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Officially Official

BioWare Officially Confirms Support For Jennifer Hepler and Anti-Bullying Campaigns

We reported on the intense round of harassment leveled at BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler recently, due to a number of quotes that were mostly fake, but, when true (and still half a decade old), were made regarding her opinions on how to improve the inclusivity of games to people outside the demographic of “hardcore gamers.” The fact that Hepler herself has a voice in the games industry but neither identifies as hardcore nor fits the narrow, stereotypical but prevalent stereotype of the hardcore gamer (a relatively young, usually single, usually white, straight male), undoubtedly increased her perceived threat to the strangers who called her home phone and called for her to commit suicide on Twitter. In the wake of it, many called upon BioWare itself to make an official statement denouncing the treatment she’d received from a segment people who claimed to speak for “real gamers.”

Well, BioWare has, with words and money.

Community Coordinator Chris Priestly posted this statement from BioWare’s cofounder, Ray Muzyka, on BioWare’s official forums yesterday afternoon:

Jennifer is a valued, talented employee who has been with BioWare for many years and we hope will be with us for many more. It is awful that a few people have decided to make her a target for hate and threats, going so far as fabricating forum posts and attributing them to her, and singling her out for projects to which she has not contributed (i.e., Jennifer is not even a part of the Mass Effect writing team). All of us at BioWare support and will continue to support Jennifer fully, and are happy to see so many people out there are also supporting her during this difficult time.

Many of the people who made comments against Hepler cited the inclusion of gay romance options for players who choose to play the male version of Commander Shepard, main character of the Mass Effect series, as a reason why she should be fired, or worse. As Muzyka points out, Hepler has never worked on the Mass Effect series (only on Dragon Age and Star Wars: The Old Republic), as anyone who attempted to investigate whether Hepler had actually said some of the things attributed to her by recent blog posts would have found. I also feel compelled to point out a double standard at play in this already faulty criticism: players who choose a female Shepard have been able to choose to romance another female-presenting (because the Asari aren’t female they are unisex /MassEffectnerdmoment) character from the first Mass Effect game, and have multiple options romantically pursue female characters in the second.

But beyond simply voicing their support for Hepler, Priestly also announced that the Canadian based games studio would be donating one thousand dollars to the anti-harassment volunteer organization Bullying Canada, and encouraged their community to contribute as they could.

(via No High Scores.)

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  • Alana Beltzer

    I do like that BioWare has stepped up to address this issue and that, in general, they are pretty awesome when it comes to these types of issues. However, $1000 seems like a pretty paltry amount considering they are worth millions (billions?) of dollars.

    Still, it’s better than doing nothing and I can’t wait to upgrade my computer so I can play SW:TOR and support a company that appears to have it’s heart in the right place.

  • Kath

    This is the company with terrible PR, troll-feeding staff, that hired Orson Scott Card to write an adaptive work DESPITE being known as a games developer supportive of LGB people (as evidenced by their almost-always bisexual romance options, although some gay/lesbian ones have existed), that delayed same-sex romances in TOR until an undetermined point in the future and insulted and degraded transpeople in Dragon Age: Origins.

    Their heart isn’t in any place at all. They don’t have a heart, even.

  • Anonymous

    I agree they’re not perfect and I would be one of the first to criticize them, but it’s because they’re so progressive that they invite more scrutiny from the new demographics they attract. They’re getting better, even if in some ways they’re getting worse. It’s hard to explain, but I believe that their heart is in the right place, and though they’ve made mistakes, I know I definitely have on the road to where I am now. If they think they’re perfect right now, then they’re wrong and need to be told that, but I do think they’re going in the right direction.

  • Alana Beltzer

     ” that delayed same-sex romances in TOR until an undetermined point in the future”

    How many other game companies have even considered adding same-sex romances to their games?

    I get that they aren’t perfect, especially with hiring OSC (I hadn’t heard about that), but, to me, they seem to be one of the few companies that are even trying to be progressive, to appeal to a demo outside of teenage boys and the men that think like them.

  • Anonymous

    It always suprises me how narrow minded and just plain evil people can be. It is very strange to realize that some of one’s fans could be people who are on the completely opposite wavelength. I would rather not have to meet these kind of people in the middle…

  • Anonymous

    I get that they aren’t perfect, … but, to me, they seem to be one of the few companies that are even trying to be progressive

    Meh.  I think they’re trying to the exact extent that they think it will generate greater revenue from those groups of people stereotypically seen as not being BioWare customers and only to the extent that they see their greater customer base not being negatively outweighed by the sexist, racist homobigots who typically buy their games deciding that they no longer want to buy BioWare games because they no longer cater to straight white dudebros exclusively.

    And frankly, in regards to their latest title, SWTOR, they totally fucking blew it, imo.  I can’t keep in my head at one time, all the ways that game includes retrofuck ideas and resorts to derivative, lazy, offensive stereotypes to flesh out various characters.  They should hire me.  I’m getting tired of tweeting and e-mailing long ass letters to them about another problematic set of things I see in the game that throws me right out of enjoying the game with reminders of the various bigotries the writers and designers of the game have that no one bothered to catch and rectify before launch.

    EDIT: Also, I agree with you on the paltry sum. I’m kinda wondering if there’s some sort of joke behind only offering $1000. They’re already recouping the entire cost of developing SWTOR, they’re not strapped for cash. I’m sure Muzyka himself could personally draw $1000 out of a weekly paycheck and not miss it.

  • Kath

    How many companies make games that include romances? Aside from Bethesda (Skyrim), Lionhead (Fable 3) and The Sims Studio (The Sims series, The Sims Medieval, etc), there’s few games which actually allow for romances, let alone same-sex ones.

    But BioWare have been terrible with them. Male Shepard characters (in the Mass Effect series) can’t be officially “gay” until the third game, female Shepards until #2 with a fling. Arguably the Asari don’t count, or should be discounted regardless in order to save us all the pain of discussing whether they’re female or not. For them to delay same-sex in TOR is, in my opinion, not all that progressive. It’s common place for things to be delayed but never actually surface, or to not be as good as they once were.

    I would have said a better move would be for BioWare to have just not implemented the romance plot lines at all. It doesn’t “discriminate” between sexual preferences then.

  • Anonymous

    I would have said a better move would be for BioWare to have just not implemented the romance plot lines at all.

    BioWare games always have romance options.  I’m pretty sure it was chiseled in stone back in Ye Olden Days that BioWare games must always have romance options.  It’s a signature BioWare er, thing.

  • Grahame Turner

    The really important point here, I think, isn’t “how much money could BioWare afford to donate” nor is it “They could be doing more for the LGBT community.” The really important–and disturbing–point is that there are people calling for someone to commit suicide over the inclusion of an optional game mechanic. That’s what disturbs me most. Suicide isn’t something to be taken lightly, it’s not a joke. The fact that someone is willing to harass another human being on the phone, let alone Twitter, is terrifying, disgusting, and disturbing. I’m content to accept BioWare’s gesture as a subtle flip of the bird to those morons. 
    Secondary point is how willing people are to make that same call without actually checking their damn facts. 

  • Anonymous

    The really important–and disturbing–point is that there are people
    calling for someone to commit suicide over the inclusion of an optional
    game mechanic.

    I guess that sort of behaviour is surprising or shocking to some.  It isn’t the least bit of either, to me.  I can guarantee the next time a woman working in the game industry, who is at least mildly well-known, says something that is threatening to the gamer dudebros, the same thing will happen. [TW]  I’m sure Hepler got rape and death threats, as well as threats to murder any pets she has. [/TW]  These are all things that have been said before to other women in the game industry (the Dickwolves mess is an example), and it will happen again and again, because the only way people know how to react to these things is with shock and a personal reassurance that it’s only a few people being assholes and they aren’t actually a *real* threat to anyone’s safety, etc, etc, etc., completely ignoring the very real emotional terrorism that these people are committing, and the long-term psychological effects this behaviour has on their victims. 

    EDIT: Added trigger warnings.

  • Life Lessons

    Well go BioWare. :)

  • Michail Velichansky

    Well, first, you’re lumping every team at Bioware in one lump. It’s not like it’s a handful of people, there’s many teams, in two different countries, working on very different projects. So while say TOR hasn’t been progressive in its romance options, Dragon Age II was very aggressive in providing same sex romance options for male characters in spite of fan reaction.

    I also agree with posters who feel that completely trashing Bioware for trying and succeeding less than perfectly in dealing with issues of sexuality and gender is less than helpful. They’ve done a lot of amazing, progressive stuff. That’s why we want to see more from them — because they’re almost the only ones even bothering to try, at least within mainstream AAA gaming.

    I also strongly disagree that Mass Effect’s Asari romance option doesn’t count as same-sex. Sure, there’s SF handwaving about Asari being monogendered, but in every other way the game codes them as female. Even within the game fiction the Asari code themselves as female.

    Sure, I’d have loved for there to be a male same-sex romance option. It’s a missing piece. But to dismiss the fact that they DID correct that in game three? There’s clearly a very strong push for inclusivity within their company culture, sometimes in spite of backlash. But it’s still a large, multi-million-dollar company. It lurches in progressive directions because it’s just so big.

    So… Bioware as a whole fills a spectrum from “not very progressive” in some cases to “trying very hard to be progressive” in others. It’s “not very” is still way better than many other companies.

    And I think it’s absolutely not cool to completely dismiss the hard, hard work that MUST be happening behind the scenes to make this stuff happen. There are clearly people in Bioware board rooms and design meetings fighting to include gay characters, and they are winning more often than they used to.

    Just saying. Criticize what needs criticizing, but give credit where it’s due. Bioware’s doing better than almost the whole rest of the industry, or at least is trying to.

  • Kath

    BioWare is loads of teams in loads of places. There’s even a BioWare studio in Ireland. But at the same time, it’s a brand, an identity. It’s convenient – and not incorrect – to refer to them all as BioWare as generally when it’s done it refers to the trifecta – Austin (TOR), Edmonton (DA/ME) and Montreal (Support for Edmonton), i.e. the two main studios and the TOR guys.

    See, with Dragon Age 2 – I disagree. What BioWare tend to do is what I call “bi-washing”. Instead of having gay romance options, they largely have bisexual ones. The only *actually* gay romance option that comes to mind is Juhani from KotOR, and that was a decade ago.

    The fact they “corrected” the lack of M/M options in #3 shows a massive misunderstanding, to me. In ME2, it was corrected for FemShep via Kelly Chambers, but she was a fling (and I believe also available to male characters). There wasn’t an equivalent male character for a male Shepard to sleep with. If I’m honest, the inclusion in ME3 feels more like shoe-horning, as in they’re doing it to bow to fan pressure, which is something BioWare have done before. In Mass Effect 1, both Kaidan and Ashley were intended to be bisexual. There are recorded lines of dialogue (and the ability via tinkering with the game) that show them becoming interested in the player character. They were removed, likely to speed up development. In Mass Effect 2, Tali flirts – albeit briefly – with Female Shepard in one of her lines. After that? Nada. Could be a sign Tali too was supposed to be open to female Shepard. I’m not aware if there was anything available for the Male Shepard, though.

    As for the Asari – It’s not simple. BioWare contradict and confuse the issue thousands of times over. Are they female? Aren’t they? Wouldn’t female “technically” require a male counterpart, so if there isn’t a male can there be a female? You can go on and on. I disregarded them for the sake of not confusing the issue and making it any more complicated than it already is.

    I’ll give BioWare credit where it’s due, but I largely think they counter any positives with their negatives. They did great things with strong women in DA:O, but then pissed all over it by insulting transgender people with the prostitutes in The Pearl. Isabella was shown to be strong and interesting, and in DA2 she ended up being Tits On Legs.

    When they start properly implementing LGB(T) romances, stop this ridiculous bi-washing and have more positive female characters that aren’t Tits & Ass (Miranda, Isabella) and so on, I’ll give them credit. Until then? No. Juhani was the pinnacle of their LGB(T) support, and they’ve not come close to it since.

  • Michail Velichansky

    Replying to your reply below, for some reason I don’t have a reply button down there.

    Thanks for clarifying your bi-washing criticism, as I was curious about that one but already going too long in my reply.

    I’m not sure I agree with it — in a branching video game, the fact that a character would be interested in characters of either gender depending on the players choice doesn’t make the character bi-sexual within the fiction, necessarily. It means they are gay or straight in that particular instance of the story. So, while one player’s Ashley may be gay, another player’s might not.

    I actually think it would be an acceptable solution if all Bioware romance options had a variant where the character was gay, and one where they aren’t.

    I guess what you’d want to see is a character that’s ONLY interested in a same-sex relationship, on any play through? I agree that would be very definitive. Though, people would probably just be frustrated they couldn’t romance them. (As people [me] are sad they can’t romance Tali.)

    But overall, I don’t think I can agree that a bad move in one game somehow undoes a good move in another. I would rather see a company stumbling around trying stuff and sometimes succeeding than nothing at all.

    I admit I’m pretty biased. When I try to include non-white or non-straight people in my own works, I pretty much have to tell myself that it’s better to try and screw up and then do better than to just not try. Because sooner or later I WILL do something that someone will take offense or where I didn’t do it how they wanted or where I just plain did it badly. But… I have to try, because doing it badly is the only way to have any conversation at all so we can do it better. 

    So I have to give everyone else the same courtesy. I don’t expect you to agree on it, just saying that’s where I’m coming from.

    As far as no good female characters… Shephard and Tali aren’t awesome enough?

  • Kath

    The reply button thing – it’s because this “version” (as it were) of Disqus only allows so many successive replies.

    So, let’s start:
    The sexuality changes – I disagree. I think it’s… a rather strange idea, if I’m honest. Change a character’s sexuality based on your player’s character? It doesn’t seem very realistic. Jack in ME2 is arguably bisexual (there’s a surprise), but she just turned around to FemShep and said she wasn’t interested. Why she got off with MaleShep is another question entirely, but that sort of implementation would make more sense. What would make even more sense would be for the attraction to be random rather than a number of hoops to jump through.

    What would be even *better* would be a questioning character. Say… Kaidan from ME1. What if you could work him around as MaleShep, but he said “Commander, I thought I only liked women, but over the course of our mission…” or something? That would be pretty cool, because it also brings real world situations into it.

    But yes, what I’d like are more exclusively gay/lesbian characters. Why does *every* romance option have to be straight or bisexual, even at the expense of the character? I felt Dragon Age: Origins got it wrong. I interpreted Leliana as tending more towards lesbianism, Zevran I felt was more straight (he didn’t seem particularly positive about his gay experiences, I read his dialogue as saying he did it only because he had to) and Alistair should have been switched with Zevran (I bet some gay guys went loopy over Ali). To me, the “restrictions” imposed on them by BioWare weakened the characters, but also seemed unrealistic.

    If you’re trying to add PoC/Queer Characters into your games or stories, that’s fine. But BioWare, unlike – I assume – yourself, are a major player with a number of writers, nationalities, and so forth. They’ve got no excuse for bi-washing (beyond “cheaper development”, despite still recording the lines anyway!), they’ve got no excuse for stereotyping and so forth.

  • Kath

    $1000 reads to me like they had a quick go around during lunch hour.

  • Kath

    Yes, but those points were discussed heavily in the previous story. No-one here, as far as I can tell, has ever said the level of hate she got was in any way right or justified.

    The story works out as this:
    - Writer for world-famous RPG studio makes strange comments R.E. action in action games and disturbing comments about women and gaming.
    - Someone picks up on it five years later, and it gets spread around, taken out of context and so on.
    - People call her out on it, insult her, degrade her.
    - At some point in time, she inflames the discussion with an utterly bizarre and possibly sexist comment.
    - Outrage gets worse.
    - A GM from one of the games (I assume TOR, might just be a mod on the BSN site) insults someone else.
    - Outrage gets worse again.

    That’s how it’s been reported, basically. The internet is like a big ol’ drink of alcohol. It loosens your tongue (well, fingers), loosens your mind and instils a false sense of bravado. Combined with the anonymity factor, it was just going to explode once it became public knowledge.

    Ms Hepler’s situation is, well, nothing new. It doesn’t make it any less serious or any less disgusting, however.

    But as for BioWare’s response? Pfft. Generic is what I’d say, and the $1k gesture is rather half-hearted. They had to say something, as it did involve one of their employees, false claims and so on, but they didn’t say or do anything more than a generic, token gesture.

  • Anonymous

    - At some point in time, she inflames the discussion with an utterly bizarre and possibly sexist comment.

    What?  Have you ever been on the receiving end of verbal abuse online from a group of highly privileged assholes?  I guarantee she was receiving rape threats and gendered slurs and her comment about people being jealous of her having both a uterus and a job in game development stemmed from that.  Her comment was not in the least out of line, it was perceptive.

  • Frodo Baggins

    Some of those were fake? Well, sorry for railing against what you didn’t say, Jennifer.

  • Anonymous
  • Kath

    Have I? Probably, but not to the scale of Ms Hepler.

    Perhaps her comment was perceptive, but she rose to the challenge put forward by the abusers and opened herself to more abuse. Again, still not saying how she was treated was right, merely that her moment of weakness – if you’d like to term it such – fanned the fires and made it worse.

  • Michail Velichansky

    Well, not being a major player wouldn’t excuse me from criticism (nor should it). And I’m not sure that being a major player means you have no excuse if you try something but don’t quite manage it to everyone’s satisfaction. I doubt they’ll ever manage to handle queer characters to everyone’s satisfaction. I’m just super happy they try.

    I doubt we’ll agree on it, but I liked reading your points, and I do understand where you’re coming from and why you feel frustrated.

    The bi-washing concern is interesting. I don’t know if I agree or not, but it’s an interesting question as far as game design and whether characters should change in advance like that.

    I’d be cool with seeing more same-sex-only romances, and seeing a coming-out or coming-to-terms story would be super interesting. And super sweet if done right.

    So regardless of how much I think Bioware has or hasn’t messed up, I’d still love to see them go further! :)

  •ão/698072142 Rodrigo Girão

    I don’t think Shattered Steel and MDK2 had romance options.

  • Beakie Helmet

     I don’t think it’s that bad, they contributed period to respond to a situation they aren’t even responsible for.

    Some angry, bitter people on the internet acted out of line so much that they got a corporation to donate money to an anti-bullying organization.

  • Anonymous

    I think you’re missing my point, and @potsherds:disqus is closer to getting it. Could they have done more? Probably. Is it a token gesture? Probably. Why are we bickering about that when what I think is a larger issue is still–you know–an issue (even if it has been “discussed at length” on a previous article). 

    Arguing about this donation is kind of like someone giving you some ice cream for no particular reason, then you complaining that it lacks both whipped cream and sprinkles–”and where’s my damn cherry?” It’s a good thing, stop complaining that it isn’t good enough. What worries and disturbs me is the attitude that this is commonplace. I’m not really surprised that this kind of thing happens, but I am surprised that some of us are willing to accept it as “part of the internet” or “part of gaming culture.” How is that not the bigger issue? Perhaps I also need to make a larger noise about my throwaway comment at the end there: These people are leveling accusations, making threats, and saying these truly disturbing things with no actual evidence to back them up. They’re accusing her of welcoming “The Gay Agenda” into Mass Effect, when she’s not even working on the game. How is that not absurd? How is that not a bigger issue than whether or not the company’s donation is big enough?(Speaking of, out of curiosity, what was this “bizarre, probably sexist comment” that made things worse?)

  • Scott Michael Josephus

    Don’t Forget Fable II in that list.

  • Anonymous

    You don’t know how sick I am of seeing “trigger warning”.

  • TM Dowd

    I will not condone any kind of threats or bullying about a GAME. That’s just mean and evil.

    I will say I don’t like her writing because it’s heavy-handed and she seems to think retconning is a good thing. But that’s at MOST a reason for losing a job, not for any kind of violence. Better if there’d been a bit more editing.