Centre for Internet & Society

Electronic Arts stops accepting preorders for Dragon Age: Inquisition.

The article by Jaison Lewis was published in Mumbai Mirror on November 19, 2014. Pranesh Prakash gave his inputs.

In a city where just about any kid above the age of five who can afford to do so has played Grand Theft Auto, with its profusion of violence and profanity, it appears unlikely that a game would ever be withdrawn from release owing to explicit content. But when Electronic Arts (EA), creators of several such titles, decide to cancel the release of a game in India because it features a gay character and sequences of gay sex, there are bound to be fiery debates about censorship, moral policing, and the prevalence of gratuitous violence in games.

EA have withdrawn pre-orders for Dragon Age: Inquisition, a role playing franchise in which you play a character that you create - one such role is that of Dorian, who is gay and who is featured in sequences involving gay sex. EA is now in the process of refunding the money (Rs 3,499 for the standard edition (PC) and Rs 4,000 for the collectors' edition (PC)) that gamers in India paid to have access to Dragon Age when it is released on November 21.

Milestone Interactive, the company that distributes EA titles in India, has cancelled several pre-orders for the game that were booked through their website. However, a bulk of the PC pre-orders were made on EA's Origin software, a Windows application that lets gamers buy and play games directly from the company. Electronic Arts issued the following official statement to its Origin users in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. "In order to avoid a breach of local content laws, EA has withdrawn Dragon Age: Inquisition from sale in India and the game is no longer available for pre-order. Customers who pre-ordered the game will be contacted directly and will be fully refunded."

Though the local laws that applied were not mentioned, several online websites managed to obtain reactions from EA that implied the game's homosexual content was to blame, with mention of Section 377, which criminalises gay sex.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a self-regulatory organisation based in New York, has classified Dragon Age as Mature, and, according to their online rating information, it "includes some sexual material: a female character briefly depicted in front of a man's torso (fellatio is implied); characters depicted topless or with exposed buttocks while lying in bed or after sex; some dialogue referencing sex/sexuality. The words "f**k," "sh*t," and "a*shole" appear in dialogue."

LGBT rights activist Aditya Bandopadhyay, said he believes EA could have withdrawn the game under pressure from the government.

"Self-censorship by corporations is even more insidious than censorship by the government, since the latter can be challenged in courts and has to abide within the limits set out within Article 19 of the Constitution, the former cannot be challenged at all except morally, "said Pranesh Prakash, member, The centre for internet and society.

"There can be no defence offered to the offensive instance of self-censorship by Electronic Arts, and is a slap against the fight by the LGBTQ community in India against oppressive colonial laws and mores. As Vikram Seth put it, it is homophobia that came into India, not homosexuality. It is homophobia that is unnatural and which militates against Indian morality. Under Article 19(1)(a), the government can be read to have a positive obligation to ensure an environment where freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed, so I call upon the government to speak out against the decision taken by Electronic Arts, " added Prakash.

"By way of legal background: Homosexuality as a gender identity is not illegal in India, while there is a case pending in the Supreme Court as to the criminality of engaging in 'unnatural' sexual intercourse. This law cannot possibly be read to hold that the public display of homosexuality in art is unlawful," he said

EA representatives were unwilling to discuss the game or the reasons for it being withdrawn from the market in India. "We are going to decline any further info beyond our statement," a spokesperson said.