BioWare’s Romance Stories, Like All Relationships, Need Some Work
When it comes to relationships, there isn’t really anyone in the world who ought to consider themselves experts on the subject. The ones who are happily married with children might consider themselves to be the experts but the ones who frequently engage in one-night-stands might scoff and consider themselves to be the experts, while each party judges the other for this, that or the other reason. “They’ve only had sex with each other,” versus, “They have commitment issues, hence the multiple partners.”
Nobody is really an expert on the matter and it just comes down to the context in which you refer to a relationship. Are you looking for a life partner or just looking to have some fun? Are you a monogamous type or do you like seeing multiple people at once? There’s a whole range in between these two extremes as well. Often when we think we’re most comfortable in our knowledge of our relationships, that’s when they throw a curveball and surprise us, sometimes in devastating ways.
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Now as I’ve said, nobody is an expert on the topic, which means neither am I; my only claim to fame here is having enough of a vested interest in relationships that I’ve always wondered about them and regularly engage in a fair bit of reading up on the topic, but again, no expert. Thing is, this serves my point nicely when I bring it back to gaming and talk about BioWare, the story-based developer who brought us such recent hits as the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises.
Each of these games contains romance options for the player character and some have felt organic and natural while others were cringe-inducing levels of bad. It’s been rather hit-or-miss and has served to further show that BioWare are not experts on relationships either; my problem comes in when they begin to blame others for why they have failed at properly portraying relationships.
If you’re somewhat in the dark about this then that’s fine because after recent news regarding Mass Effect 4, that is exactly BioWare’s intention just for the moment. But a few months ago, one of the studio’s lead writers came right out and asked for same-sex relationships to be accepted after what he felt was unfair treatment of Dragon Age 2 with it being referred to as ‘the gay game’ because two of the male party characters could be romanced by a male playable character in the game. While his points were absolutely valid and I wholeheartedly agree that gamers need to be more accepting of romantic situations that do not mirror their own sexualities, I think that BioWare should not presume to be entirely right about their stance either.
Here’s the thing. I have played Dragon Age II and likewise, I’ve played Mass Effect 3, two BioWare games which had same-sex relationships. I can fully get behind (no pun intended) the idea of wanting to portray different types of relationships and being as inclusive as possible. Absolutely do that, BioWare. But I do take issue with the actual portrayals of such. You see, none of these relationships were done entirely well.
Perhaps I should come out (heh) and say that I am not a homosexual male and so I wouldn’t know the first thing about engaging in a relationship with another male, however I would imagine that it’s exactly the same as engaging in a relationship with a heterosexual female and so it doesn’t work the way it did in Dragon Age II. That is to say, there aren’t a set of ‘flirt’ options when having conversations with someone that will magically lead them to leading you to their bedrooms. Male or female. Or maybe I’m just the one doing romance wrong…
Likewise in Mass Effect 3, we were presented with a man who had lost his husband and early in the game, admitted that he’s still recovering from that. As the game progresses, if you so desire, you may romance this man who has lost his partner and still bears the scars of that loss. Just what? I mean really now, they want to portray deep and meaningful homosexual relationships and the way they do it is by throwing a guy who is recently widowed right into your bed? Please explain that one, BioWare. Sex for comfort just doesn’t seem deep and meaningful, or, meaningful anyway.
I can’t really fault BioWare for trying, though. I mean, how many other studios actually dare to go there. Sure it’s implied that certain characters (for example, Aveline from Assassin’s Creed: Liberation) are homosexual or perhaps even asexual, but not many studios will explore further than that. BioWare do at least try to explore these facets and allow gamers of other types of sexualities to explore them as well, from the safety of a storytelling perspective. Why these gamers then feel as if their own sexualities are threatened is anyone’s guess, but I’ll go with base insecurity. Still, while it’s all good and well that they’re trying and I’m happy to have their backs (no pun intended, again) here, I still have to caution some restraint in being absolutely silly. I mean, please do think about what you’re going to be doing with your romantic arcs, BioWare. “I’m sad therefore fuck me,” doesn’t really work.
Amazingly, the best example of relationships done right in gaming, for me, comes from another BioWare title: Dragon Age: Origins. Sure Morrigan was a bit of a hoe if you had a penis, but the relationships with Leliana and Alistair felt real and believable to the point that, I assure you, more than a few of us began to feel a distinct sadness that these were just digitally created characters rather than real-life life partners. Even if Zevran (pictured) was not exactly a compelling homosexual partner, his was still a more believable relationship option than anything from Dragon Age II, or, flirt-option-flirt-option-flirt-option-bed-achievement.
Hopefully moving forward with the likes of Mass Effect 4 and Dragon Age: Inquisition, BioWare show that they’re learning from their relationships and not simply stuck in a rut. Like some people I know. Hugs.