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Author Topic: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs  (Read 4637 times)

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Offline CmdrRenegadeTopic starter

WARNING:MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

I was having a conversation with a homosexual friend of mine about how RPGs have been implementing romantic options as of late.  We both agreed that more options for all orientations are a good thing, we disagreed about the way companies, especially Bioware, have been doing it.  This mostly pertains to Bioware's two most recent games: Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3, but this has also cropped up in other RPGs such as the more sandbox ones.  I'm putting this topic here so everyone will feel suitably 'braced'.  I have to be honest when I say that I don't care for Bioware's approach in appealing to its homosexual and bisexual audience.  If my orientation was different and everything else about me was the same, I would feel like I was being cynically pandered to. 

For those of you who don't know, here's what I'm talking about.  In Dragon Age 2, every character Hawke can romance to the successful establishment of a relationship is technically bi-sexual.  This includes Isabella, Merrill, Anders, and Fenris.  Am I the only one who feels somewhat put off by this approach? To me it smacks of lazy writing and characterization as well as cynical pandering to people who legitimately want more options.  As for Mass Effect 3, I had the same feeling about what happened with Kaiden Alenko.  Kaiden never dropped any hints to being bi in the first game.  Whether that was because Bioware was not interested in same-sex relationships or they were simply not allowed to by Microsoft or their own staff is beside the point.  It felt thrown in and was not justified. 

Am I the only one who feels this way? To any of you, of a homosexual or bisexual orientation feel this is a satisfactory approach to your desire for same sex romance options? I'm really curious to hear what you have to say. 

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Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2012, 02:45:53 PM »
I don't think the programmers make the characters bisexual.  Player choice is what determines the character's sexuality, and being able to choose to play a heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual or asexual character certainly beats the hell out of being forced into playing a certain (usually hetero) sexuality, at least for me. 

I in no way felt pandered to nor did I feel the need to justify a character's sexuality by how he or she might "seem".  I "seem" straight to nearly everyone I interact with IRL who isn't privy to my sexuality, so how a character might behave doesn't reflect their actual sexuality, in my opinion.

Offline Silverfyre

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Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2012, 02:47:48 PM »
So, by giving players of all stripes and sexualities the option for their character to romance any of the companions that are placed in Bioware's games such as "Mass Effect 3" or "Dragon Age 2", you see it as pandering to alternative lifestyles and as a bad thing? 

Yeah, I am going to have to disagree there.  This does not make the characters involved purely bisexual or "pandering" to non-hetero lifestyles.  It gives players the OPTION of seeing it that way if they want to.  Building a romance in these games takes time and practice and you can ignore if you want to.  By opening it up to any combination of sexual preferences, Bioware is giving the player base an option to have lesbian, gay or whatever type of romance you want with the supporting characters.  I like to look at it as a step in the right direction. 

I view my character's sexuality as a facet of the roleplaying opportunity.  If my version of Hawke in DA2 is male and heterosexual, I will play it in that manner and otherwise ignore male romance options.  It's pretty obvious if you are flirting or not in that game, if you ask me.  If I play a male or female character who is bisexual, I can basically enjoy that sexuality as a part of the role play with my character as well.  These options are wonderfully implemented and can be ignored or used at the player's discretion. 

Kaiden being bi?  I guess I missed that as I never seen it happen in any of the games.  I didn't know there was a set way a "bisexual" person acts either.  ::)

I, for one, am sick of most mainstream games having strictly hetero-normative options for romance (when such a game element is included).  It's nice to see Bioware going out of its way to open things up for all walks of life and sexualities. 

Offline Shjade

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2012, 03:55:13 PM »
I don't see a problem created by having all the romance options be available to all the character sex options.

I like Dragon Age enough to play through it once. I don't like it enough to play through it twice. So if I make a female character, I'm never going to get to see where the Morrigan romance route goes, because that's not an option as a female character and I'm not interested in playing through the whole game again just to make that one change when pretty much everything else is going to be about the same. This kind of game design avoids that issue.

As for whether it's "pandering," there's essentially no difference between the two above options. You can still check out all the romance routes; you'd just have to make a character of each gender for one whereas the other you can see them all regardless of your character's anatomical goodies. There's only an issue here if you create one.

Offline Starlequin

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2012, 04:41:47 PM »
More choice. Better than less choice. *shrugs*

Offline CmdrRenegadeTopic starter

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #5 on: April 19, 2012, 06:45:42 PM »
I think something got lost in translation.  I speak more specifically about the sexuality of your party members.  When it comes to the sexuality of the player's character, that should only be defined by the player.  To me it just feels like a break of suspension of disbelief.  I guess I would rather my straight male character get shot down by a potential interest because she isn't into dudes than have this option.  It just feels more real to me. 

Offline Silverfyre

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Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2012, 07:49:38 PM »
The game is what you make of it, if you ask me. If you want to make it where all of the party members are bisexual and it causes you to think of it as a suspension of disbelief (other sexualities do exist outside of the norm though, so I hardly see it as anything but normal) , then that's your viewpoint of it.  I just choose to make it about enjoying the game and not having such hang-ups, but to each their own. ~Shrugs~

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Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2012, 08:33:14 PM »
I agree and disagree to an extend.
I don't think more options is a bad thing. I just don't think that the options given are anything well written.
In Dragon Age 1, the only male character I would have liked to romance with my male warden was Alistair, just because I felt he was incredibly well written, and was just hitting the right buttons. I -liked- him, and I would have liked to see something happen between the characters. Instead I only had the choice to romance Zevran, who is a Spanish accent speaking, bdsm loving, badly flirting leather fetishist. They managed to hit all the stereotypes there. I hated his living guts.

In Awakening I really enjoyed Anders personality, because he was, in my opinion, very well written, although in Dragon Age 2 he was pretty much completely different, gone the nuances and his personality, and on the first "Hello" to him, he tries to climb into your pants. So, no, more choices aren't bad, but goddamnit, Bioware, turning a character bi or gay doesn't mean they are suddenly promiscuous like hell, so cut that shit out.

On the other hand I never managed to romance Morrigan, while Lelianna was easy as hell, go figure.

Offline Shjade

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2012, 08:48:27 PM »
I think something got lost in translation.  I speak more specifically about the sexuality of your party members.  When it comes to the sexuality of the player's character, that should only be defined by the player.  To me it just feels like a break of suspension of disbelief.  I guess I would rather my straight male character get shot down by a potential interest because she isn't into dudes than have this option.  It just feels more real to me.

You're breaking your own suspension by smashing it against the fourth wall. That lady you think would seem more "real" if she shot you down for not being into dudes isn't bi just because she accepts your advances - at least not necessarily, not unless something else in context brings to light she's also into ladies. She just likes guys or, perhaps more specifically, likes you.

The fact that you know she'd also be into you if you were playing a female is irrelevant, because you're not. For all you know she's a strict lesbian when you play a female character and strictly hetero when you play a male character. She's only bisexual if you think of your character as being both sexes at the same time, which I'm willing to bet he/she isn't as I've yet to see Bioware be so risque as to give you a herm protagonist. Bisexuality doesn't come into it unless, as in the case of, say, Leliana, the character has other relationships outside the one she has with your character with which you can compare. Leliana is clearly bi since she's interested in romance with the player and has had a past relationship with a female character. Morrigan, by contrast, doesn't really demonstrate romantic interest in anyone in particular beyond the player (at least not that I recall seeing), so if you had the option to court her as either a male or female PC she could justifiably be considered interested in only one or the other rather than both in either given scenario.

It's just a question of how a given character is designed.

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Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #9 on: April 19, 2012, 08:51:13 PM »
Bisexuality doesn't come into it unless, as in the case of, say, Leliana, the character has other relationships outside the one she has with your character with which you can compare. Leliana is clearly bi since she's interested in romance with the player and has had a past relationship with a female character.

Unless, of course, you're playing a female - in which case she may or may not be a dedicated lesbian.  ;)

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Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #10 on: April 19, 2012, 10:27:53 PM »
I can kind of see where this is coming from because I've had a lot of thought poured into myself.

I don't think everyone should be magically bisexual. That smacks of lazy writing, but then again by doing this the writers can wash their hands of any controversy if they happen to fall into a homosexual stereotype or a bisexual one. It's obviously a play-it-safe approach, "Hey you don't like it? Well everyone goes both ways so pick the personality you like the best. It's not our fault."

It's been a while but I think that Dragon Age 2 actually got a bit of an outcry from the homosexual gamer community for pandering both sides. The chief grief was that it made all the characters seem sluttish.

Honestly, myself I think it lacks verisimilitude. If you wanted to do it right you'd have exclusively gay, exclusively straight, bisexual. You might have an asexual or some people not sure about their preference. You would have the extrovert, the introvert, the clown, the serious guy. So much more of being straight, gay, or bi lies beyond just who a person sleeps with. There are so many different types of people.

I think it would be best to look at Fallout: New Vegas. They handled all sorts of sexual orientations and situations. You couldn't romance anyone, but I think that did it a service. You had straight companions, gay companions. I spent fourteen hours of real life game time with Arcade Gannon before I realized he was a homosexual. I spent ten minutes barking up the wrong tree with Veronica before I had to give up. They even had a woman who was heavily implied to have been pushed to lesbianism by being raped by a male bandit. That's weighty.

So, yeah. I think magically making everyone bi cheapens the characters. Although Alenko being bi doesn't bug me that much. Plus Cortez is always my buddy, because he's freaking awesome. The point is character suffers from lazy writing and no amount of player input into the game will fix that.

Offline Shjade

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #11 on: April 19, 2012, 10:45:55 PM »
Unless, of course, you're playing a female - in which case she may or may not be a dedicated lesbian.  ;)

Except that she talks about her past and using casual sex as part of being a bard, but if not for that, yeah, same deal.

Offline Sabby

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #12 on: April 20, 2012, 01:52:04 AM »
Am I the only one that agrees here? :/ I'm all for choice, but every part member being interchangably gay or straight seems like it robs them of some of their character... why not have some gay, some straight, and some bi-curious, and if you try to hit on a party member that doesn't swing that way, do something with it. Write around that, turn it into character development. Maybe the guy is just sheltered and bi-curious, and maybe you're just thinking that and you end up pushing too far. That's far more dynamic then 'everyone is anything'.

Offline Semantics

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #13 on: April 20, 2012, 05:42:02 AM »
I do think taken to the point DA2 did, it starts to feel a bit odd.  Half lazy, half pandering.  But there's also something to be said for the fact that if you ignore the things you know and focus only on what your character knows, you wouldn't have any idea in most cases.  (Isabella is another example of one your character might know about, because of some of her lines and interactions with other characters, although I can't remember for sure.)  And, as others have said, more choice isn't a bad thing and I think it's better than what you get in some games where everyone in a large cast of characters is straight.  It'd be nice if it was written a bit different in some cases, though, such as some of the ideas Sabby had.

However, suddenly having a character that showed Zero Interest or even the opposite interest before suddenly becoming bisexual for no apparent reason, as they did with Anders, irks me completely.  Granted, they also changed his VA, his humor, and his personality, so.  I just end up mentally pretending they are two different people.

Offline Hemingway

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #14 on: April 20, 2012, 10:01:00 AM »
I really don't see the problem. At no point during Dragon Age 2 did I stop and think, "Hey, you know what would make this game better? If the characters weren't all apparently bisexual."

In the case of Kaidan, I really don't see the problem either. Would it have been a problem if he showed no interest in either male or female Shepard in the first game, but did in the last one, and then suddenly did? Because Tali sort of did that between the first and second games, and it seems to me like the only difference is that there's some sort of perception that being straight is somehow the default position and anything else has to be justified in some way.

Online TheGlyphstone

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #15 on: April 20, 2012, 10:55:59 AM »
I don't think it really 'counts' in stuff like DA or ME to say all the characters are bisexual, because every instance of the game that you play is a separate, alternate universe of sorts. When you play through Mass Effect 1/2/3 as MaleShepard, all the male NPCs who can romance happen to be gay, all the females are straight. If you then do a playthrough as FemShepard, the male NPCs are now straight and the females are gay. Since Your Shepard is only ever male or female in any one instance, and never the twain shall meet, it's not really fair to say 'they're all bi' from anything but a meta-perspective.

Offline Sabby

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #16 on: April 20, 2012, 11:03:27 AM »
When you play through Mass Effect 1/2/3 as MaleShepard, all the male NPCs who can romance happen to be gay, all the females are straight. If you then do a playthrough as FemShepard, the male NPCs are now straight and the females are gay.

And that's exactly what irks some of us.

Online TheGlyphstone

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #17 on: April 20, 2012, 11:27:37 AM »
And that's exactly what irks some of us.

My point is that they're not technically bisexual then. Their preference is dependent on the player's choice, but there is never (AFAIK) an 'all of the above' option. Maybe I'm just not as invested in the issue because of my heteronormativity (thanks, QC!), but I don't see it as much different than all companions being romance-able regardless of your Paragon/Renegade affiliation; parallel universes and all that.

Offline Sabby

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #18 on: April 20, 2012, 11:32:08 AM »
That's not what I mean. It irks me because I already know the outcome. Everyone being the right sexuality for my character just seems boring to me, and it robs them of some of their uniqueness. I don't wanna point at the tough female warrior and say "That. I want that" and then proceed to get that. I wanna try, and see where it goes. Romances fail, flirting can go no where, and sometimes the one you never would have suspected being a lesbian hits on YOU. How many times has that happened? How many times have you been convinced a character is bisexual, chase their ass too far and it becomes an attempted rape plot?

Online TheGlyphstone

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #19 on: April 20, 2012, 11:36:55 AM »
Okay, I guess I can see your point there. It's about the story and the possibility of failure, not so much the 'pandering' mentioned above.

Offline Sabby

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #20 on: April 20, 2012, 12:05:08 PM »
Exactly. These are virtual people I'm meeting. What's the point if they conform to what I'd like? Apply that to any form of media and see how appealing it sound.

Offline Sel Nar

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #21 on: April 20, 2012, 12:16:21 PM »
It's not actually a question of the NPCs being straight, gay, or bisexual. The issue is that, almost immediately after Dragon Age was released, the company, as a whole, appeared to have the 'bright idea' of making all their romance options 'Main-Character-sexual', even if it completely ignored previously-established canon in their earlier games. (Eg. Anders and Kaidan)

For example, in Dragon Age 2 (to once again bludgeon that example of all that is wrong with bioware post-2010), It is only if you're playing a male character that the characters of similar gender mention that, at points in their past, they've had relations with other members of that gender. (Eg. Only if you're playing Male Hawke would anders assert that the mage Karl was the one who took Anders' virginity, and Fenris would claim [with some pride, no less] that his duties while a Tevinter slave included bending over for his master and his master's male friends.) If you play as a Female character, it is considered, by the game, as if any homosexual relations mentioned by that pair were completely and utterly untrue.

In comparison, the two female romance options are at least almost-tolerable because their core motivations and characterization do not shift depending on which gender you're playing as might flirt with them. Of course, their flaws are that one has a core characterization (and incidental 'banter dialouge') that boils down to 'I like sex so much I'll do it anywhere anywhen with anyone, and that's why I don't wear pants', and the other one is portrayed as a brainless klutz and shut-in that happens to have made a blood pact with a demon 'because it's helping!'. And, of course, as soon as you show the slightest affection to any of the four, they lap it up like starving kittens, as their goal instantly shifts to 'get in Hawke's undergarments'.

Anyhow, to attempt to re-rail my rambling tangent, the concent of a game's romance options being 'Main-character-sexual' only 'helps' in the sense that, no matter what, there's always the 'option' of success with someone. Which tends to pander a bit (mostly due to the whole 'girl on girl is hot' mentality), and smacks of hilariously lazy writing at all other times.

Offline AndyZ

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #22 on: April 20, 2012, 01:24:05 PM »
I've only skimmed since I don't want spoilers, but the heart of the issue seems to be the question of certainty with relationships.  Do I want all of the NPCs to be interested in the protagonist, regardless of gender?

I think it would be best to look at Fallout: New Vegas. They handled all sorts of sexual orientations and situations. You couldn't romance anyone, but I think that did it a service. You had straight companions, gay companions. I spent fourteen hours of real life game time with Arcade Gannon before I realized he was a homosexual. I spent ten minutes barking up the wrong tree with Veronica before I had to give up.

Certainly a novel approach on the matter.  This has the added bonus of surprise and gives a stronger feeling of character depth, with the drawback of requiring multiple playthroughs to see each possible outcome.

Many games have been designed lately to require multiple playthroughs.  Good endings, bad endings, and so on.  In my opinion, the best have good ways for you to see every ending with only one playthrough, if the game is mostly linear up to the end.  The Deus Ex games have this, and the latest DX has the ending autosave at just before the big decision, so you can continue to use your latest save to watch every ending.

Now, I personally have little objection to being protagonist-sexual.  The entire point of a video game, just like in well-run RPGs, is that you're the star (or a group of stars, in RPGs), and the world revolves around you.  Most novels either do this directly, or they have a character like Dr. Watson who follows around the real star, Sherlock Holmes. 

However, I can understand how it might strain incredulity to have characters suddenly shift during a series.  If it might help, you can imagine that perhaps the NPC in question was always hiding a secret crush, wanting to say something but never able to find the words, until either summoning the courage or being approached by the protagonist.

For example, in Dragon Age 2 (to once again bludgeon that example of all that is wrong with bioware post-2010), It is only if you're playing a male character that the characters of similar gender mention that, at points in their past, they've had relations with other members of that gender. (Eg. Only if you're playing Male Hawke would anders assert that the mage Karl was the one who took Anders' virginity, and Fenris would claim [with some pride, no less] that his duties while a Tevinter slave included bending over for his master and his master's male friends.) If you play as a Female character, it is considered, by the game, as if any homosexual relations mentioned by that pair were completely and utterly untrue.



I consider this to be not so much a fault of adding homosexuality to the games as that, because there are so many choices inherent in the Bioware games, everyone really does get a very different experience.  Bioware goes above and beyond in individualizing your game experience, which allows you a very personalized game, but also can rob you of the feeling of camaraderie with friends, where a movie is experienced exactly the same by everyone, and linear games follow a similar suit.

This has been discussed by system gamers playing through modules.  If everyone has played through the Dank Dungeon of Evernight, even if it was run by different GMs, you can talk about how tough the Creeper was or how nasty the traps were.  With movies, you can share the experience of how the vampire ashed himself in the sun just so that she wouldn't get turned on the third night after the biting.

In some ways, this can make the replay value better, but I can certainly see how flexible it would make the fourth wall if you can't help but notice all the inconsistencies.  Fallout New Vegas' method would be much better for multiple replay value, with Bioware's games adding more possibilities for a single runthrough where you don't care if you see everything.

I can definitely see an irony, there, since you'd think more flexibility would allow for more playtime.

I'm therefore going to make this recommendation: some games have language blockers, where you're asked at the very beginning of the game if you want there to be naughty words.  It should be very simple to have the choice between protagosexual NPCs and pre-selected sexualities.  Mr. Cuddles is gay up until someone selects female and selects protagosexual, and everyone is happy.  The "hardcore" gamer fan base will likely stick with pre-selected.  It shouldn't be much harder than just adding in an If-Then tag on each NPC's sexuality subroutines.

Offline Shjade

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #23 on: April 20, 2012, 01:34:08 PM »
That's not what I mean. It irks me because I already know the outcome. Everyone being the right sexuality for my character just seems boring to me, and it robs them of some of their uniqueness. I don't wanna point at the tough female warrior and say "That. I want that" and then proceed to get that. I wanna try, and see where it goes. Romances fail, flirting can go no where, and sometimes the one you never would have suspected being a lesbian hits on YOU. How many times has that happened? How many times have you been convinced a character is bisexual, chase their ass too far and it becomes an attempted rape plot?

Except in the case of characters that don't match your sex/preference combination, there's no trying, either. If you're female, there's no 'attempt to romance Morrigan' option - you just don't get those conversation options at all. It never comes up. How is that any better?

You can still fuck up the romances if you pick answers that don't match what the intended love interest wants to hear. Incompatible preferences doesn't cause romance to "fail," it causes it to never even be on the table. That's not boring?

I've never come across the issue you ask about for two reasons:

1) I rarely see romance options in games at all, period.
2) In the games where they do exist, the earmarks are pretty obvious. There's no game that just allows freeform conversation flirting at random (and no, I'm not counting Fable and its openness to just doing whatever with NPCs all over - there's no relationship connection made there), at least not that I can think of, so...yeah, it sounds to me like you're complaining about the existing framework for this kind of game because you'd rather shoot for the moon or have nothing at all.

Offline Sabby

Re: Romantic interests and the 'everyone's bisexual' thing in recent RPGs
« Reply #24 on: April 20, 2012, 01:51:44 PM »
Except in the case of characters that don't match your sex/preference combination, there's no trying, either. If you're female, there's no 'attempt to romance Morrigan' option - you just don't get those conversation options at all. It never comes up. How is that any better?

Of course they're not there. We wouldn't be discussing this if they were.