Update 2: Developers Beamdog have now stated that they’ll change the trans character and remove the GamerGate reference. Read our thoughts about this here.
Update 1: The Forgotten Realms designer Ed Greenwood, who created the universe in which Baldur’s Gate is set, has weighed in on the “saddening” controversy. Read more here.
Original Story: The GOG and Steam store pages for Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear are littered with negative reviews, with gamers trashing the game largely as a result of an encounter that takes place between the player and a transgender character.
The new expansion, which is set between the events of the first and second game, features a conversation with a transgender character in which she explains her transition. Mizhena, a cleric in the game, explains the origins behind her unusual name in a dialogue tree if the player questions her about it. “I created the name myself several years ago,” Mizhena says, adding: “My birth name proved unsuitable.” When the player asks what was wrong with her old name, she continues: “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. I created my new name from syllables of different languages. All have special meaning to me, it is the truest reflection of who I am.”
Many have taken umbrage with this line, littering its GOG, Steam and Metacritic user reviews with low scores, with the majority of these reviews referencing this exchange. A video titled ‘Tranny Abuse’ in which the player kills Mizhena after she reveals herself to be a transgender, has also been uploaded to YouTube, attracting over 13,000 views and over 350 likes, with the uploader writing: “It’s refreshing to see that nearly everyone, even a lot of neutral folks, consider this a bastardization of a classic game world. Beamdog dug themselves a hole that their company will never recover from now. Any potential Baldur’s Gate 3 they develop will fail due to people now knowing how little they care for the license.”
A common suggestion made by those posting user reviews of the game was that developer Beamdog’s inclusion of the trans character had somehow sullied its reputation, with it being commonly suggested that the dialogue tree with Mizhena had irreparably damaged the reputation of the series. A reference to GamerGate made by the developers, in which a character says “Actually, it’s about ethics in heroic adventuring,” has also rubbed many up the wrong way.
Though these user reviews also cite other problems with the game, including apparent bugs and an unsatisfactory multiplayer component, the majority of these reviews devolve into panning the game’s writing, focusing upon its supposed “social justice agenda.” Despite the game’s lone review from an actual outlet awarding it 87/100, an influx of user reviews are giving it the lowest possible score available, accompanying these reviews with complaints of the game “forcing gender politics down [their] throats.”
The game currently sits at a 3.6 out of 10 on Metacritic’s user reviews section and 2 out of 5 on GOG, though has a Mostly Positive rating on Steam. Coincidentally, this is the only one of those three platforms that requires the user to own the game they’re reviewing. Take a look at a few of these negative reviews below:
Amber Scott, a writer on the game, responded to these criticisms by saying: “As I’ve said before (and I won’t say much more on this subject other than to get my perspective out there): I’m the writer and creator. I get to make decisions about who I write about and why. I don’t like writing about straight/white/cis people all the time. It’s not reflective of the real world, it sets up s/w/c as the “normal” baseline from which “other” characters must be added, and it’s boring.
“I consciously add as much diversity as I can to my writing and I don’t care if people think that’s “forced” or fake. I find choosing to write from a straight default just as artificial. I’m happy to be an SJW and I hope to write many Social Justice Games in the future that reach as many different types of people as possible. Everyone should get a chance to see themselves reflected in pop culture.”
Beamdog founder Trent Oster also took to the forums in order to encourage those enjoying the game to post positive user reviews online, writing: “I usually spend most of my time lurking here, but I’d like to ask a favour. It appears that having a transgendered cleric and a joke line by Minsc has greatly offended the sensibilities of some people.
“This has spurred these people into action, causing them to decide this is the worst game of all time and give it a zero review score on Steam, GoG and meta critic. Now, I’d like to ask for that favour. If you are playing the game and having a good time, please consider posting a positive review to balance out the loud minority which is currently painting a dark picture for new players.”
It’s odd that in a fantasy game featuring giant ogres and dragons, the appearance of a transgender character is where so many draw the line in terms of realism. While complaining about the game’s writing is one thing, this clear attempt to damage its success as a result of it including a transgender NPC is very disappointing and, considering it is being staged by a group that supposedly champions developers’ artistic freedom, quite ironic.
Given that Mizhena is a minor NPC in the game and can be completely overlooked, that the exchange between her and the player is what has inspired so many to leave such negative user reviews, strongly suggests that those who are angered only believe in developers’ artistic freedom when those developers are creating things that they personally agree with. Also, considering that GamerGate presents itself as a movement fighting against a culture of outrage all too willing to feign offence, it’s also curious that the movement cannot take a joke at its own expense.
Paul Tamburro is the Gaming, Tech and UK Editor of Crave. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTamburro.