The creators of the computer sci-fi adventure game Heroes of Newerth tried playing off their “flamboyant pack” — which replaces the announcer’s voice with a stereotypically queeny one that flashes text in rainbow colors and squeals things like “cherry popper” — as a nod to the gay community, because hey, some gay gamers might want to hear a fey fella calling the shots. But as a former employee of S2 Games explains, that’s not why they released this voice pack. In fact, it was precisely to introduce a harrowing faggot element to game play.
Pu Liu, a senior game designer at the company, tells Gay-Nerds.com that although he’s a straight guy, he plays under the handle “DivA” because “I’m a freaking diva. I’m loud to the border of obnoxious, and I like to sing- poorly, but often and boisterously- anything and everything from Shania to Disney.” He “find[s] the Flamboyant pack to be hilarious, and I select it for use because when I get a ‘Legendary’ streak (5 kills in a row) and it says ‘DIIIIIVA!’ I can go, ‘YES I AM!’”
So that should make things all better, right? Because straight guys act queeny too!
Not so fast. A former S2 Games staffer who was involved in the development of Heroes of Newerth‘s voice packs, says the company’s founder is the one who wanted the queeny voice made available to players. For awful reasons. The anonymous programmer writes:
The “flamboyant” announcer pack was first conceived while I was still at the company, probably around late June/early August. We had been brainstorming ideas for extra content that could be sold in the upcoming store, one of which was the alternate announcers. The direction for this particular one came directly from the owner of the company, which in addition to the obvious baggage was coming shortly after an angry email about how the development team was always rejecting his ideas. Being a programmer, this wasn’t really in my realm of responsibility, but being one of the most senior employees and also just having a deep personal attachment to the project, I tended to get at least a little peek into everything that was going on. I can say that the intent of the “flamboyant” announcer was absolutely unambiguous. The terms “faggoty” and “queer” were used to describe what he wanted the announcer to sound like. Expectedly, this was met with varying degrees of discomfort, but unfortunately nobody was feeling ready to jump on that grenade at the time. The shop was still a long way from actually being implemented, so I personally wrote it off as a battle for another day. Incidentally, at the same time there was direction for another announcer pack that was themed as an even more macho over-the-top sort than the standard one which was to include as one of its phrases “Rape and Pillage!”. Fortunately that line met with a universal disgust and the artist in charge of making the text effects to go with it said there was no way he would be putting that into the game, so hopefully that one is not on the horizon.
Knowing what I do about the origin, I obviously can’t divorce the intent from product and believe that it is “all in good fun” or “has nothing to do with being gay”. Even putting that aside, I can’t feel good about this sort of thing though because this a broadcast to thousands of people that I don’t know. I won’t make any claims to being saint, I certainly push the boundaries of taste sometimes and despite my best efforts I’m sure that my words and actions have offended people. I do make an effort though and a large part of that effort is knowing your audience. It’s not hard to understand that something that might be a hilarious inside joke with my close friends won’t come across the same way to a random stranger. So what this comes down to is essentially creating the gay version of a minstrel show, which is way, way beyond what feels like a suitable “joke” to share with hundreds of thousands of people I have never met and know nothing about. Having this associated with something that I spent so many hours of my life developing is huge bummer.
When making a game for mass audiences — or even just a few people on the web — it’s just common sense to consider how each audience will interpret the elements of your game. And for game makers to ignore the gay demographic (or, worse, acknowledge and then purposefully insult them) isn’t just offensive. It’s bad business. Now as Gay-Nerds notes, the “flamboyant pack is by no means the worst thing to happen to gay people or the gay rights movement. No one is saying that. It is, however, the most recent and one of the most blatant in a long list of the gaming industry’s and gaming culture’s swipes at gay people.” They’re right.
(NB: I’d love a discussion about how you folks feel about games that introduce otherwise stereotypical voices to mimic other minorities, such as blacks and Latinos, using slang to match their characters. Offensive, or true to life? Both?)
So what should S2 Games do? Yank the pack from being available. And apologize. And promise not to do it again. And if the company wants to offer users more customization moving forward, it can either continue releasing packs that aren’t apt to demean an entire community, or let game players record their own soundbites for personal use.