Welcome To The Battlefield, Cocksucker – A Response to Battlefield 3′s Homophobia

by Scott Nichols

It’s nice to see the conversation I started back in November regarding homophobia in Battlefield 3 finally taking root. I’d like to extend a big think you to Dennis Scimeca for being able to bring that to light with a larger gaming community like Kotaku. However, in two articles about it (here and here) I still don’t feel like the core of the issue has been tapped. And seeing as I am the “Scott” Dennis refers to in his second article, I guess it’s about time that I put my thoughts into my own piece, rather than simply rant about the issue on Twitter.

I guess I should start with how this all came about. I was playing Battlefield 3 multiplayer and rather enjoying it. I particularly enjoyed the feature where soldiers would automatically shout out when they killed an enemy or captured an objective without the player actually saying anything. You see, I have a tendency to mute players online when they’re playing music too loud or shouting obscenities, so it was nice to still get team feedback without dealing with certain individuals. Then I heard it. “Killed that cocksucker.” I honestly did a double take. Did I really just hear that? It was clearly the in-game voices and not another player. That seems…odd. But I continued playing and after two more matches without incident I began thinking I had simply misheard. Then it happened again, and it was exactly what I thought I had heard the first time. It wasn’t a deadpan military statement, either. The line was spoken with a tone that seemed to imply an enthusiastic “YEE-HAW!” prefix. The most immediate analogy that comes to mind is the combination of excitement and vitriol I might exclaim the phrase “Take that, gargoyle!” after emerging victorious atop Dark Souls’ bell tower.

In single-player this wouldn’t be an issue. I am not myself when playing single-player, but stepping into the role of a soldier among other soldiers. There are characters with names and backstories that, though perhaps severely underwritten, add personality to the avatars populating the battlefield. That is where you, by which I am referring to the game’s designer, should put flavor dialog. In fact, I differ from my dear Mr. Scimeca on that issue. I would actually like to see a raging homophobic character in a military shooter. Maybe that soldier catches another male soldier looking at a picture of his boyfriend during a moment of calm and it clouds his judgement. He goes on a tirade or starts giving impossible orders that get part of the squad killed as a result. It is quite possible to depict the reality of homophobia in our military without endorsing the sentiment. And perhaps more importantly, it would be a powerful narrative where the characters in the game felt like they mattered. Battlefield 3 does none of that, with references to “cocksuckers” and taking it in the bum entirely absent in its single-player campaign.

But in multiplayer I am not on a battlefield surrounded by character soldiers; I’m not fighting alongside Sergeant Tough-but-really-cares or Private Excited-for-his-first-real-battle. I am in a playpen with other real people; I’m at adult recess with other humans who are capable of expressing their own ideas through the magical device known as a headset. And they’ll use those headsets. Oh, will they ever use them. It’s hardly a secret that trash talk is common in online games like Battlefield 3, and the default in-game exclamations by soldiers set the bar for what is acceptable. Of course, the online community will always push past that bar, but that doesn’t make it right to set it so low in the first place. It’s not right to subject someone who is playing casually with just their friends, or someone who regularly puts obscene individuals on mute, to trash talk that wouldn’t normally enter their game. There are enough genuinely homophobic people already in the world, there’s no need to open that door for people who may not be homophobic but just don’t think about the issue in relation to their language on a regular basis.

For the record, back in November I contacted multiple individuals at both EA and DICE in hopes of hearing their side of things and allow them to respond in some way before I wrote an article about it. You know, journalism and all that. I still am yet to hear a reply, so clearly this is an issue that they take very seriously. But if anyone from EA or DICE somehow finds their way to this post then I’d still love to hear from you.