After much waiting, Dragon Age II was finally released at the beginning of the month. The reviews for Bioware’s latest role playing game were not good, especially in comparison to its predecessor, Dragon Age: Origins, which had captured the imaginations and hearts of a large contingent of gamers.
But then in a twist no publicist could have possibly orchestrated, something spectacular happened: after being hit on by a male character in the game, a male gamer took to the Bioware forum and wrote a petulant whinge-fest about how the creators had completely ignored their largest demographic — the Straight Male Gamer (his capitalization, not ours). The crux of the user’s complaint about the game can be summarized by the following two paragraphs:
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.
[ … ] When I say BioWare neglected The Straight Male Gamer, I don’t mean that they ignored male gamers. The romance options, Isabella and Merrill, were clearly designed for the straight male gamers in mind. Unfortunately, those choices are what one would call “exotic” choices. They appeal to a subset of male gamers and while its true you can’t make a romance option everyone will love, with Isabella and Merrill it seems like they weren’t even going for an option most males will like. And the fact is, they could have. They had the resources to add another romance option, but instead chose to implement a gay romance with Anders.
Essentially: Bioware did not provide the option to disable homosexuality, it offered four main companions to romance, two male and two female, instead of giving the Straight Male Gamer more options beyond a nervous elven mage and a dark-skinned human pirate (how exactly is that exotic — or is that just a polite way of saying “not white”?).
David Gaider, the lead writer at Bioware, responded to the thread in what has to be the most fantastic post of all time, so do us a favor and quit skimming. This is relevant not just to sex in gaming, but to everything seeking to challenge the largely exploitative, sex-negative, hetero-normative status quo:
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 [Dragon Age: Origins] 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.
[ … ] 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.
[ … ] 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.
In a single stroke, Dragon Age II has gone from being a fun game weighed down with harsh reviews to one being hailed as part of a paradigm shift in the gaming industry: not only is Bioware catering to women as much as men, it’s catering to a wider range of desires. Let us not forget those threesomes and foursomes in the romancing options of Dragon Age: Origins. Clearly, this is a few decent notches above vanilla, even in spite of the tragic lingerie.
So, Gaider and Bioware, good for you. We commend you. And we’re loving Dragon Age II so far (we’re such die-hards, we pre-ordered it. And yes, we’re women).
We know we shouldn’t hold our breath, but we’re hoping beyond hope that guys receiving unsolicited attention from Anders will impart a lesson about how we feel when men randomly get all up in our sink when we’ve expressed zero interest in them.
Yeah, yeah, dream on.
Anders macro via Steam-Powered Carpal Tunnel.