Last week I wrote a post asking if we are losing readers to gaming. One of the comments made me think and actually confirmed what I had been seeing for myself. There are a number of gamers who actually read more because of their games than they would have otherwise. These gamers are the ones who love all the lore that is found in the games. They go out looking for the tie-in novels. They find the wiki pages for more information, including backstory data. This can, and often does, translate into hundreds, even thousands, of pages of material. That, my friends, is reading. So it is clear we aren’t really losing readers to gaming. If anything, we are actually gaining them because at least some of these gamers wouldn’t be buying books or reading online otherwise.
But that isn’t the only controversy surrounding gaming by far. I’m not talking about #gamergate. I refuse to this early in the morning. There simply isn’t a way to discuss it without raising my blood pressure. That said, something caught my eye the other morning that I wanted to write about: the diversity in games, particularly in Dragon Age: Inquisition.
I’ll begin by saying that I enjoy DA:I. It is one of the best RPGs that I’ve played in a long time. Not that it surprises me. Bioware is known for its RPGs and has given us some of the best ones over the years. I can even forgive them the ending of Mass Effect 3 because those three games were some of the most enjoyable I have ever played, especially when it comes to space based RPGs.
One thing Bioware has done well over the years is giving the player the option to determine what sort of player they want to be. You can be male or female, something that many other developers are just now catching onto. As a female gamer, I appreciate being able to play as a female. But I also play as a male. You can play as good or bad. The nice thing about that is it gives you a different game experience if you replay later.
In games like Dragon Age: Inquisition, you can also play as a non-human if you want. Each race has its own strengths and weaknesses, as do classes. There are humans, elves, dwarves and Qunari. You can be a warrior, mage or rogue. Each class has specializations. It makes for a great number of possibilities and increases the chance a gamer will replay the game.
But Bioware does something else a lot of other developers fail to do. It gives the player the option of choosing certain “romance” options. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, you can romance certain of your companions or even flirt with non-playable characters. You can be gay or straight. You make your choices through your actions and dialog. It is something you choose to do. It makes a more complete game, no matter what choice you mane — and you don’t have to romance at all. It makes a more complete game not because of the romance option but because it means they have developed the characters more than they would have in the past. You get to know them better and that means you, as a gamer, care more for them.
Frankly, this has come a long way from Mass Effect 1. Then one of the romanceable characters was the biggest wet rag in gaming history, at least in my opinion. Kaiden Alenko never connected with me as a character and each time I played Mass Effect, I never chose Alenko. Never, ever. My Commander Shepherd would rather be celibate than go after Alenko. The reason? He was boring, at least to me. And he whined.
Fast forward to Dragon Age: Inquisition. Your companions are some of the most varied and interesting in recent memory (at least to me). You have the battle-hardened and yet still idealistic Cassandra. Then there is the Qunari Warrior Iron Bull (his “romance” is one of the most hysterical I’ve come across). There is also the mage, Dorian, the first openly gay playable character/companion in a Dragon Age game. All in all, there are eight romanceable characters. Of those eight, only two are limited by what race you — and they — are. But even that works with the characters in question. A couple of the characters are bi. Two are gay and the others are straight. It is up to you to decide how you want to proceed and what you want your experience to be.
But this is not enough for some folks. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. There are now posts condemning Bioware for not making more out of the background of Vivienne, one of the companions. I guess because she is female and obviously not the usual waspy companion or hero. I’m really not sure. Nor do I think it matters.
For me, part of the allure of Vivienne was that we didn’t know everything about her. She was secretive and mysterious. To me, that was who she was supposed to be. Your mileage may vary.
But it brought me to this — gaming has come a very long way over the last few years when it comes to trying to be more diverse. Bioware, in many ways, has been leading the way. But gaming, like real life, can’t be everything for everyone. Something else we need to remember is that gaming is for entertainment and game developers and publishers are in it to make money. If they become more worried about making sure every aspect of today’s society is included in the game at the expense of the entertainment value, well, no one wins.
Let’s applaud the steps forward — and the fact companies like Bioware let gamers make a choice instead of forcing it on the players — and not try to push the agenda button so hard that everyone winds up suffering.