Does Dragon Age: Inquisition Mark A New Inclusive Trend?
The gaming industry has not always answered the requests of its diverse user base. In the beginning of the market, companies advertised games to young, white, heterosexual males, which excluded a large group of potential gamers. Additionally, games often were sexist, racially biased, and contained unfair portrayals of different groups of people. However, companies have become more aware of the content they produce and have begun to market to a wider fanbase, including games for all ages, as well as games with more female, ethnic, and LGBTQ characters. Representation matters, and the gaming industry seems to finally be realizing that.
Cremisius Acclasi (Krem), Dragon Age: Inquisition
BioWare has always catered to its fanbase, and Dragon Age: Inquisition certainly seems to support this idea. Gamers asked for more representation in the Dragon Age franchise and more character options for the romance storylines, but with the same Dragon Age intensity as the previous games in the series.
Cremisius Acclasi (Krem) is one of BioWare's answers to the representation issue. Krem is the second-in-command of the Bull's Chargers, a mercenary group under the command of Iron Bull. Krem was biologically born a woman, but identifies as a man. Iron Bull, a Qunari, calls him a "Aqun-Athlok", which means "born as one gender but living as another."
"They are real men. Just like you are." Iron Bull to Krem, a trans man.
The Inquisitor (main character) is able to ask Krem questions about his gender and, while some of the questions are quite tasteless, Iron Bull and Krem answer them with aplomb. Here's a clip of the Inquisitor's interactions with Krem, and Iron Bull's and Krem's responses.
In the video game industry, transgender characters have often been used as a "punchline" to a joke. Many games have had men dressed as women to be comedic, frequently in roles as prostitutes. It's refreshing to see a trans man being treated no differently than any other character, and to have such a visible supporting role. Krem seems to be warming the hearts of fans, who are thanking BioWare for his inclusion. Apparently, BioWare has received a lot of feedback about him, because they mentioned it on their official Dragon Age Twitter.
@quicunquevult Krem indeed seems to be a ever increasing favorite peripheral character in the world of Thedas. Worth an eyeball at least.— Dragon Age (@dragonage) November 29, 2014
Granted, Krem isn't the only inclusive addition in the Dragon Age franchise. Gamers are able to romance both genders in the game, and NPCs are often open about various sexualities as well in their offhanded comments. However, Krem seems to mark a turning point in fair representation in the video game industry. But he isn't the only cavalier - let's look at some other noteworthy characters.
Toad and Toadette, Mario Franchise
Nintendo Producer Koichi Hayashida shocked gamers with his announcement about the genderless state of the Toads in the Mario franchise. Many players assumed that Toad was male and Toadette was female, based on their names and gendered color schemes. However, Hayashida stated that not only is the race genderless, but Toad and Toadette are NOT romantically involved.
Apparently, Toads are genderless but take on different gendered characteristics. Nintendo never actually decided on specific genders for the Toads. For more in-depth analysis of this issue, be sure to read HaoxNarz's article.
These may not seem to be "inclusive" game characters, since Nintendo didn't purposely make the Toads genderless. However, the mere fact that Nintendo thought it pertinent to release information about non-binary characters marks a massive shift towards more representation. Nintendo could have let everyone assume that Toad was male and Toadette was female, but instead corrected the issue.
Ellie, The Last of Us: Left Behind
Naughty Dog released a single-player DLC for The Last of Us, titled "Left Behind". In this prequel, gamers play as Ellie, a fourteen-year-old girl who is a secondary character in the original game. Ellie is strong, brave, and resilient for her age, though she does have her moments of playfulness. During one part of the prequel, after listening to a love song and dancing, Ellie and her best friend Riley kiss one another. There is an immediate apology from Ellie, though Riley is nonplussed. See the scene here.
Teenagers often explore their sexuality, but Creative Director Neil Druckmann clarified the situation. In an interview with GayGamer.net, he states:
Now when I was writing it, I was writing it with the idea that Ellie is gay, and when the actresses were working, they were definitely working with the idea that they’re both attracted to each other.
Druckmann continues to say that he thinks it's pretty clear that Riley and Ellie were romantically-involved, but it's up to interpretation for the fans.
Ellie was an important character in The Last of Us, so gamers were excited to get to peek at a different part of her psyche. The scene in "Left Behind" made a main character homosexual, which does not happen often in the video gaming industry. This marked another milestone in video game representation.
Strong Female Characters, Multiple Franchises
For decades, women have often been treated as sexual objects in the video game industry. Even strong, powerful women have been sexualized with impractical, skimpy outfits. That being said, more and more games with positive female role models have been appearing. (Granted, many of these "positive role models" kill a lot of people, but that's gaming for you).
Benjamski, another GameSkinny user, posted an article recently about Memorable Female Characters. He mentioned how Alice Liddel from American Mcgee's Alice: Madness Returns initally starts off as a victim, but empowers herself and fights through every obstacle in the game, acting as a person instead of an object. Additionally, Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2 is a smart and tough leader that takes the respect she deserves. Benjamski has 8 other women on the list who are not just place-holders and objects of lust, but instead are relatable and admirable characters.
Gamers are demanding more female characters with a purpose. Sweden is even trying to make a Bechdel test to measure sexism in video games, in order to be more gender-inclusive. This does not seem to be a trend that's stopping.
So what does this mean for me?
The video game industry is on the brink of change. From the first same-sex marriages in Fallout 2 to trans characters in Dragon Age: Inquisition, companies are realizing that they need to include more of the world's diverse population in their products. With the popular response to Krem in Dragon Age: Inquisition, it's possible for other game companies to realize that being inclusive is not going to cut profits; in fact, it may increase them by appealing to a broader fan base.
The simplest aspect of business is customer service: give people what they want. With gamers being more vocal about representation, the gaming industry should starting changing to add more LGBTQ and women characters with real, important plotlines. Are you excited to see more representation in gaming?