By John Walker on March 25th, 2011 at 11:20 am.
A peculiar accusation was made against Dragon Age II on the BioWare forums, in which a user accused the game of not properly catering for the straight male gamer. Honestly, I’d launched into writing this with the intention of factually reporting it, but just typing those words has made me want to start throwing chairs. What? Good grief, even if that were true, which it so spectacularly isn’t, wouldn’t it… but… good grief. Amazingly, one of BioWare’s writers, David Gaider, gave a calm, level-headed response where I would have said capital swears. He makes some interesting comments, as EG point out.
In Dragon Age II you’re able to form relationships with your companions. In order to cater for players choosing to play as, or indeed being, male or female, these characters are essentially bisexual. Some are overt about this, others you’d never know until you played again as a different sex. When I finally write my treatise on the game, I will have some criticisms to make of the way relationships are handled, but the variety, and offering of straight, gay and bisexual relationships certainly won’t be one of them.
The original poster said things that make my spine hurt, like,
“Its ridiculous that I even have to use a term like Straight Male Gamer, when in the past I would only have to say fans.”
But the crux of his argument was,
“In every previous BioWare game, I always felt that almost every companion in the game was designed for the male gamer in mind. Every female love interest was always written as a male friend type support character. In Dragon Age 2, I felt like most of the companions were designed to appeal to other groups foremost, Anders and Fenris for gays and Aveline for women given the lack of strong women in games, and that for the straight male gamer, a secondary concern. It makes things very awkward when your male companions keep making passes at you. The fact that a “No Homosexuality” option, which could have been easily implemented, is omitted just proves my point.”
Imagine the news stories if BioWare had included a “no homosexuality” button. Anyway, we’re not supposed to be dragging some guy on a forum over the coals for what some may think are deeply homophobic remarks. Gaider’s reply is the interesting part of this story.
He does point out that it’s a politely expressed ignorant opinion, before going on to criticise the behaviour of others in the (clearly heavily modified) thread. And then offers an eloquent explanation of the decisions made for Dragon Age II’s romance. I’ll paste the whole thing here:
“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.”