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.


  1. So you're saying you've never met a trans-woman with a really deep voice?

    So do you hate Venture Brothers as well then?

    1. Of course some transwomen have deep voices, but it's quite another to use a male voice actor who is making no attempt to disguise their voice.

      As for Dr. Mrs. The Monarch? She's a take on Jackie Onassis/Kennedy, not transwomen (although that was played on in the show, IIRC) - but she's not a transwoman, so it's not quite the same thing.

  2. So, focusing on the positive, Kathryn, which games, in your experience, do better?

    1. Aside from a few indie games, the titles/developers of which escape me right now? Nothing, essentially, because transpeople are in so few games.

      The other prominent examples tend to come from the Japanese markets and are born more out of localisation issues than intentional design. Poison from Fatal Fury is a great example, because she was 'turned into' a transgender character for the Western market because it was seen to be wrong to hit a woman in a game (yeah, think about what that actually means), and her gender identity is very much contradictory depending on the title she's in and the developer working on her.

      There is a transgender woman in Nier, I think, but I've never played it so I can't comment on it.

  3. I agree with you Kathryn, I now boycott Bioware too. Their games are now become cheaper and cheaper in their content. I mean cheap story, cheap jokes, cheap issues and cheap theme. There are more insults in DA2, serendipity is one of the insults. Bioware now is biased and love to offense certain group of peoples. They make Qunari a horn headed red devil who are brutal and taking over a city just because of a holy book, then call them "Militant Islamic Borg". Now that is just wrong. Not only that, Qunari also the representation of medieval Ottoman empire. As transgender stereotype being used in their game they also use Muslim stereotype. See how distasteful they have become. So I now boycott Bioware and i will also support this movement. Let teach them some respect.