By Guest Contributor Allegra, cross-posted from The Border House
Over the past few weeks I’ve been preparing myself for the release of Dragon Age 2, which is set for release on 11th March. I only managed to get my hands on the demo today, but already there are a few problematic elements bubbling away in the background.
The demo begins with a Chantry seeker named Cassandra calling on Varric, a dwarf who she knows spent time with Hawke – the game’s protagonist. In response to her questioning, Varric begins narrating a story in which Hawke and his/her sister Bethany are fleeing the darkspawn only to encounter a dragon. At this point, Cassandra calls shenanigans on Varric’s story, and he promises to relate ‘what really happened’.
The problem, however, is that BioWare have chosen (at least for the purposes of the demo) to give you the character creator only after this initial opening sequence. In fact, the beginning of the game gives you a simple choice between male/female and warrior/mage/rogue before throwing you into the action. This means that the first ten minutes of the game are always going to be played as BioWare’s default male or female Hawke, which in turn means that they are going to be Caucasian.
At the time of posting, the discussion on BioWare’s forum about this issue is already over twenty pages long (and really not recommended reading for the most part, with a lot of people making the point that this opening sequence presents Hawke as a legend, rather than who they really were. However, this raises the uncomfortable subtext that, while the real Hawke may be customized to suit the player’s tastes, the Hawke that people know from legends is always going to be white. Personally, I can’t help but be reminded of Jesse Houston’s assertion that BioWare’s female characters are less iconic than the male ones, and Stanley Woo’s utter failure to handle racial issues surrounding the Dragon Age games in the past couple of months.
BioWare’s reasoning behind this bizarre choice seems to be that they have concluded that they’re losing a lot of players who don’t want to be confronted with a character creator at the very start of a game. As Mike Laidlaw says in this interview:
We saw a lot of people disengaging at hour one, hour two [...] You get to an RPG and fire it up, and it hits you in the face with a thousand stats. Those stats are very cool, but you may not be mentally or emotionally prepared to deal with them as your first thing to do in the game.
He also goes on to add:
Part of the glorious advantage of the frame narrative is [that] Varric kind of lies about you. We establish how people perceive the Champion. This figure is of some import to the world.
And, apparently, the way people perceive the Hero of Kirkwall is as a white man or white woman, regardless of their actual ethnicity. Granted, this could make for a very interesting plot device should BioWare wish to use Dragon Age 2 to challenge this assumption in game, but unfortunately the demo makes no sign of doing anything of the sort.
Granted, there has been some progress since the days of Dragon Age: Origins, where your Warden of color was furnished with an entirely white family. According to the Dragon Age Wiki, the skin tones and facial structures of Hawke’s family members will now adapt themselves to compliment your customized character. However I can’t help but feel that this is at least a small step back from Mass Effect 2, where the pre-character creation sequence has been craftily put together to only show Shepard in full armour obscuring her/his skin tone and facial features until you’ve played through the opening scene.
I have to wonder: would that have been so difficult to do this Dragon Age 2, as well? Why choose to present a legendary version of the main character, and their entire family as potentially whitewashed versions of themselves, without challenging or questioning it? Will this depiction of the Caucasian Hawke of legend appear in the full version of the game? And, if so, is it plot device that BioWare have used in a ham-fisted attempt to ‘hit the ground running’, or will we be seeing more cutscenes featuring the default versions of Hawke throughout the game?
About This BlogRacialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable
Keanu ReevesJohn Cho newsflashes.
Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at email@example.com.
The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.
Comments on this blog are moderated. Please read our comment moderation policy.
Use the "for:racialicious" tag in del.icio.us to send us tips. See here for detailed instructions.
Interested in writing for us? Check out our submissions guidelines.
Follow Us on Twitter!
- aboynamedart on Undo Process: The Racialicious Review For Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor
- croquet on The Walking Dead Recap: 4.8 “Too Far Gone”
- croquet on Comedian Aamer Rahman Explains “Reverse Racism”
- gogobooty on Open Thread: Scandal S03 E08: ‘Vermont is for Lovers, Too’
- jen* on The Scandal Mid-Season Finale Prediction Thread
- On Disability and Cartographies of Difference
- A Muslimah’s Guide to Rocking the World
- Quoted: Dr. David Leonard Pens Open Letter to Marissa Alexander
- The Acclaimed Web Series Black Folks Don’t Returns for a Third Season
- Comedian Aamer Rahman Explains “Reverse Racism”
- The Walking Dead Recap: 4.8 “Too Far Gone”
- The Walking Dead Roundtable 4.7 – “Dead Weight”
- The Scandal Mid-Season Finale Prediction Thread
TagsABC activism advertising african-american asian asian-american barack obama black celebrities comedy diversity fashion feminism film gender glbt HBO hip hop hispanic history hollywood identity interracial relationships Kerry Washington latino media mixed race movies music muslim politics race racial stereotypes racism religion Scandal sex sexism sexual stereotypes stereotypes True Blood tv Uncategorized white youtube