Say what you will about Hatred – it’s a mediocre game that manufactured outrage in order to generate a modicum of buzz so that the Perpetual Outrage Machine would be duped into buying a few copies. But hey, at least they were aware of, and were trying to be, offensive. It’s harder to get a good read on what’s going on with Fire Emblem.
A mere week after confirming that Fire Emblem Fates will release with Same Sex marriage options in them, a move that was generally cheered given that Nintendo has been slower on the update on dealing with these sorts of things. However, this week people playing the Japanese version of the game report a different kind of lesbian romance – one which is, er, borderline Gay Conversion Therapy and nonconsensual to boot. From the blog that brought this to light.
In her early dialogue she speaks of her lesbianism as a weakness preventing her from being a strong woman, and this is what causes the player to go through with drugging her and “turning her straight”. Once again, there is no option to romance Soleil with the female Kamui, despite her being a lesbian, you must go through with magical gay conversion therapy if you wish to romance her.
How it actually plays out is hard to tell, given we’re only getting second-hand takes on the romance arc from people playing the Japanese version and being suitably outraged by it. This video attempts to walk through the whole thing from a more even-handed point of view.
Despite the video, I don’t think this makes things much better. General gist:
- The game treats and presents the fact that Soleil is a lesbian as a problem. The weirdest part of the interaction is when Soleil appears to hit on her own mother, telling her how cute she is. (9-12m in the video above). On the flip side, it’s clear that both mother and father love and support Soleil despite her proclivities.
- This manifests itself with Soleil feeling like she is an inadequate warrior because she gets weak-kneed and faints around young girls. She tells you that she feels that her weakness for girls is preventing her from her full potential as a warrior.
- Your hero slips something in her drink, which makes her confuse girls for boys. You explain this to her (presumably before trying anything). She’s relatively cool with this, because she too sees her weakness for girls as a problem that needs to be fixed.
- She eventually agrees to marry your hero, saying that of all the boys who looked like girls while she was under the influence of the potion, your hero was by far the spiffiest. It’s implied that this is made clear-eyed and undrugged, and that everyone involved is quite relieved that she found a man she could love despite her fondness for girls. Your character warns her not to cheat on you with any other guys, and then you catch yourself and point out that, in this case, that’s probably really not a problem. Ha ha!
- While I can’t confirm this, someone mentioned offhand somewhere that if you’re playing a female character, this questline is unavailable to you. Meaning that you can’t give Soleil the relationship she really wants.
So, where to begin?
First off, having quest lines basically encouraging you to drug any woman (or man, for that matter) in order to reduce her inhibitions is something that makes me feel pretty squicky. Even if you ignore the LGBT issues entirely, this is pretty gross, but that’s what we’ve got here. The video I linked above thinks that this is okay – would you have a problem with a love potion in Harry Potter?
Secondly, the dialogue and the quest implies that the character’s gayness is a problem that needs to be, and can be, fixed. This is now considered pretty barbaric by most therapists, with more than 18 states in America now in the process of passing laws – or having passed laws- limiting the use of Conversion Therapy for homosexuality. The video passes it off as completely cool because Soleil herself wants to fix herself – but this is actually part of the problem – kids thinking that they are broken and can and should be cured. Conversion therapy not only doesn’t work, but gay kids whose parents are not accepting are 8 times more likely to try killing themselves. A quest that says ‘this girl is broken because she likes girls’ is NOT cool, and helps contribute to these sorts of self-flagellation.
Third, some have tried to handwave this away by saying that she’s bisexual. The game really gives no support for the notion that she has any interest in men until she gets ‘fixed’ by the magic happy potion.
Enter the controversy. The game and its developers have been accused of promoting “Gay Conversion Therapy,” an appalling practice used heavily in the United States and other Judeo Christian-dominant countries where people are often “treated” by religious authorities under the guise of therapy that amounts to at best being condemned for their sexual orientation. Essentially, it’s the same as praying the gay away–not only does it not work, it deprives those in need of actual help and support networks.
However, the problem with this is that it ignores Japanese culture. By listing it as akin to conversion therapy, it completely neglects Japan’s largely sex positive culture. This isn’t to say that Japan doesn’t have its own LGBT issues–gay marriage is not legalized there, for example–but it does deal with them differently than the United States would.
Simply put: conversion therapy by the West’s definition doesn’t exist in Japan.
1) Describing Japan as sex-positive is a stretch at best – Japan is a fantastically repressed and screwed up culturally, sexually, to the degree where politicians are desperate to figure out how to get their kids to have sex with each other at all. Honor is still hugely important, and suicide in Japan is higher than in most first-world countries. And while being gay is fully legal, gays stay pretty strictly closeted, and gays in the media are typically played for Will & Grace style gags. Much like America 15-20 years ago, gay culture is pretty much in the closet over there.
2) The problem isn’t that this feature mirrors Western Conversion Therapy. It’s that Western Conversion Therapy has shown us how wretched and abusive the idea that gay is something that is broken, and needs to be fixed. This is a dangerous idea that feeds directly into the epidemic of suicide that plagues LGBT youth.
3) When you’re making a game for a worldwide audience (which Nintendo certainly does), you also need to understand and be sympathetic to how story elements around controversial subjects will play to a global audience. For example, in South Africa, the practice of Corrective Rape for lesbians is a very real and very shocking & horrific thing.
Whether or not this is what’s intended, this is a massive misfire by the game’s designers. I doubt very seriously that they were trying to make something this awful. Gaijinhunter’s video makes a compelling case that this was at least intended to be a harmless story revolving around a standard love potion trope. However, teen suicide around LGBT issues are very, very high – the word ‘epidemic’ is used a lot – and as such, it behooves game developers who actually claim to give a shit about the issue to be much more careful about the stories they tell.