Last week BioWare released information on a party member appearing in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Dorian is a mage, he’s from Tevinter, and he’s gay.
While there have been gay characters in the franchise, this is the first time BioWare has featured a gay male companion in the Dragon Age series. The revelation of Dorian’s sexuality stirred controversy, but not in the ways you might expect. (Or possibly, if you have more than a passing acquaintance with BioWare’s fandom, in exactly the ways you would expect.)
While what I’m assuming was a silent majority smiled and nodded, a number of vocal and outraged fans accused BioWare of biphobia.
This accusation is premature and probably lacks merit. Without even thinking hard I can count 9 romanceable bisexual characters in the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises alone. Only a few characters have been announced for Dragon Age: Inquisition, but with BioWare’s track record it seems likely that there will be bisexual representation in the game.
At PAX Prime 2013 I was fortunate enough to sit in on a panel in the BioWare Base about LGBTA representation in video games. I sat down expecting to hear about how writers from Dragon Age and Mass Effect approached writing characters of different orientations, but that’s not what happened at all. Instead, the panelists asked what they were doing wrong and how they could do it better, and then they listened. They asked questions and absorbed the answers, and they never got defensive in the face of criticism. In that room they created a safe environment for a population that is largely marginalized in gaming culture.
It was a powerful example of how highly BioWare values inclusion and representation in the work that they do. More than once I found myself on the edge of tears listening to the stories and requests, both complimentary and otherwise. It wasn’t really a panel; it was an open dialogue between writers and fans, and it was an honor to be there.
One of the few things that sparked contention in that room came from a woman that wanted every character to be bisexual. She wanted the ability to romance every character in the game. While BioWare’s representatives were respectful and willing to discuss her stance, the overwhelming majority of people in that room were outraged, and they made their reasons very clear.
Making every character bisexual isn’t a tidy way to make sure every sexuality is represented in the game. It is exactly the opposite of that.
People who are bisexual have their own identity. While they often get accused on both sides of wanting their cake and eating it too (which is a stupid saying because what the hell is the point of cake if you aren’t going to eat it?), it isn’t the sexuality version of getting a vanilla & chocolate twist cone at McDonald’s. Bisexuality is a different flavor of ice cream altogether.
Bisexuality is not a compromise.
Representing every romanceable character as bisexual doesn’t make the game more inclusive: it erases homosexual representation in the game and also manages to erase bisexual representation by turning a character’s sexuality into a game feature.
It also adds the illusion of choice to a reality where choice doesn’t factor in.
I can’t understand what it means to struggle with gender or sexuality. What I can do is listen when people who do understand tell me what their experiences have been. I can respect them when they express how they want to be represented in media. I can choose not to jump in front of them and drown out their voices because I feel offended for them.
I can choose not to appropriate their experiences and make them about me.
If I, as a straight female that prefers to use female player characters, want to romance Dorian (and I mean of course I do, LOOK AT HIM), I have options. I can choose to play a male character. I can choose to play a female character that doesn’t romance him.
I can choose not to demand that the first gay male companion in Dragon Age history be changed so that he can be romanced by female player characters.
And that’s what I’m going to do.