Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Well played, Bioware. Well played.

So in case you haven't noticed, I haven't updated in a while. Yes, I know, I'm a horrible person, but believe me, I can explain! See, Dragon Age 2 came out, and I don't know if you've heard, but there's this really hot Elf dude in it that looks like this:

Ooh baby.
And if you play your cards right, you get to do this:


So I hope you will understand and forgive when I tell you that I have been a little bit distracted.

A lot has been said about Dragon Age 2. It was very different from Dragon Age: Origins and, understandably, not everyone liked that. For my part, I enjoyed it quite a bit; it feels a little short, but the emotional punch at the end left me reeling for days, and I think if a game can have that sort of impact on me, it wins. But I'm just gonna talk about one facet of the game here which, as you may have gathered from the utterly distracting gif up there, I tend to obsess over where Bioware games are concerned: the romance options.

Bioware is well known for giving the player character in their games a rag tag band of followers who, over the course of the story, grow into what TV Tropes calls a Nakama - a group of people, forged by their common circumstances, who become like a close family. These characters and their relationship to the player are always very well written, so that by the end of the game, you end up feeling really attached to them. They're your brothers and sisters in arms; you fight with them, joke with them, help them with their problems, and GOD FORBID if the game actually allows any of them to die permanently at any point. You will cry so many tears.

Not to spoil anything but UPGRADE YOUR SHIP. SERIOUSLY.

Among these followers there are always a few who the player can choose to pursue a romantic relationship with. This, in my opinion, adds even another level of emotional involvement. You're not fighting all alone against the forces of evil; your friends are fighting with you, and the one you love is at your side, ready to face whatever darkness is to come. The battles become personal, because now you're not just fighting for the good of a nameless population, most of whom you'll never even see. You're fighting so that, some day, the world/galaxy will be safe, and you and the people you care about will be able to have a future in it, together.

Or maybe it's just fun to have your character make out with hot people/aliens. Could be that too.

At any rate, for a long time, Bioware had a sort of formula when it came to the player's options in these possible romances. There was usually one straight male, one straight female, and one bisexual female. If one knows anything about the target audience of most video games, it isn't hard to understand why they set it up this way; because to many straight men, heterosexual romance is fine, girl on girl is HOT, but gay dudes? Soooo gross. This was something that really bothered me about Bioware games for a long time, despite my overall love for them. I'd often hear things about how the devs had planned on making this or that male character romanceable by either gender, but they always seemed to chicken out. Sky from Jade Empire was that way, and so was Kaiden from Mass Effect; they always seemed to bow to outside pressure and take the option for man on man lovin' out of the game.

But then, Dragon Age: Origins came out. And we finally, finally, got Zevran.

Oh, Zevran. You big, flirty, silly accented manwhore. Zevran was the first male companion in a Bioware game who was romancable by either gender, and boy howdy, would he let you know about it. Practically the first conversation you have with it has him mentioning how he's slept with lots of people, men and women, and asking you if you had a problem with it. And while I did rather like him, and was relieved that Bioware was finally making an effort to give their players romance options no matter their sexual orientation, he does fall rather neatly into the Depraved Bisexual stereotype, with a side order of Have I Mentioned I Am Gay*. He was a bit over the top, is what I'm getting at, and more than one person was probably a little insulted.

There was a great deal of disappointment when Mass Effect 2 came out and, probably due in part to the utterly ridiculous brouhaha over the sex scene in the first game, suddenly all the romance options were straight only. Not even the usual token bi chick! Sure, the number of romance options had gone up from the usual three to six (including fan favorites Garrus and Tali), but it still felt like a huge step back for a lot of fans.

But then, oh then, came Dragon Age 2. And I can say with some confidence that Bioware has done a much better job at providing all of their fans with a believable love interest, no matter their orientation. In this game, there are four possible love interests, two male, two female, and all of them can be romanced by any gender. That gif up there? That could just have easily have been a dude kissing that hot elf man and slamming him into a wall. Not only that, if you happen to be a gay man and tattooed elves just aren't your thing, there's a whole OTHER romance option for you, in the form of a troubles rogue mage. Who likes cats. And that is AWESOME.

It's a buffet, pick whatever you want.

What's more, the Bioware devs have gone out of their way to back up their decision to finally try to give their fans a little more inclusivity. When a heterosexual male fan bitched that Bioware was making straight, male gamers a "secondary concern" by not allowing them to play the game with a "No Homo" option on the Bioware forums, David Gaider (who is also awesome for writing the Dragon Age prequel novels, which are pretty damn good) delivered the smackdown.

"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 DA:O ... 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.
"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."
...and there was much rejoycing.

So I say, good on you, Bioware! You're doing what few other game developers have had the balls to do; made an effort to make your games more inclusive for female and gay gamers. Please, please, PLEASE let this trend continue on to Mass Effect 3. Your fans will not disappoint you if you do. But seriously, I think I'll cry if it goes back to only straight romance options.

And while we're on the subject, might I suggest your next step; inclusive advertising. Come on, just throw us a bone and give us a trailer or two featuring Fem!Shepard. The fanbase likes her more anyway. Come on. Please?

Don't we all.

Sunny out! (And I'll try not to go so long between updates next time...)

*Also, have I mentioned how much I like TV Tropes? Because it is a lot. Have fun wasting the rest of your day, bitches!

1 comment:

  1. As a straight male gamer I for one enjoyed the addition of bi/gay romance options into DA2. It made the game feel more immersive as though it wasn't just catering to me, but everyone had their own agenda on what they wanted similarly to Avaline and how though you can flirt with her she remains out of your grasp. For instance it caught me off guard when Anders began openly flirting with me it caught me off guard and made me think as opposed to it just being more mindless comeons alla Zevran.

    I hope that they decide to keep this up for ME3 and hopefully DA3. It adds more to the game I think. Though I suppose as long as they don't copy past the same cave and warehouse 10 times again I'll be pleased.