BioWare on Racial Diversity in Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age 2 Logo showing an armored man in full color standing in front of the white silhouettes of various men and women in Dragon Age 2.

A player on the official Dragon Age 2 discussion boards posted the following question yesterday:

Do we know if DA2 will have a better range of racial diversity?  I was dissapointed that Dragon Age, a game that seem to use elves as an allegory for black slavery and the treatment of native Americans lacks any black or asian people.  That and it’s a fictional fantasy world that’s not based on anywhere specific so it just seems thoughtless to the point of discriminaton to not include other ethnicities.  Not to mention that the character creator doesn’t really let you make a black or asian character with its messed up colour settings.

Will this be changed for DA2?

It’s a legitimate question.  One that many of our readers have commented on here at the Border House.  Regardless of Dragon Age’s inclusiveness with gay characters, the game is not racially diverse in any fashion.  Stanley Woo, who appears to be a Quality Assurance employee at Bioware responded to this question.

In response to elves as a metaphor for black slavery:

It can also be an allegory for the Jews, North-American Japanese during WWII, the poor, the Romani, Yu-Gi-Oh players or any other peoples segregated and ghettoized for reasons other than race. :p

In response to the world being fictional:

We should include all real world ethnicities into a fictional fantasy world why, exactly? How does it fit into our fantasy setting, or are you trying to tell us what our fantasy setting should look like in order to be “fair”?

In response to changing the character creator to allow a wider variety of races in characters:

You should probably play the game to find out. i have not yet met anyone who disliked a game because of “lack of racial diversity.” Most folks will concentrate on story and gameplay, but what do I know? That’s just my opinion.

Wait, what?  First of all, you are representing your company Stanley Woo – it’s not “just your opinion”.  Your argument that most people play Dragon Age because of story and gameplay and not because it is inclusive goes against everything we believe at The Border House.  Has Dragon Age not received praise for allowing same-sex relationships within the game?  Has BioWare not been known as a more inclusive RPG storytelling company?  I was under the impression that diversity is actually quite important for BioWare based on their previous titles.  Sure we play your games because the stories and gameplay are particularly impressive, but we have applauded you in the past for making decent attempts at inclusiveness in that story and gameplay.

Your sarcastic commentary about how elves could be an allegory for Yu-Gi-Oh players?  Really?  That’s how you professionally respond to concerns involving race in your game?  This is why companies have Community Managers to do the talking.

He also states:

While this is not a forum for political discussion, this seems relevant to the subject under discussion. If we were to arbitrarily add ethnic diversity “for the sake of fairness,” we would not hear the end of how careless and insensitive we are in not highlighting the noble differences in each race, or how “X race people don’t act that way” or”how come the X races didn’t have more to say?” Because the second you open the door to “fairness”, very little  becomes forbidden and you end up with an unfocused product that tries to please everyone but ultimately fails to please anyone.

Perhaps you’ve noticed other concepts that weren’t in our game: vegetarians, polygamists, horses, fox hunts, soccer moms, conservational biologists, astronomers, pansexuals, furries, LARPers, numismatists, lepers, schizophrenics, the deaf, paraplegics, Protestants, or Yu-Gi-Oh players (yes, i’m using it again, since so many people said they liked it). Now, currently the discussion is racial diversity, but how far do we go in order to be “fair” and “inclusive”? Do we start getting into religious diveristy (which could seriously compromise our concept of the Chantry and the Maker), sexuality (which has its own inherent issues), hobbies, nationalities (can you imagine a “Canadian” in Thedas)? Where do you draw the line on “fairness”?

This sounds an awful lot like the straw man argument we hear too frequently in the U.S.  – “Once we legalize gay marriage, what comes next – legalizing bestiality?  Is nothing sacred?”  Luckily, David Gaider stepped in:

Yet I think it’s fair to say that we could have included a broader spectrum of visible ethnicities in our world, if we wished to. I have to agree with Stan that this isn’t necessarily a worthy goal for its own sake. It might be interesting, sure, but it could also be pretty banal– if I were to include that in a setting, I certainly hope it’d be more than just tokenism. I don’t think anyone wants that.

There’s a little too much privilege involved to say this shouldn’t be a problem for someone (not that you’re saying this, Alex, just a comment on some posts I’m seeing). Obviously everyone wants to see themselves reflected in a world they’re enjoying, at some level, and I can see how someone might perceive a lack as feeling excluded. Ultimately we’re going to tell the stories that we think we have something to say about, and if they work as allegories to issues in the real world I think that’s possibly a bit better than having everything stake out a claim in our fantasy (also as Stan said). Racially speaking there are multiple human races represented in Thedas and you’ll see them depending on where you go– Kirkwall is in a different part of the world than Ferelden, so you should see that reflected in DA2.

In the end it’ll be up to you to tell us how well we did. With any luck the effort we made to have your family represent your appearance choices will show we’re at least listening.

Read the full thread here for other responses and the full discussion.   What say you, commenters?

Edit: I’m compelled to continue here after reading the full thread (which Stanley ended up locking after it ‘got out of control’).

Am i concerned that I won’t be able to feel represented by my PC or the story/setting? Heck no! I am defined by more than just my race. i have my height, my roguish nature, my love of fantasy, wish fulfillment, and lifelong love of sword-and-sorcery. I also have a love of good story and the triumph of good over evil.You know what wouldn’t have represented me?Jade Empire with non-Asian themed names. but that’s just how far you’d have to get for me to not find something in a game that represents me.

Do I think a game/story/setting is racist for not including Asian characters or themes? Heck no, i would think the opposite. Not everything is about me. sometimes it’s about the black guy over there or the Jewish girl over there or, and I know this is a radical concept, the white guys all around me.

I know people feel very strongly about them, but ultimately, It’s. A. Game. And games have their own internal consistency and rules. I don’t have to like all the rules in order to play the game, and in some games, i can even modify the rules, so I’ll accept that. Some folks may wish to die on this particular hill, but there are far bigger and more important ones where I’ll hang my hat. but again, that’s just my opinion. :)

Don’t you think there are more important things to worry about?  After all, it’s only a game.   You’re not representative of everyone.  Here Stanley uses just about every derailing tactic there is once he realizes that he’s backed himself into a corner.

A player said that the world has changed and therefore media should change too.  Stanley says:

It may, at that, but it’s not going to do so through a handful of people making unreasonable demands and accusations to a single content creator… especially not due to an internet disagreement. You want real change? Join an advocacy group or related non-profit organization and get involved with like-minded people who are actively working to effect change. Telling a random BioWarian that they’re wrong ultimately accomplishes nothing towards your goal.

That is one of the most frustrating responses I have ever read on the internet from a representative of a game company.  First of all, these are your official fucking forums.  This is the place where players come to talk about issues like this.  Telling people who question the inclusiveness of their game to basically GTFO and go back to their ‘advocacy group’ is some of the most dismissive bullshit I have ever read.  Going to the official forum and initiating a conversation with the developers will accomplish nothing towards our goal?  That’s what I’m going to tell the next person who claims that The Border House is a waste of time because we should be contacting developers directly instead of ‘preaching to the choir’.  Fuck that.

I can tell you, though, that at no time was there ever a meeting, email, conversation, or workflow which consisted of “do we include black people (y/n)?” “No.”

That is the fucking point.  Making an active decision to exclude black people is just as exclusionary as forgetting to ask and answer the question in the first place.  You wouldn’t have to sit down and ask a question about “do we include black people” if white people weren’t the default human.

Here’s the deal.  If inclusiveness is really of importance to Bioware, why is this Stanley Woo (who has worked at Bioware since 2001) allowed to say this offensively dismissive shit?  Why is he managing the tone of the community?  Why is he locking threads?  Why is he the voice of Dragon Age 2?  He’s quickly turned me from a Bioware fangirl into someone who is quite hesitant to spend another dime on a Bioware game.

About Tami Baribeau

Lead Editor and co-founder of The Border House, feminist, gamer, lover of social media, technology, and virtual worlds. Pansexual, equestrian, dog lover, social game studio director and producer. Email me here and follow me on Twitter!
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77 Responses to BioWare on Racial Diversity in Dragon Age 2

  1. Jayle Enn says:

    What do I say? I say that guy’s asking for a pink slip as a belated Christmas present.

  2. NonCon says:

    I guess I’ll be sending an email to Bioware letting them know that they’ve just lost a sale.

    • NonCon says:

      Was too frustrated with Woo to comment on Gaider’s post at first, but Gaider comes off as saying, very politely, “We’ll represent you *if we feel like it*.” but my view could be skewed by my frustration, I’ll concede.

      • Callan says:

        NonCon, that’s what I took out of it too. A very polite, carefully worded, “We own the story, and we want to tell stories about white people because that’s what inspires us to write. If we added more diversity it would be tokenism.”

        • Well, to be fair, diversity included to fullfill your tokenism quota is usually pretty terrible representation. And since such characters generally don’t participate in the story except in horrible stereotyped ways, doesn’t tend to be that representative, either. So he’s right that nobody wants tokens, but since that’s also not what anyone is asking for…

          Also: “Racially speaking there are multiple human races represented in Thedas and you’ll see them depending on where you go” sounds to me, given what I’ve heard about everyone being white, and my experience with other fantasy settings, to be something like “Well our world as lots of different varieties of white people.” Also possibly “Oh there are black (/any other race) people over here, but the story isn’t going there, so nyaaaaah”

  3. Callan says:

    This is typical of Stanley Woo–he posts without thinking, and then when people call him on it, he backs away, saying, “Hey, we were just having a friendly discussion, and all you angry people have misunderstood my reasonable and correct position!” As much as I love BioWare, their community management is inconsistent and sometimes quite shoddy. Chris Priestly is a marketer, and his responses to player concerns are often tone-deaf and dismissive. Their player moderators moderate according to their whims and moods. Dragon Age players get far more response from BioWare staff than Mass Effect players do. Such is life. Maybe EA doesn’t give them enough money to hire someone capable of turning things around.

    • Cuppycake says:

      I’m not even sure why they’re allowing people like Stanley Woo to post in the first place. As a Community Manager, my first mandatory rule is that unless you have a specific reason to be responding, you don’t. And if you do post on the forums, you’ve gone through some kind of forum posting training on how to interact with the community. It’s just way too risky to have any employee acting as the voice of the company or the product.

      If you’re a QA employee, you hang out in the bug report forum and only ask questions if they help you clarify a bug. If you work in marketing, you answer questions involving distribution and advertising. If you’re in design, you talk about features.

      It’s too had that EA’s CM has gone down the tube. Perhaps it had something to do with the loss of Sean Dahlberg last year.

      • Callan says:

        I don’t know why they don’t have a policy either. I think it’s because at the beginning of their forums, all of the devs who interacted with the players were more sensible, so they’re still running under the misapprehension that all their employees are so sane and self-regulating, they don’t need a posting policy. But they do, and badly.

        I spend time reading the BioWare forums because there is a small group of people I enjoy communicating with there, and also there is the occasional informational nugget from the devs. Their CM style (if you could even call it that) makes me grit my teeth, though. I want BioWare to do well, and this could be improved so easily. You know?

      • Jayle Enn says:

        Unless you’re a basement modding team (and perhaps not even then), the approach Cuppy describes is definitely the safest and sanest you’ll find. This is the Internet– bad news travels fast, but bad PR travels even faster and lingers -forever-. Just ask Milo Cooper, the Verant employee who told an Everquest player: “Shut up and pay me your $10 a month, little man. My Porsche needs some performance upgrades.”

        Oh, and don’t even think about the classic fallbacks, deleting threads and banning posters en masse. It’s a lot easier to get blog or forum hosting now than it was when that guy went off on a player.

      • Olivia says:

        It’s too had that EA’s CM has gone down the tube. Perhaps it had something to do with the loss of Sean Dahlberg last year.

        Wasn’t Dahlberg the one responsible for the whole “no gays in Star Wars” mess though?

      • Ozaline says:

        Well at least he clarified that it was his opinion rather then the stance of the company. He was posting as a person who happens to work for the company rather then as a represntative of the company.

        Bioware isn’t going to loose my money over Woo putting his foot in his mouth but it is irksome to see none-the-less.

        • Except he was representing his company. He was working in his official capacity as a moderator. If he has the authority to lock the thread, he’s representing the company. The fact that he was representing his company by stating his opinions which probably aren’t the company’s actual stances is just more problematic.

          And considering the number of people just here who are alienated by these comments, and who are saying that they aren’t buying their products because of this, it’s pretty clear that it is losing them money, and saying it isn’t going to cost them money is sort of denying reality.

          (I’m certainly not trusting a company that lets bigots speak on their behalf; regardless of what the stance of other members are. If you’re letting them speak for you at all, that makes it pretty clear you’re not committed to keeping racist (and other) bs out of your games.)

          • Ozaline says:

            What I mean is everything he said was “I statements”

            “Am I going to worry?”

            “Do I care?”

            “My opinion”

            So he made it clear depsite the fact that he has moderator and employment status he wasn’t speaking for the company, he was deffinitly being an asshole and the choice to lock the thread was immature but I’m not taking his statements as bioware’s official policy, when the poster made it clear he wasn’t…

            I see Bioware employes talking for themselves all the time.The Company doesn’t put on a united front in how it presents itself on the forums outside of official announcements, rather it seems they let each person be themselves, wether they’re insensitive jerks or not.

            • Ozaline says:

              Also I said it wasn’t going to cost them my money, I didn’t say it wasn’t going to cost them money.

              I’m not saying that the responses of other people are invaid, I had a long talk about this with a friend last night who is considering boycotting Bioware too.. and that’s fine, but I tend to divorce work and creator to begin with especially when this it’s only one member of a creative team…

              But that’s me, it’s perfectly valid for other people to act differently.

    • Denis Farr says:

      Now that you mention it, this also brings to my mind the fiasco with “there is no homosexuality in Star Wars” a few years back. It does seem brilliant at times, and then remarkably full of fail at others.

      And yeah, there was another thread yesterday where one of the mods (pretty sure it was Priestly) was called on being dismissive for a comment and he apologized and tried to reason out what his actual intent was (regarding romantic interest speculation).

      • Jayle Enn says:

        One good thing came out of the homosexuality in Star Wars debacle: watching forehead veins throb when you brought Kirk/Spock up as a counter.

        • Ozaline says:

          I remember at least one EU Star Wars book that had a gay couple (I think it was one of the Rogue Squadron books but I could be wrong), and you could romance Juhani as a woman (and only as a woman).

          So I call bullshit on no gays in Star Wars.

  4. Does Stanley Woo even know what game is under discussion? Because I was fairly certain there were pansexuals in Dragon Age…

    This kind of reaction to issues of diversity also is pretty much guaranteeing that I won’t be playing either of those games. …unless, I suppose, it becomes clear he’s not actually representing the company. Though the more reasonable response here doesn’t look particularly useful either. ._.

  5. Trodamus says:

    Have you ever noticed that, when you call someone on saying something stupid or offensive, they will go leaps and bounds beyond their initial beliefs to defend what was said? Stan just kinda went off the deep end there when he actually should have said, “Well, yeah it could / should have had more racial diversity. Maybe they’re saving it for an expansion, like Guild Wars.” Personally, if local was such an issue, maybe they should have had Sten, Zhevran or Leliana be non-white, as they’re all from outside Feralden.

    I can hardly figure out where David is going with his posts though. At the end it sounded kind of like there would be something like this in DA2. But the earlier comments lead themselves to be easy prey to saying something like, “So in creating your amazing fantasy world, you more or less decided non-whites didn’t exist.” DA isn’t an ideal fantasy world, what with the M rating and all, but I think most of us would like the opportunity to be portrayed in the negative, cynical, “realistic” light seen in the game, rather than over-idealized or stereotyped.

    • Devonian says:

      …Sten is non-white (not even human, to boot. Even gets his own unique race/gender icon on his status screen). Zevran arguably qualifies too, and a lot of Antivans we saw had relatively dark skin.

  6. Denis Farr says:

    This did make me cringe when I came across it yesterday, though I stepped out before Woo’s second response you posted, or Gaider’s later post. I know that within the world of Dragon Age, there are supposed to be people of other races in other continents. As some people remarked in the thread, Fereldan was supposed to be England in the medieval period.

    That being said, it is still fantasy, and considering I have the option of creating a character of color (not very well, mind you), it seems odd not to see many at all. Add to that the insult of the human noble origin (thank whatever powers be they’re at least listening to that complaint), and the game has many strikes against it concerning racial diversity.

    Therefore, here’s hoping Kirkwall actually does have some more inclusiveness in that regard.

    • What is the human noble origin’s problem? (have not played the game, as I mentioned earlier, and now am unlikely to.)

      • Callan says:

        If you shaded your Warden’s skin dark, your family was still white. Also, the dark skin looked like bad pancake makeup, not actual dark skin.

        • 8mph Ansible says:

          If you shaded your Warden’s skin dark, your family was still white. Also, the dark skin looked like bad pancake makeup, not actual dark skin.

          I severely hate those sort of character creators. It’s like a backhanded option of: ‘Sure your character doesn’t have to look typical/white but we also don’t have to do any detailed coding beyond that either. Win win, right?’


        • Maverynthia says:

          What’s sad is that all the problems people have had with Dragon Age were solved by MODDERS and not Bioware themselves. I snagged the “tints and tones” mod to have more hair colors, which also includes a TON of skin colors too.

  7. Thefremen says:

    This is why having a good CM represent the company in forums and other avenues where the public can interact with a company is a great idea, and sometimes allowing other employees less skilled in tactful communication is a horrible idea. Comparing Warsaw Ghettos to whereever it is Yu-Gi-Oh players are relocated? Yeesh.

  8. gunthera1 says:

    One of the things bothering me about this Bioware forum thread is from the standpoint of character creation options in Dragon Age. At some point they made a it a choice for the main player character to be a variety of races, so why is there not more diversity in the NPCs? One they created those art assets, why did they not add them to more of the NPCs?

    Also, in terms of any world building, the game can be whatever they design. It starts as a blank slate and everything must be added with code. Since that is true, why design a bland world? Why not design a diverse population? That makes for a more interesting environment in any game, movie, or book. Designers made sure that areas look different and varied, so why not the inhabitants of the worlds as well? Not only does that give players a better chance of identifying with the game, but it also makes for a richer world.

  9. Laurentius says:

    “nationalities (can you imagine a “Canadian” in Thedas)? ”

    Interesting, it’s not like most recent Bioware games ( with exception of JadeEmpire) takes american/anglo-saxon culture and rubs it in your face til you want to puke… bleh…

    • Bakka says:

      Yeah, I found that bit really strange as a response. I am Canadian, and when I played DA I did imagine myself as the character, so for me there was a Canadian in the game. I suppose a Canadian-Feralden.

  10. Cuppycake says:

    Ugh, I posted this post just to get it up there – but now there is so much more to say. First, Stanley Woo ended up LOCKING the f’king thread after all of this. Not too long after he said THIS gem, when a player said “The world has changed, its media needs to change with it.”

    Stanley says:
    “It may, at that, but it’s not going to do so through a handful of people making unreasonable demands and accusations to a single content creator… especially not due to an internet disagreement. You want real change? Join an advocacy group or related non-profit organization and get involved with like-minded people who are actively working to effect change. Telling a random BioWarian that they’re wrong ultimately accomplishes nothing towards your goal.”

    So, reaching out to developers directly using their official means is a POOR WAY to initiate conversation about diversity in games, y’all. We should keep waving our flags over here on our ‘advocacy group’ website, not posting on the forums. What a goddamn asshat.

    • Callan says:

      Threadlocking is the standard way of shutting the players up on the BioWare forums. Dev taking crap for something s/he said? Lock the thread. People talking too much about Tali? Lock the thread. People getting upset that their marketing material is all about men? Lock the thread. Folks getting too heated about anything at all that the CM doesn’t want to deal with? Lock the thread. (This is apparently preferred to banning individual trolls–no idea why.)

      And then you have to wait, because you can never tell if it’s okay to start up a new, less heated thread about the topic. Sometimes they direct you to do that, like locking the previous thread and starting fresh makes everything okay. Or, sometimes they ban you for it. It’s a minefield.

      • XIV says:

        So… basically if you’re a fan of Bioware games you are only allowed to give praise and never any criticisms. Or in other words: “I’ll tell you what your opinion is”. Weird, sounds like they more want Sycophants than actual fans. Seems like they just want to pretend anyone who calls them out on anything just doesn’t exist (‘go form a group of your own’ I’m surprised he didn’t suggest they ‘make their own business’ which is just a classic silencing/derailing tactic).

        I love how he called making the game more diverse an ‘unreasonable demand’, yeah because making everyone unlike you invisible is totally reasonable and doesn’t make you look bad at all! And then he rolls into the ‘it’s just the internet’ silencing tactic, where he tries to minimalize any importance of the argument and dismiss it even though he took part in it with his defensive reactions and went on a freaking rant about how unfair fairness is. Apparently if /he/ does it though it’s /different/. This guy is a class act. It obviously accomplished something, Stan, it got you all ruffled and flustered after all.

        If an audience wants change, they have to demand it from the people making the product, which they were already doing. Despite his totally-sincere-I’m-sure advice.. I think Stan is the one who doesn’t want real change and that’s why he closed the topic.

        • Also his response of a “Well I’ve never seen people bothered by lack of diversity” type comment to someone being bothered by lack of diversity seems like a complete unwillingness to perceive the world beyond him.

          …and oh lord the new comments are even worse. Is there any way to complain about this guys behavior to the company? Because honestly, I doubt he’s actually being representative of the company with these views, and while the more reasonable response by Gaider has still given me enough doubt about Bioware to knock them to the bottom of my priority list, I suspect he’s much closer to what the company actually wants representing them (Considering I’ve seen much more reasonable comments from them in the past) …but as long as they’re having their company represented by a bigot who seems to want to ensure only praise about them is spoken, I don’t particularly trust them not to massively fail somewhere, because this is pretty clearly not a high point on their priorities.

          • Callan says:

            If you want to make a complaint about this that will get heard, I recommend circumventing Christ Priestly, who’s supposed to be in charge of community for BioWare. He’s just as bad as Stanley Woo, and will back him up all the way.

            You might consider contacting Ray Muzyka instead: I wonder if he’s even aware of the constant missteps in this arena.

  11. XIV says:

    Wow. Just amazing. More and more I’m starting to see that huge divide people put between kids and adults isn’t quite that big at all. Becoming an adult doesn’t really seem to make you more mature as shown by Stanley Woo. That comment was just one of the most petulant and defensive responses I’ve ever seen. I’d expect to see that kind of a response from a random forum troll, not someone representing a professional company.

    It’s just amazing that people will go into these huge tirades about how being even slightly inclusive is The Most Difficult Task Possible but then put so much effort into trying to justify why being exclusive is fine. They pile up excuses and finish by implying that the entire game would become unraveled if they ever tried being inclusive and so it’s ‘better’ (read: easier for the thoughtless and apathetic) to just not try at all. But it just comes off as making excuses so you can stay in your little bubble where everyone unlike you doesn’t exist (‘Most folks’ or ‘Most folks like me’? Which one, Stan?), especially when this kind of reaction comes out. And did he seriously use ‘it’s fantasy’ to try justifying racism? It really wasn’t as big of a request as you made it out to be, Stan, but maybe for you acknowledging the existence of others unlike you is actually a pretty big request. Seems like a personal problem there, bud.

  12. Cuppycake says:

    I edited the original post with some more comments at the bottom. So annoyed right now.

  13. Laurentius says:

    “Weird, sounds like they more want Sycophants than actual fans. Seems like they just want to pretend anyone who calls them out on anything just doesn’t exist”

    Heh, interesting, i wonder if there’s more at the bottom of this beside of anything that already been said about way of handling CM. There was this rumor that Bioware gambled heavily on succes of TOR which if doesnt materialize will be the biggest flop in the industry. Maybe they want to turn forums and fans from game discussing into cohort of followers for day of trial. I know, i know, i just love making such theories but who knows…

    • Callan says:

      If that’s so, they’re going about it in an incredibly counterproductive way, to a counterproductive end. By shutting down the persistent questioners and the thinkers, they’re in essence culling the fanbase of those types of fans–the exact cohort that makes the best and most passionate advocates.

      But really I think this is merely a case of ineptitude. Foresight is not BioWare’s forte, at least in the community and customer service department.

      (BTW: Sorry, everyone, for posting so much! This article just hit a nerve because I’ve been watching the BioWare forums for over a year and wondering if I was just being oversensitive or too picky.)

  14. 8mph Ansible says:

    Wow, must be some drink that Stanley in downing to spout that utter rubbish. Such asshatery only continues to keep me from playing the game, let alone the sequel. Also threatens to keep me away from other Bioware products.

    I really love the first quote. Not only is it why I first avoided Dragon Age (then along with the squick factor of storylines I later learned about), but it also adds to the fuel of piss and vinegar I am in how my culture & history and the culture & history of the people I care about are constantly mined and used for allegory while oursevles are neither there or exist on some phantom horizon white folk get to freely inhabit and dominate the landscape.


  15. Alex says:

    You wouldn’t have to sit down and ask a question about “do we include black people” if white people weren’t the default human.

    THIS! Seriously.

    And, honestly, I am a huge fan of David Gaider. His comment is very good considering what other people have brought up regarding him being limited in what he can actually talk about. But he also seems to be defending the trope of human races being completely separate cultures, etc., in fantasy worlds. I can’t be the only person who is tired of that shit and thinks it is played out, at best. Even if you have a world loosely based on Europe, like Dragon Age does, there’s no reason for your fantasy-England (Fereldan) and your fantasy-France (Orlais) to be all-white. This trope comes from Lord of the Rings, a work which has some pretty serious problems regarding race. It’s sad that having a diverse fantasy world would be fresh, but it would (it certainly wouldn’t be more boring than having only white people, FFS).

    • Laurentius says:

      Oh i agree, but what seems to be an rather simple task in concept turns to be a pretty hard in creation. Even in “Earthsea” ethniciteis are to a degree tied geographically ( which if of course rather understandable since action takes place on archpielgos). Unfortunately the most ideas of adding more racial or ethnical diversity comes down to : “hey’s let’s make everyone american” troupe, or at least american as default and adding foreginers to the mix, like it’s not that americans are forginers to the rest of 6 bilions of people on earth in the first place…

      • Alex says:

        At least Earthsea subverted it by making white people the savage Others from far away. Good call on the US-centrism.

  16. EmmyG says:

    Unfortunately not a surprise at all – it was clear from Dragon Age 1 that there was no strong advocate for racial diversity at Bioware.

    It’s strange that Woo’s giving the ‘no one cares!’ argument, though, as I had the impression that there had been enough complaints about, at the very least, that whole “your family looks nothing like you” thing that they had indicated they were changing it. Which should suggest that they have SOME idea that they’re having trouble accomodating player needs. (And yeah, I see Gaider mentioned that.)

    Woo is just one person, and his bizarre rants do not indicate that everyone at Bioware is an active asshat – but the output does suggest, as I said, that there is no one present who strongly cares about the issue either.

  17. rho says:

    Well, there’s another game I won’t be buying.

    In addition to all the many and varied fails that everyone else has already pointed out, I find this one particularly galling: “You should probably play the game to find out.”

    How about not? If I have a question about a game, whether it’s about racial diversity or gameplay mechanics or anything else, then I’m probably asking because it’s something that would effect my enjoyment of the game. I’m not going to give you my money just to find out whether a game is worth my time if you can’t be bothered to answer a simple question for me. I’ll just assume that it isn’t, not give you any money, and move on.

  18. Maverynthia says:

    Here is a post on Stanley Woo at the Bioware blog. The bottom paragraph has his twitter (@worstnijaever) and his personal blog

    So you can still send him “feedback” through other sources. Maybe even tweets of @biofeed @dragonage and @worstninjaever :3 I’m sure enough tweets or such and Bioware might take some notice..

  19. NonCon says:

    Started a #FireStanWoo hashtag on Twitter. Don’t expect it’ll have the intended effect, but I’m at least hoping it’ll encourage him to make an official apology.

    • NonCon says:

      I’m probably going overboard, but I’m pretty pissed off about it.

    • Maverynthia says:

      I do hope that Bioware SERIOUSLY looks into him and his employment with the company. As EEE said, he was acting with all the power of a moderator and thus WAS representing Bioware as a Community manager. Considering it seems he’s made posts like that in the past. Bioware should definitely curtail his posting abilities and offer an official apology about what he said.
      Knowing what I know about “the industry” if he gets fired, that means he had screwed up before a few times and this was the last straw.

      • Callan says:

        They won’t look into it unless this gets bigger. Remember, Chris Priestly is the one who runs BioWare’s twitter accounts. I’m sure he is a perfectly nice guy in person, but his pattern on the job is to just ignore/shut down/hide/lock anything uncomfortable, and that’s why Stanley Woo felt okay about locking that thread.

  20. Olivia says:

    Woo wrote a post about this over on his personal blog. The money quote:

    I think we have some of the best writers in the business, writing memorable and dynamic characters time and again, and I don’t want to see that kind of creativity and passion overshadowed by things like race quotas or checklists of mandated characters so we don’t happen to offend anyone

    Yes. Because wanting more racial diversity in your company’s product = MANDATED RACE QUOTAS AND CHECKLISTS. You’ve got to wonder about how the mind of a person works when they see a question posed like “Will you next game be more diverse? I was a little disappointed with the racial representation in the first game,” and they literally cannot process it without turning it into a strawperson and railing against imaginary racial quota squads (they’re coming for your artistic freedomz, it’s true!). How does a rational human being even begin to make that ridiculous leap of logic?!

    And on that topic, because the notion of enforced quotas destroying creativity seems to come up frequently whenever diversity in games is discussed in mainstream gaming circles (who can forget Mike Doolittle’s frothing diatribes on GameCritics way back when?), how do these people even imagine such mandated quotas would come to be in place? Who would enforce them? How disconnected from reality must a person be to 1) see players saying “It would be good if video games were more diverse” and think “CENSORSHIP!” and 2) Actually fear that said imaginary “censorship” is a real possibility? Movies, television, comic books, they’ve all been around for decades longer than video games and they’ve still managed to retain their absolute right to be mired in racism, sexism, heterosexism and the like. Don’t worry Stan Woo, no big bad monster is coming to take away your artistic right to be bigoted either.

    /sigh. I don’t play BioWare games so I can’t say that they’ve lost my money over this, but they’ve certainly lost a lot more of my respect (what little was left after gay/TOR disaster).

    • Alex says:

      I really hate the “you’re cramping my ~creativity~” excuse. Why not challenge yourself and create characters you might not initially think of? Wouldn’t that make you MORE creative? And the idea that having some black characters or whatever would RUIN THE STORY is just fucked up.

      (who can forget Mike Doolittle’s frothing diatribes on GameCritics way back when?)

      Ahaha, not me, that’s for sure.

      • Maverynthia says:

        Really! How hard IS IT to come up with characters of other races. If you get comments like “black people don’t act like that” (and it’s in response to NON-stereotype behavior) you can pull out that “Well this isn’t the real world and the culture of the races of this world don’t have our real world back story.” Who knows, maybe the black people of Fantasyland wear togas because that culture evolved like realworld Roman culture.

        I know when I was writing my story, I wanted to be more inclusive and break out of the “all white people” that’s pervasive in the genre I was writing about. So I included people of other races, even so much that I didn’t describe some of my characters because I didn’t care what race they were if a movie was ever made about it. It didn’t cramp my creativity at all, I wrote the characters how the character were to be. The plucky one, the stout protector, the warrior turned cleric, the mysterious one, and the silent ranger.

  21. 12Sided says:

    I skimmed through the thread and took screen shots of the posts in question, would it be ok for me to post them?

  22. Bel says:

    IDGI. Does he think adding skintone sliders to the NPCs is going to make us all forget it’s the standard tolkein fake-England fantasy setting? There’s nothing so unique about DA’s setting that adding people who aren’t white would need to be explained.

    • Olivia says:

      This is excuse is always so headdesky. We can suspend our disbelief when it comes to magic, elves, dwarves, archdemon dragon things, Darkspawn and whatever is going on with Morrigan’s demon god baby but PEOPLE WITH DIFFERENT SKIN COLORS??? HOW CAN THAT BE EXPLAINED???

  23. Cinnabar says:

    Funnily enough, something I noticed (happily) in the expansion to DAO, “Awakening”, is that there WERE more inclusive NPCs. I remember there were dark-skinned male and female guards walking around Amaranthine. No comment was made about their skin, their accents were same as everyone else, they were clearly native Fereldans, and the world DIDN’T split apart and dissolve into a rip in the space-time continuum.

    Clearly SOMEONE took notice of the missteps in DAO and made changes for the better. Which begs the question, why this contradictory bullshit all of a sudden? >:|

  24. Shy says:

    That’s funny. It’s been a while since I played it, but I remember the Mass Effect series as being pretty good in this regard. Is it more inclusive because it’s a different development team, or because it’s acceptable for sci-fi to have people of all different races kickin’ it while fantasy tends to struggle with the legacy of Tolkien?

    • Ozaline says:

      I think the latter… Mass Effect 2 has a black team-mate (Jacob) 1 and 2 both feature a Chinese reporter “Emily Woo.” Of course there has to be minorities in space… (of cource once you take a global perspective Chinese doesn’t become a minority anymore, but the largest population group, but I digres) there are black crew members on the Normandy…

      I think since scifi takes it’s cues from Roddenberry we’re used to seeing Blacks, Russians, Japanese and Whites all working on the same ship, and logically are those people just going to disapear when we go into space?

      But Fantasy takes it’s cues from Tolkien or maybe Robert E. Howard… Tolkien deffinitly being the lesser of two evils there, and the idea that in ancient times all cultures were homogeneous… of course the Roman Emprie was actually quite diverse, I wonder how the Warhammer MMO plays out since the Warhammer Empire is deffinitly inspired by the Roman Empire.

      • Laurentius says:

        Unfortunately it’s again american ship ( Normandy ? wtf ?), with american captain ( Shephard wtf again ? ) and american crew members, and foreginers added to the mix with aliens. Personally it was biggest turn off for me with ME and ME2.

        PS. Emily, yep that’s traditional chinese name for sure…

        • Ozaline says:

          Woo is however… though she’s probably named for a jerk on the production team.

          Just saying if Earth became a unified body, it wouldn’t be that suprising if Chinese became the “default” human as far as alien races were concerned when looking at us, they are by far the largest ethnic group on the planet, and stripping away the political zones as would likely happen with the Earth Federation and the ratio of Chinese and Blacks and Arabs on the Normandy would shoot way up.

          This is just logical.

          *thinking I should write a scifi novel now, once I’m done my current book*

          • Callan says:

            (The reporter in Mass Effect is Emily *Wong*, not Emily Woo.)

          • rho says:

            On a unified Earth, I suspect that the default would wind up being “mixed race”. Not only would skin colour run the full spectrum of what we have today, but other features which are today linked with a given skin colour (eg, presence or absence of epicanthic folds, straightness and thickness of hair, etc.) would end up being distributed across people of all colours.

            It’s speculation, of course, since we can’t really know what would happen on a unified Earth (and it may vary depending on how the unification happened) but that’s the scenario I find most plausible. I also think it would be interesting to see a protagonist who were not identifiably any specific race; or were identifiably several at once.

            • Ozaline says:

              Actually that’s exactly what the Mass Effect Novel “Retribution” says in it’s first chapter (I haven’t read the whole book, read a preview chapter and it seems clumsly written), but for what it’s worth here you go.

              image of Kai Leng materialized above the holo-pad.
              Like most of humanity, he was a child of a truly
              global culture. His Chinese heritage was clearly predominant
              in his dark hair and eyes, but around the
              jaw and nose were subtle clues pointing to some
              Slavic or Russian ancestry as well.”

              The thing is… we already have (at least in North America) a society where people of different races are free to mix, and lots of people who are part-this, part-that and yes I’m sure that’d increase but Chinese people make up 1/4th of the worlds population… so that’s not going to disapear in 200 years no matter how much unifying we do.

        • Callan says:

          Unfortunately it’s again american ship ( Normandy ? wtf ?), with american captain ( Shephard wtf again ? ) and american crew members, and foreginers added to the mix with aliens. Personally it was biggest turn off for me with ME and ME2.

          PS. Emily, yep that’s traditional chinese name for sure…

          I think this misrepresents Mass Effect 2 quite a bit. No actual nationality is attached to the Normandy, though it does have a Western name. *Commander* Shepard can have any first name, and any range of human racial appearance. Miranda has an Australian accent. Jacob seems African American, but could be from *Mars* for all we know. Chakwas is not a British name, but she has a British accent. I know a lot of full-blooded Chinese people who have Anglo first names and last names like Chang, Fong, Shao, etc. (See also, Stanley Woo, who is Asian. His Anglo first name doesn’t somehow diminish his status.) The list of crewmembers from the first Normandy is full of multiethnic names. There are tons of women aboard old and new Normandy. Joker is disabled, and apparently not in a way that can be fixed by a miracle cure. Finally, I don’t know why you’re saying it’s all American, since Canadians are the least likely to American-wash their products. To them, Shepard is probably Canadian.

          I’m as peeved about Woo’s attitude as the next person, but let’s stick with data here.

          • Maverynthia says:

            I’m going to correct you slightly. Stanley Woo is Canadian. He was born in Edmonton Canada. His ancestry is Asian given his name and perhaps where his parent, or even his parents-parents were from.

            I only consider people Asian if they come from Asia. I feel there is a bit of racism to say someone is from an indigenous area, when they aren’t no matter what they look like. It’s like saying all black people are African because of their skin color and features. If we go that far, white people here in the US, Canada and South America should be called European, as the white skin color is an import to the Americas and the only TRUE Americans are the Native Americans.

            • Melthia says:

              That’s an interesting theory, but *I* am Asian American, and *I* identify as “Asian” in terms of racial identity. You cannot erase racial identity and say that only nationality exists. Every Asian American I know (and I have a large, large family spread across the U.S.) identifies their race as Asian. It is absolutely not like saying all Black people are from Africa. I’ve never heard anyone propose such a thing until now. Callan had it right, although Stanley appears to refer to himself as “Chinese Canadian” on the Bioware boards.

            • Ozaline says:

              Yeah I’m going to have to say I diagree with that, I consider myself Norweigan, my friend Sierra considers herself Korean (though she’s also black),every Asian I know in the city considers themselves to be Chinese, Korean or Japanese… cultural identity is important, and Canadian is not an ethnicity.

            • I actually use European sometimes to refer to white people. It makes more sense to me than Caucasian, considering none of the major European colonial powers were from that part of the world.

              Not that I’m entirely convinced that’s any more useful a term.

          • Ozaline says:

            Jacob can’t be Mars, if you visit Mars in the game it’ll tell you it was never colonized because by the time they were ready to do so they discovered the Mass Relays and thus never got around to it, because they found easier worlds.

  25. Deviija says:

    I participated in that discussion, actually. I admit to being put off by how Mr. Woo responded later on in the thread and it became far too ridiculous. Mr. Woo’s a minority as well, to note, but I really do think he was missing the entire point of the thread and the discussion for the topic. It was to talk openly about having diversity represented in a fantasy world, not to demand that x, y, or z have x, y, or z much content in their game.

    What my point in the discussion was coming at this from the angle of: this is a fantasy world that is controlled by the developer team and writers and those in power to sign off on the project etc. This ‘argument’ that I often see in these discussions around the interwebs and in interviews with various companies and individuals is ‘that’s just the way the world we created works,’ or ‘that’s just how these characters are.’ Which irritates me to no end since it isn’t something that floated down on mandate from heaven, it is something YOU, the dev team, is in control of. The content that you make and write for. It can be made inclusive without ruining anything.

    For example, just because an area is ‘Medieval Europe’ doesn’t mean that it equals to all white people. It can still contain the essence of gritty, dark, silly buzzword here, Medieval Europe while also having people that are diverse in appearances. Features and skintone for feeling included and represented is the biggest concern I think people have when it comes to their fantasy or sci-fi, so they have something to identify with and better feel included/acknowledged. Having asians or blacks etc. in the sea of NPCs doesn’t make the setting any less swords-n-sorcery, gritty, dark, monarchy-y, than it would if they weren’t included. Just like Alistair would still be Alistair if he were black or latino or islander instead of white.

    Now I’m speaking in general here, about all of fantasy. It is fantasy. Races are usually separated by elves, dwarves, and humans, and so forth, so why can’t the human race itself at least be united in its diversity in appearances? It doesn’t ruin anything. Not religion, nobility, magic, weapons, piss pots, or allegories of slavery, or real life social struggles that can still be depicted through elves or tieflings or what have you… It doesn’t change any of the existing thematic aspects. Yet it does offer inclusiveness.

    • Yeah, pretty much once you accept that your work is fiction (and it is; invoking the inverse claim that you can’t include people because it wouldn’t be realistic for the time is also completely nonsensical), you have no reason to exclude people. For that matter, you have no reason to make another pseudo-medieval Europe clone. And in fact, making everyone white pseudo-medieval Europeans is really generic and has been done SO MANY TIMES so you’re not even actually being particularly creative in doing so.

      I think I spent half the day yesterday ranting about this point :P

  26. Callan says:

    Well, none of this matters, because he’s just written a second post and still equates inclusiveness with the stifling of creativity.

    And I don’t see anything happening to him at BioWare, so I guess we have our answer.

  27. Korva says:

    New reader here, so first of all let me say I’m glad to have found this site because all the casual dismissal or outright abuse of anyone who is not part of the vaunted “target audience” of gaming is really painful sometimes. Or rather, lot of times. I do not expect much of the industry anymore, but as a long-time Bioware fan I was really annoyed and disappointed by Stanley’s posts. It’s as bad as the “no gays in Star Wars” and as inane as the “asari aren’t female so there’s no homosexual content in ME” stinkers which have dropped the regard in which I held this company by a bit chunk.

    I’m a gay woman. Seeing as how I spent my entire youth and childhood desperately and almost fruitlessly pining for strong female role models, and how one reason why I always liked the Bioware games is the option to play as a woman (sadly this has become a rarity even in the CRPG genre), I can wholeheartedly sympathize with people of color who yearn for more role models of their own, more visibility. It is so bloody irritating when people who HAVE all the representation, all the role models they could want and spades to spare, go on about how our concerns don’t matter because a good story and good characters are enough to satisfy everyone — and if that does not in fact satisfy us, the fault lies with us because we lack imagination, or we are narrow-minded, or whatever.

    It’s true that we’re all human and that should unite us above all divisions of sex and gender, orientation, skin color or whatever. But our culture has not nearly reached that ideal (yet?), and the gaming industry certainly has not either. While I don’t put the burden of fixing that situation on Bioware or any other company, they should at least be aware — and not crap out stinkers like this when making public statements for the company.

    And if a “good” character and a “good” story should be enough to satisfy any audience, then why do developers and writers and producers so often default back to straight while testosterone-poisoned male with a big-titted vapid sex trophy sex toy taglong? Why do they still need “reasons” to make a character gay, black, female, transgendered? Just write a person damnit, not a set of genitals or “token minority person”.

  28. Sharks says:

    Wow, this is ridiculous. Hopefully it’s more of just one loser flapping his mouth without thinking instead of the emerging mindset of the company (I think it’s the former, really), but it’s really too bad. Bioware is a keystone developer for me: With KotoR–and later Jade Empire–they completely revolutionized the way I think about games and what I expect from this entertainment medium. Now to see them tumbling into the boring groupthink strangling the rest of the industry is troubling.

    It’s not going to make me not get Dragon Age 2, but if I find while playing the game that they’ve cut certain aspects of it for fear of insulting/frightening/offending the “main demographic,” then they’ll be on the path to losing a longtime and loyal fan.

    I don’t understand why it’s so hard for these people to create realistic characters who are seemingly so different from them. I guess it’s probably that they’re really, at their core, just completely uncreative people who can’t step into other peoples’ shoes even for a moment to try to imagine different ways of living.

  29. Callan says:

    Wow, he really can’t catch even a fraction of a clue.

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