Monday, March 28, 2011

videogame heterocentrism and gay romance

In Dragon Age 2, there are four characters in your party that can be romanced by your main character, Hawke: Fenris, the typical angsty male elf; Merril, the cutesy, slightly childlike female elf; Anders, the smart, suave human male; and Isabella, the skanky oversexed human female. Hawke can be either male or female, and your choice of gender, made at the start of the game, doesn't influence whether or not you are able to romance those four: they are all bisexual by default.

I haven't had the opportunity to go through Dragon Age 2 yet (too busy playing Pokémon Black), but being a staunch defender of a broader portrayal of homosexuality in videogames, I considered this a major selling point of Dragon Age 2. While the game itself has several glaring flaws, giving more choice for non-het romance (the first Dragon Age had only one gay angsty morally-debatable elf) was something I considered extremely positive.

However, a straight male gamer wasn't pleased. He wrote a post in the Bioware official forums saying that the main gamer demographic - that is, the straight male gamer - was neglected in Dragon Age 2. His argument is that straight male gamers compose the great majority of players, adding two gay romance options (or, rather, four - he seems to ignore the lesbian possibilities) instead of increasing the het options contributed to making the game mediocre.

I obviously have a completely different viewpoint from everything he said. In fact, I had quibbles with Bioware when they didn't add the option to having gay romance in Mass Effect 2. Every remotely open-ended game that features romance (something I personally find superfluous, although it's apparently very popular) should have homosexual options. It's not even a matter of being politically correct. Heck, it's frigging REALITY. Homosexuality exists. Not having it makes your game less truthlike. So just add a bunch of believable gays in your games. Simple like that. Avoiding stereotypes is a major plus.

The crowning moment of awesome was the first reply, from David Gaider, an actual Bioware developer and the game's lead writer. His whole post deserves to be read, but this excerpt was my favourite of the lot:

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.
(important parts bolded)

Wow. This made me a bit emotional, even. Bioware took a pro-gay stand and stated as clear as daylight that we, gay gamers, deserve games that feature homosexuals as much as straight gamers deserve games with straight people. And the best information of all, gay gamers aren't negligible - we're a significant portion of their base! I get teary-eyed when I think that my favourite form of entertainment might be evolving to a point in which homosexuality is portrayed as a natural fact instead of an awkward comic device or an excuse to sociopathic behaviour.

I wasn't going to buy Dragon Age 2 because it's a badly-made game, rushed for release, padded with paid reviews and therefore wholly undeserving of my money, but after reading what Bioware said, I now feel almost morally compelled to making a purchase.