Beamdog, let me show you the way out of this controversy.
I was a finalist for a Kunkel Award for writing about how a news station was duped by a hoax because of their lack of knowledge of GamerGate. In the award process the judges ripped on me for not getting to the point quicker, and so that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Beamdog (@beamdoginc), you’re screwing up.
I understand that you’re running into GamerGate and that can be overwhelming. I understand that you probably don’t know very much about GamerGate except what you’ve read, and I very much understand that 99% of what’s written about GamerGate is crap. Take a breath, slow down, and consider my words carefully and I’ll guide you through this controversy.
Let’s talk Minsc. GamerGate tends to not have a very good sense of humor when you make fun of them. It might have something to do with them being demonized by everyone from a Dell executive to Anita Sarkeesian to just about every inexperienced tech beat writer on the web for a year and a half now. It might have to do with a persecution complex. Either way, the joke presents two main problems.
It’s not funny. If you had gone after GamerGate with a good joke, they might have been angry, but they would have at least respected the humor. They respect a good shitpost, they say. But what you did was akin to making a “where’s the beef?” joke in the mid 1980’s. Your joke was like a bro using the Budweiser “wazzup?!” to answer the phone two years after the commercial. If you’re going to catch hell for a joke, make it a good one.
Your second problem is that few people want to be reminded of a vicious culture war in their video games. You defended your joke by comparing it to the original Baldur’s Gate games which had a Newhart joke. That is what we call tone deafness. Don’t do that. If you don’t understand the difference in feelings associated with Newhart and GamerGate, then you should stick with what is safe.
The joke was a minor screw up, easily fixed. Don’t remove the joke, because you shouldn’t change your art to appease those who are offended. Simply acknowledge that it was a bad joke and let people know you understand why they disagreed with its inclusion in the game. That’s it.
The transgender character is a much more difficult issue.
Again, getting right to the point: the transgender character is horribly written and your awful response to criticism of the character has exacerbated the situation and undoubtedly cost you money.
First, you need to recognize what the problem is with the character, because many people are manipulating the controversy to fight their side of the culture war. Jim Sterling loves doing this.
There are indeed some people that don’t want a transgender character in video games, that is true. But the problem for the vast majority of the people here is that it is so poorly written that it is little else than blatant, cringe-worthy virtue signaling on your part.
Most of the people groaning about this don’t care if you have LGBTQ characters in your game. No one in GamerGate made a fuss about The Witcher 3’s diverse cast of characters. It just has to be done right. In this case, “right” means using diversity naturally in your game rather than as a means of overtly advocating progressivism. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the criticism of Mizhena is because of evil young white males who only want white cishet characters.
The worst problem you are facing is how poorly you have handled the situation.
Dee the developer, said this in the Steam group.
I read the Kotaku in Action subreddit every day as part of my research into GamerGate. I did not see any discussion about ways to disrupt the Baldur’s Gate community. I certainly did not see any coordinated harassment. These are dogwhistles meant to rally the progressive troops. This same developer even overtly sent out the progressive bat signal, calling upon the great Anita Sarkeesian (what the hell?) and the feminist magazine Jezebel.
You even make the claim that these are not real Baldur’s Gate fans. Since you are a small studio I’m not sure if you’ve carried out any market research. I have. I conducted a survey of 725 confirmed GamerGate supporters (that’s a significant number) at the end of January. Take a look.
By a huge margin, GamerGate’s favorite device on which to play games is the PC.
By a huge margin, GamerGate’s favorite game genre is the RPG.
My results show that GamerGate supporters are hardcore gamers who devote a lot of their time to video games. What’s more, 3% of the GamerGate supporters that I surveyed are transgender.
Depending on the statistics you look at, that 3% is up to ten times higher than the US population (keep in mind, however, that my survey was international and not directly comparable to the United States, and that it’s difficult to figure out the national percentage of transgender people).
It is likely that GamerGate supporters are your core market.
You further compound your problems with Amber Scott’s poorly chosen words. Everyone knows about the Kotaku interview, where she was needlessly antagonistic. More importantly, I think you can see the major problem with the following screenshot from your forums.
“Hi, I’m Brad”
“Hi, Brad, I’m Mizhena.”
“Mizhena? That’s an unusual name.”
“I created the name myself. My other name didn’t suit me.”
“Uh, why is that?”
“When I was born, my parents thought me a boy and raised me as such. In time, we all came to understand I was truly a woman…”
Have you ever in your life had such an awkward conversation? You don’t want to “other” transgender characters, but this highly unusual and awkward conversation has made Mizhena into exactly that — an “other”. She’s an anomaly, standing out like a sore thumb.
Scott says she doesn’t care if people think it’s “’forced’ or fake.” Perhaps you should care, Beamdog, because that is the exact problem that people are having here. It should not be too much for your audience to ask for a naturally diverse world without awkward characters inserted to make political statements, and you should not try to make them out to be your enemies when they ask for it.
Fortunately, fixing this situation is also relatively simple, though you are going to have to reverse the current mess of a direction you’re taking. Stop defending yourselves when you provide needlessly antagonistic interview responses. Acknowledge fans’ issues with the character. Listen to the people, even if you don’t agree with what they are saying. If people tell you they do not want progressive politics in their games, don’t demonize them. You don’t have to serve those people, and they don’t have to buy your games, but at the very least don’t go running to feminist culture fighters looking for allies to fight alongside you in the culture war against them.
Acknowledge your mistakes, then concentrate more on miniature giant space hamsters.
Update: I mistakenly thought the Jezebel referred to in Dee’s tweets were for Gawker’s Jezebel website. Instead they are for Jezebel magazine, which is not affiliated. I have corrected the error.