It was difficult to write a follow up to our the Heroes of Newerth article. Initially, the intent of the first article was to start a dialog on gay stereotypes in video games and the appropriateness of using these stereotypes. We published two sides to the argument and left it at that. It got a lot more attention than we had thought it would and with it, all sorts of diverse (and very strongly worded) opinions were made on the topic. We covered some of our reactions in our official podcast.
One of the more interesting developments on the story was when the Senior Designer of S2Games, Pu Liu, posted a response in our forums to some of our allegations towards the intent of the flamboyant pack.
My name is Pu Liu, Senior Game Designer here at S2 Games. I’m the guy speaking with Giant Bomb in the video that has caused quite a stir, and I’d like to engage in this discussion if you’ll allow me to. To preface my statements, I’d like to give you guys open permission to quote and reference anything I may post. My main purpose is to clarify what S2’s intention was in the creation of the “Flamboyant Pack,” how we perceive of the product and ourselves, and assure you guys that we are not targeting the gay community or anyone else with it.
I’d like to start off with myself. I’m a straight guy, and I use DivA as my game handle, because well, 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. I guess I’m an example of the “flamboyant straight guy” that some of you have mentioned throughout your discussion. I find 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!” I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have never perceived of the pack as “gay,” but rather an awesome, fun, and flamboyant alternative to the really dark and hardcore classic announcer sounds. I’m totally okay with being called flamboyant; I’m a happy, optimistic, loud person, and I’m proud of it and I like to show it off. I am not alone on this at S2; a lot of my fellow employees are almost as awesome as I am, although they aren’t as loud as I am. We do not take ourselves too seriously, and the flamboyant pack is a testament to our willingness to have fun with things.
We’re a fun loving bunch- we thought this would be fun, and that- and ONLY that- is the reason why the Flamboyant pack will be a part of Heroes of Newerth. We are not in a smoke-filled room going on about how awesome and “manly” we are, and the Flamboyant pack is certainly not a jab at a stereotype that we feel is “below” us- if anything, Flamboyant IS us.
If you have questions for me on a personal level, I’d be happy to answer any and all of them.
Shortly after however, we were contacted by a former employee of S2Games, Jason Morales (who has some major cojones and nothing but my utmost respect for allowing us to post this):
Let me first preface this with some personal background and thoughts I’ve been wrestling with since this issue came up. If there is one universal truth I’ve learned about issues of social identity, it is that they are complex and rely a good deal on background and perspective, so here is mine.
Making video games was life long dream for me and my job as a programmer at S2 was my first shot at actually developing games, doing what I really wanted to be doing, after bouncing around some lower level QA jobs for a while. As I mentioned before, this is not the first time poor taste has show its face (the Marc’s in-game rage is a thing of legend among the player base, racial slurs and all), but it is the first time I’m making any sort of public statement against it. I was never willing to defend these things, but also not willing to risk my job by essentially calling out the actions of the owner of the company. In this way, I can’t help feeling a pang of cowardice waiting until I can snipe from a position of safety. I point this out though because I like the people I used to work with there and know that they have been in this position in the past. I can’t speak for anyone else on any specific issues, but in my time there I wasn’t the only one to ever feel uncomfortable with certain contents and actions, but for better or worse we picked our battles.
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.
So yes, I don’t think you’re being very truthful to us about the intentions of the pack at all, S2. Contrary to some beliefs that “gays can take a dick up their butts but can’t take a joke”, we actually can. Some of us find the entire situation absolutely hilarious. We can argue for days on end whether or not this is appropriate. But honestly? Just be straight with us. If you’re going to make a joke at our expense, you’d better be damn well ready to stand by and take responsibility for it. Don’t you dare claim that we’re being oversensitive and imagining things when you knew what you said and how it would have come off as. We will hold you accountable for your words and actions.
Even if you think that gay slurs/stereotypes are acceptable (but raping and pillaging jokes are too offensive), are you even aware of what you’re saying to your game players? You’re telling them that it’s ok to make fun of gay people; that you officially endorse that behavior; hell, you’ll even give people the tools to do that. It’s just. not. cool. What makes this even worse is that with the release of HoN 2.0 last night, there are only 2 announcer packs in the store and the other pack, the “Pudding” pack, is just a female voice saying everything the announcer would normally say. We are the only ones being made fun of here.
However, in spite of everything, I don’t believe that S2Games is fundamentally homophobic or bigoted, but the flamboyant pack is something that GN felt we had to address and I’m glad we did. The past couple of days, the term “offensive” has been flung around a lot. You mention you find something offensive and people think you’re out for someone’s blood or seconds away from rioting in the streets. So, I suppose I’ll change my opinion to say that I find the flamboyant pack rather troubling. I don’t like it, but I don’t think the pack in and of itself is anything to go to arms over. I recognize that it’s meant to be funny and it’s just a joke, but the joke is coming at the expense of gay people and it’s indicative the hostile environment many gay guys routinely have to deal with in online gaming.
I really can’t stress this enough. This 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. This site didn’t exist when the Call of Duty F.A.G.S thing went down and it didn’t exist when Microsoft was getting heat for their enforcement of their terms of service. But we exist now. We’re a site for gay nerds—we’re going to cover things that are gay and nerdy, and we’re going to emphatically voice our displeasure over stuff like this.