Romantic subplots in BioWare games have been of growing importance in recent years, particularly in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age sagas. But who are they for?
"In Dragon Age II," began BioWare community member Bastal in one of many threads he has posted on the subject in the past few days, "BioWare neglected their main demographic: the straight male gamer." A bold claim, and one that warrants further examination.
The main gist of his argument was that in past BioWare games, he felt that companion characters -- particularly those with whom the player character could pursue a romantic subplot -- were designed specifically with heterosexual male gamers in mind. In Dragon Age II, he argues, most of the companions were designed to appeal to "other groups." He even goes so far as to suggest that a "No Homosexuality" option "could have been easily implemented" into the game. It's hopefully fairly obvious why this setting is conspicuously absent from Dragon Age II's options screen.
David Gaider, lead writer on the Dragon Age series, weighed in on the matter quickly and comprehensively, noting that Bastal was, at least in part, correct, but perhaps not in the way he intended.
"The romances in the game," he wrote, "are not for 'the straight male gamer.' They're for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention. [...] The majority has no inherent 'right' to get more options than anyone else."
A fair point; gaming has worked hard in recent years to shake off the "single straight male with questionable personal hygiene living in parents' basement" image it has been plagued with since the 1980s. So why shouldn't Dragon Age II cater to more than just straight men? And more to the point, why shouldn't gamers be able to play off-gender or off-sexuality if they so desire?
"The truth is," Gaider continued, "that privilege always lies with the majority. They're so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance."
Despite Gaider's choice of words, it's not that straight male Hawkes have a "lack of catering" by any means. But the romantic options for straight males failed to satisfy Bastal, who dubbed them "exotic choices that appeal to a subset of male gamers" and decried the fact that "[BioWare] had the resources to add another romance option, but instead chose to implement a gay romance."
Gaider justifies the fact that the gay love interest makes the first move on the player character -- the specific matter which Bastal appeared to object to -- as being more realistic than writing the exchanges in such a way that Hawke had to initiate every romance. He does, however, admit that he might have done things differently if he had to do it over again.
"I'm sorry if someone didn't get everything they wanted out of the romances," concluded Gaider. "I wish we could do the ideal where there's something for every desire and opinion, but as usual we make do."
Frankly, good on BioWare for catering to demographics outside the stereotypical heterosexual male gamer group that Bastal holds so dear. And good on Gaider for standing up to someone who, despite arguing coherently and politely, has opinions clearly based in ignorance and homophobia.
Check out the full exchange on BioWare's forums here.
This article originally appeared on GamePro.com as BioWare on romance demographics