BioWare Did Not Change Anders: A Refutation

I’ll preface this topic with the thing that always surprises me about conversations insisting that Anders was utterly changed to shoe-horn him into the Dragon Age 2 story line: I always assumed he was gay. The line about wishing for “a pretty girl on my arm” I presumed to be a figure of speech, a colloquialism rather than an actual expression of desire for female company.

Now, really, my Wardens were led to expect that everyone who knew her would adore a trip to her tent, so to speak. Morrigan was the sole exception and she didn’t like me anyway. Zev, Leliana, and Alistair were all but drooling on them. How could Anders possibly resist any of these amazing women unless he had no interest in female people?

Imagine my surprise at a male Warden’s complete inability to flirt with him, either. On top of that I find him eager to pursue a relationship with a LadyHawke in DA2. Apparently my Warden prowess had waned in Amaranthine. None of that has a blessed thing to do with Anders's personality. It’s mere sexuality.

If you really listen to Anders in Awakening you can hear the seeds of his bitterness, most clearly in his conversations with Justice. At the beginning he’s relieved at his reprieve from Templar pursuit and thrilled at his first tastes of freedom, certainly. For the first time in his life someone actively wants him to exercise his power to its full extent. Why wouldn’t he be a little giddy?

He’s still angry, however. He repeatedly expresses his frustration and guilt that the majority of mages are still subjected to the predation of the Templar Order under the Chantry’s rule. Combine his stated feelings with Justice’s single-mindedness et voila! You get Anders starting along that downward spiral. At the beginning of DA2 he’s still got his snark, he still shows sparks of fun, but he focuses less and less on himself and more on the injustice he perceives in the treatment of all mages in Thedas.

He tries to bury what he sees as his selfishness under a metric ton of sick and frightened refugees in Darktown but Justice sees right through that ploy. The real problem is not that Anders himself is free but that almost no other mage is. Once you talk to Karl—and Anders kills him—matters are only intensified.

Eventually the free clinic isn’t enough and he gets involved in the mage underground, smuggling people out of The Gallows. That assuages his guilt for a while but Justice gets harder and harder to control as the duo hear stories of what life is like in the Circle in Kirkwall. One step too far and he’s asked to butt out, essentially, thus removing an outlet for all that seething frustration. Is it any wonder he grows more and more withdrawn and defensive?

You can hear the resignation in his voice (and huge kudos to Adam Howden for the fantastic voice acting) when he finally settles on his ultimate plan and asks for help gathering the ingredients. It’s clear both in his animations and his words that he’s unhappy about deceiving you. I suspect Justice is no more thrilled with it than Anders, if you’ve taken the rivalry path and tried to keep their personalities separate. Neither can risk Hawke running to the Revered Mother, however.

From that point to the end it’s obvious how much his decision weighs on him. I imagine that, were the romance dialogue there, things would have gone downhill in the bedroom as well. All of his considerable energy has turned inward toward driving through his conscience to the ultimate goal: forcing the battle he deeply believes is the only way mages will ever truly gain freedom from Chantry rule.

Whether you agree with that conclusion or not (and goodness knows I’ve had Hawkes that fully bought into it and others that couldn’t have disagreed more) he’s utterly convinced of it. If anyone in Thedas might say it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees, it’s the Justice-Anders he’s become by the end of DA2. Little as he likes it, he does what has to be done in his (their?) eyes.

From the first conversation you’re shown that Anders is a passionate, exuberant man. While Justice and Kirkwall strip his veneer of good cheer away under their combined, relentless assault he’s still the same person. When you romance him or go down the friendship path with him you get flashes of his humor late into the second act.

It surprises me that so many people confuse character development with a retcon. If you explore all of his dialogues you can follow his progress through DA: Awakening and DA2. It may not be what I would have wanted for his character but it made sense in the context of the story the writer’s wanted to tell.

DA: Inquisition, Women Gamers, and Marketing

As yet another “BioWare should market to women” thread has been locked at ye olde BSN, I thought I’d condense my thoughts here. The topic has been bashed to death and will continue to be beaten like a dead horse, but there was much of interest in that thread.

The contention that irritated me most claimed that marketing should focus on the biggest of a game’s existing demographic, to the exclusion of all else. This, proponents declared, is the most efficient use of each marketing dollar. This, I say, is short-sighted.

If women comprise a growing share of the gaming market why wouldn’t you target that demographic as well? According to BioWare devs, the Dragon Age consumer base is already 30% female. While a large percentage of those women love the company and their games because of their strong female protagonists, and thus will purchase new BioWare games by preference, not all women loved Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age 2 and may abandon both franchises unless shown that DA: Inquisition will be different and more to their tastes.

What company can afford to ignore nearly a third of their current customer base? And what company wouldn’t like to grow their market share across more than one demographic? This question leads to the most pertinent one: what should BioWare do to make the most of each penny it spends marketing DA:I?

For this, I have a vision. Picture, if you will, a screen shot of the character creator. The invisible player selects a human male warrior. Bam! You see a cut scene of him catching a massive blow on his shield. Then back to CC and switch to a female dwarf berserker. Pow! She’s dropping a flying cleave with her two-handed axe on the head of some demon. Back to CC and a male elf. Thwack! A searing arrow of death hammers into a Red Templar. Then a female Tal-Vashoth, then her flinging a fireball into a group of whatever.

You get the idea: showcase the classes, their unique abilities, and the fact that you can customize your character all at once. The strengths of the Dragon Age games lie not in one gender or character but in their choices. These begin at the very start with the selection of appearance options. BioWare offers dozens of ways to play epic heroes and those options will appeal to the largest number of people. Why limit potential customers to those who want to play stubbly, lantern-jawed white boys when that’s not the only way to play?

Of all the genres out there, particularly on consoles, I’d argue that role-playing games in general and the fantasy types in particular, are most likely to appeal to women. In part I base that on my own preferences and in part I consider the stereotypes that most women are raised beneath to influence those choices.

Women are raised to love fairy tales and believe science and math are, if not beyond them, at least too hard for them to master to be worth the effort. Don’t believe me? See one or fifty of the thousands of articles, blog posts, and videos about bringing women into STEM fields. They’re also told that they’re too delicate physically and emotionally to handle a battlefield, leading to the current struggle to convince men that women willing and wishing to put their lives on the line as soldiers should be included there.

By extension, this discourages women from reading, writing, and playing science fiction. Certainly, you can name dozens of exceptions to this rule, women who have followed their passions and excelled. In general, however, women tend to be more comfortable with magic and dragons than space ships and gunplay. It’s more socially acceptable for them to enjoy fantasy than to criticize the accuracy of a sci-fi universe to real-world physics.

Should that change? Hell, yes. Is it? Yes to that, too. But remember that I’m refuting the argument that BioWare should exclusively target straight white males with their marketing of Dragon Age: Inquisition. That’s foolish. As it becomes more and more common for women to start gaming or try new platforms, the marketing of new games should find ways to include them in the target audiences.

The guys in the so-called target demographic already know that the games will have plenty to appeal to them. If anything, BioWare and the gaming industry in general should limit the stoic, manly, white protagonist of old and start promoting PCs of color, female leads, and LGBT relationships in games. Consider the size of this largely-untapped pool of players, people who don’t know yet how much they love Dragon Age. Tell me again why no one should market games to them, please.

All of this ignores one key element in the advertising of DA:I. We don’t know who has the final say over the marketing purse strings. If BioWare gets to direct the campaign over the next several months before release I have a great deal more faith that they’ll be willing to take a chance and expand their focus. If EA picks what will be shown, however, I fear that the “safe” route will stay the only one they see. Time will tell.