Bisexual Dragons and Slighted Straight Boys

Yes, this is week-old news, but it made a rather small splash in my portion of the blogosphere, so I hereby rule the topic still available for fresh discussion.

Quick background: there is a game named Dragon Age 2. It includes romantic options. These are not gender-limited. If someone is available as a romantic option, s/he is available as a romantic option, whether you are fe/male, whether s/he is fe/male. A message board thread ensued. There are a few interesting points here.

As I heard the initial complaint, it was about the female options available. They were too few (Penny Arcade exhibits its usual restraint, if your workplace cares about four-letter words in comics) and too exotic (Zoso exhibits his usual perspicacity, if your workplace cares about polysyllabic words in blog posts). I failed to pursue the links at the time; some dude on the internet was complaining about the ladies available to him, shocker.

There is actually an argument to be made here. It is about the allocation of resources and developer time. Everyone wants more of that devoted to their interests rather than others.’ For game series, one can debate the merits of focusing on a core audience versus bringing in new players or smaller demographics and which is more likely to lead to better sales or a better game.

The wrong way to present your side of that argument is a marginally nuanced version of “why are you wasting time on girls and gay dudes?”

What makes this more notable than the average message board thread is the developer response, which you may have already read if you pursued the link above. It says everything it needs to say, so read it.

Note the exactly proper use of “privilege.” It is popular in some quarters to abuse that term in internet debate, but the original post is a textbook example of speaking from a (straight male) privileged perspective, wondering why there is equal time for other genders or orientations and why no one is shielding him from awareness of those options. If there had been a “no homo” box under “Options,” the same perspective would ask why it was not checked by default.

I will echo that making a “no homo” option consumes more developer time (and might have further ruined Yahtzee’s playthrough if it were a default) than making everyone bisexual. Gordon had the better idea of a slider for just how gay you want your game to be, although I favor a pair of axes (not the weapons) over a uni-dimensional Kinsey scale. I have yet to hear lads complaining that lesbian and bisexual female NPCs represent wasted developer time, but I presume the ladies in question are more femme than butch and thus insufficiently threatening to heteronormativity.

Seriously, read the developer response. It is from the game’s lead writer. Imagine what message board threads would look like if all the commenters were professional writers.

: Zubon

25 thoughts on “Bisexual Dragons and Slighted Straight Boys”

  1. I have no issue with the different sexual options open to the players. That is, until the game FORCES the player into something they resent.

    If a game has an NPC that is male and requires the player to engage in sexual actions in order to progress the main storyline, then it is wrong regardless if the player is male or female.

    I like what people are saying on the various forums about this issue. That the game should have included a slider-bar option at character creation which the player can choose his character’s sexual preferences within a given range. And have the NPCs react accordingly.

    1. It’s not wrong of Bioware to force you to do anything you “resent”. You’re simply playing the wrong game.

      “And have the NPCs react accordingly.”

      You mean that the NPCs should have some sort of gaydar and be able to tell if the player’s character is gay/bi or not? I suppose there is some form of blood magic that would be able to tell.

      1. From browsing fan reactions to Dragon age in general, it seems Bioware’s intent was to make it “the wrong game” for male rpg fans in general, with simplified combat among other things.

        1. Good point. But hey – they were making this game for only 8 months!
          I just wonder – why the charge it full price, and what they was doing last 6 months of production… My bet is on romancing in studio. Because the content is lacking on every frontier.

      1. Because you can’t make romance impersonal. A lot of what you list is only tolerable because it’s hidden under several layers of abstraction. When it isn’t, it’s disturbing. I could never kill the little sisters in the first bioshock because of the intro where she is scrambling away from you, terrified.

        Romance is the same way. It’s harder to keep detached from it.

    2. *spoiler alert*

      At no point in Dragon Age 2 did you ever have to perform any sexual act with any gender combination to advance the primary storyline. However, if you didn’t tell Anders to back off early, then he effectively misinterprets your actions, which is actually somewhat realistic. Then you can tell him to back off then and there, too.

      I don’t think its really that big a deal to have some characters available, some not, and some trying to make themselves available regardless of your own character’s sexuality. Frankly, giving a “sexual orientation” slider would do more to pull me out of the game and the moment than some NPC, male or female, coming on to me strongly.

  2. Honestly, this sort of complaining only realistically comes from someone with fairly serious self-esteem/image issues, or from a true ‘knuckle-dragging bigot’ of the first order… btw, neither warrants too much attention unless physical violence becomes involved at which point they have to be locked up or put down.

    I thought the DEV response was measured and extremely reasonable. I also thought the whole situation was easily avoidable and unnecessary.

    There are three, count em THREE, topics that everyone should understand are simply guaranteed to land you smack in the middle of a heated argument on an almost 100% basis… Politics, Religion, and Sex.

    Every single person on the planet (whether they consciously realize it or not) has a deeply held, and almost assuredly, deeply emotional personal view on all 3 of those topics, AND not one of them is exactly the same as anyone else’s.

    Personally, I go to my favorite games for entertainment and an escape from the ‘real’ world… I don’t know how realistic it is to ask for, but, I’d really appreaciate the DEVs of those games leaving the ‘controversial’ RL crap out of them and just let me get on with the business of killing dragons/zombies/mutants, etc while saving the universe from a fate worse than toe fungus.

  3. So where would furries reside in your sliding scale, Dolnor?

    What would represent the ends of the scale? Justin Bieber on one end and 2G1C on the other?

  4. This emphasises for me the problem with basing your computer game on “story”. I used to think that using a computer game to tell a story was like using a newspaper to carpet your floor; it might get the job done at a very basic level, but inelegantly, inefficiently and unatractively and you’d only do it if you had no better alternative to hand.

    Now I think it’s more like carpeting your floor with clouds; nice to imagine but impossible to do. And even if you managed it somehow, instead of a fluffy, soft surface to walk on you’d just have a cold, damp, uncomfortable floor and you wouldn’t be able to see your feet. (I may have lost control of this analogy…)

    As for the developer’s inarguably lucid response, I also think it amply demonstrates why few writers of real ambition or ability choose to express themselves through the medium of computer games. Not only are there many more flexible and appropriate media to work in, with greater rewards both in money and prestige, but there are a lot more appealing readerships to preen yourself before.

  5. Bizzarely, this whole thing never really caught my interest. I remember thinking, when I saw the first post:
    “Some of the flirt dialogue choices’ wheel-summary text was romantically-neutral; unless you highlighted that choice and saw the heart icon, you might not have known it carried erotic implications. Maybe next time you won’t go so fast with the wheel – you gayed yourself, buddy!”
    Reading comments, even Gaider’s response, it’s clear that Anders *does* hit on the PC, but, strangely, I don’t remember that ever happening.

    Of course, I got a full third of my party killed or exiled or whatever, so maybe I did something to pre-empt that. I still think it’s funny that my first response was to blame the self-described victim, tho’….

  6. Heh, if Bioware made one of the characters in DA2 a loli/moe looking elf to try and crack into the japanese market, and had her hitting on you too, women would FREAK. I’d argue rightly so.

    I think the problem was this, from a fan review:

    “And I’m sick of the gross dialogue options I can make towards other guys. I was told once I tell a guy NO – it meant I wasn’t interested. You lied. The options still appear and they still make flirty comments. I don’t mind gay content but Bioware has slammed people in the face with it in DA2 to the point where it’s a joke.”

    Sounds like a bad case of cost-cutting to me. Men simply aren’t comfortable being hit on by other men. You can argue they shouldn’t be till you are blue in the face, but at some point you need to consider them too.

  7. Kill Ten Rats & After Elton intersect – I didn’t see this day coming!
    Work in Guild Wars 2 at the same time and all my bookmarked sites will have come together in a Voltron moment! ^_^

    I really didn’t enjoy DA2 at all, but I did appreciate BioWare’s efforts on the romance front; if the game had been longer (in a good, non-padded, way) and not set in the dreary DAverse of constant clumsy prejudices, I think they could have potentially be an industry stand-out.

    On the one hand it was overly-coincidental that all 4 romantic options were bisexual, but I’m pleased that BioWare followed through and actually made them actual bisexual characters and not just characters with romance arcs that substitute one set of gender identifiers for the other.

    Whether people are fans of the fairly puerile, innuendo laden banter between companions or not, ‘turning off’ bisexuality was never a viable possibiltity; it seems like every other conversation incorporates a sexual element, and it’s integral to their very character arcs – Anders’ DA2 story doesn’t even get out the blocks without his relationship to Karl, while Isabella’s nymphomania is her dominant characteristic.

    1. We seem to have the same three online sites bookmarked. But unfortunately I wouldn’t get as classic of a ‘moment’ out of their odd intersection. A ‘Msenge moment’ would be all the more fitting but yet meaningless to anyone not familiar with the Swahili language.

      But anyway, I agree with the rest of your comment as well :)

  8. The issue, really, is that even the best video games have all the writing talent behind them of your average Saturday morning cartoon. A lot of people say Planescape: Torment is the high standard of video game writing, and the sad thing is that it actually is – and frankly it reads like your average $5 young adult paperback dragged out to ten times the length. It may not even necessarily be the fault of the writers themselves, it’s just that the medium itself is still incredibly immature.

    This means when it comes to handling delicate or even relevant topics like homosexuality, video games are just not equipped to make any sort of statement. It’s understandable that people are getting offended or disgusted with the game’s treatment of homosexuality when it’s as stunningly hamfisted as it is. The “romances” in Bioware games are already on the dark side of the uncanny valley, throwing in awkward attempts at portraying homosexuality only makes it more uncomfortable for the average heterosexual player.

    That doesn’t say anything about the player – it says a lot about the medium and the writers.

    1. The best writing in any computer game was Alpha Centauri: it rewarded paying attention to the cutscenes and wonder movies with a story worthy of Vernor Vinge or Greg Bear.

  9. My take on this issue is that the characters are far too slutty. Rather than a bigoted ‘degree of homo’ slider, I would like to see a ‘sluttiness’ slider. If set to max, every man/woman and their dog will crack onto you with minimal effort (i.e. this is the current Bioware game default). If set to min, it should only be through carefully chosen dialogue options that you will see anybody’s romantic side.

    This should prevent the ‘problem’ for homophobic forum posters (I’m sure some of whom are actually subconsciously ragingly gay, which is why the same sex advances bother them so much :D).

  10. Ya know… what does it say about a game when (by far) the most conversation I’ve heard about it is that the combat is dumbed-down, the environmental settings are ‘carbon-copied’ and rather than being excited about the plotline of the story, most folks are more interested in arguing about the sexual innuendo…

    I don’t know for certain, but the words, ‘EPIC FAIL’ certainly spring readily to mind…

    1. “I don’t know for certain, but the words, ‘EPIC FAIL’ certainly spring readily to mind…”

      You sure some words that actually have some meaning behind them don’t spring to mind rather than an empty meme?

      Personally I was a big fan of DA2 as a game, but I think it’s silly to expect any sort of discussion of mature themes out of any video game. The fact that players’ discussion of games consists largely of memes and hyperbole instead of actual discussion may play a part in that.

  11. I think the only workable solution is that the installation of the game should include the mandatory taking of a 100 question personality test so that the game can properly be tuned to the player and not present them with offensive things.

    That way, if a “straight male gamers” finds that his game includes a number of homosexual encounters and situations the developer can say, “The game play is a result of the answers you gave during installation. If your game play includes homosexual encounters it must be because your test answers revealed a latent gayness in you. We suggest you talk to a therapist to further explore these issues.”

  12. I’d love to see the cross section between the homophobic forum posters and wrestling fans.

    I guess endlessly watching muscled and oiled men grapple with each other is okay because they don’t talk to you.

  13. The tag of this sub could have just been

    ‘Bisexual Dragons’

    That was enough for my interest to be piqued!

    Bravo!

  14. I just don’t see how this is a problem. It’s not like you’re actually having sexual relations with another man, that my friends is very, very different. It’s just a game. And so what? I’ve played countless games where I was forced to woo a female character, it doesn’t matter, pressing the button to commence the sexual relations with the woman/women doesn’t make me guilty of being straight. Personally, I’m glad there was this option, as a gay teen it’s nice to see this in a game, the LGBTQ community is often forgotten. For everyone who feels awkward and uncomfortable, that’s completely fine, you’re entitled to feel that way; however, don’t be up and arms over something that is a simply a detail.

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