Sexuality and Dragon Age II   1 comment

Video games in the early nineties rarely portrayed sexuality. Early examples such as 1973’s Gotcha by Atari or 1982’s Custer’s Revenge are crude and often marked by immaturity or worse, but it has acquired an increasing presence in the medium since the mid- to late-nineties. The usual cries sexism, pornography or objectification has come from the usual conservative or identity politics groups, and arguments that have been dead since the days of the Meese Report continue to snap at the heels of game in a largely ineffectual way.

Video and computer gaming continued to explore these concepts and eventually explored more varied themes as well as darker ones. Sometimes, it went into the utterly tasteless but, I would argue, not as frequently as did cinema; most of the time, it was a tasteful affair, even when the media portrayed it otherwise (Mass Effect is a famous example of this).

A different response gained the attention of games journalists recently. A certain gamer, Bastal, posted on the BioWare forum, claiming to represent “straight male gamers” and wrote about his problem with the fact that several male characters were flirting with him.

His complaint was shot down very quickly by David Gaider, a writer who worked on Dragon Age II. Gaider argued that the romance options were designed with as wide a group in mind and there are still options available to everyone, regardless of gender/sexuality combinations. This is all well and true, but I think a lot of Bastal’s critics ignored a fundamental flaw in Bastal’s argument that renders a lot of the debate moot.

Bastal speaks of the minority groups he claims are being excessively catered for as acting as if they have a right to such. He wrote:

The idea of privilege is ridiculous. The “privilege” always lies with the majority because if your goal is to make a game that will be liked by as many fans possible, then it makes sense to focus on that largest group. Why should one fan’s enjoyment be more important than five others? It’d more accurate to call “privilege” the idea that some minority group gets special preference for political points. If you really want to be all-inclusive, then I don’t see why homosexuals should get special preference while leaving other minority groups out.

The fact of it is that there is no should here. It’s BioWare’s game and they are under no obligation to make the game appeal to any individual or sets of individuals. They should try to make the game to their own design ethic and, ideally, should make it profitable. Metacritic user scores indicate they have have failed to impress people, but that is simply over the thought that the sequel was dumbed down.

They are, ultimately, a private company with with privately owned intellectual property. The privilege lies with whoever Bioware chooses to privilege in their games. For all this, though, I think the other reason that Bastal’s argument falls flat is there was probably no thought in the mind of the writers of really catering for gays per se. A long time before this, Fallout 2 allowed for homosexual and bisexual characters and suffered no such complaints largely because people will play different characters from themselves more often than they would try to create characters who are simply themselves projected into the game. If Bastal thinks these sexuality options were implemented to draw in homosexual gamers, I doubt he is entirely correct.

I take Mass Effect as my example here. I really don’t think that the inclusion of Liara was aimed at being inclusive and more at the idea that a fair number of people like seeing members of the sexually-preferred gender getting on with each other. If nothing was wrong with this then the idea that idea that there should be a wider palette in Dragon Age II definitely qualifies as acceptable.

On the other hand, some might complain that the prevalence of non-heterosexuals seems a little too high. Certainly, this criticism might appeal to me if every other character were throwing themselves at my feet (a criticism I do have for the staunchly heterosexual game The Witcher, which does get a little tasteless), but this is not what is happening. While the presence of such a high number of non-heterosexuals would seem unusual, it hardly breaks suspension of disbelief. There are a lot of background assumptions that can be made as to why this presence is there. They could be biologically geared more towards bisexuality in a way species not too distant from our own are in real life (I am speaking of our fellow hominidae, the bonobos) or cultural factors could come into play. It can be explained within the game world more easily that the fact that women in their sixties still have the body of an 18-year old.

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One response to “Sexuality and Dragon Age II

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  1. Pingback: This week in gaming « The Expanding Frontier

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