#Datenight with The Dialogue Wheel – Part 2 where we continue the convo about Diversity in DAI!

The random musings of a 1973 Original

So when I was on The Dialogue Wheel podcast, we had a lengthy convo that wound up being a part 2 episode! So here’s the second half of that great convo. Part 1 is here in case you missed it.

Date Night with the Dialogue Wheel #26: Diversity in Dragon Age Inquisition 

Welcome to Date Night with the Dialogue Wheel episode 26, “Diversity in DAI.”

Chachi, Tyler, Evan, and guest Tanya D (@cypheroftyr) discuss diversity in the Dragon Age series of games. This is the first of two installments.

Tanya D’s art is done by the wildly talented @KivaBay as part of her #FeministDeck series. The article mentioned in our podcast can be found here:http://boingboing.net/2015/03/23/in-f…

Tonight’s cast includes Chachi (@ChachiBobinks), Tyler (@Remilbus1138), and Evan (@KllrMannequin).

The Dialogue Wheel theme song is “Please Mind the Dubstep” by Bit Basic. Channel art by Chachi. Original cast art comissioned by @Dinomyte203…

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I got to hangout with the fine folks over at the Dialogue Wheel Podcast!

Adding a reblog from my personal WP since this is Bioware and Diversity related.

The random musings of a 1973 Original

I recently had a chance to join the folks over at the Dialogue Wheel podcast to talk about #diversity in #DragonAge. This is a short episode, Part 2 will be about an hour long.

Welcome to Date Night with the Dialogue Wheel episode 25, “Diversity in DAI.”

Chachi, Tyler, Evan, and guest Tanya D (@cypheroftyr) discuss diversity in the Dragon Age series of games. This is the first of two installments.

Tanya D’s art is done by the wildly talented @KivaBay as part of her #FeministDeck series. The article mentioned in our podcast can be found here: http://boingboing.net/2015/03/23/in-f…

Tonight’s cast includes Chachi (@ChachiBobinks), Tyler (@Remilbus1138), and Evan (@KllrMannequin).

The Dialogue Wheel theme song is “Please Mind the Dubstep” by Bit Basic. Channel art by Chachi. Original cast art comissioned by @Dinomyte203. All other Dragon Age-related information is property of @BioWare.

A big thanks to Allan Schumacher for pointing me to…

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Why the Backlash for ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition?’

Interesting thoughts on how people like DAI or rather don’t.

FemHype

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I am aware this game came out months ago. As it stands, Dragon Age: Inquisition currently holds an aggregated score of 85 on Metacritic from critics and a user score of 5.8/10. Why is this? In order to explain the strange discrepancy, I will have to take you back to December 2011 when Bioware stated that they were “checking [Skyrim] out aggressively” in order to inform their ideas for the next Dragon Age game. For some, that marked the beginning of the end.

In my opinion, the vast negativity directed at Inquisition largely comes from fans of the preceding games. Dragon Age 2 also received a huge amount of criticism from some people who loved Origins. Dragon Age: Origins has good user scores. Is it therefore a superior game? Well, I think so, yes. Still, that’s only my opinion. I personally prefer a more contained story and a more…

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A break from our meta & critique for an announcement of a special gaming event

BLACKLIVES-blue

#BlackLivesMatter Streaming Schedule for this weekend!

My twitch channel: twitch.tv/cypheroftyr

Ok, so realistically, I will not finish this Inquisition run in one weekend even with non-stop streaming. So I will hit on major plot points and le-gasp! I will be on voice chat with those who drop by the stream.

There will be links and info in the chat box during the event, and even if you can’t join in all day, I welcome the company and a chance to talk with folks as I run this instance of #DAI

As a reminder, I’m using the default name, and race, class, and specialization will be by pre-populated community vote. Major plot points will be decided as I play by those in the stream. I.E mages or templars, etc etc

Here’s the schedule as it stands*:

Saturday 1/17/2015

  • Begin stream 10am CST/12 pm PST
  • Break for dinner/snacks 5pm CST
  • Resume streaming at 6pm CST until I’m too tired to keep playing 😛 CST

Sunday 1/18/2015

  • Resume streaming approx 9:00 am CST
  • Break for lunch 12pm CST
  • Resume for 2-3 hours
  • End stream at latest by 4pm CST

As to why this is happening, and why it’s important, here:

For more info, see the Spawnpoint blog post about this event.

We at the SpawnPointBlog & Spawn On Me Podcast have been inspired by what we’ve seen in the activism spaces with #icantbreathe and #BlackLivesMatter. We’ve discussed these topics on our show and we want to continue to amplify the messages these communities have been sharing. Whenever we can, we want to put a spotlight on injustices and give people a space through gaming to have their voices heard.

On Jan 17-18, 2015, we ask you to join with us and stream on Twitch. This happening will provide a deliberate space for you to have fun with the community, and to reflect on the unequal way people of color, and specifically African-American people, are treated by law enforcement. We will support the families of those that were lost by donating to the Eric Garner Fund, and The New York Lawyers Guild that continues to organize protests and bail funds for those imprisoned for exercising their 1st Amendment rights on this matter.

All funds donated will be deposited to our CrowdRise fundraiser and then equally distributed to the organizations and families listed above. If you have information about or suggestions for additional organizations involved in work regarding police brutality, or scholarship funds that are collecting donations around this issue, please share those notes in the comments or tweet us @spawnpointblog and @spawnonme

We will be streaming from our respective channels on Twitch (SOM) (SOM2) We’ll also be hosting other streams as well. Please share this event at anyone you think would be interested, affected or has a platform to signal boost. Share this with POC and Non-POC alike!

If you’d like to stream with us here are suggested stream rules that we’d like you to follow and also a of picture you can use to help promote.

Please signal boost, and if you stream, consider participating in this event. If you don’t stream, join in to watch and donate.

Thank you in advance for your support with this event.

* = subject to change, technical issues, streamer needing a break, etc.

Please signal boost, if you plan to participate, tweet at the Spawn Point blog @spawnonme and let them know you’re in!

If you can’t dip into this stream or any of those going on for this event but would like to donate, you can get more information and leave a donation via the links above.

Inquisitioning While Black (Troy. L. Wiggins)

Inquisitioning while Black ( reposted with permission from Troy. L. Wiggins over at afrofantasy.com) Originally posted at his blog on Nov 23, 2104.

I’m going to assume that everyone here has seen the second movie in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit,generously titled The  Devious Cashgrabination of a Beloved Story. Do you remember the scene in Laketown, where we find out that this sleepy harbor area is actually the most diverse place in all of Middle Earth? Here, allow me to refresh your memory:

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Your groundbreaking is not my groundbreaking (N.K Jemisin on #DAI)

Reposted with permission from N.K Jemisin’s blog, on why “Your Groundbreaking is not My groundbreaking” Originally posted on her blog, November 25, 2014.

Your groundbreaking is not my groundbreaking

Note: I will be mentioning a few spoilers in this post. Look away now if you’re not ready for that yet!

So, a few nights ago I started Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third game in a franchise I’ve liked a lot over the years. Just for shits and giggles I livetweeted my game for a few hours. Most of the feed is pretty dull — like, me eating dinner while waiting half an hour for the game to finish installing on my XBox’s hard drive. But once I finally got the game going and dug into the character creator, I felt a moment of sharp bitterness at the realization that even though I write fantasy, there are times when this genre is really, really hard to love. My in-the-moment reaction:

I ended up with this when I was done rolling up my character (sorry for the terrible image; it’s just a photo of my TV screen):

image shows a DA: Inquisition character: middle-toned black female elf with white facial markings and nearly bald shaven head

She’s okay. Not what I wanted. But okay. And that’s pretty much how the experience left me feeling, despite the fact that I’ve been stupidly excited over this game for something like three years. That pretty much killed the excitement right out of the gate. I’m still playing, but I’m not raving about this game to anyone, anymore. It’s just something to do, now.

So, this little experience has me thinking a lot about the concept of “normal”.

It’s hilarious to talk about “normal” with respect to a game full of magical pseudo-uranium, holes in the sky, and shapeshifters. But a sense of normalcy is what you’re really selling, after all, in any media product: the chance for as many people as possible to feel some sense of engagement with what you’re trying to do. In fantasy — or any fiction, really — that tends to manifest as a sense of immersion, of I can relate to and feel part of this cracktastic world, and therefore I care about what happens within it. As a society, we’ve had a lot of problems with making media relevant toeveryone and not just a small subset of people — generally straight white guys. There’s nothing wrong with straight white guys, mind. It’s just that our society has a nasty habit of treating them as normal while treating everyone else as… not.

So why did such a simple thing — just customization; just hair, just skin — kill my enthusiasm so powerfully? Because being treated as abnormal destroys the ability to immerse in a thing. Kinda fucks up all the fun, too.

And I get that these things are rarely the result of game companies being “evil”. I met a couple of folks from Bioware at SDCC back in 2012; they seemed nice. I’m pretty sure nobody in the planning meetings for this game went Muahahaha, now we can really stick it to those curly-haired, dark-skinned people!* I think they just started from a completely different set of assumptions about what is “normal”, than… well, what actually is normal to a lot of people. And those assumptions have skewed the whole bell curve of the game.

It’s kind of like how camera film was originally calibrated on white skin. The people who made this decision probably weren’t being intentionally racist. Most likely it just didn’t occur to them that choosing a “normal” skewed to their own personal tastes and very limited experiences would create a barrier into the field of photography for, like, 80% of humanity. They probably didn’t think about what kinds of creepy, awful messages their choice would send to all the people who struggled to make cameras simply see them as they were: “Is that how you see me? Could you not see blackness? Its varying tones and textures? And do you see all of us that way?” (From the McFadden article linked above.) They probably didn’t understand that all it takes is one experience of being treated as irrelevant and abnormal — especially for people who get treated as irrelevant and abnormal frequently in other areas of society — to kill the sense of engagement for any newcomer to a medium. I suspect those old Kodak guys just didn’t give a shit about how many would-be photographers had that experience and then walked away from photography forever.

Bioware’s starting from a better place, theoretically; they at least say they care. The companyseems committed to inclusivity, and they’ve occasionally backed those words up with actions. There’s a trans man in DA:I, who thus far hasn’t been killed or subjected to tragedy; that’s good, I guess. The appearance customizer contains at least one slightly fuller face-model, so someone who wants to play as a character resembling the average Canadian woman (where Bioware is HQed; old link but probably still apropos) can get a little closer to that. Character skin colors start at colorless/albino and top out at maybe one shade darker than in previous DA games, which is a plus; still not as dark as actual human beings get, though. Maybe 2 hairstyles out of the full set of 25 have something resembling 4b hair, which is better than previous games’ texture-ambiguous buzz cuts or baldness — although that’s about it for textural variation; pretty much all the rest are type 1 hair only. Also, couple of the game trailers briefly feature shots of the default female Inquisitor. That’s an improvement over Bioware’s last big game, for which the female default character could only be featured in “alternate” marketing, at best.

But it’s all just so… little. Such creeping, grudging, tiny steps, implemented only after mass outcry. A little darker skin. One additional hair texture. A few moments in the foreground, instead of the perpetual background. Hey, there’s finally one [example of a thing], and hey, at least they’re not dead yet.

This is inclusivity? No. True inclusivity is ground-up, incorporated at every level from brainstorming to design to implementation. You can’t help but include everyone, if you’re doing it right, because inclusivity means starting from a “normal” calibrated to “humanity”. What this game displays? Is inclusivity as an afterthought. It’s standard deviations from a badly-skewed mean; to the people who think straight white guys really are (or should be) at the center of everything, these infinitesimal steps forward probably seem groundbreaking. To everyone else, they’re… nothing. Less than nothing. A loud and clear signal that we don’t really matter.

::sigh::

This is why I write fantasy the way I do, by the way — because showing the full breadth of human variance and complexity shouldn’t be groundbreaking. This is also how I often twist common tropes and play with reader expectations — because whether something is a cliche or a subversion frequently depends on who it happens to, in our society. Black women rarely get to be the prize that male heroes fight over, for example. White women are rarely depicted as thuggish or second banana to a woman of color in the beauty/charisma department; black men are rarely given the chance to (literally) explore their feminine side; even white men are rarely shown as marginalized and weak if they’re the hero. They say there are no new ideas, but it’s remarkably easy to freshen an old idea just by applying it to a wider variety of people. Correctly calibrating to the human norm opens up whole new matrices of storytelling richness.

So this is what I was expecting from Dragon Age: Inquisition. And this is why I’m so disappointed in the game so far. I’m still playing, like I said. My friends are helping me grind past the unpleasantness, giving me an incentive to stay engaged. I’ll post more thoughts on this game once I’ve finished at least one playthrough. It’s just gonna take more effort to get through it than I thought.


* Pretty sure they didn’t intentionally make Mother Giselle a Magical Negro, while we’re at it. Probably didn’t intentionally exclude humans who look Asian — or anything other than black or white — either. [Insert a few other unpleasant observations here.] What’s really surprising to me is that Mass Effect 3 did a decent job of these things. Why is DA:I so much worse at it?

** Sort of nonsensical hairstyles for the situation; who’s got time to precisely shave and edge every day in the middle of a global crisis? Also, totally Nineties! wtf.

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Cullen: A fan girl’s cautious defence (linked meta via defira85)

So, I am not knowledgeable on every single character in the DA world, but many others are. Here, linked with permission is some meta on Cullen (pre-Dragon Age Inquisition release). This meta examines his character, origins and complexities as presented in Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age II. Originally posted on AO3 2011-12-07

Summary:

As the title suggests, a defence of my favourite Templar. It’s not so much an essay as a damn thesis. As first seen on Tumblr, Part Two will follow and covers his role as Knight Captain. Enjoy!

Notes:

(See the end of the work for notes.)

Chapter 1 on AO3

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read my fiction before that I’m a fairly dedicated Cullen fan. Of course I could be whimsical and say that all the Dragon Age characters, from Origins and DA2 and all the DLCs, are very dear to me, but Cullen holds a special place in my heart. So when someone recently called Cullen an ‘abusive rapist’ on another site, going so far as to say they wanted to see him as a companion in DA3 so they could kill him, I pulled up rather fast at that one. Of all the reasons to hate Cullen, of all the things he does to find abhorrent or disappointing, where in the Void did that come from?

It was too much for me to leave alone, so I sat down and started hammering away at his character, trying to understand the enigma that is Cullen. I know I run with a rather pro-mage crowd, so I hope you’ll all indulge me in filling your dash with a little Templar perving for five minutes. I’m not here to start a flame war, or convert you to Cullen worship; I just want to make people stop and think a little, and perhaps start a discourse on him. He’s a complex character, and he deserves just as much attention because of what he represents to us: faith and duty versus hope and humanity. If there is one word that sums up Cullen’s character in a nutshell, it is conflicted.

Warning for immense rambling. Slightly triggerish for discussions of psychological torture and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And I will apologise in advance to anyone with actual training in psychology or psychiatry if I get my facts completely wrong- I did discuss my notes with my psychiatrist and she gave me the thumbs up, but she didn’t read the finished product. So! Onwards.

I like Cullen. I like Cullen a lot. Maybe it’s the hair, maybe it’s the voice (Greg Ellis, you could read me a drive through burger menu and still make it sound sexy), maybe it’s that tiny half smile he gives, maybe there’s something about him being so very broken and my fingers just itch to fix him… whatever it is, I adore that Templar. And I have no trouble reconciling my adoration for Cullen with my deep and abiding love for Anders and Justice (yes, they come as a two-for-one in my head, let’s just move on). I can be pro-mage and still like him. So when I saw such hateful, poisonous words directed at him, I had to stop and go ‘really? Is this really how he’s viewed by the fandom? Are there really people who can’t differentiate between Cullen and Alrik and Karras? Am I really looking at him through rose coloured glasses?’ Needless to say, I started to think… and then my thinking got a little carried away.


His Origin

For the purpose of this discussion, when I talk about the origin story I will be referring to either of the mage origins with a preference for female protagonist. We learn the most about the way Cullen’s mind works when dealing with a female mage.

In the origin story, we are first introduced to a bumbling, shy young Templar who seems to have no problem in befriending and being friendly to mages. Or at least, not the normal objections that one would expect to see from a Templar. It should in fact be old history to everyone who has played the game that it’s common gossip in the tower that Cullen seems to have a crush on the female protagonist. To him, it doesn’t seem to contradict his duties at all to be friendly with the people he’s protecting, although he “… would have felt terrible about it”[1] which I always find amusingly macabre. And at that point, that’s what he’s doing- he’s protecting mages, not imprisoning them, and he doesn’t feel particularly good about it. Rather naïve on his part, but there you have it. All of his dialogue is nervous and stuttering and far too inexperienced; this is not a trained killer, a ruthless Templar the likes of which we are all too familiar with in DA2. He is simply a young man trying to find his feet in his vocation, with the added complication of feeling a slight infatuation for the very woman he was tasked with felling.

Here’s the first problem that people have with his character. Some people consider this behaviour to be unacceptable, to be tantamount to obsession or stalking. Although I’d like to say people are entitled to such an opinion, I find it a little short sighted. As Alistair explains to the Warden, Templars and recruits are not particularly encouraged to partake in all the normal activities that occupy young men and women (and older men and women for that matter!). That’s not to say they are forbidden from sex or marriage or relationships, but it’s certainly discouraged[2]; and as Anders so eagerly tells us in Awakening and then again in DA2, Kinloch Hold was somewhat infamous for the sexual freedom and promiscuity of the mages incarcerated there. For a young man to be locked away from any major settlements where he might find ‘safer’ options for a bedmate, to be told to watch these uninhibited young women and men day after day after day, to be told to look but never touch, constantly reminded that they are evil but yet to see evidence of it… it would confuse the Void out of anyone.

The Templars of Kinloch Hold lead a very different life to their compatriots across the sea in Kirkwall; in Kirkwall we see the Templars able to come and go, still in contact with their families, able to indulge themselves in the services available at the Blooming Rose, able to immerse themselves in the civilization of the city should they need to escape the darkness that is the Gallows. Kinloch Hold, by comparison, is in the middle of nowhere, an island literally and metaphorically. The Templars have very little recourse should they need a diversion from their duties—a tiny settlement, little more than a rustic inn and a few fishing shacks. Instead they are locked in the tower along with the mages, their only escape if they’re ‘lucky enough’ to be sent out hunting for apostates and mage children.

So Cullen is a young man, mid-twenties, who by his nervous demeanour appears to have never been seriously involved with a girl before, who is ordered to stand and watch pretty, promiscuous girls day after day after day… and we wonder why he might be mildly infatuated? He’s simply a product of his environment, a situation that constantly seats temptation directly in front of him and tells him to be strong and ignore it. He is essentially taught that feeling sexual attraction is a sin. And the accusations that he’s creepy? It’s just a crush- have you ever had an unreciprocated crush before? No one ever said he watched the Warden while she was sleeping, or bathing; he never made inappropriate moves and he never touched her and he never took advantage when or if the Warden makes a move against him. True, he’s one of her jailors, and that will never make it wholly right, but is his behaviour at this point really that abhorrent? I’d be inclined to say no. Cullen is just a sexually frustrated young man with middling social skills, following his faith to the best of his abilities, trying to come to terms with the fact that his duties require him to kill the mage with the cute smile if she turns into something from his darkest nightmares. That he’s not messed up before Uldred attacks is fairly outstanding on his part.

Now on to the heartbreaking scene at the top of the Tower during the Broken Circle quest. If you haven’t actually seen the interaction between Cullen and a female mage Warden, I think it’s worth just stopping to go and have a look[3]. The Warden returns to what was essentially her home to find it overrun with demons and on the brink of being annulled entirely. When she left, it was under a cloud of suspicion after helping a blood mage escape from the Tower; when she reappears, rumours follow her of betrayal and high treason, accused of being responsible for the massacre at Ostagar and the death of the king. And she walks into the midst of such a vastly indiscriminate slaughter, with these stories nipping at her heels… if you were a Templar, with the expected prejudices burned into your skull from an early age, how much trust would you place in such a woman? Allegedly the uprising is a result of Uldred trying to sway the Templars and the mages to support Loghain in the brewing civil war, and his arguments being shot down when news arrives of his treachery at Ostagar, but even then it becomes a game of hearsay and conjecture. The Warden hardly presents as trustworthy either, so her reappearance is not exactly reassuring.

Cullen and his brethren have fought against Uldred’s uprising, a losing battle, and by the time the Warden makes it to the top of the tower he is the only one left alive. He has seen men cut down by monstrosities the likes of which he has never seen before, creatures that hunger for his mind and his emotions, and the worst thing is that some of these creatures were once the mages that confused him so much. His superiors warned him that this could happen, that mages were not to be trusted, and yet he allowed himself to slip. Because they looked so normal, so human, and up until that point he honestly believed there was no obvious harm in mages. As David Gaider said, he is someone who has had his faith broken twice, once by mages and once by Templars [4] (more about the Templars when I discuss DA2) which implies that once upon a time he actually had faith in mages. Which is more than we can say about most Templars, and it makes me wonder why that sort of attitude has preserved so late into his training; granted, Greagoir seems like an almost indulgent sort of Commander at times (not all the time, and certainly not always towards mages, but more about that in a moment), but what we know and understand about the Templar Order doesn’t really seem to encourage Cullen’s initial attitude.

His belief in the basic goodness of humanity is stripped from him, in the most brutal fashion possible. His faith in mages- and most likely his faith in people if one looks closely enough at his behaviour in DA2- is utterly shattered, and the naivety and innocence that still lurk in his character in the mage origin are ripped from him. Because as if fighting for his life wasn’t bad enough, as if seeing mages burst outwards into abominations, their flesh rippling and corrupting, as if seeing his fellows cut down around him wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, standing there and expecting to die… then the demons got permission to play with him.

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My problem with Mother Giselle…

Ok when we met Mother Giselle, I thought cool, a Chantry mother that was going to see through all the bullshit and not protect the status quo, especially regarding the dialog you get when you pick mage/Dalish/Qunari specific answers when you first encounter her.

Then we get to Dorian’s quest…and it really bugs me that she shifts into this version of “black people are religious and homophobic”. Her motivations seem to stem from concern over who the Inquisitor’s association with Dorian will be perceived by those who come in contact with the Inquisition.

I also don’t buy that Dorian’s father/his agent contacted her. It just seems really out there, like why would someone from a country where the Divine in Orlais and the Chantry is held in disdain, contact a Mother in that same organization? Regardless of whether the Chantry has disavowed the Inquisition as heretical?

How would he even know she’s there and what level of access she has to the Inquisitor or to Dorian? Why would she even consider the request?

It’s from 3:00 – 6:00 in this clip (starts at 2:55) where we see Dorian confront her after the mission to see his father. It’s the whole BUT TEVINTER and the assumption they are involved (even if you aren’t trying to/have started a romance with Dorian) that gets me annoyed.

Also the refusal to repeat the rumors, it just…I don’t know it bugs me. Like she’s the walking archetype of nosy old black woman. I know, she’s supposedly doing things for the right reason, Dorian even says as much but why would she even stick her nose in the Inquisitor’s business like that?

It seems like Leliana, Cullen or even Josie might be better suited to address these rumors with the Inquisitor rather than a Chantry mother that doesn’t seem to do much after Haven but wander around the garden in Skyhold and give you updates.

There’s no real fall out from this action, and it just seems like it was stuck in because hey why not, rather than having an advisor be the one contacted since they are publicly known as part of the Inquisition.

So that’s why Mother Giselle bugs me in DA:I.

Your thoughts?