Having spent a considerable amount of time developing an expansion for their popular fantasy series, Baldur’s Gate, developers at Beamdog were excited to release Siege of the Dragonspear. Taking place in-between the first and second Baldur’s Gates, this new addition to the series is meant to bridge the gap between the two narratives. Out last week, fans were eager to purchase and play Siege of the Dragonspear, it being the first bit of original content for the game series since 1999.
However, the highly anticipated game started to garner mysteriously low ratings on both Steam and Metacritic. When further researched in comments and Baldur’s Gates forums, it appears that certain aspects of the new game has offended a particular demographic, and they have decided to act upon it. The common theme seems to be many are upset at what’s being called “SJW” issues taking over Baldur’s Gate. What does SJW stand for, you might ask. Social Justice Warriors.
You see, Siege of the Dragonspear features a trans character, a cleric by the name of Mizhena, who reveals her coming out story to the main character.
Critics of the game have taken to forums, as well as creating YouTube videos where the player kills Mizhena while saying offensive slurs. Jessica Lachenal, writer for the Mary Sue, aptly points out the sad irony behind videos such as these being made in protest to the games:
What I find incredibly ironic about this is that they say this character and this conversation breaks immersion, yet what happens in this video is something that all trans people risk when they come out to family, friends, and dates.
Other complaints against the games include poor multiplayer functions, and actual graphic glitches that can be fixed by developers. However, the majority of nay-sayers are calling for the trans character to be removed entirely from the game. Others are claiming a “feminist agenda” is to blame, and still others were rather perturbed when jokes made at GamersGate expense came up.
In the past we covered well loved and undeniable famous Dragon Age/KOTOR writer David Gaider’s transfer from long time hire Bioware to Beamdog, in order to work on the Siege of the Dragonspear project. Gaider seems to be taking a fair bit of the blame from critics online, despite the fact that he did not work on the game:
While I'd love to take credit/blame for Siege of Dragonspear, I did not work on it. Websites saying I did might want to research a bit more.
— David Gaider (@davidgaider) April 6, 2016
Gaider is famously known for representation of well written LGBT characters in his games, most famously those in Dragon Age Inquisition–especially a trans character, Krem, who tells his story to players and was very well recieved. It’s interesting that, while an older series with its already set environment and fans, Baldur’s Gate was exempt from the same praise. The argument that many disgruntled fans are making is that the inclusion of the trans cleric “breaks the immersion” the game is supposed to offer.
While Gaider had no hand in this game, the writer has been known as an advocate for further representation for gay/queer gaming fans, including support for conventions such as GaymerX, and his quotes on the event and representation in games carries an eerie mark of relevance in this issue:
I come from an era where sexuality wasn’t something you would consider even acknowledging in the gaming world, never mind treating as something worth representing. If you were gay, you just accepted the fact that entertainment would never show that aspect of your life as anything more than some character’s dirty little secret, or a funny gag. Nobody cared about what you thought or wanted, and maybe you even believed that’s the way it should be. The idea that anything else was even possible was completely foreign to you — as it was to me when BioWare first broached the subject in Knights of the Old Republic (2003) and then Jade Empire (2005).
The full statement can be read on Gaider’s facebook.
I didn’t need to write stories that were solely meant for other people. I could also include some that were meant for me, or people like me. I was an intentional part of that vague group known as “the audience”, not just an incidental one. It’s taken a lot of time to get used to what that means.
Other writers for the game have been quoted as trying to bring the game up to speed with modern times, as the past Baldur’s Gate games tended to write rather 2D female characters. The aim for this expansion was to create well written representations of characters from all walks of life. When interviewed with Kotaku, writer Amber Scott had this to say about writing for Siege of the Dragonspear:
In the original there’s a lot of jokes at women’s expense. Or if not a lot, there’s a couple, like Safana was just a sex object in BG1, and Jaheira was the nagging wife and that was played for comedy. We were able to say, ‘No, that’s not really the kind of story we want to make.’ In Siege of Dragonspear, Safana gets her own little storyline, she got a way better personality upgrade. If people don’t like that, then too bad.
However, many critics have taken this as ironclad proof that the game carries SJW agendas. When asked for a statement, the game’s leader Trent Oster had rather profound thoughts to share:
I find the controversy ridiculous. Yes, we have a transgendered character. I know a number of transgendered people and they are genuine, wonderful humans. Yes, we also have a character who cracks a joke about ethics. The original Baldur’s Gate had a whole sequence about the Bob Newhart show. If this generates controversy it makes a sad statement about the world we live in.
Oster also took to the game’s forums, asking fans who were having a positive and fun experience with the expansion to speak up, hoping to lessen the troubled air that surrounds it.
Meanwhile, other venues such as VentureBeat have given the game positive reviews, graphic glitches aside. It is also important to keep in mind the trans cleric causing all the ruckus is a NPC (Non Playable Character) who has only those few lines of dialogue. Perhaps it seems out of place–that is entirely a matter of opinion. And the game is after all, a fantasy, where anything can happen. In the end, we all have to bow to the fact that Beamdog is allowed to take their narrative in any direction they please, as artist, and as the game’s creators.