Bioware is a formidable force in gaming. Despite its hiccups, it's managed to pull itself back up again (I mean, there's the whole Andromeda fiasco, but eh, I liked Andromeda enough). Its RPGs are known for being prime examples of high fantasy and science fiction in gaming. Starting with their tour de force, Baldur's Gate, they have (mostly) given us beautiful and in-depth explorations of vast new worlds. Their stories enraptured us, and kept us hanging on the edge of our seats. And they also gave some of us a glimmer of hope.
I never enjoyed Dragon Age that much when I was younger, or Mass Effect for that matter. I went through a period of being very into FPSs and more action-oriented games. I always read about how great they were, and my friends would tell me that I needed to play them! They were wonderful! Bioware is an amazing game dev company! I shrugged it off - I'd get to them when I wanted to.
As the next couple of months rolled on, I began to notice this odd disconnect I felt from most of the games I played. I enjoyed them, but not on a personal level. The games I had enjoyed on a personal level, role playing games, had started feeling derivative of one another. I couldn't quite place where the feeling came from, though. What about these games repelled me from them?
I booted up one of my old Final Fantasy games (X, I think) and I loaded an old save file. I smiled at the terrible voice acting, and marveled at some of the game's early graphical majesty (it was a beautiful game). Then, I got to Macalania Woods - and the scene happened. You know which one I'm talking about (if you don't, check it out below). My eyes rolled, and I turned off the game.
So, I asked around my few queer gaming friends, including my little brother and some Tumblr peeps. They all pointed me to one place - Bioware.
Bioware has always had a much closer relationship with representation than most other video game series out there. Queer representation, especially, has been something they have focused on. It's shocking in this industry - an industry where people still get butthurt over a non-white character - to see a company take such a strong stance for LGBTQ+ players. Outside of Dragon Age, they've attempted (poorly) to include a trans character in Mass Effect: Andromeda, and same-sex relationship options (and storylines) in their Mass Effect games.
Of course, they haven't been perfect. Bioware didn't include too many romanceable men in their games for a long time - often, they opted to include only lesbian relationships, most likely because straight male gamers would look at it as eye candy. Eventually, though, they did see the light. Dragon Age II and Mass Effect III all had gay characters or gay options in them.
Then, they came out with their best game to date, Dragon Age: Inquisition. To say I was shocked was a bit of an understatement. I played and I was floored. Not only did this game include an interesting, playable gay character, Dorian, but it also had an equally interesting trans side character. Then, you've also got the bi(pan?)sexual, Iron Bull, who is also playable and also incredibly interesting. IT'S NUTS, YOU GUYS!
As I sat down and played it, I got everything I ever wanted in a video game. Dorian's companion arc focuses on his sexuality and his parents' intolerance of it. Not to mention, as a male character, you can have a beautiful relationship with him that isn't totally sexualized or stereotypical. You had a trans character who was not the butt of everyone's jokes, and who was treated with respect by his comrades! And then you had Iron Bull, a man who literally doesn't give two shits about gender. Honestly, I could write (and will, at some point) an entire article about this game.
Why? Because it set a standard for the rest of the video game landscape. Dragon Age: Inquisition was a resounding success. Despite its diversity, this game thrived and helped Bioware gain some momentum back after the disasters of Dragon Age II and Mass Effect III. And that's a huge deal.
Here's the thing: I can sing praises as much as anyone else. But Bioware didn't fix the problem. I can only replay Dragon Age: Inquisition for so long before I'm hungry for more representation. Yes, even Dorian Pavus' amazing storyline gets old after a while. It's easier for straight people, because if they get bored with one story, they can move onto the next. We don't have that - we have a few really good games that we have to play over and over again, because that's all people are willing to give us.
So yes, Bioware is an amazing company in terms of inclusion. But, they are still the exception, not the rule. Bioware got its pat on the back when they released Inquisition, and Mass Effect: Andromeda gave a pretty decent attempt at positive representation too. Will their next game be just as good? Will it be better? Worse? We'll have to see.
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and writer of plays and screenplays, based in NYC. Do you guys have a game that you think is significant to the LGBTQ+ community? Email me, and I'll give it a look!
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