I may be known here on Fandom Following for my reviews of The 100 and my article about acedia in Game of Thrones, but long, long before I started watching these shows, I played computer games. We’re talking decades. I cut my gamer girl eye teeth on Warcraft 2 and the original Starcraft. I’ve played my way through Warcraft 3 (and expansions), Starcraft: Brood War, and am currently playing Starcraft 2 and Heroes of the Storm (HotS). Yeah, I play a lot of Blizzard games, all but World of Warcraft (WoW) and Diablo; I’m not a (MMO)RPG-er.
Needless to say, when they announced the first new property in over a decade1, I was intrigued. Fine, I squealed in delight then immediately read everything they had online—backstory, all the player bios, the timeline for production, everything. The only reason I’m not in beta testing is because I don’t have time.
Overwatch—a 1st person shooter style multi-player online battle arena or MOBA (think League of Legends—is still in beta testing, but it’s awesome. The backstory is fairly generic but still interesting: a futuristic world where Overwatch was a team of heroes that saved the world, but they’ve disbanded and now trouble is brewing again. The animation is stunningly gorgeous, even for Blizzard, which has a history of well animated games. Most importantly to me, they have a cast of diverse characters with skills that I am drooling to try out.
Its poster child is Tracer, a “time jumping adventurer and an irrepressible force for good.” She’s like the Flash and Indiana Jones had a baby, but with Rey’s indomitable optimism and spunk. She controls her own time and pairs a bomber jacket with running shoes for a lighthearted yet casual vibe. Did I mention she’s got a Cockney accent that’s super adorable? I love her already.
She’s also caused a bit of a stir in recent weeks. It all started with a forum post from one of the beta testers regarding Tracer’s ‘victory pose’, the pose shown on screen when a player wins. It’s meant to convey how that particular character responds to success. Are they ecstatic? Cool and aloof? Goofy? Self-confident? The physicality of the pose should convey the character’s reaction and be consistent with their overall personality.
The original forum post by “Fipps” is no longer available (that I can find), but large sections of it have been transcribed in a post on Polygon. It is clear from the transcription that Fipps’ primary concern is that, from a Watsonian perspective, the pose isn’t consistent with Tracer’s character.
“What about this pose has anything to do with the character you’re building in [Tracer]? It’s not fun, its not silly, it has nothing to do with being a fast elite killer. It just reduces [Tracer] to another bland female sex symbol.”—Fipps, Overwatch Forum via Polygon
As Fipps argues in the post, Tracer’s pose is more consistent with Blizzard’s sultry French assassin character, Widowmaker, who embodies the femme fatale archetype.
While I’m not a huge fan of this kind of character design given how common sexualization of female characters is in gaming, Fipps has a point. All you have to do is look at Widowmaker and you know that she’d totally do an over the shoulder T&A (tits and ass) shot on her victory screen. That kind of sultry attitude is part of how she was designed as a character, as well as how she’s being marketed. Tracer, on the other hand, is primarily fun, spunky, kind, and fast. I think of her as a personified squirrel with the 10th Doctor’s hair.
Thus, Fipps asked that the developers to consider changing the pose to something more appropriate to Tracer’s character. Other Overwatch players responded instantaneously on the forum. Some agreed with Fipps, others defended the pose. However, the opinion that mattered most was that of the developers, who apologized and eventually chose to replace the pose with one they thought more appropriate.
Needless to say, not everyone was happy with the choice to replace the pose. Some framed it as a censorship issue: Fipps feedback impinged upon the developers’ freedom to create whatever media they wanted. Not only does this argument lack rational sense—the developers apparently agreed with the criticism, otherwise they would not have changed the design—it fails to understand the context in which the feedback was given.
Remember, Overwatch is still in beta testing. For those of you who don’t know, beta testing is a period prior to release when a limited number of people can play the game. These players provide feedback regarding game play, glitches, balance in character skills, and in Blizzard’s case, how well the game holds up the values they as a company laid out for the game, one of which was to create a diverse cast of male and female characters. Another was to not overly sexualize the female characters as they had in World of Warcraft.
“We want girls to feel kick-butt, equally represented.” Chris Metzen, BlizzCon 2014
To what degree they were successful in not overly sexualizing their characters is debatable. You still have the femme fatale Widowmaker and her skin-tight catsuit that is in no way something any woman would wear into battle. She’s an assassin, so they could have gone with a Black Widow a la MCU style outfit and still been sexy.
Other problematic choices include boob cup armor (though not bikini style), lack of pants on female characters, Pharah’s battle thong, visible and prominent butt cleavage, and a stereotypically blonde angel. All of these could have been fixed fairly easily to line up with their stated goal of not overly sexualizing their female characters, but I digress.
Fipps was specifically referencing Blizzard’s stated values regarding Overwatch when they posted in the forum. They did not go out of their way to post a hateful or even recriminatory comments. They submitted feedback that was requested by Blizzard, and Blizzard responded by changing the game. This is how beta testing works. It isn’t censorship nor did Fipps impinge on the developers’ freedom.
Feedback from outside of the beta testing community regarding Blizzard’s choice was harsher, more virulent. The game’s subreddit is flooded with outrage against Blizzard for changing the pose. Where Fipps’ feedback was reasonable, measured, and calm, the response to the change has been hyperbolic and angry.
Statements like “nothing says fun like pretending we’re not human” and “the entire sjw hatred of ‘sexualization’ stems from mediocre women feeling like they’re being replaced by art” are mild. I won’t sear your eyes with some of the more hateful and ridiculous comments. You can read those on your own time. I even heard some of it while playing HotS a few days after it happened. I asked a fellow gamer what Tracer was like (she’s available to play on that platform), and the response I got was, “All I know is people are mad she has a butt.”
The argument that this is all a plot by social justice warriors (SJWs) who hate attractive women is ridiculous, but not surprising. The gaming community has a deep-seated attachment to the objectification of female bodies. So much so that they seem to have forgotten that Fipps only objected to this kind of pose with Tracer, as they did not believe it accurately represented her character. If Fipps had truly objected to all sexualization, they would have at least mentioned Widowmaker who, as I mentioned above, is highly sexualized both in concept art and in personality.
Now, the objectification of female bodies in gaming is a huge issue, one that I don’t have the space to discuss fully in this article and that others have covered quite well already, though your mileage may vary of course (see, for example Bikini Armor Battle Damage’s tumblr and FemFreq’s series). However, it is worth briefly addressing posing choices and costume design, specifically as regards Fipps’ complaint.
Dan over at Extra Credits does a great job breaking down her pose from a professional animators perspective, and I suggest watching the entire video if you’re really interested. He starts by listing four important criteria for making a good animated pose: readability, a sense of physicality, visual interest, and communication of character.
Breaking down Tracer’s original pose, he shows that while it fits the first three of these criteria, it doesn’t communicate much of her personality beyond posing for the camera in a sexy way. In fact, her posture, limb and eye position, and line of action are designed to draw attention to her ass and its very visible cleavage (see 15:13 in his video and onward).
This simply isn’t the same for the male characters who also have over the shoulder victory poses in the game (Hanzo, Soldier: 76, and McCree). The male characters shots are far more relaxed with a less arched back and a distinct lack of hip sway, contributing to the overall sexualized feel of Tracer’s and Widowmaker’s poses. As Fipps’ points out, this is inconsistent with Tracer’s character.
“[Tracer] isn’t a character who is in part defined by flaunting her sexuality. This pose says to the player base, oh we’ve got all these cool diverse characters, but at any moment we are willing to reduce them to sex symbols to help boost our investment game…”—Fipps, Overwatch forum via Polygon
Choosing this kind of pose implies that Tracer being awesome character with a cool backstory, fun personality, and badass skills isn’t enough to sell the franchise, as she is the face of the game. She must also be a sexual object and obviously so. As Dan points out in his video, humans are sexual beings, so sexuality can be a part of characterization. However, sexualized poses that contradict established personality, as with Tracer, are obviously pandering and actively harm the character being portrayed by reducing her to nothing more than a sexual object.
So what did Blizzard replace Tracer’s original pose with and how does it line up with Dan’s criteria?
As others have pointed out, this new pose looks remarkably similar to a classic pin-up illustration by Alberto Vargas, which was likely the inspiration.
At first blush, it doesn’t feel like they tried very hard. On the one hand, the replacement pose is more playful and fun, which is more in line with Tracer’s personality. Game Director Jeff Kaplan has actually been recorded as saying that he and the team believe this pose to be more in accord with Tracer’s personality.
“We actually already have an alternate pose that we love and we feel speaks more to the character of Tracer. We weren’t entirely happy with the original pose, it was always one that we wrestled with creatively. That the pose had been called into question from an appropriateness standpoint by players in our community did help influence our decision—getting that kind of feedback is part of the reason we’re holding a closed beta test—but it wasn’t the only factor. We made the decision to go with a different pose in part because we shared some of the same concerns, but also because we wanted to create something better.” —Jeff Kaplan via Polygon
Some might be turned off by the reference art being a pinup, as I was at first. However, Dan points out that Tracer is a pilot, making the reference to a pinup similar to what would have graced the noses of WWII era fighters rather whimsical, and I can see his point. It does actually seem like the kind of thing Tracer would lightheartedly reference and slightly mock in a moment of victory. She’s turning a past symbol of sexualization into a badge of victory for her as a woman: she’s the victor rather than the sexy symbol painted on his plane.
On the other hand, while the new pose is more in line with the personality a la Fipps’ original argument, it still ‘feels’ sexualized. Why? Three words: visible butt cleavage. This is not a result of posing, but rather of costuming choices.
Ultimately, characters are sexually appealing (or not) regardless of developer intention. This does not mean, however, that costuming choices don’t matter.
“ ‘[S]exy’ costumes are more likely to only be subjectively appealing. Flattering (meaning: well designed, fits correctly, highlights attractive parts of the character) costumes that make contextual sense are more likely to be universally appealing, or at the very least, not be offensive or confusing.” (source)
I take “well designed” to mean unique, functional, and suitable for its purpose. This is an area that Blizzard has done well for all of Overwatch, though as I stated above, could do better. Gaming these days is swamped with bikini armor: skin baring, skin tight, overly cleavage and butt focused ‘armor’ that exists more to titillate a presumably straight male audience than to imply any actual protective function.
Overwatch manages to avoid some of the more common tropes of the objectification of its female characters: bare midrifs and crotch armor that’s no larger than a g-string, but it’s not free of objectifying costume choices. Symmetra has stripper boots, thigh dress slits and no pants, Mercy and Zarya have chest plates with individual boob compartments, Pharah has a battle thong, and the three female characters in catsuits (Tracer, Widowmaker, and D.Va) all have highly prominent butt cleavage.
The designs are unique-ish for some characters, beautiful and compelling for others. The armor is functional and suitable for most of the characters except for the above exceptions. It’s definitely better than WoW, and at the same time, it could be better and without much effort on the designers part. At times it feels kind of like Ricky Gervais’ TV commercial for Verizon. At the same time, it is a significant step forward.
Overall, I’d say Tracer’s costume is well-designed. The bomber jacket/sneaker combo is unique, functional, and suitable given that she was a pilot prior to becoming the speedy, time-traveling fighter she is in the game. The catsuit might not be as breathable as other options, but other than that, I like her design. It’s colorful, spunky, and reasonably appropriate for role in gameplay.
Speaking of the catsuit. Catsuits are popular for female characters in gaming, as they provide the illusion of protection while also being form-fitting. With Tracer’s lean, athletic long distance runner build, a catsuit does actually flatter her body by being so form fitting. It highlights one of the best features of her body—her legs—which also underscores a part of her personality, her speed. You could therefore argue that a form-fitting catsuit is a flattering design choice.
The problem with ‘form-fitting’ is that catsuits as depicted in video games never actually fit a female character the way they would fit a real human being. For one, catsuits don’t create a visible butt-crack. It doesn’t matter how tight that suit is, there is no crack. Visible butt-cracks = major wedgie. I mean, look at the pose,
That suit is wedged so far up her ass that it makes me wince, and probably gives her yeast infections on a regular basis. Same with Widowmaker and D.Va. Seriously. I know that male gamers probably don’t think or want to think about that, but I do because I’m a woman who has gotten yeast infections from tight fitting clothes. These ladies must drink gallons of cranberry juice offscreen.
More to the point, this is not a properly fitting costume. It’s my quibble with Tracer (and Widowmaker’s and D.Va’s) design. It’s ‘sexy’ rather than flattering, to use the definition above, because Spandex doesn’t actually fit that way. Sure, she has a nice ass and maybe you want to highlight that for some reason, but I would argue its possible to highlight an attractive lady ass with a spandex catsuit that actually fits correctly.
The costume not fitting accurately contributes to the sense of sexualization. None of the male characters have visible ass cracks, nor do any of them wear catsuits. Were the female characters catsuits actually designed to fit as they do on real female bodies, they wouldn’t either. Or they could have given them, you know, not a catsuit, as they did with the males.
Overall then, the problem is one of modeling/design/costume more than a specific pose. Yes, the first pose drew specific attention to her ass and was specifically designed to do so. At the same time, the new pose still feels sexualized primarily due to the costuming decision of giving Tracer a catsuit designed with highly prominent ass cleavage. The downplaying of said ass cleavage in promo videos makes the victory pose decision even more baffling.
Whether in its first or second iterations, Tracer’s victory pose doesn’t match with the screenshot. Why give her a prominent crack, but only in still shots for the player to linger on if not for objectification purposes? The lack of consistency even within the way that Tracer is depicted in their own game just highlights the fact that the replacement pose is still supposed to be sexually appealing to the audience.
What, Gretchen, are you saying that female characters can’t be sexy? Do you want them all to wear burlap sacks?
No, absolutely not. Like I said earlier, the objectification of female bodies is complicated when it comes to gaming; there’s a long history of objectification that I don’t have time to discuss. Not to mention that one can be just as, if not more sexy with flattering clothing and consistent posing than with overt displays of objectification. I find a consistent, well thought out character more sexually appealing than random boobs in my face, but then again, that’s just me. For game developers wishing to create what I think are truly sexy characters, I advocate starting with the criteria for posing mentioned above.
If a pose hits these four criteria well, including character consistency—the main problem with Tracer’s original pose design—move on to costumes. Does it fit the human body appropriately? Does it highlight the attractive features of the specific character rather than a generic set of criteria like big boobs or always show an ass crack? Is it contextually appropriate to the role the character plays in the game and their personality? If you can answer yes to all these things, I think that’s a good start.
However, if you, as a game developer, continue to create female characters that just so happen to have a personality for which revealing armor/clothing is ‘in character’, I call shenanigans. Also, if you only have female characters whose personality expresses itself in revealing clothing, you have a problem. Costume design needs to be equal opportunity. Five (now four) Overwatch characters have over the shoulder victory poses, three male two female. Only the two female characters had visible ass crack. Give me male characters with revealing/overtly sexualized clothing in equal numbers and I’ll be more willing to allow it for women. Better yet, give me sexualization of characters that isn’t catered specifically to the straight male gaze. Don’t know what that looks like? That’s part of the problem.
I would be remiss if I neglected to also point out how important diversity is, both in demographic makeup and gaming position. The former is something Overwatch actually does quite well. 8 of the 21 characters are female presenting (10 male presenting, 2 robotic, 1 animal). There are 7 people of color, 4 of which are female presenting, (10 white, 3 non-human, 1 unknown). They have two disabled characters and three female characters that fall outside of the ‘conventionally attractive’ framework.
Yes they could do better. The inhuman characters are all coded male for some reason, so the ratio of males to females is still not 50/50, which I would prefer if they are really committed to representing men and women equally. I would prefer more male characters of color given that 50% of the female characters are non-white but only 30% of male characters are, not including inhuman characters.
Diversity in gaming position is important as well, given that traditionally female characters have been relegated primarily to support positions (healers), with a few rogue assassins thrown in. They’re “squishier” positions—meaning you have less hit points and are more easy to kill—which reflects our society’s tendency to view women as weaker.
Overwatch has four main positions: offense, defense, tank (damage absorbers), and support. Offense, and defense positions each have 2 women out of 6, tank has 2 out of 5, which is pretty good, though, again, I’d prefer it to be 50/50. It would require more female characters overall and so much the better. However, with 2/4 support positions given to females, I’m less than thrilled. Because of course you get a 50/50 ratio in the position traditionally given to female characters. The third is a male coded robot and the fourth an actual human male. Maybe they’ll add more male characters later. It would be nice to have more male support than female just to be different.
The previous two points may seem off-topic, but the handling of diverse female characters actually provides a great context for Tracer. She’s one of the two offensive female characters, so she’s both prominent in the lineup and likely a character a lot of players will want to try out and play consistently, at least if they have anything like my play style (high damage, ftw, I like killing things). It also lets you see that they’ve done so many things well with the cast of characters.
On the one hand, this diversity fosters the impression that Fipps’ feedback is a nitpick that got blown way out of proportion (though, not by Fipps themselves). On the other hand, we know Blizzard can do better because they’ve already done so. These ‘nitpicks’ are the cries of an audience who sees what they’ve done to improve, knows they can do better, and is disappointed that there are still issues that can be fixed without too much work on the developers’ part. Don’t tell me they couldn’t have spent another couple days fixing issues like erasing Pharah’s battle thong or Zarya’s boob cup breast plate, both of which are cosmetic rather than integral to character mechanics or playstyle.
Based on the game director’s response and their earlier statements at Blizzcon, this is something they want to get right. They’ve worked hard to create a diverse cast of female characters with different personalities. That only one of them is being primarily marketed as a sexy femme-fatale with skintight, revealing clothing (Widowmaker) is huge. I won’t denigrate that by generalizing from the Tracer pose to a pattern of sexualization for all the female characters in this game that simply isn’t there to the same degree it is in their other games (like WoW).
However, it is there with Tracer. Like I said, it’s about diversity, equal opportunity, and character consistency. Diverse group of female characters with different costuming choices that aren’t all centered around overt sexualization? Check (with the above qualifications). Equal opportunity for sexualized male and female characters? No. Male characters with the same pose are not overtly sexualized in the same way nor is their a male character equivalent to Widowmaker. Is the pose and costume consistent with the character? Ish. Neither in the original. I think the replacement is more consistent with her character and would be happy with it were the problems with the costume (ill fit) not still framed and visible for ogling by the audience.
Make her butt look like it does in the promo videos and I’ll be completely happy with Tracer. I mean, I’m 99% of the way in love with her already, so it really isn’t that far to go.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.
1. While they have created sequel content, i.e., Starcract 2, Diablo 3, and WoW expansions, as well as new platforms that utilize existing characters (Hearthstone and HotS), this is the first completely new game universe they’ve created since WoW, which itself was an expansion of the Warcraft games. It’s been 17 years since they’ve created an entirely new game platform.↩
The Arcana is a Nice Visual Novel Experience
The Arcana is a visual novel available on mobile since 2017 developed by Nix Hydra. It takes place into a fantasy world inspired by the tarot game. It’s free-to-playish (more about this later). And you know what? It’s quite good. No really, I like to play it, I care about the characters, and I want to know what is going to happen. So I thought I will write something about it today.
In The Arcana you are the amnesic apprentice of the magician Arsa. Your master (and maybe more) is forced to leave the city and leaves you in charge of his (your) shop with his familiar, the snake Faust. Not long after his departure, two characters come to visit. If I don’t remember the precise order of their visit they are respectively the Countess of Vesuvia, Nadia, and an ‘old friend’ of Arsa, the plague doctor, Julian Devorak. Both wanted to talk to Arsa but accept a tarot reading from you. After you have given them an ominous reading, Julian leaves. Nadia asks you to come to the palace to offer you a job.
This job turns out to be helping her solve the murder of her husband, Lucio, who was murdered three years ago. The main suspect, who confessed to setting Lucio on fire before escaping his prison, is Julian Devorak. He has recently been spotted in town. You must resolve the affair and catch the perpetrator before the masquerade, the first one since Lucio’s death.
From here you will go trough Vesuvia, crossing path with other characters, and uncovering a real rabbit hole of mystery. And trust me the mystery is really catching.
Oh and you will pick a romance… that’s kind of important too.
Of main interest in The Arcana are its story and its characters. This is perfectly normal, after all this is the point of visual novel. But even for the genre The Arcana really has a colorful, endearing cast. You will always be happy to come back to these characters. The main trio is particularly good.
Arsa is certainly the most stable of the three. He knows who he is, he knows that he loves and cares about the protagonist. Unsurprisingly, he is the only one who remembers what happened three years ago. One of the great things about him is that he is confident, both about his ability and about who he is. He might have some hesitation about his relationship with the narrator (but for good reasons).
However, I will say that he is a bit uncertain about the way to go forward. What “happened” to Lucio certainly concerns him, but the way you follow with him is confused. There is a lot of going back, going away, trying to face the problem, deciding not to for now… It doesn’t make Arsa’s route unpleasant, quite the contrary. I think it makes it more interesting. The way to go isn’t always straight (pun intended), and that is a good thing, as it reminds us that even confidant people can hesitate.
Nadia is a more straight forward character. Despite a facade of confidence and authority, Nadia is insecure and wants to do the right thingTM. There are multiple reasons explaining this insecurity, including an amnesia that probably allows several members of her court to take advantage of her. Her desire to be a source of authority and to be right, because she loves this facade, could lead her down a path that ends up making her cold and hard. But Nadia is a good person who cares for her people. Having a strong person that needs reassurance about her capacities and future was a really good idea for The Arcana.
Julian is a bit of a mess, and this is an understatement. He is a bit of a masochist, definitively a poseur, and genuinely lost. To the point where he ends up hurting people around him, people that care about him. He is deeply convinced that unhappiness is the only thing waiting for him at the end of the story, despite his obvious medical talent and general niceness. This leads to one of the most violent roasts that I have seen in a long time, but not underserved.
In addition, the cast of secondary characters is amazing. I can’t wait for Portia and Muriel’s route. Especially since I am convinced that Muriel knew the protagonist. But there is also Lucio… Oh Lucio… What a colossal dick… I find myself wondering why no one set him on fire sooner. (Actually, maybe Lucio got the most violent, literal ‘roast’ I have seen in a long time, but once again not undeserved.)
One of the other great thing about The Arcana is the diversity presented in the game. As you have probably noticed, two out of the three love interests are POC. Everyone is bisexual, too. But that’s not the only thing. The protagonist lacks a canon physical appearance, so they can be who you want them to be. And I say they because the game lets you choose their gender… Or rather favorite pronoun. You have the choice between, she/her, he/him, and they/them. This is such a nice and clever thing to do. Everyone can play as they want, and it makes the experience more inclusive.
I have to give another point to Nix Hydra for design. The world of The Arcana is particularly well designed to work with this inclusivity. Vesuvia makes me things about the Silk Road—it has a Middle-Eastern vibe (and the ambiance music helps).
The fact that there are characters coming from everywhere and from a lot of different ethnicities continues to enhance the Silk Road impression.
Another good thing is that the universe is tolerant. Like I have already said, all three romance option are bisexuals. But everyone in the city is okay with same-gender romantic relationship. And there aren’t any comments about anyone’s ethnicity, either. You know what? This is truly refreshing.
The Main Problem of the Game
The Arcana is normally playable in three days. What I mean by that is that any update can be played rather easily with daily bonuses. However, that only works if you are okay with being robbed of every cute moment and of the majority of the illustrations. Yeah a good part of the illustration are guarded behind a wall of “pay a certain amount of coins.” You can win coins on a daily basis, but not that much in real time. So how do you get enough coins to unlock everything?
Well you pay for them with real money. Micro-transactions are unfortunately way too common today. And that’s why I might have made some mistakes in my presentation of the game. Thus far, I have only played everything once… Because my background refused to let me spend money on something I could do another way. It’s not that I am cheap… It is that the paying system isn’t:
I don’t mind that creators make money out of their creation, that is perfectly normal. However, this is a bit much. With 2 000 coins you can buy four books, and four books is the equivalent of an entire romance route. For now. The routes aren’t over yet. And there are three of them! 43.99€ is more expensive than brand new 3DS games in my country!
Yes, Nix Hydra has considerably increased the daily bonuses recently and they have doubled the amount of coins you can buy for 43.99€. But still. I will probably only have played the integrality of The Arcana in four years. That’s okay, the game is still lovely, and it does not tempt me into spending so much money. But still, it casts a gloom over the general game experience.
My free-to-play experience with The Arcana is pleasant enough for me to recommend it to you. It is a nice visual novel and if you like the genre you will have a good time. However, if you have trouble not spending money on micro-transactions, don’t start the game because the experience will be really frustrating for you. Except if you are very rich… In that case, throw some of that sweet, sweet money toward Nix Hydra. Be the renaissance art patron you always wanted to be.
Images Courtesy of Nix Hydra
From Alistair to Cullen—Fairytale Romances and Dragon Age
Spoiler Warning for all of Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II, and Dragon Age: Inquisition
Cullen: The way that I saw mages… I’m not sure I would have cared about you. And the thought of that sickens me.
Let’s talk Dragon Age romance. Emotions! Chocolates! Kisses! Flowers! Not to mention those itty bitty little pieces of stomped hearts and emotional shrapnel!
Sorry… I’m still recovering from Valentine’s Day. (I would have published this analysis then, a few weeks back, but I was still weeping and locked in a fetal position…)
I heard someone say recently that RPG romances actually elicit the same reactions in the brain that real romances do. I have no idea if that’s scientifically true, but when it comes to Dragon Age, it certainly feels true.
For me, as for many, RPGs tap into emotions that can be intriguingly close to real. We play a character for what can be dozens or even hundreds of hours. We flirt with other characters. They flirt back. And eventually declare their love. We love them back. And often, not just via avatar; it’s not just my Inquisitor, for instance, who loves Solas, or Bull, or Zevran, or Anders, and all my other romanced characters. I absolutely love them, too. And in a way, that’s more personal and less remote than, say, my crush on Aragorn when rereading The Lord of the Rings. Because let’s face it, Aragorn doesn’t look right over at me and proclaim his adoration back. In an RPG romance, however? Yeah, he totally would.
And that’s where they get you.
It’s both embarrassing yet visceral how emotional that can be. And each choice in an RPG like Dragon Age further ensures that our choices will make us unique, make US worth the love and accolades from our chosen objects. No matter that thousands of other people have lived it—you can know this intellectually, yet emotionally, the game relationships still feel all too real, immediate, and personal. It’s one of the greatest lures of the gaming world, that sense that YOUR playthrough is the only one that truly matters, and it’s intoxicating when accomplished by a team as talented as Bioware, for instance, on the Dragon Age series.
However, when you’ve played your share of RPGs, as I have, you can also kind of get jaded; lulled into certain patterns. You especially become used to the romances going a certain way: you flirt with your potential love interests, they’re charmed, bold, or bashful, and they flirt back. If you’re playing a good (or “paragon”) character, you won’t break their hearts and they won’t break yours. There’s not a ton of suspense—they will love you. It’s assured.
You then progress through the game story, and eventually there are heart-eyes and kissage, followed eventually by a scene where you finally spend the night together in pixellated soulmate bliss. Well, hey, for a moment or two.
Aaaand… Fade to black.
And, well, basically, that’s it. You got your happy ending, or, alternatively, basically, what I call, the phase that is “Welcome to the End of Your RPG Romance.”
“Someday My Prince/ss Will Come…”
First off, there can be something really reassuring about the less complicated romances. They can be terrific fun, and a welcome change from real life.
The base template for me on this in Dragon Age, for instance, will probably always be Alistair’s romance in Dragon Age: Origins (DAO), at least, as I had played it. I’d ended up with a triumphant female elf Warden wandering off hand in hand with a Grey Warden Alistair after defeating the Archdemon and waving goodbye to a pregnant Morrigan. (Note: You can get an even happier ending if you played a female human noble, because then you can marry Alistair, he becomes King, and you ascend the throne alongside him to become his queen.)
I’d liked the Alistair romance, although it hadn’t quite been my cup of tea. It had seemed a little adolescent and predictable to me, even though it was (being Bioware) also indisputably charming. Alistair is a funny, sweet guy, he’s an exiled prince who gives a female Warden his inexperienced and vulnerable heart, and it’s all seriously adorable. The moment when he gave my poor sweet Warden a rose remains a milestone for me in my memory of my first DAO playthrough.
However, Alistair’s romance isn’t actually predictable, though. That’s where I was wrong. It can end in half a dozen different brutal and tragic ways. So I was truly amused later to realize how many different choices I’d actually happened to luck into that had resulted in that bright and sunny fairytale ending!
I mean, come on, this is Bioware. I was stupid. Sunny endings, I should have remembered, are… rare and precious. Never a given.
But I was careless, and had innocently assumed my Disney outcome was the norm. (Really? Was I ever that young? Evidently I was. Once.)
But my entire awareness of that moment (and happy ending) was actually a lie, and, as I’ve noted, it wasn’t the only possibility at all. Ironically, Alistair’s romance most definitely isn’t happy-happy. It isn’t “someday my prince will come.” It can, in fact, end in incredible bleakness—with the Warden dumped, left, abandoned, or dead, and with Alistair despairing and drunk, executed, or heroically dead from his own fatal blow against the Archdemon.
Flipping the Formula
I’d had no idea of this in my first playthrough. I only began to realize its possibilities in discussions with other Dragon Age players I know.
And I’d definitely had no idea that an Alistair playthrough could be so much more complex and dark. The first time I played Dragon Age: Origins, my Warden had encouraged Alistair not to become King because she wasn’t a fan of people being pushed into roles they didn’t want, so she inadvertently ensured that they got their happy ending out of simple selfishness. Which was even more ironic because, for me, I didn’t actually think my Warden protagonist’s romance with Alistair would even last. She’d had conflicting feelings for assassin Zevran (then broke it off because poor Alistair was really difficult to break up with, honestly), and had also had a wordless if doomed yearning for Qunari warrior Sten (at least in my own headcanon).
So I got my “Disney Prince” romance even if at the end I kind of went, “Oh, sweeties… it will never, ever last,” to the couple I ended up with.
It’s All About the Formula
Still, the standard formula’s pretty timeless and proven throughout the ages. Flirt, kiss, sex, happy ending, boom. Done.
This fairytale type of formula means that your typical romance often takes up a fraction of the game story, while also hitting those predictable necessary romance points… the courtship, the glances, the kiss, the sex, the aftermath (if there is one). Most formulas in fact eschew the aftermath and just end the relationship there in a haze of assumed present and future bliss. This always disappoints me, because of course, relationships don’t end with sex, and they actually get a lot more interesting after that point.
Romances adhering to this formula in Dragon Age might include, depending on story arc, the following characters:
However, of course, this being Bioware, any one of the above romances can end sadly and even tragically as well. It just depends on the choices you make. Alistair, Leliana, and Merrill can all end up abandoned or dead at the hand of the very person who loves them, while Cullen’s romance can also end in one of the most heartbreaking revelations in the Trespasser DLC, depending on your choices for him. Josie and Cass survive no matter what, but they may do so with some serious broken hearts.
Thank goodness, though, it doesn’t have to go that way. So if you go for the fairytale, and you make the choices that support true love and sweetness, you’ll usually get it in the above scenarios. Alistair’s, Leliana’s, and Merrill’s romances are more innocent, and Josephine’s is positively Disney Princess (and utterly adorable). Cassandra’s is lovely, and provides a glimpse of her softer side. My only complaint about hers is that it’s a bit light on content, and it’s pretty much set forth according to that formula where the story’s basically over after the sex.
Romancing the Templar
Cullen’s, meanwhile, is probably my favorite of the fairytale romances in Dragon Age, not least because it doesn’t end with the hookup, but instead actually explores Cullen’s journey across the entire trilogy. It’s especially satisfying if you romance him with a mage, since Cullen’s story back in Dragon Age: Origins began with a traumatic experience that left him with a bias that he was still working through even in Dragon Age II and on into Dragon Age: Inquisition (DAI).
In DAI, Cullen is wrestling with a search for redemption based on over a decade of backstory if we’ve played the entire trilogy. His emotional inner conflicts result in a romanced relationship with the Inquisitor that can be really rich and poignant, as his feelings for her are depicted in a lovely and often wordless progression of simple, believable little moments (both funny and sexy) that genuinely communicate intimacy. As his romance evolves, we’re shown Cullen’s more vulnerable side, as well as how deep his sense of religious faith really is. I remember being surprised and moved at a simple scene near the end in which Cullen simply embraced the Inquisitor and held her, expressing for the first time how deeply he feared losing her.
There are plenty of other happy romances in Dragon Age, but they’re not as straightforward. Bull’s, for instance, is sexy, funny, and surprisingly edgy, but it’s also somewhat cynical and cold, at least at first. Solas’s romance (while achingly emotional at levels that are practically operatic) is certainly not the guaranteed happy ending most players may be going for.
The romances described here, however, meet the basic needs of the formula and provide a general prospect of romantic happiness for those who make the right choices.
If you want hearts and flowers, in other words? These romances are a good place to start.
I’ll be taking a look at some of the romances that don’t really follow that fairytale formula in the near future… and, from Solas to Bull to Zevran and Anders, which ones in that assortment that I loved most. But what about you? Do you prefer the fairytale romance formula, yourself? Or something a little more complex and real?
Meanwhile, don’t mind me. I’m heading off on my War Nug, back to camp where I can drown my lonely sorrows in a few of my beautiful and decadent Valentine’s Day chocolates. (I got them on sale!)
Images courtesy of Bioware
This article is a reprint (with minor modification and expansion) of an article originally published by Angela D. Mitchell on DumpedDrunkandDalish.com.
The First Female OWL Player is a Struggling Team’s Best Chance
Stage one of the Overwatch league’s left many teams disappointed with their results, but none more so than the Shanghai Dragons who finished at the bottom of the league with a devastating 0 – 10 record.
While esport castors and fans alike praised Chao “Undead” Fang and Weida “Diya” Lu for their individual skill, and for the team as a whole improving since the start of the season, many still maintain that a 0 – 40 season record is still a very real and very scary possibility for Shanghai.
In the recent signing period, the Dragons acquired three new Korean players: Eui-Seok “Fearless” Lee (Tank), Gi-Hyeon “Ado” Chon (DPS), and (by far the most publicized) Yeon “Geguri” Kim (Tank).
Geguri will not only be the first female player in OWL, but one of a small handful of female players across all professional esports. Early on in her career she was accused of cheating because her Zarya play is just that good. She proved her mettle (and put the rumors to bed) by filming her hands while playing during a live stream.
General managers throughout the league had faced heavy criticism from fans at the start of the season, as not one of the twelve teams in the league recruited Geguri, a player who, statistically, was better than a large handful of male tank players that did get signed to teams. The accusations of sexism became even more damning after the Houston Outlaws’ staff cited a lack of female facilities at their training HQ as part of the reason for not taking her on.
So, Geguri got a team (and even one that wouldn’t make ludicrous excuses!) and the Shanghai Dragons got a badly needed injection of skill. Looks like everything worked out, right?
Well, yes and no.
Sadly Geguri, Fearless, and Ado are all still trying to get their american VISAs, a process that could take several more weeks, meaning they are currently unable to play.
Meanwhile, stage two has so far been equally unkind to the Dragons, losing both of their games in the first week. Many remain doubtful that the team, even with the roster change-ups, will be able to advance out of last place. Analyst Christopher “Montecristo” Mykles was notably skeptical that the addition of the Korean players will be able to have a significant impact for the Chinese team but added “I don’t think it’s going to be that bad” when asked about the prospect of a 0 – 40 season finish for them.
Until then, OWL fans will be praying to the gods of RNG (VISA paperwork is controlled by RNG, right?) that Geguri will soon be taking her long overdue steps onto the pro stage.