That Pri*ck, the Greek Geek!
A madman's ramblings about pop-culture. Also, some reviews.
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Coincidence or societal pressure?
I never got much into RPGs, table-top or video games. The lack of immediacy always annoyed me and I've never been a big fan of the "standard fantasy setting". The ones I have genuinely enjoyed are Bioware's RPGs; they compensate for the padding with rich choice systems and characters that matter to the player, making the "role-playing" part of the genre count.
But even in games like the Mass Effect series or Dragon Age 2, you're still playing as a predetermined character and while your choices matter in the game, you're less of an actor and more the director who puts the pieces together to build the story you are given from the get-go. Choices in these games are less of a role-playing element and more of a strategy one.
But "Dragon Age: Origins" wasn't like that; you built your character from scratch, the options offered covered the entire spectrum of one's possible responses, the choices were your own, as was the character's look, gender, voice, class. Every choice could be traced back to the character and, by extension, you: the player.
Making the right party was more than just a requirement for balanced gameplay, that's why all recruited party members came in pairs or more: three warriors (not counting Shale), two mages, two rogues-- oh and your dog.
All of them came with distinct and varying personalities (except the dog, obviously), all of them with rich dialogue both when in a conversation with the player and in in-game banter with each other. The entire game provides a platform for the player to get to know them better and appreciate his or her relationship with them. They were made to feel real and the player's relationship with them mattered.
I spent most of May and a little bit of June replaying "Dragon Age Origins". In that period of about a month total, I finished it three more times; with a rogue, a mage and a warrior. Two men and a woman in-between (enter obligatory "sandwich" joke).
I was going to do a mage play-through, for the first time. I never liked the class, it's always been swords and bows for me, so having convinced myself I wouldn't be able to role-play with a mage, it seemed an opportunity to also play as a woman, out of curiosity. So I eliminated the role-playing factor, made a somewhat cute female mage and downloaded mods to dress her in revealing outfits, because I'm a pig.
There was absolutely no way I could role-play with that character. I would only just go through the motions.
Or so I thought.
By the time I was being rescued from Ostagar (that's about two hours into the game), I had forgotten all about this. It didn't matter I was playing a mage, it didn't matter I was playing a 'she', I was role-playing. It proved a lot easier getting into a character I shared no aesthetics or basic traits with, which isn't hard to understand, as the RPG genre has always been the most gender (and race) blind of them all, with the available options and dialogue not changing fundamentally to reflect these differences.
As the game progressed and I kept playing, oblivious to the fact that my character was a small, blond girl in increasingly skimpy outfits, I gathered my standard party and built my relationships with each one of them.
But here's the interesting thing; when the time for romance came, I picked Alistair. Alistair *is* one of my favorite characters in the game; he's likable, he's funny and the story sets him up to be the "brother in arms" that shares the same duty as you.
In all other play-throughs, he was my buddy, my best friend. It seemed logical that if I played as a woman, I'd pick him for the romance.
It seemed logical. Then it hit me; this was the only decision I had made consciously, regardless of available options or game parameters. I didn't make a choice based on what was offered, I did it because it made sense.
How did it make sense, though? The game allows same-sex romances. At no point, besides choosing a partner, did I ever realize my character was a woman. Nothing in the game, save for some different pronouns here and there, alerted me to the fact I was playing as a woman. So far as I was concerned, it was still my game, my choices, my relationships. I wasn't detached from my character, from the game-world or myself.
So, why didn't I romance Leliana, the female rogue/bard?
I guess one could make the case that I like Alistair as a character and since the actual sexual component doesn't exist in the game (this has to be one of the most visually modest fantasy worlds I've seen, like "Conan: The Capuchin Monk"), I picked him. Same best friend, just different dialogue here and there.
But this argument has legs to stand on, only under the assumption that I don't actually like Leliana, which isn't true. I love Leliana. She's one of my favorite characters in the game; she cute, she's sweet, adorable voice and accent, a heart of gold, she even makes her religious devotion, fucked-up past and naiveté look attractive. She's quite literally my type of woman.
She's also the one I usually end up picking when I play the game with a male character, because I've grown very fond of her.
But not this time. This time I made the conscious decision to refrain from engaging in a (lesbian) relationship with her and just go with what's "normal".
I was fascinated by this, because I'm not a homophobe. I've always been in support of "gay rights" (equal civil rights with straight people, such as getting married, social equality not judged on who and what people choose to do on their own beds) and I fight with my borderline homophobic best friend over this all the damned time.
I'm not "for" gay rights based on some collectivist rhetoric either; I'm not supporting same-sex romantic relationships, because I follow some odd liberal/left agenda, which could factor into my decision-making.
I'm doing it based on the simple fact that it's beyond my comprehension how someone can condemn and vilify a genuine loving relationship based on irrational arguments and the misguided notion that "it's just not natural"; far from it, I consider it perfectly natural.
It will not produce off-spring, but this is not the sole reason for fucking (let alone for an actual, wholesome relationship). Homosexuality is part of the same ecosystem, in all species currently inhabiting the planet and I don't believe it goes against our biological imperatives, but rather our societal contracts.
These are my own, individual principles.
So, if I don't have a problem with the concept of homosexual relationships, why didn't I go for Leliana? As we established, my character's gender didn't really register and it didn't affect my choices at any given point. I would go for the character I, the player, felt romantically attracted to, as I do in all play-throughs. That is Leliana, NOT Alistair.
So why did I break immersion for those few minutes, just to consciously recognize that my character is a woman and should thus romance a man, because that's what makes sense?
The answer to this question may be not nearly as poignant as I'd like, but I do think it's something to consider. Is it possible that even for heterosexual people that support and/or are comfortable with homosexuality, such as myself, the "norm" is hammered in our psyche from early on?
Is it possible our own values and opinions on this and every other matter are skewed by our upbringing and mainly by the way society operates on a regular and everyday basis, unwillingly undermining our own, chosen morality and principles?
Is it possible that I broke character and made that one decision, against my opinions on the matter and separated by the game itself, a decision made consciously based on sub-conscious conditioning?
In other words, is it possible that deep-down it's been instilled in me that this is what's "normal" and everything deviating from this intended path is bizarre and "wrong"? Even if I don't consciously believe that?
Whatever the case, I am genuinely excited it was a video-game that led me to concern myself with this question. I can't see it happening in any other medium and it speaks of that maturing of the industry, both in terms of material and audience that everybody conveniently ignores lately to play the "white knight" in the more recent controversies.
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