In a (Supposedly) Modern Society, Gay Video Game Characters are Still a Cause for Controversy

By Tony Polanco

July 2, 2014

Bioware recently introduced the world to a character named Dorian who will appear in the upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition. This character comes from the Tevinter Imperium, which is a country whose ruling class are Mages. In a world where Mages are shunned and hated by society, here is a place where they run the show. A character that comes from such a land is one that I find fascinating.

Although Dorian and his background are very intriguing, this isn’t what people have focused on. There’s controversy surrounding the character because of his sexuality. He is the first “legitimately gay” character to appear in a Bioware game according to series writer David Gaider. There have been bisexual characters and an openly gay one (Steve Cortez) in some of Bioware’s previous titles but Dorian is the first playable party member who is simply a gay man and only prefers to have intimate relations with men.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this latest controversy. Each of Bioware’s previous efforts to be more inclusive and progressive were met with this sort of response. My question is: Why is this such a big deal? When I heard that Dorian was gay I thought to myself: “That’s cool. Are we going to be going to the Tevinter Imperium?” His sexuality wasn’t even something that stood out to me but (sadly) that isn’t the case for some.

Before tackling the overriding issue here, let’s talk about Dorian himself. Much has been made about his appearance and how Bioware was insensitive because the character is a “stereotypical gay man.”  This is ridiculous considering that Dorian is a character who is written by David Gaider, who is himself a gay man. Why would he purposefully create a negative stereotype gay character? I think these sort of comments say more about the people lobbying complaints than about Inquisition‘s developers.

Dorian wears a long robe that is (admittedly) extravagant in its design. He also has a handle bar mustache which has gotten the most amount of attention. People fail to see or understand the character’s origin and the game world of Dragon Age. All Mages, male and female, wear robes. This is part of their tradition. Dorian is a Mage from Tevinter, a country where Mages make up the ruling upper class.

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Where the average Mage of Thedas wears simple robes, those in the Imperium dress lavishly to show off their wealth, power and influence. Dorian’s attire may be “flamboyant” compared to average Mages but he fits right in with those from his homeland. The same applies to his mustache. Although we haven’t seen others from Tevinter, I won’t be surprised if this kind of mustache is the norm for men of any persuasion inside of the Imperium.

Within the context of Dragon Age and its world, there is nothing that says “gay” about Dorian. The people who are supposedly on the side of gay people are proving that they themselves hold negative stereotypes about those they are defending. I didn’t see Dorian as gay but they did. They obviously view gay men a certain way and saw these negative traits in Dorian. It really puts a spotlight on how hypocritical some of these people are. Without trying to, they themselves perpetuate negative stereotypes if they think all gay men look a certain way.

Those in the LGBTQ community are admittedly not well represented in video games. Bioware seems to be one of the few studios out there who treat them as real people (human or otherwise). I hate to point out a specific country but the Japanese have done a terrible job of depicting gay people in their games. Other Western studios haven’t done a better job either. The few gay characters which have popped up in games don’t exactly shine a positive light on the community.

A game like Ultimate Gay Fighter is a prime example of a title that should get people riled up due to its depiction of gay characters. While games like God Hand and Cho Aniki are almost equally as bad on this front, they have largely been ignored. The negative response to Ultimate Gay Fighter was justified because it made fun of the entire LGBTQ community. That game deserves derision but Dorian and any other non-straight Bioware character does not.

The fact that authentic and honest gay characters disturb people so much says something about our society. Outside the world of videogames, the topic of homosexuality is still taboo. While the LGBTQ community has enjoyed some measure of positive recognition and even a semblance of acceptance over the last few decades, they still have to put up with a lot bullshit from people simply for being who they are. With so many who still see homosexuality or anything that deviates from the norm as an aberration, it’s no real surprise that they would be up in arms over the existence of a gay video game character.

Bringing it back to our friend Dorian, his entire existence as a character says something about how some of our societal institutions view gay people or anyone who is abnormal. Various institutions (mostly religious) look down on homosexuality as something disgusting or evil; something that should be shunned, shamed and hidden.

The Tevinter Imperium is similar to our real world religious institutions in that they reject anything that is outside of what they consider “normal.” Dorian shuns these rules and is therefore cast out. Obviously, gay people (like straight people) have no choice over being attracted to a particular sex but the point is that Dorian is seen as a pariah simply because he isn’t what society wants him to be. This is exactly how those who are different are treated in the real world.

I hate to say this but one of the biggest reasons for the level of outrage seen over this is because of gamers. Although we are finally seeing signs of it maturing, this community is still largely childish. If society is behind when it comes to how it treats and views the LGBTQ community then the gaming community is two steps behind that. I mean, listen to the blatantly homophobic things gamers say to each other while playing online. This community still has a lot of growing up to do and the subject of gay characters is a bit too much for some of them to digest.

Sadly, I don’t see a solution to this problem. While things are getting better and people are more accepting of those whose sexual orientation is different from the norm, we still have a long way to go. I know that this latest controversy won’t deter Bioware from continuing to create multifaceted characters who sexual orientations are as unique as their backgrounds. They set a great example to other video game developers of how they all should strive to create characters which represent all facets of humanity. Gay, straight, elf, human or other, what matters most is characters we can all care about. Their sexuality shouldn’t be an issue but instead, something that is simply a part of who they are.

Special thanks to Emily Lemay, Johnathan Gibbs and Ryan Bates for helping me with this editorial.

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Tony Polanco

Tony has been a gamer ever since he came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when he was a kid. He's been a geek since he could draw his first breath and will be one until he draws his last. In addition to video games, Tony loves Comic Books, Anime, Science Fiction and Fantasy. If it's geeky then Tony is most likely into it.

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