BioWare And the Bisexual-Colored Brush

BioWare, dear sweet BioWare. The only triple A video game studio to consistently produce openly LGBTQ characters. Not only that, these characters are not “squeezed” in as an afterthought and sometimes play critical roles. The heartthrob of Dragon Age 2, for example, Anders is quite unbiased of Hawke’s gender and is crucial to the outcome of the game. Or Liara from Mass Effectwho is equally important to the main plot of a DLC. It could be argued for spymaster Leliana in Dragon Age: Inquisition as well.

The problems arise when the only “gay” is “bisexual” and very few of these characters manage to influence the gameplay or story at all.

So the inclusion of other sexualities is good, but the lack of influence it actually has on the game is an issue. This is aggravated when in Dragon Age: Origins, the player’s race significantly changes the plot in the beginning. A city elf versus Dalish origin stories, for example, greatly influence how the player relates to their character. In the Dalish version, you are already an outcast, but as a city elf you belong to a family and are about to start a new one. Furthermore, as a city elf you get to revisit your family later on in the game.

If something as complex as race can change the game’s plot, why not sexuality too? Wouldn’t it be cool if as a city elf, you could still be married off and be struggling with the fact that you’re gay and your family is expecting children from this marriage. It wouldn’t take much more than a few dialogue tweaks and could allow the main plot to continue on.

As much as the Dragon Age and Mass Effect games are a huge step towards intersectionality, they fall short of doing it right. The inability for these characters to influence the main plot the way Anders and Liara do is lazy writing. Though I’ll admit, perhaps not lazy so much as restricted. There are times when I think all BioWare fans can feel that if the studio had more time, better LGBTQ stories would appear. The side-effect of this, intentional or not, can be harmful to those who don’t know better. Putting bisexual characters in the position of non-influence because they are a “minority” implies that they have no power to influence real life either. The only exception would the player’s character themselves, if they were queer.

Furthermore, there is an overwhelming majority of bisexual characters (which will likely outnumber the heterosexual ones in Mass Effect: Andromeda) that can cause the erasure of all other sexualities. Dragon Age: Inquisition changes this by introducing characters Dorian and Sera (keeping in mind that Krem never expressed a sexuality), who are gay and lesbian respectively. Which is another good step in the right direction, even if they don’t influence the plot at all. Nonetheless, bisexuality allows creators the freedom of not committing to one liberal point of view or another. Bisexuality becomes a “one-size-fits-all” solution to demanding fans, forcing a very specific sexuality on a character that it might not otherwise suit. Cassandra in Inquisition, for example, would make a fine lesbian, but I would never dare suggest modding her sexuality to suit mine. Which is exactly what some fans did to Dorian’s character, and completely undermines precisely what his loyalty quest is about.

In addition, varying sexualities allow players to explore other avenues of romantic and sexual interests. If you really like that character, then you must create a character who suits them even if it is not your own personal preference. There are good things that can come from proper intersectionality, but coating the romance options with bisexual-colored paint is not the way to go about it.

Needless to say, as much as BioWare’s Mass Effect and Dragon Age games are a small step in the right direction, there are big problems with them too. Most bisexual characters do not influence the plot of the game whatsoever, ensuring that a similar view might be applied to real life; such a minority cannot possibly expect to influence life when they can’t manage it in a game. And if that isn’t enough, the broad brush of bisexual characters as the only available LGBTQ option restricts the player from experiencing varying romances and erases all other sexualities in the world.
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