[The following contains spoilers for Dragon Age: Inquisition. Reader discretion is advised.]
The word “inclusivity” is getting thrown around a lot these days within the games industry. It’s an ongoing loud and heated debate arguing that that the video game medium needs a wider variety of protagonists, characters and stories that deviate from the typical straight white male demographic. Those that oppose it often say that they want games to “stay the way they’ve always been,” and that the problem isn’t one they want to dedicate time into discussing or fixing because it’s got “nothing to do with” them.
Now, the best writers in the industry are often ignoring this fight against inclusivity with prominent and strong characters that exist outside what is typically viewed as the standard.
Even so, the industry isn’t without its problems. One of the most notable recent examples was when Ubisoft infamously explained it didn’t make female assassins playable in Assassin’s Creed: Unity because of resources and animation difficulties, it sparked an uproar, one that other members of the industry even responded to.
I’ve gone on record before saying that I would rather worry about supporting writers in the industry who do write characters who are outside of the majority than constantly tearing down those who don’t, and in playing Dragon Age: Inquisition I met a character that compelled me to do just that.
I’m talking about one Tevinter mage named Dorian Pavus.
Those of you that have played it have met Dorian, and know that his backstory is one of great tragedy, despite his incredibly cocky and self-absorbed demeanor.
Prior to Inquisition’s release, I’d already been planning on entering a romantic relationship with Dorian beforehand, having seen his sass in action at the E3 demo earlier this year. When I ultimately met up with him in my playthrough of Inquisition, I found his annoying vanity was heavily outweighed by his charm. Depending on the conversation, I didn’t know whether I wanted to choose the option to flirt with Dorian or choose the one that told him to hit the road.
Once I finally reached Skyhold after Corypheus’ attack on Haven, I spoke to Dorian a little more and learned he was on bad terms with his parents, something that he chalked up to disagreements on Tevinter culture. I didn’t realize exactly what he meant until we went to a meet up with his father and I learned the terrible truth. It was here I discovered that Dorian’s father intended to use a blood magic ritual to “cure” his gay son so he could continue Tevinter’s tradition of entering arranged marriages in order to preserve certain bloodlines and traits.
Immediately, I saw the reality of Dorian as a character, and he became all the more endearing to me because of it.
There’s a call of inclusivity and diversity within games industry, and there are many writers who are seeing to that; but how often do you see a studio tackle the story of a character overcoming that persecution, rather than just existing in a world where that persecution is absent?
Racism is seen in Grand Theft Auto, but that series is far too tongue-in-cheek to really say anything about the issue without layers of satire on top of it. Sexism is seen in plenty of games, but short of some women fighting it as a gag there’s not much meaningful about the subject. In the biggest inclusion of a transgender character I can recall, the reveal of that character’s past was primarily for shock value and humor, with not much diving in to how that character got there, or what struggle she went through to get to where she was.
I can appreciate that we have characters that aren’t straight white men, and them being shown in a world where no one looks at them as if they’re different or lesser is something that the games industry needs, but I think there’s something even more powerful about showing characters who fight so that world may one day exist. The real world has not reached the enlightenment of a futuristic world like Mass Effect; persecution and prejudice are still present in everyday life, and that’s why Dorian’s story strikes me as one of the most genuine portrayals of homosexuality in the industry.
Dorian’s personal quest, and the romantic relationship you can have with him after show both the best and the ugliest parts of being gay in the real world. Sure, it’s a loving relationship between two men by the end, but before that there’s an abusive desire by his father to change him because it was “what was best” for him. However, as Dorian says, his father just wanted to alter his son’s mind in order to protect his legacy and preserve his bloodline, all while not considering what Dorian feels.
Afterwards, Dorian admits that in his homeland of Tevinter, where much of the population views homosexuality as a deviant perversion, a relationship between two men is typically expected to be purely physical, which is why he has a hard time initially admitting that he is growing to care for the Inquisitor should a male character choose to pursue that relationship. There’s also a moment where Mother Giselle confronts both Dorian and the Inquisitor about the former’s influence on the latter, saying that there are rumors about the two circulating. She speaks about it in a hushed tone, not wanting to repeat what she’s heard. She treats the possibility of two men in a relationship as a shameful taboo, only to meekly leave when both men get confrontational about her accusations.
“Where I come from, anything between two men…it’s about pleasure. It’s accepted, but taken no further. You learn not to hope for more. You’d be foolish to.” – Dorian Pavus
There’s a painful honesty to what this kind of treatment does to gay men in Inquisition that really added a different level of trust and love to my character’s relationship with Dorian throughout; and that honesty makes for what is probably my favorite romantic relationship I’ve experienced in a Bioware game.
Despite Dragon Age’s magical take on the subject, people’s pushing to “treat” or “fix” homosexuality is very much a real thing, and it’s something members of the LGBT communtiy still sometimes partake in today; both willingly and by force at the hands of their families. Bioware’s decision to actually tackle this is, as far as I’m aware, unprecedented in the medium of video games.
Before now, Bioware has represented homosexuality with the ideal: a world where no one even mentions the relationship between two men as being an abnormality. But we don’t live in that world yet. There are still people being subjected to this persecution, and I can’t help but hold Bioware in such high regard for what they’ve done with Dorian’s story because it’s them showing that this kind of abuse can be fought.
While the story of my coming to terms with my sexuality is well-documented, my inherently unapologetic nature meant that fighting for my right to love a man came naturally to me. However, there are still people out there who need to see characters like Dorian fighting against those who would tell them that they’re lesser, disgusting, or even different.
While I don’t think Bioware should make any and every homosexual relationship one about fighting against adversity, but maybe with this one they’ll remind those in need that they can fight too.