Sometimes, with the benefit of time and distance and the clarity of deep calm thought, you come to realize that … Seriously, what even were they trying to do with this miserable excuse for same gender romance inclusion???
Or, in other words, forgive the lack of screencaps and head below the cut for my thoughts on writing same-gender romance in gaming after revisiting Star Wars: The Old Republic Rise of the Hutt Cartel.
I came, I saw, I realized it was even worse than Queer People Only Exist On One Planet That’s About To Explode.
But, that is still a thing, so – first off the bat, Rise of the Hutt Cartel is the first story expansion for the MMORPG Star Wars The Old Republic. And it marked the final, actual introduction (Google will regale you with content about all the promises made re: same gender romance inclusion when the game original came out and afterwards) of same-gender romance into the game world.
It did not go over well. And I don’t mean in a No Gays!!!! (because that is the only way to be queer, of course – sarcasm sarcasm sarcasm) way, but in a Your Implementation Bites way.
Articles about that/from that time are also pretty easy to find because, even without the stuff I’ve realized revisiting the end chunk of the expansion and interacting with content from before (classic story and companions) and after it, having the only queer people other than player character exist on a doomed planet that explodes at the end of the expansion is bad. As is limiting it so that you only have the sole same-gender romance option available if you play as a female version of one of the four Republic classes (Republic Trooper, Jedi Knight, Jedi, Consular, Smuggler) or as a male version of one of the four Empire classes (Bounty Hunter, Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, Imperial Agent).
That is the slimmest of slim pickings and is worse because, upon being less focused on how incredibly annoyed I was at Lemda Avesta and that she was my only romance option, I realized that the problem isn’t even that the only queer characters other than your player character only exist (existed – there is additional content now and all new flirt-only and romance options are open to every gender) on a doomed planet – it’s that there aren’t (weren’t) any queer characters other than your player character.
That’s right – you are literally the only queer in the galaxy.
It wasn’t until the absolute end of the expansion, when I was on the orbital station above the now destroyed planet listening to (and heavily judging – I and my smuggler both have major issues with Republic policy and operations) the Supreme Chancellor and saying goodbye to Lemda Avesta, that I got any indication that she was interested in me back. And even that was literally an alright you win you win, here’s my holofrequency, call it often kind of interested back (and I fear I quoted that pretty darn well from memory too).
It does not make me feel good that my only same-gender romance option (and from what I’ve heard, the m/m option on Empire side acts the same way) spent the entire time humouring me, exchanging “Is she wacky or what??” looks with other story characters any time I flirted with her, and giving me a pity kiss for luck (after exchanging more of those looks and basically doing the equivalent of looking into the camera like she’s on The Office), before finally surrendering like I had her under siege and giving me the Star Wars equivalent of her phone number.
I’m ignoring personality because, you know what, while having better and more (and same-gender!!) romance options in the main game would have been nice (and my original and most content played character is a female smuggler so…I really know about that), the people who are flirt-only, flirt and cut to black, or are romance-able companions who you can then marry ARE ALL ACTUALLY INTERESTED IN YOU BACK.
They might have their own personal and story stuff they need or want to sort out before being interested in a romance or before tying the knot and might especially care about being morality aligned with you, and some of them you might personally want to throw out the airlock (Corso, oh Corso, why the heck are you even teamed up with a smuggler if you disagree with what they do and how they do it? and also no, I will never ever marry you and have your space babies on a farm somewhere. do I have to tattoo the word “no” on my forehead??), but there is no question that they are actually interested (no matter how shy/relucant because of duty, professionalism, secretly still working for your boss who is going to backstab you later, etc) in you and in at least one person of your own player character gender.
And that’s really it.
In a better world, of course, there would be multiple options for everybody and a range of personalities (and just making all romanceable companions available to everybody really does take care of a lot of that on its own), but at the least –
If you are going to include or introduce same-gender romance content to your game – write it so that queer people actually exist in the game and not just in someone’s headcanons for their player character. And don’t write the same-gender romance option(s) as the queer player character essentially besieging/hararssing a straight person until the straight person gives in and engages in Queer Activities (and dang, a pity kiss before you probably die and a phone number is Queer Activities for my example game/expansion). It’s not satisfying and it’s also really personally uncomfortable and yucky for queer players wanting to play as queer characters because, ya know, the whole predatory queers thing and queers “turning” straight people, think of the children, etc etc.
As a final note, while it seems that the story could still use some work (word on the grapevine says actual romance interactions with your romance kind of drops like a rock after chapter nine of the most recent expansion … which is when you make the relationship official), the game that spawned all these thoughts and that I used as an example did much improve after that first attempt in the first expansion. There are actual flirts that are just casual flirts (like my female smuggler should have been getting with a bunch of girls throughout the main game. rawr.) and there are multiple romance options who are not gender locked and who are interested in you back. Although how the flirts and romances play out are still, of course, affected by their own personal goals and feelings and also by your actions. And your faction. And that’s really what is wanted. Full participation, in the narrative and from the characters you’re interacting with. Not something somewhere between being humoured and being a Predatory Queer on planet that’s collapsing.