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Dragon Age And "The Gay" At Large

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I've been pleasantly surprised with BioWare's progressive attitude with Dragon Age. Granted, Mass Effect had an option for same-sex romance, but it always irked me that this was only an option for the female version of Shepherd. Despite the view that any gain -- however timid it may be -- is a step in the right direction, I couldn't help feel that it was nothing more than a cheap marketing ploy to appeal to straight men -- girl-on-girl action often manages to get an exemption from the otherwise sweeping condemnation of homosexuality, mainly on the grounds that "it's hot" -- rather than an honestly progressive move. Dragon Age won me over, treading into the far more murky waters of male-on-male sex and causing me to momentarily emerge from my cloud of cynicism -- something I am ever so reluctant to do. RPGs, dependent as they are on the player's emotional bond with his or her character, offer an ideal platform on which to spread a positive message -- a message that will reach a vast audience. No, we may not have been given a full blown "gay" protagonist, at least not on the order of games in which the main character is established as straight from the get-go, but it's another little victory -- one that we would be wise not to take for granted.

More from the soapbox after the jump!

Attitudes don't simply change on their own; as receivers and processors of information, exposure to media constantly colors our perspective. Recent decades have made some headway with gay subject matter -- Brokeback Mountain, Will & Grace, Queer as Folk, etc. -- fomenting in the collective unconscious the radical notion that behind the veil of stereotypes, of social subversion and the embrace of that most vile of sins, gays and lesbians are not the devilish caricatures so enthusiastically peddled by firebrand preachers and opportunistic politicians. The gay community, like its straight counterpart, is merely comprised of individuals trying to live their lives as best they can.

Despite the recent resurgence of crazy -- "The gay agenda" has long been an effective galvanizing tool for the reactionaries -- now as the national conversation begins to sound more and more like snippets from a schizophrenic's diary, one can rest assured: This ugliness will eventually pass. The old ways of thinking will die out with the minds that harbor them, and someday homophobia will find its final resting place alongside segregation, anti-Semitism, institutionalized sexism, and all the other vices that so usefully kept the Great Unwashed clawing at each others' throats. One day society will view homophobes and their irrational fears with the same contemptuous sneer we reserve for those of generations past who towed the racist line, using the same quaint, folksy traditionalism and intellectual derangement being channeled so effectively by the Becks and Palins of our era, and they will be right in doing so. Today it's considered reasonable to stand against equal rights for homosexuals. Fifty years ago it was considered reasonable to stand against desegregation. Fifty years prior to that, the notion that women should not be allowed to vote was a respectable and principled stance. Go back another fifty years, and you will arrive at a time when the enslavement of other human beings was considered a way of life. Such is the nature of social progress. It is slow-moving and clumsy, assaulted every step of the way by a gauntlet of small-minded jackals. And make no mistake, the heroes of the history books were once denounced as radicals and dangerous subversives who, in their blind fervor and callous disregard for tradition, would bring about the unraveling of the Great American Experiment. One might be tempted to marginalize the effect of a game like Dragon Age -- it is, after all, "just a game" -- but it's indicative of a larger and more significant trend. Slowly but surely, the "traditionalists" are finding themselves at odds with the zeitgeist. Their greatest fear shouldn't be the gay community and its supposed depravity; it should be the inevitable exposure of their so-called principled stance as what it is: Antiquated and irrational bigotry.

In the meantime, homophobia within the gaming community remains a problem. Everyone has heard the word "f*g" thrown around as a choice insult in the online realm, despite half-cocked explanations from online players/fourteen year old boys that it's simply a generic term (you know, just like the n-word carries no racial overtones), but the bigots will always have their hovel. Regardless, I'm hopeful about the future. I believe with all my heart that the issue of gay rights is making serious headway, and that this Renaissance of Crazy coming from the Right, in a way, should give us some hope. It is the desperate death wail of an aged beast, a brave last stand for the bigots, before social progress -- at the very least, official laws and and norms -- consigns them to the ash heap of history where they belong.

Here's to hoping.

20 Comments

Javier Morales said:

Very well said.

Gay or not, that game just does not appeal to me. In terms of the gay sex, it looks god awful. The AI was nothing but terrible to me, it's generic fantasy at it's most middling. There's just nothing here in this game that brings me to want this other than Isaac Clarke armor. I'm a big Dead Space fan, which brings me to a bit of a criticism with this well-written article.

Why do characters have to be gay to identify with them? In no media have I ever felt the need to like a character simply due to their sexual orientation. In most cases, the characters are simply portrayed as having nothing BUT their sexual orientation to make them 'different,' and I think that's a step backwards. But that's a whole different point.

I think a story about a character's love for another is in no way enhanced or otherwise by their sexuality. Sure, a gay relationship may be 'hotter,' and yeah I totally wanted to bone Garrus in ME2 as Male Shepard, but beyond the superficial, nothing changes. In Persona 4, I loved Chie and I wanted my character to be with her. In Silent Hill 2, I felt for James and his decisions and the personal hell he dealt with. Dead Space and DS2's DLC "Severed" were both very emotionally wrenching for me. They were stories above simple gender relations, and were to the purest thoughts of love. A simple imprint of how I would be in that situation with my lover as their lover can make an immediate and resonant impact. I think THOSE are the games that, more than Fable and Dragon Age, are serving good relationship stories. Sex is just a bonus.

Rocan said:

No one is gay in the game. It is a push forward but it is a cheap one. I am a bisexual and I think it is cheap that all the romanceable companions are bisexual. (With the exception of the DLC Sebastian who is heterosexual.) The concept has cheapened the characters significantly. I would have much rather had one good, well designed, gay character than being able to f*#k everyone I choose.

The overall romancing has been dumbed down to mass effect role playing, and yet in this game I feel I've learned even less about the companions than I have about Mass Effect ones. No longer can I spend hours talking to and learning the history of a character. No now I get a handful of clips over the course of the entire game, romances that take three years to even truly begin(At that point they should just be in the friend zone.), and a you can date whomever scenario.

The concept is not cool, it is simply a fan f*#k. I did like that you can attempt to romance Aveline but be rejected in Dragon Age two and I like that Anders falls for you pretty much always, much like some crazy ho from the first game who shall remain nameless who creepily watches people while they sleep, but by not providing actual Gay character I feel that the experience is weakened.


It is a step forward but it is a bitter one. Even if there had been a gay character I couldn't romance it would have been more of a message being sent. That gay character exist! I praise the Dragon Age team for their progressive movements but I do not praise them for cheapening the story and potential relationships for your character.

Rocan said:

Wow I apologize, my computer freaked out on me and I was certain my message hadn't gone through... but somehow it went through twice.. and then I submitted it again...yeah. Three times is a charm though.

NaviFairy said:

Now, I haven't actually played any of the game yet, but are the character actually bi or can they just be romanced by a Hawke of either gender? And yes, there is a difference.

The way I see it, if you're playing a male Hawke and romance one of the male options, unless they state tendencies toward the opposite gender elsewhere in the game, why not treat that as a gay character? Why can't the characters and story change depending on which gender you choose, even to the point that some characters change sexual preferences? After all, these games involve many plot points that change each playthrough, so I don't see why a character's sexuality couldn't be treated the same way. After all, we accept that Hawke's sexuality can change each playthrough, so why not the other characters?

Kenny said:

I, for one, welcome our new homosexual overlords.

Luke said:

I think Bioware did a really good job with Dragon Age 2 characters, and I don't think the experience was cheap in anyway. Of course the romance is different and much easier than the last game, but that's something Bioware always does.

Besides the obvious, I got the feeling that much of the Mages Storyline were based on the gay community, the way anders talk about mages having the same rights as other people and how he doesn't want other kids to go through what he went... maybe I'm seeing too much into this, maybe not :P

scootermcgaffin said:

NaviFairy, Isabela and Anders are both bi (although Anders is more pansexual, as he states he believes you should love a whole person, and not just the outside), while Merrill and Fenris have a more subjective sexuality in that they never bring up previous romances.

Nexus said:

*sigh*
I really want to applaud Bioware on making 'all' romance options bi, but I can't.
The fact they made Sebastian straight leaves a filthy taste in my mouth.
Always the character I most want to romance. Sebastian is DA2's Alistair.
I can only hope we'll see a new Equal Love mod for DA2 that enables males to romance Sebastian as well.
It seems like such a stupid move.
If they went and made all other romance options bi, what could possibly motivate them to make Sebastian straight?

Jardin17 said:

I really don't get it when people say they wish they would just make 1 gay character. If they did that, you just know people would be bitching about that too. "Why did they make X the gay one? He sucks! He's as hot as Y... he is too femme!!! Screw you Bioware!!"

I just seems people are never happy and nothing Bioware does will ever please everyone.

Super Swede had a really great message about the gay community and the changes our society is experiencing (reflected in progressive games like Dragon Age) and that message is just ruined by all this negativity.

Mary KT said:

Bioware has once again delivered. I am very happy with this 'all bi' attitude and find it to be a major step in the gaming world.

Limeade said:

I would rather have choice in my RPGs, where the game should be about my PC and what interactions and choices they choose, than to have more limitations. I want to create the character I'd like to play, and create the story that I'd like to see. Or at least have the freedom of control as much as possible in my hands.

Fallout New Vegas did a great step forward in terms of finding one way to acknowledge sexuality and even incorporate it into a game (full of rich and diverse NPCs). And for all the faults I am finding with DA2, from its horrendous marketing to its lackluster level design and recycling of the same areas over and over again, the strongest thing it has going for it is is character.

These romances, these choices, these secondary and tertiary ways to flesh out your story and your PC's arsenal of uniqueness are what is important to me, as the audience and as a (role)player. And since we will never see a purely gay love interest anytime soon, because -- as devs say -- it does not reach the widest audiences possible for all the time, voice acting, effort, and MONEY involved. If they were going to be 'fair' about how to allocate resources by use, then heterosexual (male PC) romances would get top billing. So if we're in the mentality of 'this is what I want or none at all,' then the latter is what we may get.

It's something we've discussed at length on the BioWare forums with the devs. I'm not saying it is the right way to come at the situation, but they are still a business confined to doing things within reason of their budget and their higher ups. So, while 'every LI is bi' may seem like a bit of a stretch to some, I think it seems like the best compromise in the near future. I'd rather have that choice for now than no choice but default (like Jade Empire and Origins).

And Thedas is not Earth. Who knows, maybe being pansexual or bisexual or gay in this world is about as common as being straight.

Charlie said:

My thoughts exactly, Jardin. When Bioware made one bi male character in the last game people FREAKED OUT that it wasn't Alistair.

They are only "all bi" if you imagine the NPC's occupy the same universe as every potential Hawke who will play the game. I don't remember DAO's Lelianna having a male love in her past, if you played as a female warden and wooed her the only thing really making her bi would be the potential for an alternate universe male warden to romance her.

Super Swede said:

I'l just do a blanket reply to those who commented... First, thank you; i very much enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts on the matter, and it was pleasant to see well-thought out opinions, in stark contrast to the troll-fest that is so much of the internet. Limeade echoed a lot of my thoughts in the conversation, namely that the customization of one's character and game experience. RPGs hinge on immersion like no other genre, and to that end i feel that having as much choice as possible (including sexual orientation) is always a boon. True, the transcendent nature of romance is something that, ideally, transcends gender -- gays and straights alike should be able to enjoy that aspect of a story without regard to whether it involves same-sex or opposite-sex love -- but i think that in the case of a game in which one chooses his or her partner, the bisexual mechanic works well. I don't think by any means that this is something that should become the norm -- in games where the romance is a foregone conclusion, i'd prefer the writers to focus all their energy on that particular story -- but in games like this, it's a welcome addition. That's all for now... sleep beckons ferociously.

Duriel said:

I'm sorry Mandle but I cannot disagree with you more, if my main character is gay I can most definetly identify more with them, Being role playing games I want to play it the way I want and I want to be a gay hero, not a straight one, and I couldn't possibly hate that issac armor more as it has absolutely nothing to do with dragon age, deep space 2 or whatever its called isn't even made by bioware, its a cheap tacky stunt! Dragon Age Origins is most definetly one of the best RPG's I have ever played and to call the dragon age universe a generic fantasy at its most middling is bewildering. Most ideas have been done before and it seems most ironic that Mass effect seems to continue the trend of there are no gay men in the future, as there are no gay characters in any of the star trek series, stargate, and any other sci fi show I can think of, Mass Effect has a real chance to break through the mold but they don't bother, its a good story sure, but I was spoiled by Dragon age and fallout new vegas and the fact I can't be a gay hero in mass effect 2 seems a step backwards.

Marcus said:

Having a positive impression of Dragon Age II, I don't feel the need to offload this somewhere. But seeing these different opinions... I guess I should comment.

Given the circumstance that every not specificly otherwise labeled character is assumed to be straight, we are somewhat underrepresented in games. So I am very happy for every good gay or bisexual character.

Bren said:

Limeade,

Patrolling the Mohave makes you wish for a nuclear winter.

Catsby said:

Let's not forget that the Ultima series has been allowing players to assume the role of a gay Avatar for a long time. The other NPCs will sometimes be a bit surprised at your man-lust, but otherwise accepting. Most of these are quickies (at roadside gypsy wagons or bath houses), but the main questline for Ultima VII Part 2 pushes female main characters into a lesbian relationship as part of the main plotline.

Greyrobe said:

I'm baffled by the people who are saying that they wanted a pre-defined gay character in DA2. It sounds like people want Final Fantasy with homos. I don't want a game to tell me what my character is. I want to define my own protagonist through his words and actions.

My male Hawke was never anything other than gay in my mind from the moment I started playing. When I began to romance Anders, I never considered him to be anything but gay either and Bioware did nothing to dispel that notion. In fact, they even referenced that Anders and Karl were in a long-term relationship prior to the Templars making Karl a Tranquil. This knowledge changed the way I saw Anders, which also changed the whole game for me. I began to find myself justifying his sometimes extreme positions because I thought I would feel the same had the Templars killed my partner. The game took on a depth of personal emotion I've never been able to experience before in a game... even DA1.

So I'm left with my head shaking wondering how people feel that Bioware should have done more to be gay-inclusive. Obviously, these people have zero creativity and want cookie-cutter Final Fantasy cliche's. Thanks but I'll be sticking to RPG's that actually allow me to ROLE PLAY.

silver said:

Honestly I think the notion that gay love interests are only valid if they're not open to different sex romances is pretty stupid. It's the same as straight people saying they don't the characters in their games to be bi because it ruins their straight romance experience.

In DA2 there are even dialogues/plot points that are specific for same sex romances. I'm not gonna spoil, but Anders's romance for example has a lot more impact as a male Hawke.

And it's not like the characters actually act bi - in a Zevran kind of way - anyway. If you're romancing Anders he only mentions a past male lover, nothing more than that, and Fenris doesn't mention past relationships at all.

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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