Open Letter to XSEED: Rune Factory 4's Homophobia and Transphobia
At E3 this year you (XSEED) announced a North American release of Rune Factory 4.
Rune Factory and the Harvest Moon series in general has been depressingly heteronormative in most of its entries.1 Marriage is a common element in the games, but it's almost always between a man and a woman. Unlike previous entries in the Rune Factory series RF4 allows you to play as a young woman in addition to a young man. And yet despite this step forward, in this version they've managed to design something even more offensive than just ignorance and erasure.
After you beat the game, you can play as a character of the same nominal gender you played before but with any character model regardless of gender. This means if you want a gay or lesbian relationship, first you need to play through the game as the other gender. Then you can play as the gender you want, while everyone in the game constantly misgenders you.
If there's a mainstream game with a better analogue for how our culture treats transgender and genderqueer people, I've yet to play it. Except it's being sold as a norm-reinforcing funny bonus "feature" rather than an analysis of how awful that is.
XSEED, you've still got a chance to make this right. Throw that out. Let both player characters romance and marry any of the bachelor/bachelorettes. Write dialogue that works for gender-neutral relationships. It's twenty-fucking-thirteen. I'm playing AAA games with gay relationships. I'm playing AAA games with gender sliders. Don't pretend you can roll that back ten years and aren't making a political - and offensive, dehumanizing - statement in doing so.
The two exceptions are Magical Melody where one character, ambiguously gendered, is available for the male and female player characters to marry, and Harvest Moon DS Cute where the mandatory female player character may marry a female character - a welcome change, but also one that felt more like diffusing any concerns a male player might have of "being gay" than a legitimate nod towards alternative relationships. Also, in Save the Homeland and Innocent Life, the mandatory male player can't marry anyone. ↩