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Discussion: BioWare's David Gaider's Response

Earlier this week I discussed my thoughts on the romances all being openly available in Dragon Age 2, which is probably better than calling all the companions bisexual. As has been going the rounds on the game websites, a poster in the BioWare forums complained that the game was not catering to the straight male gamer, even going so far as to suggest what would essentially be a no-homo option (he also has a bit of a dose of xenophobia in there--the women in the game being too 'exotic').

David Gaider has gone to bat for our interests before, and he does so again. I'm going to put his entire response here, and would like to invite discussion. Most other comment threads I've seen have been generally positive, but prone to heteronormative derailing or complaining about reverse discrimination at some point. This space does not invite such, and we'd like to think this is a safe space for y'all. Without further ado:

The man himself.

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 DAO 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.

More than that, I would question anyone deciding they speak for "the straight male gamer" just as much as someone claiming they speak for "all RPG fans", "all female fans" or even "all gay fans". You don't. If you wish to express your personal desires, then do so. I have no doubt that any opinion expressed on these forums is shared by many others, but since none of them have elected a spokesperson you're better off not trying to be one. If your attempt is to convince BioWare developers, I can tell you that you do in fact make your opinion less convincing by doing so.

And if there is any doubt why such an opinion might be met with hostility, it has to do with privilege. 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.

Would I do it again? I don't know. I doubt I would have Anders make the first move again-- at the time, I thought that requiring all romances to have Hawke initiate everything was the unrealistic part. Even if someone decides that this makes everyone "unrealistically" bisexual, however, or they can't handle the idea that the character might be bisexual if they were another PC... I don't see that as a big concern, to be honest. Romances are never one-size-fits-all, and even for those who don't mind the sexuality issue there's no guarantee they'll find a character they even want to romance. That's why romances are optional content. It's such a personal issue that we'll never be able to please everyone. The very best we can do is give everyone a little bit of choice, and that's what we tried here.

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. And that's my opinion, expressed as politely as possible.

In a wall of text. Sorry about that.

And I'm sorry if someone didn't get everything they wanted out of the romances-- as I always am. I wish we could do the ideal where there's something for every desire and opinion, but as usual we make do.

What we have here is someone calling out privilege, debating the rights of a player (not denying them, but admitting they're murky), and questioning their own approach. The last bit also seems somewhat humbling: they realize not everyone is happy about the romance options, but this is what they presented this time. Perhaps next time? Of course, for people who've been waiting longer and having it not be present to them, this may seem like further deflection--something to whichsome fans of the Mass Effect series can attest.

Naturally, romances are one, optional part of the game, so if you feel the entire deal about this has blown out of proportion, and you'd rather discuss other portions of the game, feel free to let your thoughts be known in the comments of our review. If you would like to directly address this issue, feel free (and safe) to do so here.


Prelimar said:

this is 1000 kinds of awesome. hats off to him. he's right on all counts, and he dealt with that troll in a very eloquent fashion.

12thGay said:

So there really are knights in shining armour.

LINCARD1000 said:

They will never win over everyone with the decisions they made regarding the romance options in the game, but all in all I reckon they did a good job of it. Not only that but to have a game that offers us "diverse" players a lot of diversity to play with... :-)

David Gaider speaks very eloquently regarding the decisions they made and facing up to the criticisms from some of the players. He might be happily heterosexual, but to me he is still a gay hero :-)

EA being the huge, archaic, lumbering overlord that it is could have made it very difficult for the developers regarding the whole "alternative" sexuality thing. But to know that making the game attractive to us was something they fought for (and are still copping a lot of flak for) is a feel-good kinda thing, y'know?

S7Tage said:

If this is the case, how come we can't have same-sex relations in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2? Same freakin' dev!

VorpalBunny said:

Many agreements that I think this is awesome.

S7Tage, I think it's useful to remember that while they are the same developer, they are two separate writing and creative teams.

g_whiz said:

My hat goes off to Mr. Gaider in ways I cannot fully express. I found the candor and warmth of the relationship (with Anders, love that guy) to be entirely honest, heartfelt and wonderful. The treatment of the material (with the occasional prodding of Isabella or Varric asking about details about our personal lives etc) made the experience all that much more real. I can't heap enough praise on Bioware for creating universes that don't harbor the same old biases (New ones, sure, the Templars and their anti-mage lunacy) and making games everyone can see themselves in. Kudos.


Arid said:

I think it's important to remind yourself that Bioware's task is to sell games, not to advance the rights of any minority. No doubt they'd like to see their games being enjoyed by a broad spectrum of people, but at the end of the day they're still a business and not a gay rights activist group. That doesn't make them evil.

Adding any content to a game has a cost, and as a company Bioware has to weigh that cost with the benefits. Perhaps in Mass Effect the costs of adding alternative relationships was simply too high. Perhaps the team of people working on it simply didn't weigh the benefits of adding such a relationship as highly as you or I might.

We are, after all, a fairly small minority in the gaming world, and unfortunately that means that we have to wait until the cost of adding game content to our taste is low enough that it doesn't make bad economic sense for the companies having to invest the money to create it. When the cost and the expected economic gain are about equal, I think we should be pleased when a company chooses to make the effort include content that the vast majority of gamers wouldn't miss.

It's more important to encourage them to make the right decision than to constantly harass them about times when perhaps they didn't. Otherwise we are in danger of acting privileged ourselves. Personally, I have nothing but props for Mr. Gaider here.

kybarsfang said:

One of the common complaints I've heard from people who decide to decline Anders' advances is that there's no option to let him down gently. Instead, you have to be a big jerk to him. I hope that next time the writers make the scripts a little more organic.

Steve Ribisi said:

I was going to wait on Dragon Age II, but now I will go out an buy it ASAP (if you can call buying it on Steam "going out", that is). This is a very nice response. It calls out the original comment without being defensive, angry or apologetic. Can I ask now that they retroactively make Alistair romanceable by male characters? It is a bit embarrassing to admit, but part of me fell in love with Alistair. Yes, I thought DAO was that good. The new age music during the lovemaking scenes was, uh, disappointing however.

Rosa said:

David Gaider is my hero

It's not just this. The guy goes the mat for creative choices all over the place. He's never afraid to admit he made a mistake ... when he thinks he's actually made one. He doesn't take crap from anybody.

He's a rock star.

Vial said:

This is ridiculous. The original poster asked why he should be exposed to content intended for 5% of gamers. Doesn't he realize that gay romance appeals(at least dramatically) to a significant percentage of straight people as well? I had quite a few straight friends who enjoyed exploring the same sex romance with Zevran in the first. About the only thing truly straight people can't get out of gay romance is tantalization. Otherwise, it's precisely the same as opposite sex romance.

Bearfamily said:

The thing that I admire the most about this is that David or Bioware have no obligation to take this stance. They could just as easily be another company that panders to the easy money demographic. They choose not to, David chooses to call out people like that OP in that thread, knowing that there will be bigots that will support the OP and attack David and Bioware's stance on this issue.

And any person like David or company that chooses not to give into these people, that choose be inclusive of everybody, deserves nothing but the utmost respect.

Silly said:

"One of the common complaints I've heard from people who decide to decline Anders' advances is that there's no option to let him down gently."

This is a lie.

Seriously, they are outright lying. I was able to let Anders down gently. I got no -Friendship points (which are easy to regain...) for this.

I *never* picked a flirt option with him, and after the first time, he didn't try again.

Some people are essentially complaining about nothing. You CAN let him down gently.

Seth said:

While I know that the comic was presented in jest (and I've spoken with you before about my different experience of the site relative to the furor it's inspired in some) I think Penny Arcade's satirical response to the subject brings up an interesting point for moving forward into a theoretical (but likely) DA3.

When I mentioned to you on Facebook that I was starting a female elf character in DA:O, with the intent of romancing Sten, I was pretty shocked to find that the Qunari was off the table. I get the impression DA2 goes into some more detail on their culture and physiology, but I still wonder if they'll continue to widen the scope of available romance in future games; even to the point where some of those romances might not be options for physical consummation.

The fact that I'm finally doing the whole series of Farscape---a series that in no way hesitates to present all manner of inter-species relationships as well as species whose gender configurations belie human expectations---is probably an influence on my wondering this about this as well. But it seems like even the current, permissive approach to relationships is still grounded in the possibility of that sex-scene payoff, rather than opening things up to more Ladyhawke (no pun intended) style scenarios. Can not a man or woman find love with a golem, given how popular Shale's personality was with so many gamers?

Exploring options like that would also be fascinating to observe from a forum discussion perspective; does the man who feels underserved as a straight male gamer get more, or less, incensed when he's presented with a non-sexual romantic option that involves a statue?

Also, as I think I mentioned on Facebook, the irony to me of the "straight male" argument is that the immediate reaction of most straight males I've seen play Bioware games with a bisexual option is to shoot for a lesbian encounter.

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