Straight Male Privilege Dude Sez: Stop making games for people that aren’t us!

(h/t No More Lost via Lady Victoria at Manboobz)

I had a real problem with the sexuality in Bioware’s RPGs prior to Jade Empire. Namely, Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, where you had two romance options: one was the opposite of your PC’s gender, and the other was a woman. In other words, your choices, depending on your choice of PC gender, were two straight romances, or one straight romance and one lesbian romance.

Commander Shepard finds that it's far easier to transgress traditional gender boundaries when the genderless alien he's having sex with has breasts and is voiced by a woman.

This tends to give off the impression that the lesbians are only there because it gives their target demographic of young males boners. But in their other (relatively) recent RPGs they’ve done something about this. Jade Empire and both Dragon Age games have hetero, gay man, and gay woman romance options. This is an excellent move away from heteronormativity on their part, and I was pleased with them for doing it.

But a certain Bioware fan is not happy about this one bit. As a straight male, he’s accustomed to being pandered to exclusively, and he’s got all sorts of rationalizations about why it should stay that way.

His name is Bastal, and he’s here to call Bioware out:

To summarize, in the case of Dragon Age 2, BioWare neglected their main demographic: The Straight Male Gamer.

I don’t think many would argue with the fact that the overwhelming majority of RPG gamers are indeed straight and male. Sure, there are a substantial amount of women who play video games, but they’re usually gamers who play games like The Sims, rather than games like Dragon Age. That’s not to say there isn’t a significant number of women who play Dragon Age and that BioWare should forego the option of playing as a women altogether, but there should have been much more focus in on making sure us male gamers were happy.

But Bastal, you might be asking, how do you know straight males are such an overwhelming majority of Dragon Age players? Oh, don’t worry, Bastal has you covered with exact figures and percentages pulled straight out of his ass:

The straight male demographic is a huge demographic. I’d put the number that over 80% of RPG fans are males. They all like different things, this is a group numbering millions. Now you also have another group, the homosexual group, I’d say generously, that this group represents 5%.

Well, that settles that. And like your average conservative pundit, Bastal sure does long for the days when you could just pretend that the unprivileged groups didn’t even exist:

Its ridiculous that I even have to use a term like Straight Male Gamer, when in the past I would only have to say fans

Those women and gays have invaded our games, dammit! They’re moving into our neighborhoods, taking our jobs, and now they’re playing our Dragon Age! I’ll bet Obama forced the banks to approve loans for unqualified gays and women to purchase Xbox 360s, too!

David Gaider, a senior writer at Bioware who served as the lead writer for both Dragon Age and its sequel, responded to Bastal in an appropriately pointed manner:

The romances in the game are not for “the straight male gamer”. They’re for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention. We have good numbers, after all, on the number of people who actually used similar sorts of content in DAO and thus don’t need to resort to anecdotal evidence to support our idea that their numbers are not insignificant… and that’s ignoring the idea that they don’t have just as much right to play the kind of game they wish as anyone else. The “rights” of anyone with regards to a game are murky at best, but anyone who takes that stance must apply it equally to both the minority as well as the majority. The majority has no inherent “right” to get more options than anyone else.

[...]

And if there is any doubt why such an opinion might be met with hostility, it has to do with privilege. You can write it off as “political correctness” if you wish, but the truth is that privilege always lies with the majority. They’re so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance. They don’t see anything wrong with having things set up to suit them, what’s everyone’s fuss all about? That’s the way it should be, any everyone else should be used to not getting what they want.

I take my hat off to you, Mr. Gaider. I was impressed enough when Bioware started including gay romance options in their games, and I’m even more impressed to see them standing firmly by their decision without flinching or apologizing.

Bastal replied with the cluelessnses and predictability of someone who wonders why there’s no White Entertainment Television:

The idea of privilege is ridiculous. The “privilege” always lies with the majority because if your goal is to make a game that will be liked by as many fans possible, then it makes sense to focus on that largest group. Why should one fan’s enjoyment be more important than five others? It’d more accurate to call “privilege” the idea that some minority group gets special preference for political points. If you really want to be all-inclusive, then I don’t see why homosexuals should get special preference while leaving other minority groups out.

I don’t think Bastal understands the implications of Gaider’s statement that Bioware has “good numbers [...] on the number of people who actually used similar sorts of content in DAO.” See, Dragon Age contains a layer of Internet interactivity that, frankly, was forced on it by Bioware’s new owner, EA. I’m not a fan of it, but the point here is that Bioware’s servers kept track of the path each player was following through the game, and every decision each player made. I know this because the information is reflected in my online profile at Bioware’s community site. It makes perfect sense for Bioware to compile this information in order to get a statistical overview of what parts of the game people most liked, and use this information to inform the design of the sequel. That’s just good business sense.

But as Gaider himself points out, it doesn’t really matter. Unless their numbers showed that nobody was taking advantage of the gay romance options (and we all know that’s not the case), the fact that the people who do are in the minority doesn’t mean they have less right to play a character who reflects their sexuality. I’m certainly not saying that you should have to player a character that reflects your sexuality, but the ability to do so is a privilege straight male gamers have enjoyed for a long, long time. And Bastal doesn’t like women and gays getting to sit at that table with him. If they must play games, they could at least have the decency to pretend to be straight men; wouldn’t want to offend poor Bastal’s sensibilities.

6 thoughts on “Straight Male Privilege Dude Sez: Stop making games for people that aren’t us!

  1. His feelings were hurt because the option for other than male-oriented het sex existed? I’d say he was too fragile to be playing games more complex than checkers.

  2. His feelings were hurt because he made decisions in the game which triggered the “gay romance” option, and he feels emasculated because his character hooked up with some elf dude.

  3. What the DragonAge series could really use is an explicitly bisexual character who isn’t sex-mad. I guess it’s really good in terms of visibility that Origins had two openly bisexual companions and DA2 had one, but in order they are: 1) an ex-spy who used seduction as her primary method of securing information, 2) an assassin born to a prostitute and raised in a whorehouse who is promiscuous both to get close to targets and just generally, who flirts lewdly with pretty much everyone, and 3) a pirate who wears skimpy clothing, shags anything that moves and is shown getting treatment for an STD at one point. They are all rogues, and the latter two don’t believe in love until they fall for the PC (if romanced).

    The asari might make up for them if they ever wore any damn clothes.

  4. Yeah, I have to agree. The portrayal of queer/gay/bi people in the DA games isn’t perfect. I haven’t played DA2 yet, but I did notice that both of the bi characters in DA1 were rogues. The writers seem to have unconsciously conflated bisexuality with an overactive libido. As if the reason they’re bi is just because they’re super-horny.

    But in other ways, I feel like the DA games do a decent job of normalizing non-hetero sexuality. It’s a step in the right direction, if a small one.

  5. Pingback: I Am a Female Nerd. Apparently. — The Good Men Project

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