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BioPhobia

BioPhobia
Bell
  • On July 3, 2014

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.

  • Like (2)

Comments

  1. Allyson

    Very insightful. I hadn’t really thought of the implications of the “everybody’s bi” romance options in DA2… it just seemed a bit lazy to me. Your post really helped put things in perspective. And while I was a bit sad to hear that my female inquisitor wouldn’t be able to romance Dorian (you’re right, I mean LOOK AT HIM!), it’s not something to be enraged about. Just like an attractive gay man in real life, I accepted the fact that Dorian was an off-limits love interest for women.

  2. You know, the second I saw Dorian in the gameplay demo I was like, “I’m gonna romance him!! But he’s probably gonna be gay or unromancable.” And I was right! And I was sad for a few seconds when it was officially revealed. But you know what, I’ll play a male inquisitor: a rogue to fall in love with the great Tevinter mage (right!? RIGHT!?) and the qunari female character I’ve been planning since a playable qunari was announced. And life will be good.

  3. “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.”

    That’s a strong statement, and I can definitely respect your opinion.

    I am thrilled that the Dragon Age team are creating gay and lesbian companions. I’m really proud to be a Dragon Age fan right now.

    But I think people (like myself) who prefer and champion the “all bi” love interests shouldn’t be cast as unfeeling villains. I tend to come at it from the player-as-writer perspective. When I’m writing, I decide which of my characters will be gay, straight, or bi. Sometimes I may write the same character in a different story or setting and change his sexuality. That doesn’t mean I’m erasing bisexuality. I’m simply writing and portraying the character how I want to portray him. (Of course, for other writers, a character’s sexuality may be an intrinsic part of him, something that can NEVER change. For David Gaider, Dorian may have ALWAYS been gay, and can never be anything BUT gay.)

    Similarly, in an RPG, I think of the player as the writer. The player has the power to influence her world state; she can control what characters wear, what weapons they carry, and I think it’s okay to want to control who her own character romances.

    Ultimately, a lot can be said about the negatives when it comes to set sexualities. They force us as players to play a gender we may not feel comfortable playing if we want to experience a certain romance, for example. The result may be that a player misses out on some much longed for content, which can be a tremendous disappointment.

    But when it comes down to it, none of that takes away from the monumental step the Dragon Age team have taken here with Dorian and Sera. And again, I’m really proud to be a fan of this series, and can’t wait to meet ALL the companions 🙂

    • Q

      Making all characters bisexual then causes erasure of ALL OTHER SEXUALITIES. Are you trying to say that I shouldn’t have homosexual characters I can relate to because everyone should have the option to fuck whoever they want? This isn’t a goddamn dating sim. Homosexuals exist. Bisexuals exist. Heterosexuals exist. And so many more exist. Just like in real life, no matter how much you WANT to you CAN’T fuck every person you meet.

      “Oh, but it’s just a gaaaaame.”

      Yes, yes it is. So if you’re going to tell me to shut up about it, then so should you.

    • Cody

      I can appreciate the view you put forward as the player being the one with creative agency in an RPG. But that seems to be a bit of a misnomer. Here, let me demonstrate what I mean with tabletops.

      So Dungeons and Dragons is effectively collaborative story telling, where the key points where the plot can shift are resolved by rolling a dice. There’s a locked door, you can try to bash it in if you roll over a 10, but you hurt yourself trying if you roll under. After that you need to find another way in. A key, or a window, or another door. If you want it so that doors aren’t so much of a challenge to your character personally, you play a thief type character who can pick locks.

      Now, if you just wanted to write a story about a guy who hated doors, no one’s going to stop you. But the whole point of Dungeons and Dragons is that the narrative takes away player agency to make the story reactive rather than passive. Your only agency within the world is to equip your character with the tools to interact with it in the way you want.

      Because that’s what role-playing is. If you want to play yourself as you would function in Dragon Age, that’s okay, but Dorian is your locked door. You’ve chosen your character to be a straight woman interacting with a gay man. If playing a character who can romance Dorian is more important than playing yourself, then why not role-play a man? Some people hate the idea of playing someone who breaks the law, yet it’s that allure of what could be behind a locked door that drives some people out of their comfort zone and play a thief.

      Making decisions is what makes RPGs fun, not getting everything you want served up to you on a platter.

  4. T

    This was a fantastically written article. Thank you.

  5. Ami

    Technically, Sera is the first gay companion in Dragon Age history, she was announced earlier. And it created some significant backslash as well. I hate that gay women are always treated as less important than gay men.

    • Bell

      You’re absolutely right, and I apologize. I will fix it now.

      • Ami

        Thanks!

  6. Kym

    The outrage I think stems more from the wording that was used in the release, at least that was what made me, as a bisexual person, tilt my head and squint at that screen. Gaider used the term “fully gay”, and then “legitimately gay”, as if the good history of Bioware of including characters of various sexualities in Dragon Age games (mostly bisexual or straight, yes), somehow meant that those bisexual characters had only been “placeholders” until they could roll out the “real” gay. That was the only issue I took with the announcement and I think is what has sparked the controversy. Bisexual people aren’t placeholders for the “real” thing, and the implication otherwise was hurtful.

    • Ami

      Many people were referring to bisexual (or in DA2, possibly “player-sexual”) characters as “gay”, so I think that was the reason why Gaider wanted to make it unambiguous.
      And while I agree that the phrasing could be better, I don’t see how bisexual characters could be seen as “placeholders” then, considering that gay characters didn’t take place of bisexuals, all sexualities (gay, straight and bi) are going to be represented.

    • Cody

      So the guy clearly meant “just gay” or “not interested in straight relationships”. I think that’s fairly self evident even with his choice of words simply if you assume David Gaider is a)a decent person b)who supports queer representation in games.

      It’s a fairly noxious thing to split hairs over wording, where the intent and meaning are self evident. Worse still is an assumption of malice, when what we should be celebrating an exciting new character in a game that we’re excited for.

  7. Clumsily

    This article misses a few key points which I think are important to understanding the entire issue.

    Namely, most of the “backlash” from Dorian’s reveal was explicitly and wholly directed at David Gaider calling him “fully gay”. That is what a lot of us found biphobic about the announcement, and why there was a more heated response than there was than when Sera was announced. By using the term “fully gay”, it seemed like David was disavowing bisexuals or relegating them to “partial gays” which is a pretty common thing for monosexuals to do.

    Another issue with the set sexualities in the game is this- there has been a lot of bitter pushback from heterosexual people about the all-bi approach that Dragon Age 2 took. So the arguments/discussions around the approach that Dragon Age: Inquisition would take has been dripping in biphobia. From monosexual people on both side of the spectrum preferring to romance monosexual people (as in, representation is beside the point, they just can’t trust bi people even when they’re coded to be monogamous) to bisexuality be called “unrealistic” (and the presence of a handful of bisexual/undefined people being friends as statistically improbable, which is hilarious given the setting AND the reality that most QUILTBAG people form groups within that community). So hearing David announce a companion as “fully gay” hit some of us in the same place as all those other criticisms that were, at their heart, less about the game and more about bisexuality.

    Finally, there is the issue of representation and player agency. The current system offers representation, while the DA2 model offered players more agency to play their Hawke as they pleased while romancing the character they felt was the best fit for them. There is a way to combine the two, however, which is to make romanceable characters bisexual, but to incorporate QUILTBAG characters into the setting. For example, imagine that another male companion, Blackwall, is openly gay and married to a man. Or Vivienne has a girlfriend. We have a lesbian empress and her former lover, who is either a lesbian or bisexual. There are a million ways for BW to incorporate positive and unambiguous depictions of homosexuality (and I’d argue that they’d actually be better, because as it is, players can avoid Dorian/Sera and their romances completely as is…even Sam and Steve in Mass Effect 3 were integral characters to the game).

    Like I said, your article makes a few good points, but I think you’re misrepresenting the segment of the fanbase that took umbrage at David’s wording and the implications it had, especially in light of the greater debate around bisexuality/playersexuality.

    • Cody

      Now, the interesting thing about the word gay is that it is commonly used as an umbrella term. But equally commonly, it has merit of distinguishing men who are attracted to men from other forms of sexuality. Those are it’s specific contexts, blanket term, men who are attracted to men. And no, I’m not about to get into an argument about intersexed or transsexual men, because that’s not the point of the language.

      Your ideas would hold merit, if the context of “fully gay” were referring as the blanket term. Because you’re right. That would imply that bisexuals, as people who are ostensibly gay, are not truly gay because they are not men who are exclusively attracted to men.

      Instead, Gaider was referring to a male character who is attracted to other male characters. We know this, because he was telling us he wrote a character who is male, attracted to other male characters. We can infer that the intent of the language is not from malice, but to inform us of a male character who is attracted to other men. To imply otherwise is to assume poorly of Gaider’s character, and he does not conduct himself as a person of narrow world views.

      Now, is there anything wrong with having a character who is male, who is attracted to other men? If you truly believe that, there is no possible gain for either of us from this discussion. You are obstinately and disingenuously ignoring the function of language to attack a decent person trying to do a decent thing.

      In fact you take several more obnoxious steps across the line by arguing from assumptions that you have clearly just pulled out of the air. Without having played the game, you have no measurable understanding of how many characters are in the game, or how many, or what variety of (umbrella term) gay they might be.

      Just because you put so many words to your assumptions, it doesn’t make your ideas any more correct. But certainly more tedious and disingenuous. If only this energy could be better directed at someone who doesn’t champion representation in games and is actually out to misrepresent and harm the community.

    • Allan Schumacher

      I think it’s important to remember that there are people that have been still hoping for bisexual romance characters only, to increase the likelihood of being able to romance the character that they want.

      I’m not as well versed on positions outside of the BioWare forum, but I know it comes up there a lot because romance topics in general are often polarizing and people start calling each other names from all sides.

      It’s important to note that making all the romances bisexual is not roughly the same amount of work as making a character monosexual. So by making a character bisexual, it comes with an opportunity cost of spending the time creating, crafting, and finetuning (this is the most time consuming part, and the most essential part that can’t be shared between races and genders). As such, I am not sure I’d agree that the DA2 model offers more agency to players to romance whom they see fit, because it would mean that other characters wouldn’t be romanceable instead.

      Hopefully that can help with why it’s not as simple as just letting the romances be available to all once they’ve been written.

      Cheers.

      Allan

  8. J

    I think the article is a good one. Just as an FYI, and not to be pedantic, but I think the reason the cake saying doesn’t make sense, is because that’s not actually the cake saying.

    • Bell

      No worries, some of my very favorite people are pedants 😀 Plus, it gave me something to Google. (Also, thank you for the compliment!)

  9. Andrew

    As others have said this was an amazing article that made me think. I’ll admit for a while now I’ve been in the camp of well halfway, I felt every bioware char for a romance plot should start Bi-Sexual and then have a preference added from there. (that is, some made straight, some gay) just to ensure the widest selection while telling the unique story of a Gay character or a Straight. This through has made me question if that was indeed the fair compromise I thought it was.

    So thank you, I don’t know yet what my answer to that will be, I’m still in the process of questioning it, but thank you.

  10. Bear

    Except they’re not “bi” unless the player is “bi”. If the player is “bi” then the character is “bi”, just like if the player is gay, the characters are gay.

    I really don’t see how this makes bisexuality stop being strawberry instead of a swirled cone because if the character is bi so are the love interests. If anything the strawberry flavor gets more strawberry.

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