Via @femhype Long Way Home: ‘Dragon Age 2’ on Immigration & Identity Posted

Sylvia M. a fellow Bioware fan that loves to get into the meta weeds wrote this amazing piece on Dragon Age 2 as an Immigration & Identity story at FemHype. I wanted to share it with you!

Long Way Home: ‘Dragon Age 2’ on Immigration & Identity

you broke the ocean in
half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you.

“IMMIGRANT” BY NAYYIRAH WAHEED

Dragon Age 2 is the story of immigration. It’s dressed up in the high fantasy that defines the series, but it portrays the struggles of forced migration, acculturation, and xenophobia closely and honestly. In fact, the strengths and weaknesses of the game’s design are far more harmonious when viewed through this lens. The themes of fate and choice, of defining your place in the world of Kirkwall, are the heart of the plot and an immigrant’s journey. In much the same way, you could view the limitations in scope and content as a reflection of the harsh realities of forging a new life from precious few resources.

From the first moments of the game, Hawke is characterized by their migrant status. We’re given precious little information about their life before, because all that matters now is that they must start a new one. In the game’s prologue, narrative and mechanics conspire to push Hawke and their family into the unknown, far away from their home. Fires block paths, a horde of monsters lurks just behind, and the only company on the road are other survivors, just as desperate and lost. Hawke has no choice but to keep moving, further and further away from everything they have known. And they must pay a terrible price for this journey, one that they didn’t even want to take: a sibling; an ally, one that they may even have to kill with their own hands; and their agency, as they are forced to enter a deal with a potentially malevolent force in exchange for safe passage.

Even though this prologue is packaged for the player as a tutorial on controls and an introduction to the game’s larger story, it reflects so much of an immigrant’s struggle. It’s The Blight that drives Hawke away, one of those faceless, generally evil plot devices that you find in fantasy stories like these, but it could have easily been corruption, violence, hopelessness, or one of the many true evils that we find in our world (see: “How This Happened” by LatinoUSA). Worse, the sudden and horrible trauma of the journey is true to life as well (see: The Beast: Riding The Rails And Dodging Narcos On The Migrant Trail by Óscar Martínez). Even Hawke’s precarious deal with Flemeth, a mysterious being that offers aid at an uncomfortable cost, mirrors reality (see: “El coyote” by Radio Ambulante). 

Read the rest over at Femhype, where it was originally posted on Aug 6, 2015.

God is Real and it wants us Dead – Originally posted at Polygon, by Tauriq Moosa

God is Real and it Wants us Dead: The Religious Terror of Bioware’s Biggest Games (originally posted at Polygon, 12/12/2014)

By Tauriq Moosa

OPINION text didn’t translate from copy-pasta on original article.

OPINION

Games are often better at conveying horror than most other mediums, due to our direct and real-time responses.

This year, we’ve experienced the constant dread of Alien: Isolation and the grotesque physicality of The Evil Within. Overlooked, however, is the cosmic horror in BioWare games.

“We impose order on the chaos of organic life. You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it.” These are the words of Sovereign, the first Reaper you encounter in Mass Effect. At this point, you discover that all life has been essentially created and guided by these godlike creatures. Now the Reapers are coming to end what they created.

The entire Mass Effect trilogy is preparing for war against beings who are more powerful than anything in existence because they, essentially, created existence.

Here, all of life is told their creator wishes it to end. This isn’t nihilism written in the stars, it’s death row on a cosmic scale as everything marches towards the gallows. To fight seems futile; as Harbinger puts it in Mass Effect 2, creation seems to be “dust struggling against cosmic winds.” The entirety of existence is little more than the ant farm for uncaring gods.

BioWare’s love of cosmic animosity toward creation found a new twist in Dragon Age as well.

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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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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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