Why I helped send the Dragon Age team 22 dozen mini cupcakes today.
Way back in March, Bioware forums user Brass_Buckles started a thread with a humble request: “Could we please see more of the Lady Inquisitor?”
At that time, there were multiple videos depicting the protagonist of the upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition as male, but nothing featuring a female. This was nothing new, for the gaming industry at large or Bioware in particular. Though her voice actress is often lauded for her talent, Femshep was distinctly absent from Mass Effect’s marketing for the first two games of the trilogy, while the male Shepard could be seen in every trailer and on the cover of every game. And while the default designs for male Hawke and female Hawke were seemingly made to be interchangeable, outside of the game disc, female Hawke hardly registers on the radar. Indeed, if you own the official Dragon Age II walkthrough, go ahead and open it. You will be able to count on one hand the amount of times she is visible—one of which features her in her underwear.
This matters. It matters for a number of reasons.
1. The male version is viewed as the “real” version. Male Shepard is the real Shepard. People rarely say “Commander Shepard” and expect everybody in the room to imagine a woman. This filters down through the developers and the fans and every journalist who writes about the game. The female version of the character is not the hero. She is the invisible, less valid alternative.
2. Female gamers exist, their numbers are growing, and they want games that appeal to them. Female gamers account for roughly 45% of the gaming market. When a game with features that specifically appeal to many women (ability to play as female, strong characterization, romance, interesting storylines) hides all the things that women would be interested in, how are they going to find it and play it? In the forum thread, a common story emerged: most women only started playing Bioware games because they heard, through word-of-mouth, that it might appeal to them. Many had no idea that Shepard could be female until somebody told them. Even when Mass Effect 3 came out, there were gamers who had never picked up the title before because they had no idea you could play as a woman.
3. It’s just frustrating to always be the afterthought. Especially when even the company that has built its reputation on inclusiveness still puts a white male face on every game.
Here’s the thing: that thread is now 171 pages long. Everyone expected it to be locked in an explosion of drama before 10 pages, but it didn’t, largely because Bioware dev Allan Schumacher joined the discussion, listened to our concerns, actively involved himself, and told all the dudebros who tried to derail it to take a hike. He listened, he understood our concerns, and while he’s vague on the details of when and how much, he has been forwarding what we said to the higher ups.
So first the gender neutral game cover happened, then E3. And while many things could still be improved (the official website remains oddly silent on the ability to choose your gender), it’s the best representation we’ve had from Bioware yet. We wanted to show how much this mattered to us, and so after weeks of organizing, cupcakes happened. And the response from the devs has been greater than we imagined. According to Allan:
It’s superbly appreciated. I know for some it was a reaffirmation that “this is why this stuff is important” and for others “I didn’t really realize how much some appreciated this” so please keep it up
I originally just sent it to the Dragon Age team (since it was cupcakes for them), but the letters and sentiment were picked up by the other games and also Montreal and propagated there too!!
Apparently all it takes to make people listen is cupcakes.
Bioware isn’t perfect. They still mess up. But it’s nice to have a company that’s trying to change things. And they needed to know that people noticed.