While checking out Dragon Age: Inquisition at E3 this year we were introduced to a number of new characters, including the charming mage Dorian. The quick-witted party member was a standout from the moment he appeared on screen. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that this mustachioed magic-man had a little….something else, going on. My video game gaydar (gaymedar?) may not always be on point, but I have to admit it was going off. From the stache to the sass; he felt like the kind of guy you’d meet at a gay bar in San Francisco. What’s more the game is already boasting a rather diverse party lineup, a rare find when dealing with high-fantasy. But then, I thought, most characters in the Dragon Age world are bisexual to some degree anyway, and didn’t think much more of it.
Then I wake up this morning to find that David Gaider, lead writer on the Dragon Age series, went and confirmed that Dorian is actually gay. “Fully-gay,” in fact.
In a post on the official BioWare website, introducing players to Inquisition’s new characters, Gaider confirmed in no uncertain terms that Dorian is the series’ first “fully gay” character. After mentioning that writing Dorian brought up new aspects for him to explore, Gaider was asked what those aspects were:
“Dorian is gay—he is, in fact, the first fully gay character I’ve had the opportunity to write. It added an interesting dimension to his back story, considering he comes from a place where “perfection” is the face that every mage puts on and anything that smacks of deviancy is shameful and meant to be hidden. Dorian’s refusal to play along with that façade is seen as stubborn and pointless by his family, which has contributed to his status as a pariah.”
For Gaider, who is openly gay, the exploration of Dorian’s sexuality made the experience of writing him a personal one.
“I suppose this aspect of Dorian will make him controversial in some corners, but I was glad to include it. It made writing Dorian a very personal experience for me, and I’m hopeful that will make him seem like a fully realized character to fans in the end.”
Gaider later clarified via Twitter that perhaps “fully-gay” was not the best phrasing, after being called out as “biphobic” by a follower:
“I meant “legitimately”, sorry. I was trying to be clear–many people consider the bi characters we’ve done to be “gay”,” he replied, and when the term ‘legitimately’ was also called into question he said that, “Many would say, “No, it’s not.” But fair enough–I did not intend to comment on bisexuality, and will leave it at that.”
And just to clarify once more on Twitter, when asked what makes a character “legitimately gay”,
“He only romances men.”
Simple. Let’s move on now.
As a developer BioWare has always been at the forefront of including more sexually diverse characters in their games, though they’ve often been called out on their portrayals as well. 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic featured the lesbian character Juhani, a breakthrough for queer playable characters at the time.
The original Mass Effect rather messily offered players “no” same-sex options, save for the ability for female players to romance the genderless but female-bodied Asari. Mass Effect 2 continued this trend, drawing criticism that no gay men seemed to exist in the game’s universe, and canonically no actual gay people despite the Asari looking very much female. This was finally remedied in Mass Effect 3, which not only allowed players to romance several different men (including longtime party member Kaiden, played by openly gay model Luciano Costa) but also introduced Cortez, a non-playable NPC who is, to use Gaider’s terminology, fully gay. That is to say, he’s canonically gay whether the player wants to romance him or not; a series first and a gaming rarity.
Meanwhile back in 2011 Dragon Age 2 came under fire by some, yet praised by others, for its unique take on in-game romance. While no characters were homosexual by default, most everyone was romanceable to some degree. Some felt this was a cop-out that watered down the characters, while others celebrated a more fluid take on sexuality in a fantasy world. When one gamer attacked the series for being too gay-friendly and not appealing to its ‘straight male audience’, even suggesting the ludicrous idea of a no-gays options for bigoted players, David Gaider took him to task.
“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.”
Earlier this year, answering a question from a lesbian fan on his Tumblr, Gaider discussed being gay and being a developer working in the game industry. He addressed the issues that people have raised with the queer-content in BioWare’s titles, as well as his own hesitance in tackling queer issues as someone who has been working in the industry since before it was ever considered possible, but ultimately he acknowledged the importance of making that content available at all.
“….I have to remind myself of the truth: there are people out there for whom the presence of any gay content will automatically render it “the gay game”. The presence of two bisexual male followers in Dragon Age 2, only one of whom made advances on a male player without first being flirted with, means “every man in Thedas is gay and wants my man-meat”. These are the same people for whom the mere existence of a gay character, or a plot that deals with gay subject matter, really anything that forces them to acknowledge that homosexuality so much as exists, is going to be a personal insult. I remind myself that it’s not that much to include, and really it’s very little in comparison to the entire rest of the game…and thus, considering what it means to those fans who receive that validation almost nowhere else, it’s not too much to demand a bit of tolerance and compassion from the portion of the audience for whom this content is not even intended.”
Truly, for all of the criticism that Gaider, BioWare, and EA have faced over the years they have created more opportunities for queer gamers in their titles than most any company. That’s nothing to balk at. While the final execution may not have always been perfect, the mere fact that they are actively working towards more inclusive titles shows a real commitment to their LGBT fans. This commitment can be seen in events like EA’s Full Spectrum panel, BioWare’s presence at events like GaymerX and Gaider being a boss of honor at the queer gaming conference. It can also be seen in the creation of characters like Dorian.
Of course there’s much more to Dorian than just being gay, as it should be.
“Dorian is smart—perhaps too smart for his own good, really. He was raised in a society where both intelligence and wit are prized, where advancing yourself socially means outmaneuvering your peers, and he does so quite well… or, at least, he would if he didn’t see through it all. That’s left him rather jaded and sarcastic, naturally…..He enjoys using his magic and doesn’t see any reason why he should be ashamed about it. So he unleashes his full power when it’s needed… and he has plenty of power to unleash, seeing as he comes from a society where mages are trained to use it rather than hide it. This includes powerful elemental spells, as well as spells involving the control of spirit and the dead—things societies outside of Tevinter might turn up their noses at and claim “distasteful.”….Dorian is an outcast—by choice, but only insofar as he chose not to live according to the expectations of his society. There are a lot of aspects to that which I enjoyed exploring, and which I haven’t had to chance to do with other characters.”
I personally can’t wait to find out more about Dorian, who joins the ever growing list of openly gay playable characters in AAA-gaming. You can find out more about him by visiting the official BioWare site.