relationship content.
The Family Research Council, led by Tony Perkins, is also involved. "In a new Star Wars game, the biggest threat to the empire may be homosexual activists!" said Perkins.
We asked Matt Kane, Associate Director of Entertainment Media at GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) about campaigns such as the one Florida Family Association and Family Research Council have been spearheading.
"Anti-LGBT campaigns are falling into a pretty consistent pattern these days, in which messages of hate directed at our allies are met with an overwhelming outpouring of support for our allies in response," Kane noted. "Following Starbucks' announcing public support for marriage equality, 25,000 people signed a "Dump Starbucks" campaign, which in turn inspired more than 600,000 people to sign on to a "Thank Starbucks" campaign.
He continued, "The group 'One Million Moms' tried to have Ellen Degeneres fired from her role as a spokesperson for JC Penny, but the public expressions of support JC Penny received following the Stand Up for Ellen campaign were so numerous that 'One Million Moms' announced they would be 'moving on to other things.' Trying to rally Americans around messages rooted in hate is a losing proposition."
"EA's step in this instance is indicative of a continuing cultural shift toward greater inclusion"
Michael Cole-Schwartz, HRC
Michael Cole-Schwartz, Director of Communications at Human Rights Campaign (HRC), added that "those of us who work toward LGBT equality are pleased with the fair-minded stance EA's taken. EA should be commended for their inclusive approach that reflects the diversity of our communities."
HRC is currently organizing a petition "so that EA hears from the majority of fair-minded Americans who welcome their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender family and friends." The petition is not live yet, but the goal is to get people to show their support to EA for inclusive games.
"It's important that companies know these protests represent a fringe interest," Cole-Schwartz added.
Speaking to the larger issue at hand for the industry and LGBT content in video games, Kane remarked, "A lot of game makers are realizing that in order to create a believable universe it has to be a universe that is very diverse, and in some ways it sort of reflects the make-up of the culture we live in as well. I think it's very logical that you'll start to see more LGBT characters appearing in games."
"This is also not only a reflection of the culture, but also in part of their consumer base - at least a segment of their consumer base. Certainly Star Wars is a good example. EA listened to the people who were intending to purchase the game and saw that there was a real desire to see same-sex relationships included within the romantic options."
Cole-Schwartz believes that EA's progressive stance is a sign of the times and other publishers should take notice.
"As in all media, there remains work to do in order for more people to feel represented and included. This is true for video games and for LGBT people. EA's step in this instance is indicative of a continuing cultural shift toward greater inclusion," he said.
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