Beamdog’s Response to the Baldur’s Gate Controversy is Spineless and Disappointing

Beamdog founder Trent Oster has responded to the huge controversy that accompanied the release of the Baldur’s Gate expansion Siege of Dragonspear, with him opting to ignore the transphobic comments levied at his game, the online hounding of one of his employees and the obviously disproportionate response to a line of dialogue spouted by a transgender NPC.

In an interview with Develop, Oster responded to the criticisms regarding Mizhena, a non-playable character who reveals that she is transgender in a conversation with the player. The controversy surrounding Mizhena was a mess, veering wildly between vague criticisms of the writing and the abruptness with which Mizhena “reveals” she is trans, to outright transphobia and the insistence that even her inclusion in the game was evidence of Beamdog “forcing their politics” down gamers’ throats. 

Oster responded to these criticisms, saying: “To us, having a transgender character wasn’t that big a deal. In a world where there’s half-orcs – so a human and an orc had an offspring together – and dragons can transform into humans and gods can walk the earth as male or female, whatever choice they make – it just didn’t seem like a big detail to us.

“Personally, I think it shows a progressive world view that we didn’t think a transgender character was a big deal. It was just a character to us, part of the world, helping to drive the story along.”

Oster then went on to admit that he felt the character had been poorly written, with her having been constrained by the limitations that had been placed upon the game. He continued: “[The revelation that she is transgender] is what we consider three dialogue nodes deep. We put an arbitrary limit on our writers for our support characters of just three nodes deep, just to control word count. Siege of Dragonspear is over 500,000 words of dialogue, so we had to put limits on writers so they didn’t create more.

“The character goes from ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ to ‘I’m transgender’ in three conversation lines. That’s a really shallow way of telling me a life-shattering event. The transgender people I know are not going to blurt that out as quickly as that – it’s going to take a while, you’re going to have to get to know them.”

The “offending” line of dialogue in Siege of Dragonspear.

The result of this backlash has been Beamdog’s decision to alter the dialogue for Mizhena, along with outright removing a reference to GamerGate, though Osten insists that he believes the complaints made of the game were not limited to one group. “I firmly believe that there is no ‘they’, there’s no group with a specific agenda,” he said, adding: “There’s just a bunch of individuals – each with their own sensitivities, likes and dislikes – and the internet seems to package people together. You see a tempest in a teapot.”

The vague criticisms of the game’s writing eventually became the default response issued by its detractors, wheeled out to those who pointed out the transphobic nature of the many negative user reviews that were posted following the release of the game. But despite these protestations that the complaints pertaining to the game revolved around its writing as a whole, from the outset it was abundantly obvious that the assumed “political” inclinations of writer Amber Scott were the main reason behind the ludicrous amount of negativity flung in the direction of both her and Beamdog. 

With Scott being branded a “feminazi” and an “SJW” for her previous comments regarding her wanting to include a great deal of diverse characters in her writing, the controversy surrounding the quality of the game’s script transcended far beyond what is typically reserved for bad dialogue in games, with it becoming very clear that it was this diversity and Beamdog’s progressive ideology that had led to such vehement and widespread complaints. Many of these complaints were spouted by GamerGate members, with the group’s subreddit KotakuInAction becoming littered with posts pertaining to the game and the subsequent controversy surrounding it. While it’s inevitable that not all of these complaints were limited to those who considered themselves aligned with this group, it’s clear that they were a large driving force in piling the pressure upon Beamdog, as was evidenced by the publisher’s later decision to remove the jokey reference to the group.

So Oster’s recent comments, which completely ignore the clear hostility launched in the direction of Scott, along with the transphobic/anti-progressive hysteria peppered throughout criticisms made of Siege of Dragonspear, are disappointing to say the least. While it’s understandable that Beamdog would want to offset some of the controversy surrounding their game, Oster’s complete denial of the events surrounding this controversy and acceptance that the quality of Dragonspear‘s writing is to blame, serves to throw Scott under the bus and tacitly complies with the insincere narrative that this controversy was anything more than a backlash against a progressive writer.

Unless Oster has willfully ignored the more abhorrent complaints leveled at the expansion and his own employee, which raises its own set of questions, these comments suggest that the Beamdog founder has decided to avoid addressing the elephant in the room in favor of not causing another commotion, but in doing so has essentially sided with these kinds of people…

…rather than his own employee. It’s understandable that Olster wouldn’t want to potentially jeopardize his company’s future, but by completely overlooking the darker side of the events that transpired following Siege of Dragonspear‘s release, it exhibits a disheartening amount of spinelessness on his behalf.