Here is a great bit of news on the gaming front.
Recently, BioWare released their newest role-playing game, Dragon Age II. In it, you have five companions your protagonist (who can be male or female and any race) can start a relationship with: one is chaste and available only to women protagonists (!), and the other four (two men, two women) are available to protagonists of either sex.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has caused a stir among gamers for any number of entitled and backwards-thinking reasons. One such complaint showed up recently in the official BioWare forums, where a user claiming to speak “on behalf of straight male gamers” had this to say, in part:
In every previous BioWare game, I always felt that almost every companion in the game was designed for the male gamer in mind. Every female love interest was always written as a male friend type support character. In Dragon Age 2, I felt like most of the companions were designed to appeal to other groups foremost, Anders and Fenris for gays and Aveline for women given the lack of strong women in games, and that for the straight male gamer, a secondary concern. It makes things very awkward when your male companions keep making passes at you. The fact that a “No Homosexuality” option, which could have been easily implemented, is omitted just proves my point. I know there are some straight male gamers out there who did not mind it at and I respect that.
When I say BioWare neglected The Straight Male Gamer, I don’t mean that they ignored male gamers. The romance options, Isabella and Merrill, were clearly designed for the straight male gamers in mind. Unfortunately, those choices are what one would call “exotic” choices. They appeal to a subset of male gamers and while its true you can’t make a romance option everyone will love, with Isabella and Merrill it seems like they weren’t even going for an option most males will like. And the fact is, they could have. They had the resources to add another romance option, but instead chose to implement a gay romance with Anders.
I’m certain that some will declare “That’s only fair!” but lets be honest. I’ll be generous and assume that 5% of all Dragon Age 2 players are actually homosexuals. I’ll be even more generous and assume that the Anders romance was liked by every homosexual. Are you really telling me that you could not have written another straight romance that would have pleased more than 5% of your fans?
David Gaider, lead writer of the Dragon Age games, responds with the kind of epic smackdown we might only wish more game developers would give, calling the player out on his privilege and citing (gasp!) facts in defense of the game:
The romances in the game are not for “the straight male gamer”. They’re for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention. We have good numbers, after all, on the number of people who actually used similar sorts of content in [Dragon Age: Origins] and thus don’t need to resort to anecdotal evidence to support our idea that their numbers are not insignificant… and that’s ignoring the idea that they don’t have just as much right to play the kind of game they wish as anyone else. The “rights” of anyone with regards to a game are murky at best, but anyone who takes that stance must apply it equally to both the minority as well as the majority. The majority has no inherent “right” to get more options than anyone else.
You can write it off as “political correctness” if you wish, but the truth is that privilege always lies with the majority. They’re so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance. They don’t see anything wrong with having things set up to suit them, what’s everyone’s fuss all about? That’s the way it should be, any everyone else should be used to not getting what they want.
The truth is that making a romance available for both genders is far less costly than creating an entirely new one. Does it create some issues of implementation? Sure– but anything you try on this front is going to have its issues, and inevitably you’ll always leave someone out in the cold. In this case, are all straight males left out in the cold? Not at all. There are romances available for them just the same as anyone else. Not all straight males require that their content be exclusive, after all, and you can see that even on this thread.
And the person who says that the only way to please them is to restrict options for others is, if you ask me, the one who deserves it least.
Other blogs picked up the response in a snap, pleased to have such a vocal ally. Some of my favorite reaction pieces:
No More Lost: “Straight Male Gamer” told to “get over it” by BioWare.
Joystiq makes a sort of Jonathan Swiftian proposal: if homophobes want a “no-homosexuality” option so badly, monetize it!
This all is awesome enough in its own right, especially given Gaider’s post came out at about the same time as developers of Duke Nukem Forever were bragging about the genius of a “capture the flag” mode where the player kidnaps and assaults women. (Note: don’t read the comments.) It just goes to show how atypical Gaider’s perspective really is.
And it helps that the game itself is a pretty strong one for feminists, of course! I’m currently on my fourth playthrough and I’m so pleased with how many empowered and multifaceted women characters are to be found here, from heroes to villains, corrupt cops to religious leaders, libertines and breadwinning wives. If you had any remaining doubt that Dragon Age II is doing things pretty differently compared to other major studio games, take a look at some of these response articles that have been written about it.
(Note: some of these include spoilers.)
I’ll get my own articles out of the way first, as I’ve written quite a bit about this game already elsewhere. First up, a look at some things Dragon Age II gets right, especially in the character Aveline Vallen, a refugee and self-made woman who has a really awesomely written interior life that doesn’t depend on the protagonist to enact it for her.
Next up, I want to share this piece I did all about Isabela, a WOC and pirate captain whose dialogue includes overt self-esteem messages to girls and women.
Moving on to others’ writing, Denis Farr has some fantastic articles up in various places, but your first port of call is his inclusivity review for Border House. Dragon Age II might have some great moments, but it falls flat on its face in other respects, and Denis gives both sides a comprehensive look.
Next from Denis over at GayGamer.Net, the case of Dragon Age II‘s romances.
There are a few dissenting opinions, obviously. A petition has been set up by, surprisingly, gay male gamers calling for Gaider’s dismissal, claiming he writes gay stereotypes. GayGamer has offered a rebuttal defending Gaider: Not All Gay Gamers Think Alike!
My take: only one of the four bisexual romance options makes the first move, and he’s historically been shown as very open in his affection. I also find it interesting that players are only complaining about being hit on by a male companion, and only when playing as a man, but that same character hitting on a woman protagonist gets no mention, while Isabela’s passes and sex appeal are a major part of the advertising. Double standard, much?
I don’t think anyone at BioWare expected Dragon Age II to turn into the kind of polarizing discussion point that it has, but it’s interesting to see people’s reactions. How about you? Have you played the game or its prequel? Found a cool article? Feel free to share your impressions below!