Gay Marriage Flap Around New Lord of the Rings MMO

A well-documented Salon piece tracks a bit of controversy surrounding the new Tolkien-esque MMO Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar.

It seems that, after a heated in-house debate, LOTRO developer Turbine decided to remove the option for marriage between characters over concerns that same-sex weddings would inevitably take place. Salon’s Katherine Glover writes:

Largely due to the uniquely libertarian culture of game design, games are ahead of the real world in terms of acceptance of same-sex marriage… Today, the discussion of same-sex marriage in games redraws the battle lines over the issue, making it not a fight over marriage but an issue of the philosophy of video games themselves.

So, what do gay gamers want? Pretty much the same thing as their straight counterparts: a good game experience. Researcher Jason Rockwood told Glover:

Gay gamers do not want ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: The Video Game… My research suggests that gay gamers don’t want games that are made for a ‘gay audience. They simply want to be able to play games that everyone else is playing, but they want to have inclusion; they want the option to have gay characters.

In setting the stage for the LOTRO controversy, Glover recounts a number of games which have allowed gay unions, including The Sims series, Fallout 2, Second Life and Fable. Game designer Timothy Cain spoke about the decision to allow gay relationships in Fallout 2:

A big part of the ‘Fallout’ series was that we wanted it to be as open-ended as possible. We had no way of knowing whether you were going to be a man or a woman, so we decided to write all the different dialogue combinations… A role-playing game, you invent your character at the beginning, so you should get to determine what they do, and if we’re going to put any romantic element in, we should cover all the bases.

Sims exec Rod Humble echoed Cain:

Players should be able to do whatever they want within their own game, and it’s not our business to stop them. If you have two regular plastic dolls, you wouldn’t expect someone to come along and tell you what positions you could and couldn’t put them in.

According to one Turbine developer, the decision to rule out gay marriage came down to toeing the line on Tolkien authenticity. Nik Davidson said:

The rule that we tried to follow across the board was: if there’s an example of it in the book, the door is open to explore it. Very rarely will you see an elf and a human hook up, but it does happen; the door is open. Dwarves don’t intermarry with hobbits; that door is shut … Did two male hobbits ever hook up in the shire and have little hobbit civil unions? No. The door is shut.

Tolkien was a conservative Catholic. He went out drinking with C.S. Lewis every night, and the two of them had a worldview that was — well, let’s just say it clashes a little bit with the sensibilities of East Coast liberals who make up the largest population of Turbine.

But sex-in-games expert Brenda Brathwaite was skeptical:

Players are still creating their own experience. In a video game, it’s about abdicating authorship and letting a player explore a world.

GayGamer and Water Cooler Games have additional perspective on the controversy.

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