Cellar Door Games
Why being gay in Rogue Legacy means nothing
Rogue Legacy has a unique way of dealing with characters. Rather than picking one unchanging character at the beginning of the game and staying with that person until the credits roll, Rogue Legacy treats each character life as a unique person with their own traits.
These traits can be conditions like dyslexia or gigantism. Or they can be mostly-benign character qualities like having vertigo. Once in a while, one of these traits will label a character as “gay.”
There's no explanation of what that means for the character though, which has led to differing theories. Since many of the game's traits are diseases or disabilities, some have assumed that being gay in Rogue Legacy is implied as a disability. Others noticed that the “gay” trait has no discernible benefit or drawback, leading them to believe that the trait is a statement that shows gay people in the game are no different in any way than anybody else.
I got in touch with the lead designer of Rogue Legacy, Teddy Lee, to talk about the backlash to the inclusion of the “gay trait,” and find out once and for all what its purpose is.
“We thought it was the right thing to do is all,” said Lee. “Gut feeling, I guess. Never meant as a joke, which is why we put a lot of effort into trying to make it right.”
“The backlash I guess was expected,” he continued. “A little more acidic than I expected. People saying they hated us, that we were bigots, or how they would now only pirate our game, and then trying to spread the word to others to pirate it.”
Lee said definitively that the gay trait has no tangible affect on gameplay, although it does change the ending slightly which can be viewed on YouTube.
We spoke over instant messenger, and Lee seemed very concerned with getting this message right this time. Time and again I watched the “now writing” icon appear at the bottom of the chat box only to disappear again within a few seconds. He stopped and restarted his several of his answers at least 10-15 times.
He suggested that the main miscommunication about the trait stems from a sort of cascading misunderstanding that stems from the fact that players tend to refer to “traits” as “disabilities” or “genetic traits” or even “genetic deficiencies.” None of which, he says, are accurate.
There are three different types of traits in the game: positive, negative, and neutral. Not all of them are disabilities, not all are genetic, and not all are bad.
“[It] sucks, cause we never call it that, but everyone keeps using the negative terms, which automatically makes other people assume that the gay trait is negative,” said Lee. The gay trait is one of the neutral traits.
Despite all of the “hate-tweets” and the anger, Lee says they were expecting the backlash, and they wouldn't change the game in retrospect.
“We'd still keep the gay trait,” he said. “I mean, we still think it's an important message, and we're fine with losing sales for keeping it in. A couple of people have asked us to fulfill the whole LBGT spectrum, but we probably won't do that because of balance reasons.”
Lee said that the reason the game doesn't represent more of the reality of gender identity is because of the way Rogue Legacy's algorithms work.
“In order to get a game of this scope to work, we had to rely on algorithms to ensure everything scales properly,” said Lee. “So we have an algorithm which gives people traits too. The more “neutral” traits we add, the easier the game becomes. Because now the algorithm has higher odds of pulling those traits and putting them in the game. We're still making a game, and we still want it to be fun. And if we can represent a gay hero in a fun game, I think that is better then representing a gay hero in a bad game.”
That line of reasoning likely won't satisfy people who don't feel the game went far enough in representing people with different identities.
Ultimately, Lee was apologetic about the game potentially sending the wrong message, and said that the game is meant to send the message that anybody can be a hero.
“We may have handled it poorly, but I think the community understands our intentions, and have been quick to forgive any ham-fisting we've done in our responses.”