The plight of the Straight, Male Gamer

If you’re not a gamer, perhaps you haven’t seen this post entitled Bioware Neglected Their Main Demographic: The Straight Male Gamer which complains about the romance options in Dragon Age II. [Warning: minor spoilers for Dragon Age II about which characters are romance options.]

In every previous BioWare game, I always felt that almost every companion in the game was designed for the male gamer in mind. Every female love interest was always written as a male friend type support character. In Dragon Age 2, I felt like most of the companions were designed to appeal to other groups foremost, Anders and Fenris for gays and Aveline for women given the lack of strong women in games, and that for the straight male gamer, a secondary concern. It makes things very awkward when your male companions keep making passes at you. The fact that a “No Homosexuality” option, which could have been easily implemented, is omitted just proves my point. I know there are some straight male gamers out there who did not mind it at and I respect that.

When I say BioWare neglected The Straight Male Gamer, I don’t mean that they ignored male gamers. The romance options, Isabella and Merrill, were clearly designed for the straight male gamers in mind. Unfortunately, those choices are what one would call “exotic” choices. They appeal to a subset of male gamers and while its true you can’t make a romance option everyone will love, with Isabella and Merrill it seems like they weren’t even going for an option most males will like. And the fact is, they could have. They had the resources to add another romance option, but instead chose to implement a gay romance with Anders.

When I saw this, I was torn between horrible gleeful schadenfreude at how hurt this guy was over not getting his preferred romance options… and wishing that *life* came with options whereupon I could flip a switch and not have people who I found sexually unattractive hit on me ever again. (In my case, the switch would specify “no otaku/japanophiles”) Oh, and wondering if I counted as an “exotic” choice in real life (again, see “no otaku”).

And then there’s the twitter commentary from @sparkyclarkson:

Man, I hope Duke Nukem has an option to turn heterosexual content off.

While schadenfreude might be fun, it’s hardly something to be proud of, much less something I’d feel a need to crow about here. What makes this a story worth posting about is actually the response from Bioware’s David Gaider:

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.

[...]
And the person who says that the only way to please them is to restrict options for others is, if you ask me, the one who deserves it least. And that’s my opinion, expressed as politely as possible.

You can scroll down on the forum post to read his full response. Given that we get so many stories about how game companies are just pandering to their supposed straight young male market, it’s really nice to see a company standing up for their choice to make a game that appeals to a wider audience, even at risk of alienating a few of the “majority” in the process.

More commentary here: “Straight Male Gamer” told to “get over it’ by BioWare.

20 thoughts on “The plight of the Straight, Male Gamer

  1. Cthandhs

    I loved the reply. BioWare Gets It, and they get first pick of my video game budget. Much to the chagrin of the likes of “Straight Male Gamer”, more of these decisions are going to happen as video games companies realize that straight men are not the only ones shelling out monies on the internet.

    1. K00kyKelly

      Yes! I especially like that the game isn’t marketed specifically for women (or gay people). A big part of the upset here is that the straight male gamer wasn’t warned in advance by female targeted advertising that there would be even a small piece of the game that didn’t appeal to him. It was a total surprise and that is part of what makes it awesome. BioWare successfully avoided “othering” while reaching out to the not straight white male audience.

  2. Chris

    Yeah! So amazing to see anyone from a game company use the word “privilege” in a cogent way. Rah rah progress!

    1. hari

      Yes! This was the part that I found most amazing. It’s one thing to say “we include a variety of romance options to please all our fans”, another to include a pointed critique of straight male privilege.

  3. Epimetheus

    ::lying in bed, browsing misogynistic rage comics on reddit . . . sigh . . . sleepily clicking on RSS reader::

    > It makes things very awkward when your male companions keep making passes at you. <

    ::sits up::

    I've never heard of any of this before, but Dragon Age II just made a sale.

    1. Addie

      They don’t make passes at you unless you make passes at them first… but maybe this guy didn’t understand what the heart in the dialogue wheel meant.

      DA:O actually included a lot more by way of awkward conversations (i.e. “crap, when did this character decide to fall in love with me”)… in DA 2 the romance is a a lot more overt and only happens if your character chooses to flirt. (It’s also a lot less wooden, although video game romance in general still gives me the willies.)

      It seems like this guy’s objection is that he’s being given the option to flirt at all, which is pretty ridiculous. Just like the temperament options (friendly, sarcastic, antagonistic), it’s a path that can be followed, but doesn’t have to be.

      1. Terri

        Actually, David Gaider says this in the part of his comment that I didn’t quote:

        I doubt I would have Anders make the first move again– at the time, I thought that requiring all romances to have Hawke initiate everything was the unrealistic part.

        So apparently it’s not always the player who makes the first move.

        1. Addie

          Thanks for including that bit; since I’ve been playing the game as a flirty, but homosexually-oriented female, I probably missed Anders being a bit more forward.

  4. Katherine

    “It makes things very awkward when [people you're not attracted to] keep making passes at you.” Totally need to link to this when some guy replies to our complaints about street harassment with “but I’d love it if I got hit on all the time!”

    Read the whole thing before when the WoW Ladies LJ linked to it, fantastic to see that sort of response from a game company.

  5. lucidfox

    Every female love interest was always written as a male friend type support character.

    My lesbian Commander Shepard would like to bring one Dr. Liara T’Soni as a witness to the contrary.

    And Jack, while straight, is hardly a “male friend type support character”. Her love matters focus less on “supporting” and more on “ripping one apart with her biotics for one misstep”.

  6. Addie

    This is beautiful! I’ve actually been really impressed with the improvements Dragon Age 2 has made with the representation of female characters (and that all romance options can be homosexual) – it makes the game feel a lot more inclusive, while the first Dragon Age always put me off by defining its audience far more narrowly, right out of the gate, with Morrigan and her gravity-defying shirt (nevermind the rape trope in the city elf storyline). The more sexually ambiguous characters in DA:O come quite a bit later. I like that DA 2 reverses that, by introducing the overt hetero male choice (the busty Isabella) after many of the other party members. I, at least, felt a lot more included as part of the intended audience this time around.

    The complaint doesn’t surprise me though – when following the “romance” page on the DA2 wikia over the first few weeks, overzealous moderators would continually remove photos of the homosexual romances from the page, suggesting in their change comments that a heterosexual pairing was all that was needed and “gender didn’t matter”. This, after the entire discussion page from pre-release was about who the love interests were and whether not they would be bi. Pretty short-sighted.

    The funny thing is, every person I know (including myself) playing DA2 right now is a straight male or straight female playing a character that veers from their own real life gender identity or sexual orientation. And that’s supposed to be part of the fun of a role-playing game, isn’t it? Pre-programmed romance honestly strikes me as pretty untitillating, but if it’s going to be an option, it might as well indulge the same curiosities and impulses that make hack-and-slash or a FPS so satisfying for gamers – i.e., make the fantasy interesting.

    There’s a fine line in video games, I think, between providing an opportunity to indulge in fantasy and escape while appeasing the part of the human condition that wants to create an avatar or character that is “just like me”. In the case of this game, I think BioWare did an excellent job leaving things as open-ended as possible. I’ve read about other missteps the company made with the release of this game, so it’s nice to see them responding so pitch-perfectly here.

  7. Restructure!

    “The romance options, Isabella and Merrill, were clearly designed for the straight male gamers in mind. Unfortunately, those choices are what one would call “exotic” choices. They appeal to a subset of male gamers and while its true you can’t make a romance option everyone will love, with Isabella and Merrill it seems like they weren’t even going for an option most males will like.”

    He should have just made it even more clear and called himself and his kin the “Straight White Male Gamer”. (Or even more accurately: The Homophobic, Racist, Sexist Gamer.)

  8. Kaonashi

    Some comment I read to this story suggested a similar “no race mixing” option to show how bigoted this idea is. What the guy really is complaining over isn’t how Bioware doesn’t cater to straight men, but how they don’t cater to bigots.

    Also, just because you’re straight doesn’t mean you don’t like to play around. It is a game after all, and why should sex and sexuality be off limits in roleplaying? If there’s a good story in a gay relationship and it feels right, I’ll go for it.

    I only wish Bioware would go all the way and be more explicit about sex and relationships. If there’s to be an option to turn something on or off in their games, it should be graphic sex. I prefer no sex at all or the full experience, not this half measure, fade-to-black thing they do now. I don’t want it to turn to porn necessairly, but the way sex is shown now isn’t very inspiring or convincing.

  9. Ajh

    I posted about this on my journal when I saw it on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Which, Coincidentally, was a day before it hit Wow_ladies. I’ve alway held much respect for David Gaider’s work. I adore the Dragon Age novels. They DO have good characterization, both male and female characters in it are wonderfully complex, and he’s never seemed to hide behind gender as an excuse to make a character weak or strong.

    Of course he’s also done a lot of the writing in the game, including Shale, who if you’ve played through Dragon Age: Origins with, is a VERY interesting character. What they did with Shale’s back story makes his response to the whiner here not surprising at all.

    It’s still unexpected and pleasing to see someone from Bioware step forward publicly and deliver a verbal smack down, but I was not surprised to see that it was that particular name attached to it at all given all of the work he’s done for the game.

  10. hari

    Completely agree with everyone who points out that an RPG is great because it *can* let you step outside your gender and sexual identity. The second time I played through Neverwinter Nights (back when Bioware only had heterosexual romances) was with a female cleric. When the game threw me romance options with Valen Shadowbreath, the handsome-yet-conflicted male half-demon, I went along with it. My emotional response turned out to be some pretty good confirmation I was bi, years before I got to interact that way with men IRL.

  11. katieintheworld

    You know, I’m not really a gamer, but I kind of want to buy and play this game just because the developers are cool.

  12. Stephanie

    I am so utterly and completly pleased by this response (and the official name attatchment) that I will now pay for this game new instead of used the way I do with all my other video games. It’s so nice to get uplifting news on this front. :)

  13. Krissie Pearse

    Following on from the Bioware/Gaider/SMG story at No More Lost, I’ve interviewed one of the leading figures in the gaming industry on the subject of equality and diversity – there’s a fair amount in that interview specifically covering women. I don’t mean to spam at all, but it’s my hope that of all feminist blogs, geek feminism will find it especially useful.

    http://www.nomorelost.org/2011/04/08/equality-in-the-gaming-industry-interview-with-ernest-adams/

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