However, another story has been making its rounds much more quietly, slipping under the radar during the Ubisoft fiasco. BioWare has announced that some romance options in Dragon Age: Inquisition will be restricted based on the player character's gender.
This has been met with some criticism online, as many feel that this is a step backwards for the series. Dragon Age 2 allowed for all romance-enabled characters to fall for the protagonist Hawke regardless of Hawke's chosen gender. Therefore, returning to a game world where some choices are cut off reduces the player's freedom to make their own story and have the adventure they want to have.
This is an understandable position. Many people play games to escape into a world where they can be the hero of their story and save said world from the myriad of evils that plague it. Most stories as epic as these tend to have romance for the hero as well, so having your choice of people to be with and live out the romance of your dreams is a logical extension.
Unfortunately, the Dragon Age 2 model is not a good idea, for three reasons.
Does an entirely pansexual game provide more diverse representation than most games? Unquestionably. And for a single playthrough, if you only focus on romancing one character, it's easy to remain unaware of that. You might go after one person and think “oh this particular person is available for the character I made” and not realize that it extends to all companions on all playsthrough for all player characters. A lot of games make decisions like this in various aspects – take Heavy Rain, where many things are designed to be the same no matter what you do, but you have no idea unless you play it twice and start to feel around for what you can do differently. It's not hard to see why Bioware made that decision.
Bioware can do better. We all can do better. How about a romance with a transgender character? Has that happened in a video game at all? The closest I can think of is Naoto from Persona 4, and there are people who would argue that she is not transgender at all. While she spends the bulk of her time lamenting the fact that she was born a woman and dresses up like a man, in the end, the game insists that she really has no problem with being a woman, she just wants the respect of being a man. This is, at best, a poorly-developed resolution to an otherwise memorable character, and the fact that Naoto is the only one that comes to mind is both telling and disappointing.
This is not to say that bisexuals never show up in media. Rather, when they are used, they tend to be used just for the “sexy factor” rather than being treated with the seriousness of other characters – in many cases, they serve as “normal” (i.e. “heterosexual”, i.e. “default”) people - until it's time for the “You had a sexy phase?” reveal, at which point it never comes up again. There is a danger of using this sort of strategy as an excuse to avoid dealing with the hard questions of character. Making matters worse, there are plenty of incidents where the possibility of bisexuality is completely overlooked, such as when a straight character suddenly realizes that he or she is actually homosexual, or vice versa. In these unfortunate cases, the possibility that the character is actually bisexual never gets mentioned by anyone, as though the idea that someone can be attracted to both men and women is impossible. These are just a few of several possible examples, of course. The issue is complex and deserving of an article on its own, though that is beyond the scope of this article.
A person's sexuality is one of the most important and personal aspects of who they are. For many people, the discovery of who they truly are can take a lifetime, and the answers to these questions can have a huge impact on the person they are and the life they live. These are important considerations for anyone who is designing a character to keep in mind. How has their life been impacted by their sexuality? Are homosexual or bisexual characters accepted in the world you're trying to create? When did they realize how they felt? There are plenty of questions just like this. While not every question needs to be answered directly in the story, the writers should know the answers to those questions, because the answers are going to influence the character in ways that will.
When you take all characters and paint them in a broad brush, much of this information can be easily overlooked. It's not a guarantee, certainly, but the more characters are developed in overly broad terms, the easier it is for them to lose their individuality. In a game as expansive as a typical AAA RPG, there are going to be plenty of NPCs who are painted with such a brush, but is it truly a good idea for the primary companions, the adventurers with whom the player shares this story, to be done in such a way?
This ties into my next and final point, which is once again sadly relevant with the recent tragic shooting at Isla Vista. In a world where men feel it acceptable to shoot women for the crime of not immediately making themselves available on demand, it is important to remind these men that not every woman will make themselves available regardless of how much the man may want them, and that they must learn to accept this.
I admit this is an unusual point, and an extreme suggestion. However, I hardly think it unwarranted. The fact is that many of the people complaining as loudly as possible about this change are men, furious that BioWare would take away “the only hot lady” as a romance option for them. Naturally, concepts like playing through the game as a female character are unacceptable, and so the game must be changed to please them.
These are exactly the sort of people that the gaming community must not cater to. They already get so much of game design dedicated to their desires. They must not be allowed to control all aspects of the game industry more than they already do.
This sounds like a lot of responsibility to put on BioWare’s shoulders. It shouldn't be, though, because it should be everyone's responsibility, not just a single company's. However, BioWare has shown an interest in trying to do well in this area, and especially given how popular the relationships are among fans of BioWare’s games, we should be sure to encourage them and help them do the best they can, not just stop at “good enough”. Good enough is simply a step on the road to being even better.