Sometimes controversy pops up in the most unlikely of places — even Middle-earth.
When approached by Salon with the issue of why same-sex marriage is not allowed in the recently released MMO Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, a designer from Turbine (the game’s developer) had this to say:
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.
But aren’t people buying this game to be able to do whatever they want and expand their experiences beyond those found in the book? Who wants boundaries in their MMOs?
Of course, all real world topics cannot be addressed in the context of a video game. Things would end up a convoluted mess and more than a little preachy.
I would never want Middle-earth to be plagued with global warming, forcing all of your elves and orcs to have to recycle in order to maintain a healthy virtual environment. But at the same time, I do feel like designers have some moral responsibility to include some real life issues in their games, especially concerning MMOs, since players are more or less playing a fictionalized counterpart of themselves.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation is already a problem in online gaming. Words like “faggot” and “gay” are commonplace, even heard during something as harmless as a round of UNO on Xbox Live. Who knew playing a Draw Four made you a homosexual? Quick, someone warn Mattel!
The main issue here is not that Turbine avoided any effort to make its Lord of the Rings MMO more gay friendly (that would be silly) – it is that they made a blatant effort to make it less accessible by taken out the option of same-sex marriage.
Why was it taken out? Do the people at Turbine think it too wrong or disgusting to include? Maybe not, but then why not offer the option? At some point someone had to make the call that it wasn’t appropriate for the final product. Saying that it “wasn’t in the book” seems like the easy answer. Hell, anti-gay activists say a marriage between two people of the same sex is not it their “book” either and does that make them right?
Waving a big liberal flag about this issue doesn’t solve anything and, honestly, all parties involved may have had no intention of discriminating against anyone. Ironically, the producers at Turbine may have taken same-sex marriage out to avoid all of this hullabaloo in the first place. But the intentional exclusion of something like this raises some interesting questions that really should be addressed.
Video games are one of the most successful forms of entertainment, even grossing more than the film industry the last two years. With that many people playing (even living) these games, what kind of mass message does the industry send with a decision like this? Should we, as a generation of gamers, even waste our time worrying about it? If we want people to respect video games as more than mindless entertainment I think we do.
If two male hobbits want to get married in virtual Middle-earth, honestly, who are we to stop them? Heck, haven’t worldwide audiences and respected Oscar voters accepted it already?