Gender Neutral Cover Art

Dragon Age Inquisition box art

Dragon Age Inquisition box art

Cover art for the upcoming Dragon Age Inquisition features a fully armored character as viewed from behind. The gender of this character is not telegraphed because of this artistic choice.  The original game and expansion pack, Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, also featured a fully armored gender neutral character. The second main game, Dragon Age II, had a cover that showed a male Hawke (protagonist).

Cover art that displays gender neutral characters seems to be logical in games where you can create either a female or male character. The cover art is the first impression that players get of a game. For good or bad, they will make assumptions based on that image.

While it is true that the text on the back of the box can clarify character creation options, it sometimes fails to do so. For instance, in another BioWare game (Mass Effect) the cover shows a male Shepard.  The back of the box states: “As Commander Shepard, you lead an elite squad on a heroic, action-packed adventure throughout the galaxy. Discover the imminent danger from an ancient threat and battle the traitorous Saren and his deadly army to save civilization. The fate of all life depends on your actions!” A bullet point states: “Customize your character and embark in an immersive, open-ended storyline” Customizable does not always mean gender options. Nowhere on this box is it evident that Commander Shepard could be a female character. From the box art to the text, one could easily assume that Shepard is only ever male. A gender neutral cover would not have made this customization option explicit, but it could prevent the initial impression of the game as being only male protagonists.

I am glad to see that BioWare is going back to the gender neutral covers (at least for this game). I hope that this is a trend in gaming. But, I also want the text on the back of the box telling players that customization also included gender options. This is a selling point, please make it more visible.

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7 Responses to Gender Neutral Cover Art

  1. J.E. Keep says:

    It always boggled my mind that The Elder Scrolls of all games would use a specific (and inevitably male) character to promote its games. In a game that’s all about forming YOUR own character and doing things YOUR way, to market the game based around a single concept of the main character seemed to be defeating much of the appeal of your game just to blend into the herd.

    But sadly, since I began making a living off of selling my goods to people I’ve learned the hard way that making your products look generic to their genre (and boring) sells more than standing out.

    • Gunthera1 says:

      Which is why I like this Dragon Age Inquisition cover. The character is generic and gender neutral but the focus is above them! There is more to the cover art than just that character.

      • J.E. Keep says:

        Very true! This shows you can adhere to the genre conventions while not excluding most of the market.

        It even looks pretty good on the whole.

      • Cade DeBois (@cadedebois) says:

        I totally agree. I really love that the focus of the larger picture is what the figure is pointing at and not the figure her/himself. That’s so brilliant.

        Maybe Bioware has seen my various cmments on various sites about how I snubbed Mass Effect for years, even though I’m a huge sci fi geek, simpy because all the cover art and ads have no clue you could play as a female character. ;) I’m just so very, very tired of playing the complusory male protagonist in my precisely limited gaming time. It wasn’t until I saw another female gamer post a pic of her female Shepard on social media that I knew about this (I have spent much of the past 15 years avoiding the gaming community for reasons that directly led me to this very blog).

        Funny, J.E. Keep, when I read the tweet for this article my thoughts jumped immeditely to TES, and Skyrim specifically. I love TES, I really really love Skyrim and a good part of that love is I can pay a female character of my own creation that I’m largely comforable with (they need to work of the rigidly gendered clothing and armor situation, however). But I hate how the game’s promotion has been centered around this hypermasculine figure on the cover art, how the fandom has really latched onto that and so now fans and the gaming community in general often use that male figure as shorthand for the entire bleeping game. I’ve even encountered some players who think that’s the only “real” Skyrim character you should play–a bulky male Nord type. They can’t imagine playing the game otherwise. How sad and frustrating that is. I played Skyrim as my main game for 2 years (until i forced myself to take a haitus from it). I create nearly 40 characters, many with backstories and other RPing elements, and only 3 of them where Nords (and only one was a not-very-bulky male Nord). You have 9 races and two genders, plus thousands of minor customizations–why would you just copy the very limiting cover art? Oh, the power of suggestion…

    • Christina Nordlander says:

      I fully agree; that’s bothered me too. Why choose a light-skinned male human in Imperial armour to represent a character who could be female/Redguard/Khajiit/Orcish/anything you like?

      I really like the “Dragon Age: Inquisition” cover.

  2. Joe Rinaldi says:

    I like how the Souls games do this, and follow through with it by making gender basically indistinguishable if you’re wearing full armor.

    It really helps carry the theme that your character is defined not by what they are and where they came from, but by their deeds in their present circumstances. As far as messages delivered through games go, that’s a very good one.

    On that note, normally pictures of knights in shining armor and whatnot are conveying a heroic power fantasy, gender notwithstanding. It’s refreshing, the way that those games humanize such characters.

  3. oyun oyna says:

    I really like the “Dragon Age: Inquisition” cover.

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