I have not yet had a chance to play Bioware’s Dragon Age 2 (or Dragon Age: Orgins for that matter), but I have seen many commercials for it on TV. It is a role playing game set in a life-like fantasy world where the play guides the character Hawke through a non-linear narrative that is dependent upon the choices made by the gamer. Apparently, the game gives players the option to incorporate romances into the narrative for Hawke and other party members. What is so amazing about Bioware’s decision to do this is that they created the game so that these romances need not be heteronormative. They also may cross species lines. In effect, players may guide various characters (Hawke–who may be male or female, Isabela, Merrill, Anders, Fenris, and Sebastian, see here) to engage in romantic relations that augments the narrative experience.
Apparently, a Dragon Age 2 player who identifies as “Straight Male Gamer” (SMG) posted to the official message boards of DA2 claiming that the SMG has certain rights among which is his right to have only heteronormativity in the game. The SMG believes that the priviledged majority should dictate the scope and focus of the game.
The SMG unfortunately misses the point that his place is privileged in society, and perhaps more importantly, being a SMG may not necessarily cause a player to not want to role play non-straight romance options to more fully engage the story. Remember: it is a role playing game! Who you are does not, although unfortunately it often does mean this, necessarily mean that your character should be you. For example, I often play female and non-human characters in World of Warcraft, because I want my experience in the game to be different than if I were to create a simulation of myself within the game. Besides the realm of the fantastic, what more can I experience from the narrative by being someone other than myself? While I play a character other than myself in the game, I do not attempt to act other than myself, but I do observe the way others react to and interact with me via my character.
Happily, David Gaider, Bioware’s senior writer at its Edmonton studios, wrote a very well-reasoned response to the SMG that begins:
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.
I particularly love the closing of Gaider’s response, because it has implications in the political realm of which the game is only a part:
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.
I completely concur with Gaider, and I have much respect him now after reading his response to the SMG. I wish Gaider the best of luck with his development of future games that promote egalitarian ideas and options for its players.
Read the full exchange from the message boards here: » “Straight Male Gamer” told to ‘get over it’ by BioWare No More Lost.