Yes, this is a shameless attempt to catch your attention! Did it work?
[Spoiler warning for the entire Mass Effect and Dragon Age series]
[Trigger warning for mentions of rape and mutilation.]
Recently, I’ve seen more and more people discuss oversexualization of female characters in games in articles, on Twitter, and real life. And it’s not just us girl gamers who are annoyed, but also the guys who are tired of being treated like teenage boys. And, as Brenna Hillier (whose Twitter is @draqul and you should insta-follow her) put it so nicely in an article on vg24/7:
“The industry’s reliance on over-sexualised, impossible female design is somewhat insulting to those who’ve grown past the point of getting erections from passing bra stores.”
I also remember that the Liara collectible for ME3 was subjected to breast size reduction surgery before going into production. Unfortunately for Liara, this means that she won’t ever become a leader of Asari society (regardless of any ME3-related galactic travel problems), because Asari leaders are recognizeable by their enormous melon-sized breasts (says deviantartist Epantiras in her funny-as-hell parody cartoon “Mess Perfect”).
In general, this discussion is a step in the right direction, I hope it will gain momentum and find its way into the brains of the game developers! [Yes I’m an optimist. I couldn’t bear blogging about gender & games if I weren’t.] I could go on about this and try to retrieve all the other links on character designs, armors and whatnot. (There are AWESOME blogs about this springing up like mushrooms after the rain.) But right now, I have something more insidious and immensely literal in mind: Big, bad, boobs.
Spoiler Warning: This post has spoilers for Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age 2 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine! 😉
Quoting or mentioning @aeazel in my posts seems, slowly but steadily, to become a habit, but I believe it’s not a bad one!
A few weeks back, in a discussion totally unrelated to gaming, he casually mentioned the concept of intersectionality to me. I started to read the Wikipedia article on it, and while I forgot the actual matter at hand, I realized why Dragon Age: Origins had appealed to me so much more than Dragon Age 2 – in spite of everything I love about the new game.
Quoting Wikipedia, “The theory [of intersectionality] suggests—and seeks to examine how—various socially and culturally constructed categories such as gender, race, class, disability, and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic social inequality. Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and religion-based bigotry, do not act independently of one another; instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination.”
Let’s, literally, take a look at my character from Origins:
This is Izka. Female elf mages have been my absolute default character in RPGs for as long as I can remember playing, so I didn’t think much about it, and got started. Among the multitude of awesome things, I soon found myself especially fascinated with the social structures, especially the tensions, that were written into the game universe, and the detailled history of the three main races of Humans, Elves and Dwarves.
In the history of the Dragon Age world, Elves aren’t the proud noble people we know from Tokien’s Middle Earth, the Forgotten Realms or the Elder Scrolls. They are a broken people, driven from their lands, out of touch with their history and culture. They have lost their traditional ways, forgotten most of their rituals and magic. They live as nomad clans, constantly ready to move on to avoid conflicts with human settlements, or in slums called alienages in human towns, where they are at the mercy of the Human populace. They are discriminated against for openly racist reasons, very much like the Elves in The Witcher.
The mages are discriminated across all races, they are considered generally dangerous and are taken from their parents and forced into the Circle of Magi to learn to control their powers under the watchful eyes of the Templars, who fear them, especially for the powerful Blood Magic and the Abominations that can possess mages. Mages who leave the Circle Towers will most likely be persecuted and made tranquil, i.e. stripped of their magic powers, but also their emotions and instincts. For all intents and purposes, they become willing slaves of the system. Conveniently, they are the only ones except dwarves who can handle raw lyrium, a mineral that among other things can be used to make potions that replenish magic. The Chantry, the dominant religious institution (strongly resembling Christianity on many accounts) on the continent of Thedas also administers lyrium to the Templars, supposedly to increase their resistance to magic, but certainly to make them addicted to the substance. (Jem’Hadar of Star Trek’s Deep Space Nine, anyone?)
So, unwittingly, I cast my virtual self amidst two struggles: The Mages’ campaign for self-determination, freedom from the control of the Templars and the Chantry, and the Elves’ fight for equality among the races and justice and redemption for the crimes committed against them by the humans. Throughout the incredibly well written dialogs in Dragon Age Origins, there were many situations that specifically adressed my character either as an Elf, or as a Mage – and in general, that approach was skeptical or discriminating. I can’t remember a situation that addressed me as Elf AND Mage at the same time now, but it’s been a while since I played the first game, so I can’t say for sure whether they were any. Regardless, this discrimination one reason atop the other is exactly what intersectionality is about. While a Human Mage and an Elf Muggle (if you don’t know Harry Potter: a person with no magical talents) will be discriminated in this world, my Elf Mage can expect a doubly bad treatment.
While “being an Elf” is easily recognized as a racial classification causing racist discrimination, the “being a Mage” isn’t so easy. It’s not a personal choice to be a Mage, so it isn’t a political, social or religious factor. Neither is it a physical disability. I would put it in a category of “specially talented with an existing, but exaggerated risk of mental instability”. (Jennifer Hepler, who wrote the character Anders for Dragon Age 2 mentioned that she wrote him as a person with a mental disorder.) In my second playthrough, I played a Dwarf Commoner, who is only discriminated against by her own people – an example for discrimination based on class or caste.
Reading the definition quoted above, I realized that there were two “sections” that do not bear repercussions in the game, and one that is rarely selectable in dialogs, but usually has negative consequences as well. First of all, my Izka being female didn’t limit what I could do in terms of combat, skills, general dialog choices or quests. There were, however, women in the game that were cast in traditional roles and such, but this didn’t apply to the player character. In one of the Origin stories, when you are a Dwarf Commoner, your sister is the mistress of a Nobleman, in a quite typical submissive and dependent fashion. It made me cringe, but I had no option to change it (I might have, had I taken other options before. I might go back and try it… after I tried all the other Origins from start to end!) Sometimes, however, the game does address Izka specifically as a female, or have different lines for male and females even outside romance dialogs. One of my favorite times this gender-specific address occurs, is this dialog:
Alistair: “You know… it just occurred to me that there have never been many women in the Grey Wardens. I wonder why that is?”
You can pick these answers:
You want more women in the Wardens, do you?
Probably because we’re too smart for you.
(to which Alistair replies) “True. But if you’re here, what does that make you?”
Eager to get going.
Just one of the boys? [My favorite! This gets approval points from Alistair]
So not interested.
I can handle myself better than most.
How about you stop thinking of me as a woman?
I loved this dialog SO MUCH!!!
Secondly, Izka had the choice to romance Leliana, a female rogue. This homosexual romance has no negative impact in the game at all. (I can’t remember if any of my companions even commented).
Third, in some cases you have the option to voice atheist thoughts, challenging the belief of the Chantry. Leliana is a dedicated follower, so denying the Maker or defiling the ashes of his beloved Andraste will upset and eventually turn on you (unless you have convinced her earlier that her path as a Chantry lay-sister isn’t really for her – this is called “hardening” her).
I have, in previous posts, discussed this topic of whether discrimination should be depicted in RPGs. And my opinion remains a clear yes, with the Caveat that there must a choice in the game to fight this discrimination. As far as I’m concerned, this has worked well in The Witcher on a great scale, and I can remember various instances in other games, like Fallout: New Vegas (when a guy offers you protection, implying the “in exchange for certain services”) or Baldur’s Gate I, when you can save the Dark Elf Viconia from a mob, and so on.
This “rebellious behavior” is also possible in Origins. Izka survived the final battle and insisted that the Fereldan Circle of Mages be freed from the factual Templar rule. I couldn’t help the Elves to such a great degree, but I alleviated some of their problems. Maybe playing as a Dalish Elf (from one of the nomad clans, not a Circle Mage) gives this option, I haven’t completed this Origin.
One of my dearest moments in this game can happen in the romance dialogs with the “almost-Templar” Alistair, who was drafted into the Grey Wardens just a while before your character. As with most of his romance dialog, you have the choice to softly tease him. In this particular instance, you can tease him about being him being a Templar, who is in love with a mage and elf. I couldn’t find a transcript or video of that dialog (or maybe they are two separate ones) right now, I don’t know if I could find one of my savegame to record it, since I am uncertain when the dialog occurs. 🙁
On the other hand, Alistair can be quite the racist. If he is made King of Ferelden, and you’re not a Human Noble, he breaks off the romance (you can, under certain circumstances, become his mistress – which I wouldn’t, not even in a game). I got really mad at him – for all our love, for all he owed me, he wouldn’t at least TRY to convince his people to accept an Elf Queen? Such a royal coward!
On the other hand, this is realistic, too. People aren’t black-or-white in real life either, and we’re frequently given the option to do evil as player characters, and then again do good. Thus, if avatars can have such flaws, I suppose their companions would, and should, too. Similarly, no matter what you do, Alistair will leave your party if you allow Loghain to join and live. Quite unforgiving, just like real(istic) people can be.
To return to my statement of preferring Origins over DA2, it is all about identifying with the hero.Hawke is set as Human, the dominant race also in the Free Marches where Part 2 plays, and from a noble family. Of course, he or she is a refugee and has been wronged by circumstances beyond her or his control, but we have a sense of belonging to a higher class, being something better than those other refugees. Especially Hawke’s mother has a sense of lost glory and grandeur. Outside the game, Hawke is marketed as a Champion, so I know “I” will become that before I even start the game. While the narration (“how the story is told”) of this ascension is intriguing, the main motivation for me to play was to see what happened to my companions, their stories were much more captivating and some full of surprises.
Compared to this, I was able to identify with Izka much more, since I had more choices of who I wanted her to be. I don’t want to play a “rich kid who is currently in a rough spot”. Dragon Age: Origins put me in a rough life, and handed me ways to either fix things for myself, or strive for the greater good. It put me between the lines of several conflicts, made me feel these conflicts through little bits here and there in quests, lore and dialogs, but instead of making me pick sides in an inevitable conflict, the game allowed me to make some things better. To fix everything would’ve been cheap, but it gave me choices – mind you, not all of them were easy and comfortable either – to shape my own fate as well as that of several victimized groups. In comparison to this, Dragon Age 2 feels like I’m replaying someone else’s story that’s more or less fixed in its course – it’s still a good story, and very well told, but I miss the power to make wrongs right, or at least, less wrong.
In Origins, Izka definitely grows because of the opposition she faces (among other reasons) due to discrimination – and so do we real people. (And of course, this is in part my interpretation, but name one player who doesn’t add anything to the game’s narrative in his or her head!) Hawke, even if you play her or him as a Saint, is on a personal quest to regain lost family influence, amass riches and build a position of power for him- or herself. “Become Champion” – that is your destiny, marketing tells you. It’s a selfish motivation, and thus much less appealing to me. Maybe it’s due to the economic crisis all around us, that makes us think about our own well-being more and inspired the general direction of the game.
In this real life I keep referring to 😉 I try to speak up against discrimination when I encounter it. But I am just one girl in a big, often very bad world. I know we have to start somewhere, and that the little things do count. But sometimes, it’d be nice to slay an Archdemon, a little faerie comes up and asks a wish of you and you could choose between “Remember the Grey Wardens” and “Eradicate discrimination against [insert any aforementioned sections here]”!
Or in other words: “Just one girl, against all odds, saving the world”… and depending on what you’re thinking right now, I’ll add: “You may say, I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…” 😉
Feminist geek rage time! I read (of all things!) an article on mobile games introducing more and more women into gaming on an Austrian website today and first was thrilled to spot an ad for Dragon Age 2 in it. It didn’t take me long to realize that the enthusiasm was misplaced. All this ad does is show stills of Isabela with those lines: “Wanna meet this woman?” – “Wanna get close to her?” – “Play the demo; she is waiting for you“.
See here (in German):
To me, it seems that whoever produced this text has formerly made a living in the porn/sex hotline business… There is NOTHING about the game in this ad, all it does is appeal to male fantasies. I can hear many of you saying “But she’s still dressed” or “I’ve seen more sexist ads for games”. Believe me, I am aware of that. But this is Dragon Age we’re talking about. Dragon Age: Origins was an RPG that appealed to many female players. It’s very inclusive – we’ve seen homo- and bisexual characters and romance options, we’ve seen topics of gender identity (Shale’s history) and of racial discrimination (elves, mages) and many other social issues. BioWare itself has a history of being the good guys, in my book especially regarding gender issues. It is known for high standards in dialogs and plot, not cheap thrills.
Of course, Origins had its saucy moments – but they were witty and cleverly written in comparison to this stupid ad – I really, really enjoyed them. One example is to follow shortly.
But first, a little bit on Isabela’s history and character. When the Warden meets her in Origins, she is in The Pearl, a brothel. But don’t jump to conclusions: she’s not employed there, she’s a customer. She’s a self-sufficient and quite quarrelsome pirate captain, capable of handling three (IIRC) men in a swordfight. She unlocks the Duelist specialization for your party. Depending on your gender (and maybe other factors, I haven’t tried it) you can have sex or even a three- or foursome with her.
If that’s not enough, here’s another example of dialog that shows how it’d be her to make Alistair or the Warden a pinup, not be turned into one herself:
Isabela: “My dear, you wouldn’t consider…leaving Alistair with me, would you? Perhaps let me borrow him for a week every summer? I’m sure we could work out a deal.”
Warden: “Would you lend me your ship?”
Isabela: “Of course not! You would misuse the ship– Which, I suppose, is exactly what I would do with Alistair, though I suspect he would enjoy it while the ship wouldn’t.”
Alistair: “Not that the idea of being borrowed isn’t terribly fascinating, but let’s not forget the darkspawn. There may not be a week every summer, or any summer.”
Isabela: “Darkspawn! Is this the only thing men think about these days? What about the good old obsessions? Breasts, firm buttocks, wet frocks?”
Alistair: “Hmm… wet frocks…”
As you can see, she not a prude, she’s a proud, witty, (sexually and otherwise) self-determined woman. She could really be a feminist role model in this fantasy setting. Instead they made her a fantasy model in a sexist setting. From being an active protagonist that holds great meaning for the game’s story, the ad turns her into a passive sex object. I hope that this gets corrected in the game itself… and until I can check that, I’m trying to convince myself that this ad was done by evil EA marketers, not BioWare. 😉
[Edit] Thanks to @aeazel on Twitter, I have just read The Games We Play: The Whitewashing of Video Games on Bitch Magazine. It made me realize that, while Isabela is supposed to be a woman of color, she is pearly white in the above ad and other promotional material. The only thing I find funny about that is that you meet her in “The Pearl” – other than that all I have is disbelief and growing anger. BioWare, please cast Crushing Prison on your marketing people.
As I announced in “Glamgeekgirl hits GameCityVienna“, which reflects my first impressions, I went back to the event this Sunday, with Laura and her boyfriend Markus (http://www.konzeptionist.at), who was taking pictures. (Which was awesome because I could focus on the games – yay! Many thanks!) By the way, this post is pretty much spoiler-free!
I tried skateboarding on the Wii… and totally got pwned! Markus commented that the controls weren’t intuitive at all – yes, everything he says – it had NOTHING AT ALL to do with me!
Then Laura and I tried Raving Rabbits, but didn’t have a clue what to do….
We also played some things on PlayStation Move, but if I were to pick a motion-controlled system, I’d stick with the Wii. (Side Note: I was very eager to try out Kinect, but you were filmed if you played and had to fill out a form accepting to be filmed and whatnot, so I declined.)
There were separate areas for 18+ gamers for both PlayStation and XBOX 360. They did NOT list the presented games outside the area, which struck me as pretty stupid. I got to show ID, by the way – YAY! 😉 There was a loooooooooong line in front of the PS area, which had Kung Fu Rider, RUSE, Killzone 3 etc. I was dissappointed with my own experiences with them, and didn’t see other gamers who seemed to have exceptional amounts of fun either.
Not a photo from GameCity, but I have to show you that game, the premise is just too funny:
Nobody was waiting in front of the XBOX 18+ area – what kind of feeling does that give you? I wasn’t expecting anything really. We went in, and saw three row of XBOXes set up, I think 2 per game. Most were occupied, so I walked down the middle row… there was one free spot, and guess who is looking at me from the screen? HAWKE! He-Hawke actually, well hello Mister!
Being the console noob that I am, I didn’t know how to restart the game, so I just picked up where someone had left off. In the middle of a dialog – well yeah, if you don’t like dialogs, BioWare isn’t for you! Sadly, the volume was down and it was too noisy around me, so I can’t tell how he sounds – but I could see the lips move, and thus assume that they TALK! Hawkie-Talkie, yeah!
I then had a nice talk about choice with a lovely elderly lady… The dialog wheel now shows the tone of the options (although I haven’t figured them all out, but I think: there’s a red clenched fist for defiant/violent/evil ones and a white twig-thing for the good ones. The third was a blue drama mask with, a more neutral expression).
Here I’m in the middle of a fight with a party that’s already wounded due to whoever started to play before me. Anyway, I kick ass – and that’s saying something about XBOX controls being intuitive!!!
The demo was soon over, and the game restarted itself (thanks, very noob-friendly). Same as Laura, I picked a Warrior She-Hawke out of the available Warriors or Rogues of both sexes – the Mages were, much to my disappointment, locked.
Now a close-up of She-Hawke and Bethany. In the beginning of the demo, you’re fleeing your home, and Beth isn’t the only of your kin you’ll be talking to.
In the meantime, I was fighting waves of Hurlocks with AWESOME moves, like a multiple-enemy sweep of my two-handed blade, and then finally…. look, an Ogre!
And here’s a Dragon crashing my party! (How many dozens of meanings does “party” have, anyway?)
Unfortunately, I don’t have screenies of the guys who tell Hawke’s story in the future/present. It was implemented well though, and based on my first impressions, I think it could work out after all!
I had lots of fun playing Dragon Age 2 on the XBOX 360. The combat is very responsive and immersive, throwing you right into the action (not in a bad way, unless you want to hit Pause and plan ahead constantly), and the special moves are great – that circular sweep bloodily pwned several Hurlocks at a time! The graphics are awesome and the characters look really cool. FemHawke could really be the next FemShep (perhaps that’s exactly what they’re aiming for? Would you be so nice, BioWare people, to drop by this blog and tell me?). The dialog wheel indicator seems a good update, as I sometimes wasn’t sure what my Warden was getting at in DA:O. If you liked the Intro art in DA:O, you will love what you see in that demo – I never understood why BioWare didn’t use that style more in the first installment, but I’m hoping for the best!
I can’t say much about the plot, as for starters, I don’t want to spoil what I experienced, and secondly, I also, stupidly, didn’t pay enough attention. It was too loud to listen, and to bothersome to read all the text while I could just randomly try the dialog and combat systems instead. Thinking back now, I should have stayed and played this much, much longer. But I thought I was missing something else… something that never came!
So, in conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed GameCity, but there are several points worth improving… yet they all FADE (haha, Dragon Age pun!) away after playing the DA2 demo. March 2011, I am looking forward to you very, very, very much! This could be EPIC! And, hey Mom, if by any chance you read this… I want an XBOX for Christmas!* 😉
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all game characters are created equal, that they are endowed by their developer with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Hmm, self-evident. Really?
I was thrilled and amused when the thought ocurred to me that the US Declaration of Independence would be such fruitful material to further my ponderings on equality in games. 😉 Apart from the equality debate itself, the three aforementioned rights are essential to games as well: You (usually) can’t continue if your character dies, you have to have a certain degree of liberty in your game decisions (games that fail in this aspect are often mocked as “interactive screensaver”), and must be able to persue happiness, i.e., enjoy the game. I paused my first playthrough of Dragon Age: Origins for a week because a certain end-game choice made me very unhappy. That was so….. unconstitutional!
But let’s return to equality. As has been discussed before in Call me Lady Gama, I feel at ease with the “girl gamer” label, and I think my playing style is feminine. (What I wanted to add to my last entry was that, as a non-girly example, I don’t mind blood’n’gore in a game, and have always enjoyed things like Fallout’s Bloody Mess Trait/Perk. It’s a caricature, taken to such extremes that it couldn’t ever appall me. So it’s not all black and white, y’know?) I love being able to play a female character, and I want her to “act it”, in an equal, emancipated and confident way (as I try to be, myself). And I do want her to be sexy, just in a more realistic and credible way than what I usually get treated to.
As Jenn Frank pointed out in When “You” is a girl on the great site Infinite Lives, games are usually developed from a male point of view, and then, the option to play as a female is grafted onto it. You can basically put boobs and make-up on your hero and voilà, that’s your heroine! (I only recently read that Dragon Age 2 will introduce a female skeleton version for all characters! About time, fellas!) Nothing in the plot, dialogs or quests changes, apart from the flirts and romances (apart, again, from the homosexual ones, which often have an “explanatory opener”, but then proceed like the heterosexual ones). There are still few “female-avatar-only” PC games (Venetica or the Lara Croft series instantly come to mind), compared to “male-avatar-only” or “you-can-choose-but-not-quite” (see the link below on the difference between “sex” and “gender”).
I don’t generally dislike games that have only one option for the avatar’s gender – but I want it to be meaningful. In other words, it should make sense that this plot, dialog etc. can only happen to a woman or man. Ideally though, I get to pick my avatar and the game reflects that choice in distinct reactions, just like many games do depending on your karma/class/origin/faction. (Think about it again, as I just did for a while: Usually, when a game distinguishes between male and female avatars, we’re talking romance. Not main quest and plot line!) Settings like in Dragon Age or Fallout would give plenty of opportunity for that – but especially Fallout gives you 100% the same game, whether you play a guy or gal. As Jenn Frank put it in aforementioned blog post: “You may choose the sex of your avatar, certainly, but you do not choose your gender, which itself is essentially written into the game dialogue and scenarios.” In Dragon Age’s defense, I just read the post “Gaming as a Woman and Dragon Age Origins” by “Petite Chablis” that the Origin stories differ from male to female – I have tried each Origin and a little ways into the main plot as male or female, but no Origin as both; need to check that out! (My first choice is usually a female elf mage, if applicable. On later playthroughs, I often play as male to check for new twists and turns – more than often enough, all I get to see is a difference in necklines of my equipped armor suit.)
Many male players pick the female avatar for their first playthrough – and many of them agree that it simply means they can watch a pretty rear for dozens of hours 😉 – and it doesn’t really matter gameplay-wise anyway. Makes me wonder about two things – does over-the-shoulder perspective, or would a more “gendered” gameplay influence the percentage of guys playing as gals?
Or more generally speaking: Is it possible to create a game that really and truly treats us as “different but equal”?
I’ve spent some time thinking about why I play, and how I play recently – and that I agree with many of her reasons, but come to a different conclusion:
I AM a GIRL GAMER. Similar to how I am human first, female second, I am gamer first, and girl gamer second. Just as I do many everyday things the female way, I believe I also play in a feminine way. And there’s nothing wrong with that! It doesn’t mean I only play The Sims and own a pink PlayStation.
To set the record straight: I don’t do pink (The only person I know to have a pink PS is a guy). I don’t do chick flicks. I build my computers from scratch. I am not addicted to chocolate. 😉 I am certainly not your cliché blonde. On the other hand, I can’t deny that I’m also quite girly: I love shoes. I love Johnny Depp. I love clothes, jewelry and make-up. I totally go awwwww at cute kittens. (I posted some details on my inner dilemma in Girl vs. Geek Part One. Let me know if I should see a shrink yet).
So, how does me being a woman affect how I play? Or does it affect what I play in the first place? Some of my all-time favorites are: Baldur’s Gate I+II, Fallout I-III, TES: Morrowind, Dune, Planescape Torment, The Dark Eye Trilogy, Colonization, SpellForce II, Mass Effect I+II, Dragon Age, The Witcher and Tropico II. Are those per se girly games? (Oh, I also loved Rollercoaster Tycoon III, but it was way too easy to beat. That one is definitely girly. Perhaps they thought that girls wouldn’t dig a harder game – which is part of the problem Next_Jen’s been discussing…)
I don’t think my choice of games is too girly. But let’s look at how I play. Say I’m faced with a quest that I can solve with brute force or with diplomacy, a special skill, trade-off, or some such. I’m well aware that this is a cliché, but isn’t there a bit of truth in that women tend to try to solve problems through talking and compromising rather than direct confrontation? I’m not saying that all guys will pick the fight, nor will all girls play nice. But I certainly would like to see statistics or a survey on that! It’d be nice if you commented on your playing behavior! I’m really curious!!!
I think all that dialog and relationship-building in the Mass Effect or Dragon Age series appeals to women more than to men. I totally loved it. Not just the romance part, but all that banter and teasing. Awww, Wynne taunting Alistair about being enraptured with “me” was so endearing (watch on YouTube). And one of the funniest romance dialogs of all times in Mass Effect 2, which I won’t go into because it has early-game plot spoilers (I can reveal more if you’re too lazy to search, just contact me). So there definitely are girly parts in those games. I don’t care for relationship-building and romancing as the sole purpose of a game, like in Japanese otome games or in “Singles”. But I love how you can win a battle and then discuss it with your companions especially in BioWare’s games, it adds so much to your character’s progress that can’t be shown in XP and talent points. And I will admit that I was really touched when Kaidan Alenko grabbed my depressed Shepard’s hand and pulled her up in Mass Effect I. (Literally speaking, you’d have to be “up” first in order to “get laid”, right? But that pun could quickly get way out of control… ahem.)
I would never want the label “girl gamer” to mean ridicule or not being taken seriously. Or being not equal in any way to a “guy gamer”. But if it means “girl that loves games”, I’m, well…. I’m game!
Speaking of equality… *sigh*. Regarding that, I have a bigger question in mind… which I will ponder in my next post.
In the last few months, I played through Dragon Age: Origins and its expansion Awakening and Mass Effect (all BioWare’s works) and started playing The Witcher, which was developed by Polish CDProjekt. Currently I’m following up with Mass Effect 2. All good games, no doubt there. But I’m not going to discuss the games’ quality per se… if you allow the pun, it will rather be "per sex". Be warned though, some character development spoilers will follow, but no major plot spoilers.
DA:O and the Witcher are considered "adult", while ME has a rating of 12, and ME2 of 15. The reasons for these ratings are the typical cursing (aka "strong language" haha), violence, blood and of course… naked skin!!! Very scary, if you’re American! ^_^
DA:O and both Mass Effect games allow you to pick your avatar’s gender, and be straight or gay. Need I even repeat that The Witcher was developed in Poland, while BioWare is Canadian? Hm. Figures. 😉 Granted, I play for the plot and gameplay etc., but I am a fan of well-written game romance, because it adds character depth.
The eponymous, and male by default, Witcher Geralt sometimes can decide between a traditional roleyplaying reward such as cash, or a night with the damsel in distress he just rescued. The resulting cutscenes are, well, foggy… and you collect a pin-up card to remind you of your conquests (some of that artwork is rather gross in my humble opinion – and no, I wouldn’t judge bloodied and disfigured male pin-ups differently). His dialogue choices on the way there are mostly either "not interested" or sexist, which led to me playing a rather ascetic Witcher. (I’m not far into the plot, so this is only a tentative opinion, no final judgement. It seems there is a more long-term love interest in store for Geralt, so I’ll see how "he will act".)
In DA:O, your avatar can pursue romances with certain party members, though you have to play much nicer to get anywhere. When you succeed, you are treated to totally non-foggy cutscenes with both of you wearing the infamous, but obviously popular with game devs, "grandma undies". (I think that wonderful quote is from Bethesda’s Morrowind forum back in the day, but I am uncertain. In any case, there was a Morrowind nudity mod mode [sic!] called "pubescent boy mode", which showed women naked and men in their underwear… which I found hilarious, but I digress). Similar to DA:O, you have to be nice to your romantic interest in ME, yet still can tease them, which led to a few superb dialogs. (If you want an example and don’t mind spoilers, look up "Alistair’s rose" in youtube; I haven’t yet tried to find some of ME’s wittiest Shepard – Kaidan dialogs but I bet they’re up there to). Another good example for game romances to mention would be, again of BioWare’s doing, Knights of the Old Republic (I played only Part 1, since 2 doesn’t run on my computer for some #@$&%! reason).
Unlike past times, when even BioWare treated us girlgamers to the ever boring paladin-type lovers (Anomen in BG2, Casavir in NWN2) and nobody would give us a male Viconia (a bitchy dark elf in BG2, who you eventually could convince to become good – if you were male and romanced her, that is) it seems we’re starting to be of concern to developers (not Polish ones, sadly – a female Witcher could make for a kickass heroine).
But I really wonder if there is a even just one woman writing romance dialogs for them!? I am betting money on a storybook male nerd making guesses about what GIRLS want, while forgetting that it’s mostly NERD GIRLS who will play their games. I’m exaggerating? Perhaps… prove me wrong next time, all you devs out there! 😉
As always, looking forward to comments from you! Also, did I miss any major RPG that has romances?