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The Case For Dragon Age 2's Romances

Zel Hawke having a chat with Anders.

In case you didn't know, "They're all bi." In the BioWare forums, this phrase was taken up some time before Dragon Age 2's release. The evidence gathered from a German review indicated that romance options had been aufgestockt (increased), and similar evidence kept pointing out how all the romances were available to either sex. It also came to light that Sebastian, the DLC character, was available as a romantic option, but as both chaste and heteroromantic. Naturally, there have been grumbles that the one who isn't available to their male Hawkes is the one they would have chosen.

What I would like to do is explore this game's inclusion of these options, largely making a case for why I think it worked in this instance. I will admit to having completed only one and a half of the romances (Anders is completed, Fenris is halfway through), and will also add that there are plans to more fully examine each individual romance in the Queer Characters tag we have.

Also, fair warning, there will be some spoilers, and some of the images I'm using past the cut/this paragraph will be NSFW (I also wish to thank the artists for giving me permission to use their work--I will credit each under the respective pictures).

All You Need Is Love!
This lovely piece of work was created by BioWare forum user Pyrrhus of Epirus, and further work can be found at this Deviant Art gallery.

For some, the argument is that the romances will be thrown together and not worth as much. It's lazy, cheap, etc.

My rebuttal would be that a lot in Dragon Age 2 feels rushed and lazy, certainly. I don't feel the same about the romances I've witnessed and read about from friends as yet (I'm fortunate that I have had friends report on the same-sex pairings of all four companions).

In the case of Anders, for instance, he can be seen through a subjective lens that speaks very heavily to a male-male romance in a single-playthrough to someone who hasn't played Awakening. You hit on him (...somewhat inappropriately), he makes mention of his love for Karl, and then he makes sure that you aren't bothered by this previous relationship. If you've played Awakening, the subjectivity argument doesn't seem to hold as much, as he clearly states his appreciation for women, and he doesn't seem the type to hide his sexuality. Our meta-game knowledge that he is available to women also reinforces such.

In Awakening he also goes on to talk about what a love-fest being in the Circles of Thedas can be (at least the one in Fereldan). Due to his being a mage, there are also parallels in the way that whole storyline folds out, and it left me with an attachment I did not expect to find so readily. From what it seemed like, his romance was very much written with an eye toward a male same-sex option.

Isabela is firmly bisexual, but we knew this to start. She is unabashed in her love of sex, and BioWare toed a fine line of actually writing a sexually empowered woman. I believe they tipped on to the side of a positive portrayal, largely because she also has various banter that hints at self-confidence and respect, rather than only wanting to have sex with everything that moves (and actually, she can refuse to have sex with someone in the game when you suggest it, bringing up that she too has standards). She defies the stereotype of a same-sex woman romance automatically being bonded by the hip and married, as well. Like Zevran, she takes time and a little effort to actually romance, and not just bed. Whether or not she feels played up to appeal to a heterosexual male audience? I cannot say, though I'd like to believe not.

Fenris and Merrill are unknowns to the series before this game. From what I've seen of the former and heard of the latter, their sexual histories aren't wholly explored. From what I've witnessed of Fenris's, it's not odd that I'm hitting on him, and my being a man hasn't elicited any sex-specific response. I hear much the same from Merrill. They're just bisexual, but it seems that unless you know that in a meta-game context, the game might not necessarily show you such (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong--the Wikia may talk about the romances, but not too specifically).

Before the game released, and the all-bi rumors started, I had a sinking feeling concerning where the game was headed. From what I read of many's experiences with romancing Zevran, the option people wanted was a human warrior for men, for instance. This meant they could have a human, but a mage, or a warrior, but an elf. It seemed a losing proposition to please everyone who wanted man-on-man loving.

Oh Sebby, such a tease.
This humorous piece drawn by BioWare forum user EscherEnigma, whose Deviant Art gallery is located right here.

Of course, the release of Sebastian, who is not a romance available to a male Hawke has drawn some long sighs. Sebastian is a bit of an odd precedent himself, though. He's DLC, so he is not available with the game to start (unless you pre-ordered and received the signature edition). A romance available from DLC? It's a bit unprecedented in BioWare terms. Though, he's a bit of an odd example as he, like Shale, was written to completion in that time before the game released, but by which time they'd already finished the game--they integrated him rather seamlessly by allowing certain story hooks that they could insert him without due concern.

The entire case is a bit odd, as it speaks against a lot of what we might consider common sense. One: he's not bi as the other four options. Two: he's a romance option for people who play a Lady Hawke. Considering BioWare has had inequal options in favor of male avatars before (though not in some time), this is a bit unusual not only for BioWare, but probably for games in general.

The decision to include this makes me wonder how else they might explore romance in DLC packs, particularly as DLC characters in the Dragon Age series have been more fully fleshed than those of Mass Effect 2's. As it is, there will be people disappointed, which was the danger of not having the four options we do have all be open to either sex we can choose to play.

The second argument that will come up is why there is no option for a purely same-sex romance. Honestly, while I would love that from a large studio, I don't expect it any time in the near future. That's something I would expect from a smaller developer. Naturally, if a larger studio were to offer such, most of us would look in the direction of BioWare--as David Gaider has stated in the comment sections here, the economics don't justify it for them right now.

Zel, having a chat with Anders.

Therefore, the four options that are open to same-sex romances? They don't seem to me to be as rushed as I would have thought. In the case of Anders, the only romance I have completed fully, the addition of expanding on his story of Karl felt specifically put in there not only as a possible way to deter people who might 'accidentally' fall into the romance, but to open up his character a bit. If I had a complaint, it would be my own desire to use the heart option in a wholly inappropriate time.

My current romance with Fenris doesn't feel as keyed in to me due to my playing a male Hawke, but it also doesn't alienate me in any way. The fact that it just exists is a nice counterpoint to Anders's romance arc.

However, the magic of this, to me, is that I could (and likely will) play the game at least four different times, romance four different companions, and never once have to play as a purely heterosexual character (though I'll likely also take that route at some point). Which is among the reasons I really enjoy this game, despite the many flaws on which I could enumerate (and which our formal review will do).

As for any arguments that it seems highly unlikely that so many bisexual people would all be traveling around? While Thedas may not have an LGB culture as we understand it, I do know that I often find myself capable of belonging to a group of like-minded individuals. In my case, that's people who are open with their sexuality, and use many different labels. It's just as often been the case that I find it remarkable when I find someone who is purely heterosexual. It's really not that difficult to imagine, and there's probably a message in there that the world does have straight people, but some of the strongest, or perhaps most integral to the history of the world, are bisexual.

6 Comments

Mattchu said:

I don't frequent the bioware forums, so this may already have been discussed, but I really hate when people keep saying that the NPC characters are "bi".

Just because I can romance them as either sex doesn't make them bi.
Fenris isn't going to have sex with female me and male me in the same playthrough, so if I choose to sex him as a woman, I consider him straight, he's not said anything(unlike Anders) about wanting to be with a man.

The characters in this RPG are what the player wants them to be. If I want them to be gay, I can make them gay, if I want them bi, I can consider them bi, but I don't think it's very appropriate to just label them all as "bi" on these blogs.

Briker Ed said:

DA:O got famous for quite graphically explicit (in game terms) display of sexuality. In DA2 they just cashed in on that. That's how, bottom line, I see it at least.

Now, that doesn't mean the dialogue, or the story surrounding DA2's relationships isn't fleshed out good - perhaps a bit rushed, but overall satisfactory (even if just barely).

They played it safe and gave us 4 options to mix & match since, pretty much, we all got hooked on the Dragon Age 'sex' and we cried for more virtual romances. Let's face it, none of us expected it to be executed in the way it was in DA:O. The believability of the stories surrounding the 4 characters' romances just had to suffer some because of that.

On my first playthrough I romanced Anders. I played a mage, he was a mage. He lost a mage lover, was open about it, could relate to me since I was of the same trade.... it felt quite organic; and even though at the end he does what he does, and it makes him kind of hard to continue 'loving', I couldn't bring myself to push him away. I guess we lived in exile happily ever looking over our shoulders. I liked his story, even the bitter aftertaste.

Now I'm romancing Fenris and it feels quite different so far (near end of Act 2). Don't feel as attached to him (playing a warrior, same as him). We'll see how it turns out. But I do like him for his own reasons. Maybe it's just me, but he feels more straight, giving a bit of an.... odd light to the whole romance. I just keep thinking he'll start regretting spending time in my bed :P

(I actually started with Fenris on my first run, but fully switched to Anders later - and Fenris engaged him in a convo saying something like 'Don't break Hawke's heart or I'll hunt you down' or something, which was sweet. Nice to know he didn't turn out to be a bitter case of ex)

I'm planning to do (no pun intended) Merrill & Isabela too, just cause I'm really curious how they act in their romantic stories, but I'm expecting both to be fun, due to their amusing characters.

Bearfamily said:

I found it actually so tastefully done this time that I have no complaints. Mattchu has what I thought of it spot on, that Anders wasn't "bi" for me he was gay because I interacted with him from that mindset and it was never really (apart from that one text line)challenged. Anders and Fenris were so far removed from Zevran that its hard to believe that they came from the same company. The dialogue was stellar, so well delievred and just made the following of the relationship so worth it.

Slightly Off-Topic, its strange that in a "similar" setting, the Hawke / Sheppard view point, that Shepard was not given the same options. I know different teams different goals, but Hawke and Shep are very similar so I assume there is enough of a crossover to make the locked narative in play. I have every achievemnt in Mass Effect 2 (so far, CMON ARRIVAL!) except, the romance one. MY SHEPARD IS GAY!

Nexus said:

FYI As soon as Sebastian was announced I proclaimed he was the one I wanted to romance above all others. This was before I knew anything about who would be romancable. So my desire to have that option is entirely genuine.
As it seems to be implied that those of us not happy are just complaining for the sake of complaining.

Will that keep me from playing the game? No.
I will however be hoping for some variation of the Equal Love mod as soon as possible.

Greg said:

Mattchu summed it up nicely - these characters are not necessarily bi. Fenris and Merrill appear to be whatever sexuality you want them to be - if your main character is gay, so are those two.

Only Isabella and Anders are explicity bisexual - meaning they'll both mention having had partners of both sexes. Anders with Karl, and Isabella with whatever has legs.

Sebastian doesn't bother me. The same way a character can be explicitly bisexual or gay, there's no reason they can't write a character who is purely heterosexual.

I think the developers chose a smart set of romance options for this game. None of their development time was "wasted" on a demographic that might not get a whole lot of use out of it, since the vast majority of the romance options pull double duty. It's neat to be able to play through twice and not have to romance the same guy. :)

Sarah said:

A bit belated, but it's also worth mentioning that Sebastian's romance is unique in one other aspect: his is a chaste romance, even for Lady Hawke. I sort of interpreted it as their attempt at further emphasizing his super-religious characterization and upbringing. Unlike Leliana, he was raised somewhat strictly and sent off very early to take his Chantry vows, if I recall correctly.

He does have the beginnings of a beautiful bromance with Fenris, though, if you listen to their party banter. I know that some fans believe he's actually got quite the crush on Fenris and that the whole heterosexual/chaste thing is just Sebastian trying to conform to Chantry norms or expectations, because, well... it fits.

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Sarah on The Case For Dragon Age 2's Romances: A bit belated, but it's also worth mentioning that Sebastian's romance is unique in one other aspect: his is a...

Greg on The Case For Dragon Age 2's Romances: Mattchu summed it up nicely - these characters are not necessarily bi. Fenris and Merrill appear to be whatever sexuality...

Nexus on The Case For Dragon Age 2's Romances: FYI As soon as Sebastian was announced I proclaimed he was the one I wanted to romance above all others....

Bearfamily on The Case For Dragon Age 2's Romances: I found it actually so tastefully done this time that I have no complaints. Mattchu has what I thought of...

Briker Ed on The Case For Dragon Age 2's Romances: DA:O got famous for quite graphically explicit (in game terms) display of sexuality. In DA2 they just cashed in on...

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