Tuesday, August 13, 2013

OPINION: Why I'm Now Boycotting BioWare

Oh, BioWare, we've had hundreds of hours of fun together. I've loved and hated your characters, followed your stories, read some of the supplimentary material, lusted over your merchandise... but I'm sorry, our relationship needs to end.

I'm a little behind on this, but I found out about a certain character in Dragon Age 2 that really put me in a funk for the day. In Dragon Age 2, you can visit a brothel and - at a premium rate - hire a transgender Elf by the name of Serendipity. She also appears in the Mark of the Assassin DLC as a guest (according to Dragon Age Wiki). She's fairly plain looking, but has a very strong jaw and a large nose, and is voiced by a male who is making no effort at all to disguise his deep voice (or he's exaggerating) - and yet she has a 'normal' female elf body in-game.

Don't believe me? Well, this video sums it up:

This, according to BioWare's David Gaider is not a bad representation. Nope. This, by the way, is David Gaider, lead writer of the Dragon Age games and the writer of two or three Dragon Age novels. He is one of BioWare's most well-known employees, and is one of the front line people in terms of speaking out in support of QUILTBAG issues. Well, to be more accurate, 'LGB' issues. Because BioWare have never done the T right. In the first Dragon Age title, Dragon Age: Origins, you again have the ability to visit a brothel and hire services. One service you can hire is a "Female" Dwarf (yes, with the quote marks), again another offensive reference.

These characters are problematic for various reasons, not least because BioWare are seen as being one of the most QUILTBAG-friendly major games developers, with games that cater to same- and opposite-sex attractions, including holding the distinction of creating one of the very few gay characters in the Star Wars universe (Juhani, who appears in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic). So for one of the most friendly, accepting major companies with a huge QUILTBAG following to create *two* offensive trans characters? It's just not on. It's even worse when the lead-writer and one of the most vocal supporters *minimises* the offense transpeople take over it.

Both trans characters that BioWare have created have also been sex workers. Irrespective of your opinion on sex work and its ethics, it's a fact that a number of transwomen are forced into sex work in order to earn money to live on, as well as to fund the hormone treatments and expensive surgeries they may desire. They also gave one a masculine deep voice with masculine features and referred to the other as "female", both of which minimise and reduce the potential to 'confuse' them as being female, because we all know transwomen aren't women... right? Oh, wait, *they are*, and BioWare have gone out of their way to make sure we know that these two characters aren't to be considered female. That is offensive because, again, many transwomen struggle with successfully living as their chosen gender without being seen as 'masculine' and many struggle with feeling too masculine, in terms of facial structure, build or even both. It's a cheap shot, and one that plays to hurtful stereotypes, ones that are used to physically, mentally and emotionally harm transwomen on a daily basis. It's even *worse* when you realise that, actually, no other elves (male or female) actually have such strong features in the game. It's really only Serendipity who does.

Combining this situation with other things I've found problematic about BioWare - the sexist designs in the Mass Effect franchise, the ridiculous body types in The Old Republic, Mass Effect's unbalanced and unfair same-sex romances  - and I've just been pushed that little bit too far. But, you know, I don't think BioWare are all *that* bad. They have made progress for QUILTBAG representation in gaming, they have bowed to fan pressure and added more same-sex romances into Mass Effect... but this kind of stuff just isn't acceptable. It's too much for me to take with a pinch of salt, and to make the same problematic mistakes TWICE is just not acceptable from a games studio with the QUILTBAG fanbase that they have.

I loved BioWare games. I have spent hundreds of hours in them, probably spent hundreds of pounds on them, and I've got multiple copies of a few of their titles. But this is where it ends, because I cannot support a company that makes such blatantly distasteful characters about a very vulnerable and downtrodden minority, a minority I am part of and one I want to see much better representations of. I think transpeople are very much a minority in games, and we need to see more, but this is not the way to do it. At all.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

QUICK THOUGHTS: David Weber's Upcoming 'Tales of Honor'

This morning when I logged onto Twitter I found a few tweets from sci-fi author David Weber (whose Star Kingdom/Stephanie Harrington books I buy without fail), and one of them announced a new comic series about Honor to debut in 2014.

I believe Evergreen Films are the company in charge of the in-development Honor Harrington movies (another yay), but it's Top Cow that has me jumping for joy whilst being somewhat cautious. Top Cow are a large, but relatively specific, publisher who for the most part are hand-in-hand with Image Comics, who publish titles like The Walking Dead. Top Cow's list of major properties is their Artifacts universe (Witchblade, The Darkness, etc.), CyberForce and a handful of others, whilst in the past they've published Tomb Raider comics, Mark Millar's Wanted, J. Michael Straczynski's Rising Stars and a number of other titles.

So whilst Top Cow are a prominent publisher with good links and the capacity to do Honorverse justice, I have concerns that if they use in-house creators that we will end up with something *very* un-Weber like. Weber is typically a very sober author with a love of detailing, and very little interest in (over)sexualising his characters. Top Cow own and publish Witchblade (and many other over/hyper-sexualised characters). I am concerned that the comics will go against a lot of Weber's style, but of course it's early days yet.

But here's to hoping for an Alex Ross cover!