Thursday, January 26, 2012

D&D with greater issues: It's okay to be gay

*NOTE: The intro subject of this post is old news by now (over 10 months old), but it's just coming to the attention of my family and relatives now (they're not as keen on 'the video games'). Seeing it again made me want to put in my two cents.


So this story from Bioware has been making the rounds on my Facebook page (linked from No More Lost) about David Gaider's response to a forum poster who felt that Dragon Age 2 had "Neglected the Straight Male Gamer" and that the developers should do more in the future to rectify such a thing.

David Gaider's response was polite, tactful, and absolutely bitchin'.

To put this in perspective, I have not played Dragon Age 2, or Dragon Age Origins for that matter. I have, however, watched my wife play both games, multiple times, to completion. I feel confidant in saying that I "get the gist" of Bioware's new epic-fantasy series, and the multitude of romance options it provides.

I've had to watch this happen over, and over, and over...

More than any other video game company at the moment, Bioware is on the forefront of presenting roleplaying games with the most sexual diversity and options for players. While other games like Fable, The Elder Scrolls series, and a handful of others dabble in "alternative" sexuality, Bioware's RPGs create deep, multi-faceted characters which one can essentially pursue a relationship with. Dragon Age 2 offers five romantic choices (three male, two female), almost all of whom are bisexual if swayed enough. These characters are (almost) never just broad gay stereotypes either; they're fully developed characters backed by real performances by competent and often very (very) skilled artists.

We get it Fenris. You're tortured and angsty because you crave cock. It's okay.

You know a game is good at presenting a relationship when typical heterosexual gamers are conflicted as to which relationship they should pursue (given the choice between a straight woman or a gay man) based on the characters first and their sexuality second.

Hell, my relationship between Shepard and Liara in Mass Effect is so deep that it falls just short of us getting married, arguing over Ikea furniture choices, and trying to decide if our children will get my ears or her head-fringe (though Mass Effect 3 is still on the horizon).

That reminds me. Mass Effect 3 better introduce the option for a gay male Shepard. While players who play Femshep are free to woo the feminine Asari or their bubbly female Yeoman Kelly Chambers, male Shepard (Manshep?) has been left with only heterosexual romance options (despite the abundance of hot guys, alien and human alike).

Here's hoping the new male squad member addition James Vega (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.) isn't opposed to a little more than just some "male bonding".

Everything about this guy screams fabulous.

He's tough, he's a no-nonsense marine, he's ripped, there is literally no reason for him not to also be gay. Plus, it's the future; 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' has been repealed for, like, a hundred years! If they want to make the character more complex, have him be conflicted about his sexuality (just like so many men in real life). It would give Manshep (I'm coining the term Manshep, dangit!) an opportunity to open up about his own sexual identity and become more of a complex character too.

Plus, if the Straight Male Gamer isn't into that, Vega can just be another tough bro to have on the mission. His sexuality needn't come up if not pursued by the player (even though it totally should).

Sorry, what was I talking about?

Oh, yeah, Dungeons & Dragons.

So has any kind of sex or sexual issues ever come up in one of your games? Provided you play with a table of mature (or immature) adults, it's something that may come up.

Wizards of the Coast has gone on the record of having D&D be as open and approachable a game as possible, with a decidedly PG-13 rating in all of its art, supplements, and novels (Wizards' parent company Hasbro makes toys, after all). However the game is flexible enough to include and incorporate sexual elements if the players/dm sees fit.

In previous editions, sexuality and sex tried to be incorporated into the game mechanically with an independent supplement called The Book of Erotic Fantasy. It was generally considered a laughable failure. Mostly because sexy fun times and number crunching usually don't go hand in hand.

That said, alternative sexuality (LGBT characters) have often been a part of my previously run games. I've had a number of players (both male and female) play openly or closeted gay or bisexual characters. This aspect of their character's personality is usually underplayed or subtle (akin to their character's secret love of wine, or infrequent kleptomania), but it is present nonetheless.

Other players and DMs have had similar experiences. James Raggi (of LotFP fame) has often shared an anecdote about one of his player's sexual orientation being magically flipped (and the player's surprisingly mature handling of it). Scott Kurtz played his famous dwarf fighter as being receptive to some gay male advances in the last PAX D&D Live Game as well (5:05). Even if at times these moments are comical, they're still present and usually not offensive or harmful.

So here's a little thought experiment for you.

Next time you make a D&D character to play in a campaign (or D&D Encounters, where it would be very nice to see), make the character exactly how you normally would, only this time, switch her or his sexual orientation around.

Make them gay (or straight if you normally play a homosexual character). If you're not big on roleplaying, keep the detail as simple as that. Your character is gay, and that doesn't affect their abilities in combat/puzzle-solving.

However, if you want to delve a little deeper, think about how your character's sexual identity matured. Ask yourself the following questions about your character and her/his backstory:

-Did they always know they were gay?
-Did they have to 'come-out' to their friends/family, or is homosexuality a given with their race?
-What kind of partners might they prefer?
-Did they ever have to struggle against bigotry?
-Are they insecure about who they are? (What does that insecurity make them do?)
-Are they brazen about their sex appeal and sexual interests? (Would they want to be?)

When you've got a firm grasp on who your character is and you get a chance to play them, reflect on how you played them. Was their sexual orientation a big part of their personality, or was it just another little detail amid all the others? Did other player characters (or players, for that matter) respond differently to you or your character while in game? Was their reaction positive or negative?

If you're a regular D&D player, or a new player wanting to try something different, give the above a try. If nothing else, it might make you think a little about others and their lives.

Remember, it's okay to be gay. Especially in D&D.

2 comments:

  1. Great post. Jeff Rients also recently created a fun set of random tables to use during character generation for determining things like sexual orientation. It is ostensibly for use with Carcosa, but could easily be repurposed for other games:

    http://www.lotfp.com/RPG/discussion/topic/275/a-small-carcosa-supplement/

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