Or, at least he is in his current game of Dragon Age 2. He’s in his second full playthough, spurred by having finally completed Dragon Age 1 (don’t judge, that fucker is long) and the knowledge that Skyrim is still a week away. And while his FemShep did explore her Sapphic side, it did take me aback a little that he was so excited about playing his male character as a homosexual.
Romancing NPCs has always been a hallmark of BioWare RPGs and an important part of developing your character and the story. Jade Empire was their first RPG to offer same sex romance options, but it wasn’t until Mass Effect and the whole “alien sex simulator” bruhaha that the video game world in general started paying attention. Most applauded BioWare for this node to diversity, but the recent news that male on male romances will also be available in Mass Effect 3 has some gamers complaining that there won’t be enough hetero options (ignoring, of course, EVERY OTHER GAME EVER MADE).
Now, while Rick is a good Catholic boy and has had his share of discomfort with man-on-man sexing, the idea that someone could be offended by the OPTION of homosexual romance in a game strikes him as especially ludicrous. Still, I was surprised when he gleefully reported that his bearded archer was going to attempt a doomed romance with whiny Anders. Partly, because to me all male characters in Dragon Age 1 & 2 (with the exception of Varric) come off as whiny spoiled brats and mostly because I tend to think of him as more Catholic than he actually is.
But his decision wasn’t based on morbid curiosity either. It was something that happened organically, influenced by the dialogue choices he made, the voice acting and the appearance of his Hawke. Not to say that the voice acting sounds particularly “gay”, but more that while he was playing he seemed to like the idea that his jovial, sarcastic rogue batted for the other team. It was a “story” choice, something that crept up on him naturally, and he liked the added dimension that making his character initially closeted added to a story that hinges largely on ideas of repression and social stigma.
Gamers and journalists often make the mistake of assuming that increased choice in avatar creation, from hair colour to sexual orientation, serves only to let the player create a character that better represents themselves. And yet, what of the legion of men who prefer to play as FemShep? By this rationale they must all deep down identify as women, and while statistically this must be true for a couple of them, I shouldn’t have to point out how ludicrous such thinking is. RPGs like Dragon Age are all about storytelling, and the more aspects of the story and characters the player can control, the more interactive and engaging the game becomes.
But the truth is, Hawke’s sexual orientation is a complete non-issue in the Dragon Age universe. No one cares that two men are kissing. Your choice of partners is even less of an issue than your sex. Which would seem to undermine Rick’s original intentions in creating his character, and yet this fact also highlights why BioWare’s inclusion of same sex relationship options is so revolutionary. This isn’t A Closed World and the point of Dragon Age isn’t to combat gay-bashing, but the fact that we still live in a world where two men kissing is a big deal means that any representation of a world where it isn’t, is, in effect, a political statement. Not to mention another leap forward for the storytelling power of video games.