The last couple of days I’ve written a few articles regarding the negative stereotypes that gamers are portrayed with in the media and in culture today. Unfortunately there is a little bit of truth in every stereotype and nothing screams it more than a post made by a Dragon Age II player on Bioware’s forums. To give you a brief background, Dragon Age II is a fantasy role playing game that allows the player to explore an open mythical world and choose their own unique path throughout the course of the game. As seen in other Bioware games like Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect, your character is not simply limited to choices involving weapons, who to kill, or missions. You can flesh out your character by giving it a unique history, including the option to explore romantic avenues with other non-playable characters in game if you so choose. In Dragon Age II, you are not restricted by gender, race, or monogamy. Your character can pursue a relationship with any gender or race and can carry out more than one relationship simultaneously. This apparently did not sit well with forum user Bastal.
To summarize, in the case of Dragon Age 2, BioWare neglected their main demographic: The Straight Male Gamer.
I don’t think many would argue with the fact that the overwhelming majority of RPG gamers are indeed straight and male. Sure, there are a substantial amount of women who play video games, but they’re usually gamers who play games like The Sims, rather than games like Dragon Age. That’s not to say there isn’t a significant number of women who play Dragon Age and that BioWare should forego the option of playing as a women altogether, but there should have been much more focus in on making sure us male gamers were happy.
So not only does he consider the “Straight Male Gamer” to be Bioware’s primary demographic for Dragon Age II, but he pretty much takes the stereotypical gamer approach with his “girls don’t play games, and if they do, they are girly games like The Sims” attitude to justify his accusation. He continues:
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. I know there are some straight male gamers out there who did not mind it at and I respect that.
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.
I’m certain that some will declare “That’s only fair!” but lets be honest. I’ll be generous and assume that 5% of all Dragon Age 2 players are actually homosexuals. I’ll be even more generous and assume that the Anders romance was liked by every homosexual. Are you really telling me that you could not have written another straight romance that would have pleased more than 5% of your fans?
Of course! Girl-on-girl relationships totally cater to the Straight Male Gamer, so it’s obvious why Bioware put those in there! Homosexuality is totally OK with Bastal as long as it is limited to females. Guy-on-guy? Stop right there, Bioware, because you’re clearly crossing the line and alienating your most profitable demographic! Of course, he doesn’t have a problem with human-on-elf romances, cause inter-species relationships are cool in his book. Hypocrisy much? But Bastal hasn’t given up entirely on Bioware: “I just hope that the next game BioWare will get its priorities right or spend more time making the game.” Ugh. However, this story does have a happy ending. David Gaider, the lead writer for Dragon Age II, responded to Bastal’s post:
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.
Bravo Mr. Gaider, I couldn’t have said it better myself. He didn’t have to go into so much detail to defend such a ridiculous accusation but he did. Unfortunately Bastal is not alone in his feelings. This kind of attitude is prevalent in gaming culture and so is misogyny. Just look at Fat, Slutty, or Ugly for primo everyday examples. There really isn’t a way to put an end to this insanity once and for all, but we can make progress through education. One day I hope that we won’t have to deal with such issues, but perhaps our generation can lead the way by teaching our children to spurn such attitudes and accept people for who they are without the need for animosity. Mr. Gaider’s post is one of the many first stepping stones we are taking to get there. Maybe there is hope for Bioware…and for humanity…after all.
***hat tip to Calleah for posting the source on FaceBook