Trans-friendly Dragon Age: Inquisition is Krem de la Creme
WARNING: Potential spoilers for Dragon Age: Inquisition (and some older BioWare games) follow…
This Christmas I was given Dragon Age: Inquisition as one of my gifts, along with some other pretty awesome stuff. As a huge – HUGE – fan of the previous two Dragon Age games, and of a lot of other games that BioWare Corp (the nice people behind the Dragon Age games) have made, I have been playing rather a lot in the time since.
Along the way I’ve met some very interesting characters, some of whom break ground I’ve never seen broken in a video game before. And I felt that this stuff was worth my saving, exiting the game and getting this down as quickly as possible before going back to it to find out just what the hell is going on in the ever-changing world of Thedas.
BioWare have long been champions of progress as I far as I’ve been able to see. Because so many of their games are RPGs, and because BioWare like to go further with that mantle that many other companies do, almost all of their games include the ability for the player to set up a romance between their character and another in the virtual world. In some games the number of potential romances is very small, perhaps only one or two, while in others it is somewhat larger, ten or more.
Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic breaks new ground
It was in one such romance option, in 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, that BioWare made what I think I am right in saying was their first breakthrough in terms of sexuality representation. The character Juhani, a female Jedi Knight, was only romanceable if the player had chosen to create a female character, making the alien woman the first openly lesbian character in the Star Wars universe. It should be noted that a female character was also able to heterosexually romance a male character, while a male player character was only able to romance a woman. Not perfect, by any stretch, but certainly in the right direction.
Similarly, in 2007’s Mass Effect the player had the option (if they had created a female avatar) to romance either a man or a female alien. The male equivalent, once again, could only romance heterosexually. This was repeated in the 2010 sequel before finally, in 2013, the third instalment added the ability for a male player character to feel something deeper than a bromance for one of his fellow men.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Dragon Age series was always far more ahead of the game than was Mass Effect. In Dragon Age: Origins, released in 2009 between Mass Effects 1 and 2, the player had the option of homosexual or heterosexual romances regardless of the digital genitals they had assigned their character at the start of the game. Dragon Age II took this even further, making all of the four romances available in the game bisexual.
Inquisition has not followed that path. It has doubled the number of potential romances available to the player, up to eight, but some of these are strictly heterosexual or strictly homosexual. There are, also, some bisexual options too. It strikes me as a more realistic set up than existed in its predecessor, in which it seemed as though everyone was willing to sleep with everyone else. Of course, all four of those characters could easily have been bisexual. There is always that to consider. But in Inquisition there is, I feel, a healthy balance between heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Oh, Krem! DAI brings in the first mindfully written transgender character in any video game…
But that wasn’t what struck me most about Inquisition, and it’s not the reason I’m seriously considering calling it the most progressive game that BioWare has ever made. No, that all comes down to the character of Cremisius Aclassi. Cremisius, or Krem for short, is the first transgender character that I have ever encountered in any video game (unless one can count the Monty Python-esque crossdressers of the Fable series, and somehow I don’t think we can).
Born with female genitalia but identifying as male, Krem serves as an example of the all-too-common story of many transgender people: that of discrimination and hatred by society.
Krem wanted to serve in the army, but wasn’t allowed on account of the parts he had been assigned at birth. After initially succeeding in keeping his secret, Krem’s ruse was eventually uncovered. He faced the threat of either slavery or execution as punishment, and was only rescued by the timely arrival of Iron Bull, a member of the Qunari race, whom you, the player, has recruited into your merry band of followers.
Bull has no reservations about Krem, seeing him as male. I asked Krem when I met him “So you’re a woman?” and the response I got was rather heart-warming.
Krem initially seems angered by the question, but Bull is calmer, and states in no uncertain terms that Krem is as much a man as anyone.
Then, the real clincher. It is revealed that the Qunari have a long-established concept of transgenderism, which they call “Aqun-Athlok”, the literal translation of which is “born as one gender but choosing to live as another”.
Later I asked Iron Bull “You don’t have any problems with him being a woman?” The response was thus:
“He’s not a woman.”
Bravo BioWare. Bravo for at least trying to educate people on what the word transgender really means. And bravo for what I understand was a fantastic bit of research in writing this character. It’s really paid off, and just maybe has started a trend in video games for portraying transgender characters accurately and in a positive light.