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Electronic Arts Fights Backlash Against Gay Video Game Characters and Plot Lines

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Once again, a Star Wars video game has provoked uproar in the gaming community.
This time, though, it’s not the dignity shredding done by a dancing Hans Solo on the Xbox 360’s (MSFT) Kinect Star Wars. Instead, it is the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Star Wars: The Old Republic that has gotten folks up in arms.
The reason? Turns out that this game, along with fellow Electronic Arts (EA) title Mass Effect 3, includes (or will soon include) gay characters and plot lines, which is of course anathema to the anti-gay coalition.
The Florida Family Association, which some might recall spearheaded the charge to pressure companies like Lowe’s (LOW) to drop advertising on TLC’s (DISCA) now-canceled “All-American Muslim,” kickstarted a hatemail campaign against EA last month.
On its website, the group warned that "queer activists" have pressured EA into adding gay characters into the new Star Wars game.

“There were no LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) characters in any of the Star Wars movies. So if BioWare, the maker of Star Wars video games, adds LGBT characters for kids to select as their action character it could be something like Darth RuPaula, a combination of Darth Vader, one of the most popular Star Wars characters, and RuPaul, the renown transgender cross dresser.”

The site even helpfully included a photoshopped image, in case your imagination weren’t enough.

Presenting Darth RuPaul
Ever since the Florida Family Association initiated the campaign, GamesIndustry reports that EA has been inundated with thousands of letters and emails demonstrating outrage over the inclusion of LGBT content in its games and threatening boycotts if the company did not remove such content.
Aiding this cause is Tony Perkin’s Family Research Council. On his site, Perkins writes that “in a new Star Wars game, the biggest threat to the empire may be homosexual activists!” Adding, “In a galaxy not so far far away, Star Wars gamers have already gone to the dark side.”
Just like how JCPenney (JCP) stuck with Ellen DeGeneres after an anti-gay urged the retailer to drop the openly out star as its spokesperson, EA is sticking to its guns.
“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," Jeff Brown, EA’s VP of corporate communications, told GamesIndustry. “This isn't about protecting children, it's about political harassment.”
To thank EA for not succumbing to anti-gay pressures, the activist group has collected an online petition of support with close to 70,000 signatures that it plans to deliver to EA’s headquarters in Redwood City, California.
In a press statement, Andre Banks, executive director for said, “Electronic Arts customers are speaking out loud and clear:  Being for equality is good for business. Groups like the Family Research Council are truly on the ‘dark side’ -- they put pressure on companies like EA to block fair, balanced portrayals of gay characters in gaming and other media. You don’t have to be a gamer to understand that it makes a real difference for Electronic Arts to present positive portrayals of gays and lesbians to its community of 100 million players.”
Of course, seasoned gamers might feel that this whole anti-gay controversy is a storm in a teacup that obscures the real issue with EA: its nonchalance in the face of genuine gaming gripes. As Erik Kain from Forbes writes:

“EA isn’t exactly responsive to customer concerns -- concerns which have been mounting over the years as fans increasingly see EA as far more interested in making money than in making great games. Making money is an important part of any business equation, to be sure, but EA is widely perceived as a publisher that would happily sacrifice content, quality, and integrity to make a buck, a company that would happily cannibalize the developers they acquire in order to suck the marrow from their profitable bones.”

The company was also recently voted the winner in The Consumerist’s Worst Company in America” poll. Clearly, many gamers were seething at the cryptic ending of Mass Effects 3, gay plotline or not.
So was this outcry over same-sex storylines a mere distraction tactic by EA? Perhaps so, but it is still nonetheless always reassuring to see another high-profile public company stand up for diversity.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.