Tag Archives: BioWare

Missing the Point? An Examination of Reaction to Newtown

The following is a guest post from Dakin “Chilly” Lecakes:

Chilly has been playing videogames since their beginning as a commercial product.  He has a longtime perspective on gaming and tries to add a voice of sanity to the diverse issues surrounding the modern gaming culture.  He has been participating in various gaming communities and forums for over a decade trying to be a light shining in the darkness when all others fail.

On Friday, December 14, 2012, I sat at my computer, horrified, reading the news of a mass shooting at an elementary school located in Newtown, Connecticut.

On Monday, December 17, I found out that I knew someone very well that was immediately impacted by the tragedy.  Someone whose sister was a victim of the incident, a teacher at the school.

I remember when I was told that it took more than a brief moment to process the information.  It was incomprehensible to me.  Suddenly I knew someone who was directly affected by this horrific event and the surrounding mass media frenzy.  It was a subtle change, but I found myself now evaluating each related story that appeared in a slightly different way, having a bit more empathy for the point of view of the surviving family members.  It is a heightened sensitivity that I had never experienced following one of these events.

I include the foregoing only to explain how my thoughts on this particular event have caused me to want to write about the issue.  To offer, in what way I can, my own plea for sanity, a loaded word.

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Weekly DLC: News Roundup

This week, the gun violence debate continues as industry folks and enthusiasts alike wonder how and when to participate in national policy discussions. We’ve also got some Gabe Newell, a retrospective on a weird Star Trek episode about virtual reality gaming, and a Christian videogame blogger talks about how Anna Anthropy’s game DYS4IA expanded his understanding of the LGBTQ experience.

Walkthrough

  • This week, Vice President Biden announced the creation of a gun violence task force that includes, among lawmakers and gun retailers, representatives from the videogame industry. The response among the videogame community was swift and varied; The IGDA wrote a letter pointing out that censoring comic books didn’t work, and neither would taking the same approach with a medium that is, in a lot of ways, the spiritual successor to comic books. (IGDAGamasutra‘s Kris Graft wrote that attending Biden’s task force would be tantamount to ceding that videogames are to blame for violence. (Gamasutra) But IGN‘s Casey Lynch disagrees, writing in a countering article that the industry has to take charge of its own defense. (IGN) At The Atlantic, Ian Bogost offers a good summary of both arguments, as well as weighing in on the videogame violence issue himself. (The Atlantic)
  • Gabe Newell sat down with The Verge this week to talk about the Steam Box, the company’s foray into gaming hardware, as well as about mobile platforms, Windows 8, the future of gaming–you know, the usual. The full exclusive interview is definitely worth a read. (The Verge)
  • Check out this awesome game HERadventure, a grant-funded project from Spelman College that tackles environmental and gender issues. (via DailyCaller)
  • Here’s a first look at upcoming game Cyberpunk 2077, from CD Projekt, the developers of The Witcher. (YouTube)
  • And there are updates on the THQ bankruptcy proceedings. (Joystiq)
  • In 2012, over 2 million people pledged over $300 million on Kickstarter.  The crowdfunding website had a pretty good year, wouldn’t you say? They’ve compiled some pretty impressive statistics for their 2012, which you can check out here. (Kickstarter)
  • You can get 25% off some of the biggest upcoming videogames with online retailer Green Man Gaming, including Tomb Raider and Devil May Cry. (via Polygon)
  • The rumored Firefly MMO is apparently legit! Though probably a long way from becoming a reality, says studio DarkCryo(via Kotaku)
  • The Japanese version of Far Cry 3 is much less graphic than the American version. Does that fundamentally change the game? (Kotaku)
  • MMO Tera joins Star Wars: The Old Republic and DC Universe Online as free-to-play. (Joystiq)

Sidequests

Bonus Levels

  • Intel’s latest study “Women and the Web” found that there are 25% fewer women than men with internet access in developing countries. Here’s the full report in PDF form and an overview at Putting People First.
  • Actress Carrie Fisher wrote an amazing open letter to Princess Leia, the character she portrayed in the original Star Wars trilogy. (Bullet Media)
  •  Here’s a pretty cool Tumblr post explaining why breast-shaped armor is totally dumb.

Star Wars: The Old Republic and Same Gender Romance

Makeb: the new planet that will be available in the Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion pack.

Makeb: the new planet that will be available in the Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion pack.

Players of the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic will soon see a long awaited option available to them in game: same gender romance! This has been discussed for awhile (see our January 2012 review of the game) but we now know that it will become official this spring.

The expansion pack Rise of the Hutt Cartel will increase the level cap, create a new area and story line, and include a new option for same gender romances.

A blog post written by Jeff Hickman (Executive producer of the game) states:

Same Gender Romance:  Any news on this front would be great… Answer: First of all, I want to apologize that this is taking so long to get in the game. I realize that we promised SGR to you guys and that many of you believed that this would be with a companion character. Unfortunately, this will take a lot more work than we realized at the time and it (like some other pieces of content we talked about earlier in the year) has been delayed as we focused on the changes required to take the game Free-to-Play. As we have said in the past, allowing same gender romance is something we are very supportive of.

Secondly, I want to reveal today that we are adding SGR with some NPCs on Makeb and do intend on pursuing more SGR options in the future. More details to come!

I am glad to hear that this will be available in the game. In an ideal situation this would have been implemented at launch, but it is great news that they will be adding it in the future rather than ignoring it entirely.

Omega: Writing one of Mass Effect’s wrongs

I’ve written here before criticising Bioware for only featuring male Turians in their Mass Effect series. As a quick reminder, Bioware essentially didn’t include female Turians because they had no idea how to denote female characters other than by adding lipstick and breasts.

However, I’m happy to be able to say that with the release of Omega, the latest DLC for Mass Effect 3, they’ve now fixed this oversight. Omega contains a female Turian called Nyreen Kandros who, shockingly, does not actually look just like a male Turian with breasts and lipstick.

Nyreen Kandros from Mass Effect 3: Omega.
(Image courtesy of the Mass Effect wiki)

Instead, they’ve given her less prominent crests (which is reminiscent of many real life bird species, where the males tend to be more highly decorated), but more prominent mandibles. She’s clearly the same species, but also clearly not the same as the males we’ve seen before.

So, kudos to Bioware for finally getting with the program. That wasn’t too hard now, was it?

A Glimpse into BioWare: An Interview with Ann Lemay

A picture of a blank notebook and a pen. Let’s talk about writing.

I am extremely pleased to present an interview with BioWare writer Ann Lemay.

Thank you both Ann and BioWare for allowing us the opportunity to conduct this interview. It was wonderful to get a closer look at the writing process at this studio.

 

 

Please introduce yourself and what you do at BioWare to our readers.

Hi! My name is Ann, and I work as a writer at BioWare!

…You know, I think that’s the first time I get to write that sentence. I may have paused and grinned at the screen in a totally goofy way just now.

What does a typical day as a writer at BioWare involve?

Basically, it depends on which phase of the project we’re currently in. If we’re in preproduction, there are a lot of meetings and defining of things, along with documenting all the decisions taken and then expounding on them. And approving said material, then taking it all down and rebuilding it, and so on and so forth. Over and over and over and over again. (I could add a few more “overs” in there. Seriously, iteration is plentiful through our whole process from beginning to end. I couldn’t exaggerate this fact if I tried.)

When we’re in production, there’s a lot of coordinating with other departments, even when we’re in the middle of the most intense bit of writing, because everything we do has an effect on someone else for the most part, and vice versa. So much of our work interrelates that we always have to keep an eye out for what conditional might be tripped, or what line we’ve written that might affect something else on an entirely different level or mission.

For example: Level design ties into banter a lot when using it for directional or specific narrative tied into what’s going on in the level. Cut-scenes with dialogue tie into cinematic design (cinedesign = cut scenes with dialog options), where we have to make sure we’re relating details in the narrative that will match the work the cinematic designers are putting in (actions, character expressions, tone, etc.). The same goes for animation scenes, which involve motion capture budgets, so you really want to get that right. Codex entries provide essential lore; datapads can tie one location to another. An NPC’s story can affect other aspects of the game in ways you hadn’t anticipated or get tied into another system later on in a fun way (minor characters showing up in the Galaxy at War files, for example).

There are phases where we’re mostly writing dialogue, phases where we sit with level design every other day to do full play-through review passes on the banter, and phases where we sit with the lead writer and editing to do a review on All The Things. There are days when we spend more time walking to someone’s desk to make sure line X doesn’t mess up their cinematic or the overall level narrative. And there are days when we block out our calendars with fake meetings so that we can write, write, and write. (Ahem. Don’t tell anyone.)

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Dragon Age 3 announcement

Logo for Dragon Age III Inquisition

The Dragon Age series has been discussed frequently on this site. Today marks an official announcement of the Dragon Age 3 on the BioWare blog. The series has an ever growing set of wonderfully rich characters and we look forward to the new characters in the 2013 game.

The following has been confirmed so far (by Mark Darrah from the blog post):

  • The next game will be called Dragon Age III: Inquisition.
  • We won’t be talking about the story of the game today. Though you can make some guesses from the title.
  • This game is being made by a lot of the same team that has been working on Dragon Age since Dragon Age: Origins.  It’s composed of both experienced BioWare veterans and talented new developers.
  • We are working on a new engine which we believe will allow us to deliver a more expansive world, better visuals, more reactivity to player choices, and more customization. At PAX East, we talked about armor and followers… Yeah, that kind of customization. We’ve started with Frostbite 2 from DICE as a foundation to accomplish this.

Border House people, are you looking forward to the game? What do you hope to see from this iteration in the series?

Cortez

Same Sex Romance and Mass Effect 3

Though rare, same sex romance options are not new to video games. We have seen them Jade Empire, The Sims, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and the Dragon Age series. But lately, BioWare has had some shining moments in this area. When they announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic was going to add same sex romances post release The Family Research Council got members to send thousands of letters to EA to denounce the move. EA did not back down, and instead stood by the decision to include the romance options http://kotaku.com/5899246/homophobes-slam-ea-with-thousands-of-letters-over-same+sex-romance. When a forum poster complained about the inclusion of bisexual NPCs in Dragon Age 2 David Gaider explained that “The majority has no inherent “right” to get more options than anyone else.”  http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/304/index/6661775&lf=8 Several recent BioWare games had same sex romance options, but Mass Effect 3 is especially important as a big budget game that has characters who are exclusively gay or lesbian.

 

 Some logistics first … Let’s look at the numbers!

(Author’s note: My Shepard romanced Liara and stayed faithful to her throughout the series. Information on which other characters can be romanced was taken from the Mass Effect wiki and some YouTube clips were referenced while writing the post.)

Steve Cortez from Mass Effect 3

Before delving into Mass Effect 3, it is important to look at the series as a whole. Let’s look at what character romances result in the Paramour achievement/trophy in each game. I call those the primary romances or relationships. The original Mass Effect had had 2 primary romance options for both the male and female Shepard. As a man you could romance Ashley Williams and Liara T’Soni while as a woman you could romance Kaidan Alenko or Liara T’Soni. While Liara is often considered by fans as a same sex romance for a female Shepard, the game specifies that asari are a mono gendered species. They do not talk about a male/female gender binary; they are simply asari. So we walk away from the original Mass Effect without an official same sex romance.

 

Mass Effect 2 had many more romance options than the original game. As a man, Shepard could romance Miranda Lawson, Tali’Zorah, or Jack. As a woman, Shepard could romance Jacob Taylor, Garrus Vakarian, and Thane Krios. None of these are same sex options.

 

Mass Effect 3 has the largest number of romance options in the series. As a man, Shepard can romance Miranda Lawson, Tali’Zorah, Jack, Ashley Williams, Kelly Chambers, Liara T’Soni, Kaiden Alenko, or Steve Cortez. As a woman, Shepard can romance Garrus Valkarian, Kaidan Alenko, Kelly Chambers, Liara T’Soni, and Samantha Traynor.

Game Shepard Primary opposite sex relationships Primary same sex relationships Asari relationships
Mass Effect Female 1 0 1
Mass Effect Male 1 0 1
Mass Effect 2 Female 3 0 0
Mass Effect 2 Male 3 0 0
Mass Effect 3 Female 2 1 1
Mass Effect 3 Male 5 2 1

 

             

Secondary romances

However, there were also relationships that were not tracked by the Paramour achievement. In Mass Effect 2 either Shepard could show interest in Samara, Morinth, and Kelly Chambers. This last option of Kelly Chambers is the only one in Mass Effect 2 that could definitely counts as a same sex relationship option. In Mass Effect 3 either Shepard could have a sexual relationship with Diana Allers which which add another same sex relationship option for a female Shepard.

 

All those numbers mean something  

When looking at the numbers, there is a clear trend for greater diversity in sexual relationships within the Mass Effect series. But there is something else in those numbers: a male Shepard has more options than a female Shepard. Part of this is due to the exclusion of Thane and Jacob as romance options in Mass Effect 3. Yet, even if those two were included in the group, a female Commander Shepard would still have fewer potential romance options than a male. The quantity of options appears to favor a male Shepard.

 

This favoritism falls apart when discussing same sex relationships. If we look at Liara as a same sex option for female characters, then a lesbian Shepard has had a romance option since the beginning of the series. Even ignoring Liara, a lesbian Shepard could start a relationship with Kelly Chambers in the second game and then have that carry over to Mass Effect 3. BUT, a gay Shepard had to wait 3 games in order to have a possible relationship. If you choose to role play Shepard as a gay male, romance is left out until the end of the series. See http://kotaku.com/5909937/with-the-galaxy-in-flames-my-video-game-hero-finally-came-out-of-the-closet Denis Farr’s article about this issue.

 

What could have been done differently?

 

Liara from Mass Effect 3

The relationship with Liara T’Soni deserves discussion. Does she “count” as a same sex romance for a female commander Shepard or not? If she is considered female, then there is a potential for a long term same sex relationship between her and Shepard stretching from the first game through to the last. But by describing her as part of a monogendered species the series denies players one positive lesbian romance portrayal. While a relationship with a genderless species could be interesting the asari are not androgynous, they are heavily coded as feminine. Because of their appearance, the relationship looks like a same sex romance with a female Shepard but should it be read as such or should we look at it as something different? I am not sure. Even after 3 games I do not know if my Shepard’s relationship with Liara can be considered a lesbian romance.

 

Kelly Chambers in Mass Effect 2 is also potentially problematic. Her relationship with Shepard is not considered a canon romance in that game. It is a flirtation, a quick hint of a potential relationship. When she joins Shepard in her cabin at the end of the game she is wearing a tight fitting outfit and does a sexy dance. The point of the scene is to provide sexual arousal for Shepard but does not allow for a further relationship within that one game. There is nothing wrong with that, but as the only portrayal of a same sex relationship in Mass Effect 2 it conforms with a male gaze, “two women are hot” portrait of lesbian relationships that is all too common in media. We need more diversity in the portrayal of lesbians. This relationship can become deeper in Mass Effect 3 but only if Shepard goes though this more superficial experience in the second game.

 

What makes ME3 special?

The final game in the series does several important things in terms of relationship options. The game portrays them as something that can be persistent and evolving over time. It is possible to have started a relationship with Liara in the first game, stayed faithful to her in the second game, and continue the relationship in the final episode. This is something unique and not available to a player that just wants to begin a relationship with Liara in the final game. The way the trilogy was set up allowed for the possibility a dynamic relationship. The NPCs were treated as having potential beyond just sex. These were characters whose stories mattered, with their own journey and growing relationships with Shepard.

 

However, one of the new characters in Mass Effect 3 is incredibly important. Steve Cortez is a pilot in the game. When discussing his past, you learn that he lost his husband in a Reaper invasion. This fact is handled wonderfully. We have a man, discussing the loss of his husband, and there is no pause in the discussion. Shepard does not stop to say, “Whoa, hold on, are you saying you are gay?” or ask any other question all too often heard by people in same sex relationships. Cortez mentions his husband and we are meant to mourn the loss with him. It is no different than if he mentioned the loss of his wife. This one simple thing is incredibly important. Imagine a world where all players of Mass Effect 3 accepted gay individuals as easily as Shepard does in the scene. Cortez being attracted to someone of the same sex is not an issue; it is a not an oddity, it just exists as one option within the universe. Cortez is shown as an exclusively gay man, and yet his sexuality is never shown as a problem. His sexuality is not used to impose tragedy in his life. This is not the tale of a difficult coming out story or an attack on a gay man. He is allowed to be a gay man and not have that one trait define his character arc. It is not something we see very often in media. This portrayal was done beautifully.

Authorial intent

Were the writers cognizant of these depictions and their implications? In an interview, Patrick Weekes and Dusty Everman show that members of the BioWare staff were aware of how they displayed these relationships. As Patrick Weekes said about writing a gay character:

Liara’s relationship in Lair of the Shadow Broker can be with players of either gender, so I was familiar with writing dialog that needed to work for a same-sex romance. Nevertheless, I’m a straight white male – pretty much the living embodiment of the Patriarchy – and I really wanted to avoid writing something that people saw and went, “That’s a straight guy writing lesbians for other straight guys to look at.”

 I also really wanted the romance with Traynor to be positive. One of my gay friends has this kind of sad hobby in which she watches every lesbian movie she can find, trying to find ones that actually end up with the women not either dying or breaking up. I think the most positive one she’s found is “D.E.B.S.” I wanted to avoid any kind of tragic heartbreak, to make this a fundamentally life-affirming relationship… at least, as much as possible within Mass Effect 3′s grim war story.

 

Samantha Traynor from Mass Effect 3

Similar to Cortez, for the exclusively lesbian character of Samantha Traynor her sexuality is a part of her but not her sole defining feature. Patrick Weekes again:

 I worked hard to create a character who addressed her lesbian identity in a positive and intelligent way. My first draft of Traynor’s pitch was all about how her character arc would be about identifying and overcoming the challenges of being gay… and my friends and managers called me on it. I’d been so focused on writing something positive that I hadn’t made a real-enough character. So in the next draft (closer to how she shipped), the focus was on her as a mostly lighthearted fish out of water, a very smart lab tech trying to adjust to life on the front lines, with her identity as a lesbian present but not shouted from the rooftops.

 

From Dusty Everman:

 I believe that by the 22nd century, declaring your gender preference will be about as profound as saying, “I like blondes.” It will just be an accepted part of who we are. So I tried to write a meaningful human relationship that just happens to be between two men.

 This interview shows that the team at BioWare was conscious of the implications of their character designs and story arcs. They were aware of some of the pitfalls often found when creating gay characters and they at least attempted to avoid them. The full interview can be found  http://blog.bioware.com/2012/05/07/same-sex-relationships-in-mass-effect-3/

 

What do we want to see next

BioWare did several laudable things in Mass Effect 3. So what do we want to see in future games? From both BioWare and other companies I ask for one thing: DIVERSITY! We need more games to show the complexity of human experiences. Let’s have some asexual characters. Let’s have NPCs that are straight but are NOT interested in the main character despite a match in gender and orientation. Let’s have more gay characters. Once we have more diversity, we can tell more stories. The Princess doesn’t always need saving by the Prince and the Prince may not want to marry a Princess anyways. Let’s step out of the box a bit more and get creative. Who would want to play a game with a lesbian necromancer as the main character? I would! And I doubt that I am the only person. Games are meant to be fun to play, so let’s play with the stories and create some new experiences.

Forum user LiquidGrape made this adorable image of Stanley Woo closing a thread with his (in)famous catch phrase. It's worth noting that the thread in question being shut down by our lovely Volus is, amusingly, one entitled "OMFG gays ruin the ******* game!!!"

End Of Line: BioWare Clamps Down on Personal Attacks Against its Staff

Forum user LiquidGrape made this adorable image of Stanley Woo closing a thread with his (in)famous catch phrase. It's worth noting that the thread in question being shut down by our lovely Volus is, amusingly, one entitled "OMG ***ing gays ruin teh game!!!"


During the height of the Jennifer Hepler incident, many readers of ours were quick to talk about a culture endemic among “white cis het men” who dominate certain bastions of geek culture. In the midst of attacks with sexist and homophobic overtones, it seemed strange to others that race would be “dragged into” this. The recent attacks on another BioWare staffer, Stanley Woo, reveal why that remains a salient vector of analysis, and why considering white dominance in gaming spaces is as important as considering male dominance.

An alert reader (thank you very kindly!) brought to our attention a recent spate of trolling on BioWare’s forums antagonising Stanley Woo, a QA worker and community moderator who was especially forthright in banning posts that personally attacked Jennifer Hepler. The group of people responsible for organising the hate mail, angry tweets and forum posts attacking Hepler also took to antagonising Woo. The tipster wrote in:

[They were] using stereotypes of Asians to mock him, with phrases like “Ding dong bannu” and “End of rine” becoming common.  A day or two after the Jennifer Hepler attacks occurred, there was a raid on the Bioware forums where posters made accounts specifically to mock him which displayed many of these things, to the point that Bioware had to temporarily shut down new poster registration to stop it.  For example, replacing Ls with Rs, posting as “Stanley Gook” or some variation which bypassed the censor, speaking of “grorious reader” (“glorious leader”, a phrase that I believe originated in North Korea as applied to Kim Jong-il).

(Our tipster provided the following screenshot as a sample.)

I have often said that prejudice is a continuum, we rarely have the luxury of seeing it confined to a single, neatly bounded issue or group of people. If you scratch an Islamophobe, you’ll find a misogynist, to name an example I’ve seen far too many times in my own work. Similarly, many of the people who attacked Jennifer Hepler are doubtless equally antagonistic to anyone who would defend people of colour against racist trolling/attacks. The toxicity we see here is not something that allows itself to be confined to one axis of injustice. If you are willing to dehumanise a woman because she’s a woman, you’ll do it to others as well. People of colour, people of size, people with disabilities, LGBT folks, and intersections of all the above. What, exactly, is stopping them? If they’re the kind of people who think calling someone a fat bitch who should die in a fire is funny, where is the moral or ethical boundary that will stop them from making anti-Asian attacks, exactly?

Each individual person is different, but the broad trends are there and they do seem to indicate that the same people who engage in misogyny are often the same ones who engage in homophobia are often the same ones who engage in racism. It is a linked series of problems in these communities. That’s why, I suspect, Bioware has come down hard on this type of behaviour without explicitly naming it. On March 2nd they changed their community policies:

UPDATED (MAR. 2, 2012) Important update to site rules & code of conduct :

Effective immediately there is a zero tolerance policy on any form of abuse towards staff, moderators or other Community members.

Anyone posting a personal attack on staff, moderators or other Community members will, at the sole discretion of staff or moderators, be banned from the BioWare Social Network without notice and is no longer welcomed.

We continue to value all of our customers and fans. However participation in the BSN and engaging with staff and like-minded community members is – to be abundantly clear – a privilege, and not a right. Members may continue to discuss and critique our games and products in a civil manner, but any form of discussion targeted at an individual will not be tolerated. New and existing members who cannot adhere to the code of conduct, or maintain a civil demeanor at all times, are encouraged instead to contact customer support for any game related issues they may have.

We have made additional important changes to the Site Rules and Code of Conduct, and recommend that all our users review them by clicking on the link at the top of this notice. By continuing to use this site you are accepting the Site Rules and agree to follow these rules.

Attacks on a person because of their race and/or gender are not just bar-room joshing and gentle ribbing. On some level, we all know that. The attacks on Hepler were so vicious that they prompted a public defence of her by BioWare itself, and the attacks on Woo were trending in the same direction. Each constitutes a basic violation of a social contract that ought to exist between us all. Neither assault was discourse, it was the absence of discourse; a nihilistic vacuum filled only with hatred and the utmost irreverence. Such behaviour is no longer about discussing video games: it becomes a strike against the very bonds of community that are supposed to ensure the basic mutual respect on which civilisation is premised.

This may sound overly-heady and even overwrought, but it is a very serious moral question that we all have to consider when we’re considering questions of community—and that includes the geek/gaming communities of which we are all a part. It’s why Border House has a moderation policy, and why I have long said that major news websites should do a much better job of enforcing theirs. But it’s also tied to other recent incidents that have garnered wide attention, such as Rush Limbaugh’s unprecedented and highly misogynist attack on law student and activist Sandra Fluke. Such statements are not “just words”—no one truly believes in “just words,” not even the most vituperative internet commenter. If words were “just words,” such people wouldn’t be using them. What would be the point, save expectorating syllables into the ether?

They choose the words they know will create unsafe conditions, will actually wound a person, will communicate a central and guiding idea: “you are not human.”

This is not discourse, nor is it debate. It is the irreverent mockery thereof, unto death.

BioWare did not mention prejudice specifically in its policy change (though it is mentioned in the actual Code of Conduct), but I suspect that it came down so swiftly because they saw something very ugly in this recent spate of attacks, words which go way, way beyond the almost adorable “lol u noob” sort of joshing. They saw something that was actually coarsening the working conditions of their employees, that in the case of Jennifer Hepler had actually intruded into her own home. Stewards of online communities do need to start appreciating the reality that not all speech is equal; the very power of words gives them the power to silence, erase, and even destroy. It is antithetical to community itself to allow such things to continue, and to allow the internet’s many bigots free reign without consequence– allowing them to partake without asking for basic decency in return.

Liberal moral philosopher Susan Neiman could just as easily have been speaking of this group of people when she said the following:

Their world is never graced by a shadow of reverence. There’s so much trash—sometimes masquerading as a satire of trash—that it’s hard to say what’s worse: The blunting violence that’s called action? The lackadaisical transformation of sex to commodity? The shows that invite people to degrade themselves for a few dollars or minutes of fame? All of them chip away at human dignity; all of them went further than Nietzsche’s grimmest dreams. He wrote that a noble soul has reverence for itself. You needn’t go that far to believe that a noble soul must have reverence for something.

And we can make a good start of it by having reverence for each other. Bioware’s new policy is a positive step in that direction, and I hope that more policies of this sort will help to make the gaming community a true community for all of us.

An image of a dragon, twisted around a scroll with the words 'BioWare Corp' written on it.

Why I Love BioWare (and the Internet)

An image of a dragon, twisted around a scroll with the words 'BioWare Corp' written on it.

 

I’m going to make an admission: Yesterday, when I started the petition calling for BioWare to come out publicly in support of the beleaguered Jennifer Hepler, I didn’t expect them to listen. I’ve been involved in activism and the fight for social equality for a few years now, and the process has made me into a terribly cynical person.

It’s not that I thought that BioWare weren’t essentially good people—I did, and I still do—but I had nevertheless subconsciously presumed that the financial interests of a large games company would override their desire to take a stand on these issues, when push comes to shove. So when we started asking for a thousand signatures in support of Hepler, I wasn’t sure that we would get anywhere near that many.

A day later, and I’m absolutely delighted to have been proved wrong on both those counts.

Not only did we manage to get almost four hundred signatures in the eight hours that the petition was open, but I could then quite happily close it early—long before the droves of misogynists got wind of it and made moderating the comments into an increasingly depressing experience—when Ray Muzyka, one of BioWare’s co-founders, released the following statement on their forums, and through their official Twitter feed:

Jennifer is a valued, talented employee who has been with BioWare for many years and we hope will be with us for many more. It is awful that a few people have decided to make her a target for hate and threats, going so far as fabricating forum posts and attributing them to her, and singling her out for projects to which she has not contributed (i.e., Jennifer is not even a part of the Mass Effect writing team). All of us at BioWare support and will continue to support Jennifer fully, and are happy to see so many people out there are also supporting her during this difficult time.

At the same time, BioWare also announced that they would be donating $1000 in Jennifer’s name to Bullying Canada: A charity working to stop the physical and emotional bullying of young people.

This is an incredible example of what a community can do when it draws a line and says “This is not acceptable” and is a testament to BioWare as a company, regardless of what else we might think of them. It is also living proof that petition sites like Changes.org (who generated an email and sent it to BioWare every time someone put their name against the list—something which I suspect had some small influence over the speed of their response, if nothing else), and the communities that drive those sites, are most definitely capable of achieving real, measurable change.

Some of the comments we got in response to the petition were genuinely moving, and served to restore some of my faith in humanity, and the speed and unambiguity of BioWare’s response was a truly wonderful thing to see.

BioWare’s statement does not erase the magnitude of the wrong that has been done to a member of their staff, but that a company of their size would choose to come out and condemn that kind of behaviour has to be an important step along the road to making it a thing of the past. This is not to say that the world is fixed and everything is perfect and sunshine and flowers (I would, for example, strongly recommend not reading much past the first page of responses to BioWare’s statement), but it nevertheless makes me admire immensely what places like the Border House are achieving in showing women like Hepler that they are not alone, and I feel genuinely honoured to be a teeny-tiny part of this community.

As a final side-note, I would strongly suggest that anyone who is interested in the matter take a look at Quinnae’s article discussing the relative merits and flaws of what it was Jennifer Hepler actually said in the first place, which is pretty much what should have happened all along.

Mass Effect 3′s Reversible Box Cover Features Hidden FemShep

A screenshot of a video of the Mass Effect 3 cover for Xbox 360, showing FemShep.

This unboxing video of Mass Effect 3 shows that despite FemShep not being featured on the cover on the shelves, you can flip the cover at home and have your box feature her instead of the male Shepard.

What do you think of this?  I’m mixed between sad that she isn’t on the cover by default but happy that we at least have the option.  Progress?