Update: Beamdog CEO Trent Oster has issued a statement addressing the controversy surrounding the decision to include a transgender character, as well as an "ethics" joke spoken by Minsc, in Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear. In it, he acknowledges that the character of Mizhena would have been better served with more development, and also says he agrees with "feedback" about the controversial line from Minsc, which "has nothing to do with his character" and will thus be removed.
The full statement:
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.
Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear rolled out last week, unfortunately not without controversy. A small but very vocal number of gamers were upset by an “ethics” crack made in the game by Minsc, an obvious jab at Gamergate, and even more by the presence of an NPC cleric named Mizhena who, if asked, identifies as transgender.
That led to a flood of negative reviews on Steam and GOG, many of them citing technical issues but often only as a lead-in to complaints about, as one user put it, “ham-fisted social justice garbage.” For the sake of comparison, Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition has a “very positive” aggregate user rating on Steam, and a 4/5 average score on GOG; Dragonspear, on the other hand, is “mixed” on Steam, and currently averaging a paltry 2.5/5 on GOG.
Despite the anger, developer Beamdog isn't backing down: Founder and CEO Trent Oster responded to the negative reviews in the Beamdog forums by asking people who enjoyed the game to “consider posting a positive review to balance out the loud minority,” while writer Amber Scott, speaking to Kotaku shortly after Dragonspear came out, was somewhat more blunt about it.
“In the original there’s a lot of jokes at women’s expense. Or if not a lot, there’s a couple, like Safana was just a sex object in BG 1, and Jaheira was the nagging wife and that was played for comedy,” she said. “We were able to say, ‘No, that’s not really the kind of story we want to make.’ In Siege of Dragonspear, Safana gets her own little storyline, she got a way better personality upgrade. If people don’t like that, then too bad.”
In many ways, it's the reverse of the Pillars of Eternity controversy from last year, in which a fan-submitted epitaph was criticized for being transmisogynistic. In that situation, developer Obsidian contacted the author of the offending lore and asked him to change it, which he did; that, naturally, led to a flurry of complaints about game makers being forced to compromise their artistic vision by the demands of tiny, loud special interest groups.
The irony is almost painfully obvious, but it also highlights a disturbing, and seemingly growing, trend of developers coming into naked conflict with their communities. And not in forum debates about relatively minor design decisions, like nerfing a weapon or buffing a companion, but expressed through vehement outrage over very basic, core values, very often related to the engagement or portrayal of women in games. The most obvious recent example is Blizzard's entirely benign decision to change one of Tracer's victory poses in Overwatch, which was treated like a sign of the End Times despite the fact that several much more overtly sexual characters were left untouched.
No less a figure than fantasy author Ed Greenwood, the original creator of the Forgotten Realms D&D setting, weighed in on the matter on Facebook. “Folks, the Realms have ALWAYS had characters (mortals and deities) who crossdressed, changed gender (and not just to sneak past guards in an adventure, by way of shapeshifting magic or illusions), were actively bisexual, and openly gay,” he wrote. “If trans, LGBT, or sexual matters at all don't suit your tastes and needs in your gaming sessions, leave it out or change it. But D&D has half-orcs, and half-dragons, and half-elves, and has magic items that specifically change gender, right there in the rules. Surely, if you can handle the basic notion of cross-SPECIES sex, having a full variety of gender roles should be something that doesn't blow your mind.”
Yet that doesn't appear to be the case, as evidenced by the “Siege of Dragonspear Corrections” mod now on ModDB that “removes Mizhena's background” and “changes that one quip from Minsc to something else.” I don't know for certain if it works, although the comments in this Steam thread would seem to indicate that it does, but I think it's very unfortunate—and a very sad sign about where videogames are as a medium—that anyone feels that it's necessary in the first place.