London Pride took place this weekend, and though I was transporting the last of my belongings down the A40 and into my new house, it was wonderful to see social media feeds full of my straight, gay, bi and transgender friends celebrating how far we've all come towards accepting love is love. Pride's purpose is to honour everyone in the LGBTQ community equally, which brings me neatly to an upcoming fantasy RPG where you fight dragons in a medieval world filled with elves and dwarves and lead armies against Darkspawn.
Dragon Age: Inquisition's new companion character Dorian is a skilled mage from the Tevinter Imperium. He's also deeply sarcastic, he's "perhaps too smart for his own good," and he's an outcast. Another notable trait of Dorian's? He's gay.
"Dorian is gay - he is, in fact, the first fully gay character I've had the opportunity to write," wrote the developer's David Gaider on the Dragon Age blog. "It added an interesting dimension to his back story, considering he comes from a place where "perfection" is the face that every mage puts on and anything that smacks of deviancy is shameful and meant to be hidden. Dorian's refusal to play along with that fašade is seen as stubborn and pointless by his family, which has contributed to his status as a pariah."
Whilst this is definitely a milestone to celebrate, 'fully gay' is very poor phrasing, and 'legitimately gay,' which Gaider then tweeted as an attempt at an explanation, is even more so. The conclusion that you immediately jump to upon hearing it (and many online forum dwellers did) is that anyone who isn't a Kinsey 6 is somehow considered a 'lesser' gay person, and that's a very binary view of sexuality. I know - hell, I've dated - bisexual people who self-identify as gay, and that doesn't make them any 'more' gay than the bisexual people who don't. It's all down to individual choice, and as the original Dorian writer Oscar Wilde once said, "selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live." Gay, bi, straight - so long as they can kill a dragon they're welcome in my party. Especially if they're hot and/or Felicia Day.
"I suppose this aspect of Dorian will make him controversial in some corners, but I was glad to include it," Gaider continues in the blog. "It made writing Dorian a very personal experience for me, and I'm hopeful that will make him seem like a fully realized character to fans in the end."
This is a really wonderful sentiment, so it's unfortunate that the phrasing has meant Gaider has come under fire from fans accusing him of biphobia, which led him to tweet that he "did not intend" to pass any kind of comment on bisexuality. As one of the few developers consistently taking a stand and challenging ingrained gaming industry attitudes to LGBT issues, I'm sure that's not at all the message that Gaider intended to convey, but it's good to see people becoming so passionate about these issues within the gaming community and wanting to talk about them. And now I'm the one being selfish, as it gives me the perfect excuse to write blog posts on the subjects that I care deeply about. The phrasing isn't the important factor here, it's that fact that we're making leaps and bounds towards making gaming a whole lot more LGBT-inclusive.
Real talk: in any article or news story posted on this site that talks about LGBT issues, I invariably see some variation on the comment that "having gay characters is fine, so long as it doesn't impact the story" or "it's alright so long as it isn't rammed down our throats (lol)". I'm sorry, but quite frankly, you're wrong. I absolutely want to see gay issues tackled in games. I want to see LGBT characters take the spotlight. I want these experiences to be non-optional and I want them to be tackled not just in some weird roundabout sci-fi analogy kind of way, but loudly, unapologetically, proudly. There should be games when a character's sexual preference is incidental, sure, but we should also welcome games that can and will shout it from the rooftops.
You might want to keep your Mass Effect and your Dragon Age and whatever else as pure fantasy escapism and skip the social issues, but in my mind those two things aren't mutually exclusive. That'd be like saying Buffy the Vampire Slayer couldn't be a meaningful teen drama and a show about staking the undead. It might be that an awkward teenage girl sits down to play Dragon Age: Inquisition one day, embarks on a non-heteronormative relationship with a companion and realises that she's not that strange or different from her peers after all. Or a young boy quietly struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality might just muster up the courage to talk to someone, to take his first tentative steps towards self-acceptance, and all because Dorian, the sarcastic, skilled, badass outcast who also happens to be gay and proud was an asset to his DA party. If anything in this game's to be considered a fantasy, this shouldn't be it.
By the way, if you have any questions about bisexuality, the most common myths are debunked in this rather great YouTube video. As the host Scarlet Saint herself says, she doesn't speak for every bisexual person, but it's quite a lovely, no-bullshit explanation of some of the most tiresome stereotypes aimed at bisexual people.