Manufactured Controversy: What’s Fire Emblem Have to do with Gay Conversion Therapy?

Setting the record straight on Fire Emblem Fates.

Fire Emblem Fates rose up today in yet another controversy in many popular media outlets. With its release in Japan this past week, the news emerged that one of the game's romanceable characters, Soleil, is only romanceable by a male protagonist. The character has crushes on women mostly–so much so that she’s known to faint at the sight of cute girls on the battlefield. 

Clearly, this would be a problem for a warrior of her stature. As such, Soleil asks the protagonist to help her deal with this problem. He ends up using a magical potion on her that swaps everyone’s gender, making females into males and vice versa, as a form of shock therapy. The protagonist does so without her knowledge, explaining the action by saying that the position wouldn't be effective if the imbiber knew what was going on.  (She'd given him the go ahead to do whatever means possible to fix the problem earlier, so this serves as consent to his action.)

When the magic wears off, however, Soleil finds that she’s developed feelings for the protagonist in addition to her newfound bravery in the face of cute girls. She ultimately gets over her fainting spells while still retaining her new feelings for him. 

Enter the controversy. The game and its developers have been accused of promoting "Gay Conversion Therapy," an appalling practice used heavily in the United States and other Judeo Christian-dominant countries where people are often "treated" by religious authorities under the guise of therapy that amounts to at best being condemned for their sexual orientation. Essentially, it’s the same as praying the gay away–not only does it not work, it deprives those in need of actual help and support networks.

However, the problem with this is that it ignores Japanese culture. By listing it as akin to conversion therapy, it completely neglects Japan’s largely sex positive culture. This isn’t to say that Japan doesn’t have its own LGBT issues–gay marriage is not legalized there, for example–but it does deal with them differently than the United States would.

Simply put: conversion therapy by the West’s definition doesn’t exist in Japan. 

The writing of the character can certainly be criticized for its quality, but it shouldn’t be thought of as homophobic. In fact, it references a Japanese genre of fiction called Class S Relationships. According to the trope, adolescent Japanese girls to experiment with their sexuality and enter into same-sex relationships. After a certain age, girls are expected to stop getting involved in these types of relationships and identify as lesbian or bisexual, or simply identify as heterosexual. It's arguable that Soleil falls under this trope. In fact, the game indicates she’s bisexual despite her fainting episodes–cute girls just happen to overwhelm her, she likes guys as well.

Knowing this, you could say it’s bad writing, but that doesn’t mean the developers had homophobic intent. Furthermore, the idea that Fire Emblem Fates promotes a "gay cure" is simply incorrect. 

It’s simply incorrect to say that the new Fire Emblem game is about turning a lesbian character straight. In fact, in some ways, this interpretation is actually the erasure of bisexuality. It’s mostly about a bisexual girl picking a male to fall in love with–and maybe the point is lost in translation further skewed by poor writing, but we should probably wait until we see it localized for English markets to pass our judgment.

At this point, to do anything else is misguided at best and utterly dishonest at worst.