After an inexplicable amount of press was placed upon their team by angry gamers, Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear‘s developer Beamdog has stated that they will be altering the dialogue of transgender character Mizhena in a future update, along with removing a reference to GamerGate.
In the game, which is an expansion to the original Baldur’s Gate, there is a line of dialogue in which minor NPC Mizhena explains the origins of her name, revealing to the player that although being born a boy, she and her parents “came to understand [she] was truly a woman” later in life. This entire exchange, which is limited to four sentences, led to the game being bombarded with negative user reviews online, despite critical reviews of the game being positive. Another point of contention for its detractors was a line at the expense of GamerGate, in which popular character Minsc says “really, it’s all about ethics in heroic adventuring.”
Though many players also claimed that the game contained a notable amount of bugs, the main criticism that led to it receiving such a high amount of attention was due to the game’s lead writer Amber Scott supposedly “forcing” her politics into the game, with much of the controversy surrounding the trans character and the other complaints mostly serving as extra cannon fodder. In the wake of this controversy, Beamdog began locking threads on the game’s official Steam forum pertaining to Mizhena’s inclusion.
Trent Oster, the founder of Beamdog, took to the game’s forums in order to address the ongoing controversy surrounding Mizhena and the GamerGate reference, stating that the developer would now change the character’s dialogue, remove the GamerGate joke and patch out the bugs. Oster wrote:
“First off, everyone here is ecstatic to have shipped Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear. Siege represents years of hard work by a dedicated team that we grew from a combination of home grown talent, original Baldur’s Gate modders and former Bioware developers. Siege of Dragonspear represents more than 25 hours of new Baldur’s Gate gameplay, and more than 500,000 words of writing. I’m proud of our team for launching this great expansion.
We’ve received feedback around Mizhena, a supporting character who reveals she is transgender. In retrospect, it would have been better served if we had introduced a transgender character with more development. This is a lesson we will be carrying forward in our development as creators and we will be improving this character in a future update.
The last few days have showed us how passionately many of our fans care for our games. We’ve had a lot of great feedback from players who love the expansion and are having a great time experiencing the first new Baldur’s Gate story in 15 years.
While we appreciate all feedback we receive from our fans, both positive as well as negative, some of the negative feedback has focused not on Siege of Dragonspear but on individual developers at Beamdog — to the point of online threats and harassment.
I just want to make it crystal clear that Beamdog does not condone this behavior, and moreover that it will not have the desired effect as we stand behind all our developers 100%. We created the game as a group, and moving forward we’ll work on the game’s issues as a group, which I believe is exactly as it should be.
We’ve received valuable feedback around some bugs we failed to catch for ship. We’re hard at work right now patching up the issues that slipped through and we’re striving to ship fixes and improvements quickly. We will provide a complete list of the issues we plan to address in our next update. Issues of note we are addressing are:
Multiplayer – We are acting on reports of multiplayer issues and hope to have this fixed in the next update.
Minsc – Minsc has a line which generated controversy. Looking back on the line, we agree with the feedback from our community, it has nothing to do with his character and we will be removing the line.
We hope all our players continue to enjoy Siege of Dragonspear and we look forward to providing an update in the near future.”
It’s not yet known when Beamdog plans to issue this update, nor how they will elaborate upon Mizhena’s story.
Though the quality of the writing in terms of the interaction between the player and Mizhena was always subjective, as all storytelling is, the immense amount of outrage it has generated has made it clear that this was about far more than just “bad writing.” The user reviews for the game on Steam, GOG and Metacritic are peppered with transphobic slurs, and the targeting of lead writer Amber Scott and the rest of the team at Beamdog transcended far beyond a reasonable response. There was a mod released that removed Mizhena from the game altogether, a video of a player killing her after placing down a “Detect Traps” spell that was shared by those who protested her appearance in the game, and frequent claims that her inclusion was an example of Beamdog enforcing their “politics” into Baldur’s Gate – as though trans people don’t actually exist in the real world other than to make a political statement.
That Beamdog has responded to this overwhelming external pressure is a little disappointing, though understandable given the circumstances, and if nothing else it will at least (hopefully) see Mizhena now being given more fleshed-out dialogue than her previous appearance in the game. However, that this move comes as a result of such an intense backlash is disheartening.
It’s ironic that GamerGate, a group which supposedly champions artistic freedom and who have lobbied against what they view as “censorship” on multiple occasions in the past, have been so vehement in their admonishing of the game. Considering that this is the same group that fought against Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 not being brought to the West, claiming that it was “self-censorship” on behalf of publisher Koei Tecmo, and who have vilified Nintendo’s Treehouse division for alterations made to games such as Xenoblade Chronicles X and Fire Emblem: Fates, again suggesting that the company “censored” their games out of fear of backlash, their same loose definition of this word should therefore also be applied to this particular situation; Beamdog have been hounded ruthlessly online, so much so that they believed the only way to prevent the continued negative backlash against their game was to alter their original vision of it.
If those who believed that Nintendo changing an outfit in Xenoblade Chronicles X was censorship, or that Treehouse changing Support conversations in Fire Emblem was censorship, or that Blizzard altering Tracer’s pose in Overwatch was censorship, then surely those same people must also believe that this, too, is censorship? If not, then it is highly suggestible that their views on what does/does not classify as censorship is limited to what they do/do not agree with, which contrary to the group’s mission statement, isn’t very ethical at all.