“In fantasy worlds, historical accuracy is a lie” by Tanya D. via Offworld

In fantasy worlds, historical accuracy is a lie

The mythical realms of Dragon Age grow beautifully with the telling, including their representation of Earthly minorities. Even so, something’s missing…

I’d like to welcome you to Thedas, a fantastical place lots of us have lived in since BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins launched in 2009. The borders of this lush fantasy world have sprawled ever outward through the release of Dragon Age II, and welcomed ever more players. With the most recent game, Dragon Age: Inquisition we can end up a leader, whether we’re a human, an elf or a dwarf.

But though almost anything’s possible within Dragon Age‘s beloved world of Thedas, something feels off. Although Dragon Age is a fantasy roleplaying game, Thedas is overlaid with a faux-European sociopolitical landscape — and that means there are few people of color among its citizenry. Why do the sinister old arguments of “historical accuracy” still apply to this fantasy world?

Elves, magic, dragons, shapeshifting and ancient powers of world destruction are somehow totally believable, but the idea that brown people might exist is somehow not. My colleague MedievalPOC‘s blog uses art, history and other resources to regularly debunk the broad but rarely-questioned misconception that only white people were around in medieval times. So if we know brown folks definitely existed in actual Medieval Europe, why are they absent from a made-up fantasy world only loosely inspired by Medieval Europe? Where are the brown folks in Dragon Age‘s Thedas?

Let’s have a look at the history of representation in my favorite game series.

Read the rest of the article over at Offworld

A World in Which Race Matters – N.K Jemisin

A world in which race matters – Posted at Epiphany 2.0 ~ N.K Jemisin’s blog 2/24/15

A world in which race matters

I’ve been thinking about this article for the last day or so. I posted a link to it on my Twitter feed yesterday, and saw a few reactions to it that seemed… confused. Part of the problem is that the article gets a little muddled at points, I think because it’s talking about a complicated concept: race as identity, versus race as socioeconomic marker within in the modern (racist) political structure. But part of the problem, IMO, is the misconceptions that readers were bringing to the article themselves. A couple even asked (paraphrase, since I didn’t ask them about posting their comment), does this person actually want racism added to their Dragon Age? Which is when I realized that, to a lot of people, race should only exist, or matter, where there is racism.

Which… yeah, OK, no. I mean, I get where this comes from, especially from folks who, like me, live in racist societies. When I say I’m proud to be a black American, it’s in spite of racism, while a white supremacist would declare themselves proud to be white because of racism. (Paraphrasing many people; not sure who originated this way of framing racial pride.) But I’m also proud to be black because blackness is fucking awesome. I am part of a people, and I revel in our collective uniqueness. Why wouldn’t I?

– See more at: NK Jemisin’s blog

Over at Terrible Minds, Chuck Wendig digs into DAI from a writers perspective

Originally posted on Terrible Minds 1/20/2015, all content by Chuck Wendig

Dragon Age Inquisition: – A Writer’s Perspective

[Note: some spoilers below. Mostly light. Comment section may be a spoilfest.]

As you may have noticed before, I like to take the stories I have in some way consumed with my grasping psychic tendrils and then I like to rip them apart like warm bread to see what seedy, grainy bits lurk within. The purpose of this is just to think a little bit about stories, their power, their mechanics — and since story is somewhat universal across all media and formats, I’ll do this with whatever crosses my path (example? My post on Prometheus: In Which The Gods Of Plot Punish The Characters For Their Precious Agency).

And so we come to Dragon Age: Inquisition.

For those who haven’t played a current era Bioware game like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, it’s important to realize that the thing you think is the game (level up! get weapons! punch dragons!) isn’t really the game. The game is the story. By which I mean, Bioware has done a very cool thing where the actual characters and plot are moveable. Throughout your gameplay you have choices that actually modify the course of the story — something that is a little bit putting together a narrative puzzle and Choose Your Own AdventureMass Effect in particular ensures that the changes you make in early games actually cascade to later ones (DAdoes this a little less successfully, I think, but it’s still there). Which means both game and story are neatly, if sometimes inelegantly, merged. It’s a wonderful effect and you don’t see a lot of it in gaming.

So, what lessons do we learn from DA: Inquisition?

Read the rest at Terrible Minds

I just don’t buy Vivienne as Divine (snagged from w4rgoddess on tumblr)

(originally posted on tumblr by w4rgoddess, 1/20/2015)

I just finished my second playthrough of DA:I. Yeah, despite all my complaining, I enjoyed the game enough to put in another 100+ hours, but that’s also because I’m a raging completist and Ineeded to finish all those damned quests, however boring. So I did. Go, me.

In the process I accidentally made Vivienne the new Divine. I say “accidentally” because I’ve so far managed to avoid most real spoilers for this game, and I didn’t realize this was even an option. I turned down the chance to support Cassandra for variety’s sake (I made her Divine in my first outing); I was going to make Leliana the Divine in this game just to see if it made a difference in anything. But clearly I did something wrong in how I played Leliana, and at the end of her personal quest she was all, “I’ll improve the Chantry by killing anyone who gets in my way, mwahaha,” which left me all D:, so I didn’t support her either. I tried to go back to Cassandra but the option never came up again. And suddenly Vivienne was on everybody’s lips. I kind of laughed and thought, “Yeah, right”, but then the endgame coda started to roll and… yep, Vivienne was the new Divine.

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#Spawn4Good || #BlackLives Matter Charity Game Streaming schedule

BLACKLIVES-blue

#BlackLivesMatter Streaming Schedule for this weekend!

My twitch channel: twitch.tv/cypheroftyr

Important Note: Twitch by default is to only let someone with a twitch account participate in the chat box. So if you want to jump into chat, then you will need an account. Easy to make one, even if you never stream yourself. Unfortunately that’s a default and not something I can change.

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

So based on the outcome and to make it easier rather than trying to run a hasty, half-assed tie breaker I’ll be playing an Elven Mage, specializing in Rift Magic. I’ll use the default name. Only thing I’m doing w/o input is playing a female and making her brown as I can in this game.

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*: (with one modification to the start time)

Saturday 1/17/2015

  • Begin stream 11am CST/1 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

Don’t have all the facts? Wondering why a bunch of brown folks are gaming as a way to raise awareness about why #BlackLivesMatter? Here, have an FAQ

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.

Welcome! Here are some upcoming posts… any requests out there?

Hi y’all!

Thank you for wandering by this little blog. Sorry for the quiet but your metacritiquer works in higher ed and the beginning of term means not a lot of free time 😦

But there are posts in the can that need a little editing and then they can fly free. So far, I’ve got some brewing on:

Ser Delwin Barris

Dragon Age™: Inquisition_20141202131801

Vivienne De Fer

Dragon Age™: Inquisition_20150104143414

Josephine Montilyet

Dragon Age™: Inquisition_20141125211056

  • Cassandra as WOC? Yes/No (a follow up from a tumblr post I did on this topic)
  • The whole issue with lack of POC hair options in Inquisition (by request)
  • Slavery, Tevinter and why it seems to be a non-issue for Dorian
  • Why are are the brown folks seemingly from Antiva? (more on prior games, not so much DAI)
  • Fandoms insistence on whitewashing, prettifying and otherwise changing characters to suit their whims

Other topics  you want to see covered? Just drop me a line at the email address over in the right or leave a comment here. The aim is 1-3 posts per week, pending my free time to write.

Thank you for reading!

He’s just such a white guy (w4rgoddess on tumblr)

(And before anyone gets started, I know Dorian is superficially a person of color. This is meaningful in the representational sense for players, simply because people with brown skin are so damn rare in video games. In-universe, though, it’s pretty much irrelevant, since it’s not like Tevinters are a marginalized group, nor do they [or the Rivaini, or any other dark-skinned set of people in Thedas] suffer in any systemic way due to colorism. His identity as a Tevinter mage isn’t even visible, ‘til he opens his mouth or does magic.)

I’ve been noodling my aversion to Dorian in Inquisition.  He’s pretty, charming, fun; I was tempted to romance him because it seemed like the romance might be more satisfying than others in the game. But he’s got one character trait that just stops me cold: he’s a slaver. I can’t overlook that. It’s literally repulsive to me.

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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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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?