It's fair to say that the gaming crows gets a fairly bad reputation in respect to the level of discourse and general opinions on particularly heated issues; even if gamers as a whole possess widely different opinions on feminism, violence, and artistic integrity, there's no question that the loudest voices are not always the most tolerable or open-minded. But as societies around the world are forced to address issues of prejudice concerning sexuality, video games must follow suit.
Few development studios choose to tackle the issue head on, but BioWare has managed to do the seemingly impossible: avoid debate or controversy by simply accepting an open policy on same-sex romance, and developing in accordance with it. The studio has taken criticism and personal attacks as a result, but the lead writer of the Dragon Age series claims that BioWare took their stance years ago, and are willing to keep it - even if it costs them fans in the process.
The lead writer for Dragon Age: Inquisition, David Gaider, has been the member of BioWare's team most often defending the studio's stance, recently explaining why it is that romantic relationships in BioWare games aren't going anywhere. Gaider was just as candid when he took to his personal blog to answer an anonymous fan's letter, thanking the team behind Dragon Age: Origins for acknowledging non-heterosexual players.
The anonymous fan then asked Gaider - who classifies himself as "a gay man" - if his own sexuality has led to problems when developing games in an industry not known for widespread tolerance. While Gaider was hesitant to discuss his sexuality for fear that it "raises the specter of 'the gay thing,'" he explained that BioWare has made their stance on the issue clear, even if some of their fans may not like it:
"We make roleplaying games, which means that the character you play doesn’t have to be yourself, but I believe there’s an element where having a game acknowledge that you exist can be validating in a way most people never consider–no doubt because they have no need for validation, and thus no knowledge as to what the lack of it can do to someone.
"It may not be much, but it’s not nothing, and people tell us all the time its not nothing. We receive heartfelt messages of how much our efforts mean all the time, and it galls me to consider how the assumption out there is that we should consider these individuals less important than those who say hateful things, that placating the hateful should be more of a priority for us or any developer."
It seems strange to wish that players who spend their free time embodying a completely imaginary identity and character would have issues putting themselves into someone else's shoes, but the torrent of hate speech and anti-gay petitions that can be found online regarding just about any game featuring romance - BioWare's especially - prove that Gaider is accurate, sadly, in claiming that some of the company's fans are "hateful" when it comes to issues of sexual preference.
But that isn't going to change any time soon, as Gaider claims he was shocked when gay relationships were suggested for Baldur's Gate 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, claiming that prior to 2000 "it just wasn't done."
Since then the company has handled the issue with varying tact, but Gaider recognizes that every time the studio chooses to include overlooked members of their community, they do so knowingly:
"I will say this: BioWare isn’t perfect, and there are definitely times when I wonder if we couldn’t do more, or do it differently, but I really appreciate the company for whom I work (and this includes Electronic Arts) when it comes to their willingness to consider what it takes to be inclusive... If I didn’t have bosses who considered this important, and they didn’t have bosses who considered this important, it wouldn’t happen. Really it would only take one person in that chain to go, “no, this isn’t something I’m comfortable with,” and it would stop right there."
Despite the amount of criticism and vilification EA may court for its unpopular financial models, the publisher has also stated their belief that backlash over homosexual content in Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3 was based on "harassment," not moral concerns for younger players. It seems they've also planted their flag alongside BioWare's, at the risk of controversy - unfortunately, it seems accepting that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals even exist is "controversial" for some.
Not everyone made uncomfortable by non-heterosexual romances may fall into the group described by Gaider as "hateful," simply questioning "why it's even in the game" when it's excluded from so many others. But both the nature of BioWare role-playing and the fictional setting seem to demand it; Dragon Age may be based on medieval history, but by adding dragons, magic and demons, the storytellers create a world they want to inhabit.
If that fictional world were simply adopting parts of history and adding fictional elements they thought were additive, but left out LGBT characters, the developers would send a very clear message ("we took the Middle Ages and made it cooler!... and there aren't any gay people"). But whenever the criticism seems the worst, or the outlook looks dreary, Gaider returns to one thought:
"I remind myself that it’s not that much to include, and really it’s very little in comparison to the entire rest of the game…and thus, considering what it means to those fans who receive that validation almost nowhere else, it’s not too much to demand a bit of tolerance and compassion from the portion of the audience for whom this content is not even intended."
It's hard to argue that a role-playing game which reflects all possible players is likely a better game, and rather than write off those who dislike it altogether, Gaider returns to his warning that those wishing BioWare games reflect only their own reality, a time may come when they find themselves in the minority, wishing for a powerful studio to give voice to their cause.
We'd encourage interested reader to check out the entirety of Gaider reponse on his own site, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. Do you share Gaider's belief that players not interested in same sex relationships should simply choose not to explore them, or do you not?
Dragon Age: Inquisition is expected to release in 2014 for the Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.
Source: David Gaider