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Dragon Age 2: Schrödinger’s Sexuality
[caption id="attachment_7508" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Anders, left, cupping Zel Hawke's face with a caption stating, "This is the rule I will most cherish breaking.""][/caption] It was March of last year, during the week before the release of Dragon Age 2, and I still recall that slightly feverish late night hanging around BioWare's forums as rumors that all the love interests from the game would be bisexual. "They're all bi!" was passed around jubilantly; someone was livestreaming a play of a review copy to show it was possible to flirt with everyone, regardless of the sex of Hawke. While I did not watch the livestream, I was in the impromptu chatroom that people had set up to discuss the issue. I myself have thus far only played the game twice, once romancing Anders as a man; once romancing Fenris as a man. My next two playthroughs will likely follow suit with playing a woman romancing Isabela, and then another who will romance Merrill. It is fairly rare to have the option to play four different characters and romance four different characters in a game and have them all be same-sex, sure. However, what intrigues me about this game in particular is what it can say about how we react and respond to sexuality. Canonically, I do believe all the characters are bisexual, though it is not difficult to imagine one might not be aware of this. For someone not paying attention to forums or online discussions of the game, and only basing their knowledge of the characters from the game itself, the only character who immediately appears to be bisexual is Isabela. For anyone playing a male Hawke, it would also become apparent that Anders is bisexual, as his somewhat desperate playboy personality in Awakening is contrasted with his relationship with Karl in the sequel. As David Gaider, a senior writer for the Dragon Age series, has stated, that relationship happens, whether we see it or not, though a player who has a female Hawke and romances Anders would not necessarily be exposed to it. In that light, she might well assume that Anders is heterosexual exclusively. Meanwhile, there is Fenris, who has the option to start a romance with Isabela if your Hawke romances neither of them. If a Hawke goes this route, one could assume Fenris is heterosexual, as he is involved in a sexual relationship with a woman. At the same time, during my male Hawke's romance of Fenris, there was no real indication that I saw that he was interested in women. For that particular Hawke, Fenris was not bisexual (then again, he also sided with the Templars, so he was not at all a character I would use to describe my own personality). While I, in a meta fashion, knew better, this being a game where I enjoy actually inhabiting a role, that Hawke just assumed Fenris was actually gay. It made him view his history as a slave in a slightly different manner, whereas in a meta fashion, his bisexuality made me do the same. [caption id="attachment_7509" align="aligncenter" width="572" caption="Merrill, a Dalish elf with markings on her face, before the game's final battle. Caption reads, "(Laughs) The Champion of Kirkwall going to battle naked ... why can't I ever have that dream?""][/caption] I cannot speak to Merrill from a romantic sense in the game as yet, but from what I have discussed with other people, she does not really mention her sexuality outside of a relationship. The only hint we get of such is a line she has during the final battle, where she mentions wishing she could have a dream of Hawke riding into battle naked, regardless of the sex of Hawke. The comment itself does not seem to say much about Merrill other than build upon her sometimes socially awkward character. Therefore, any Hawke entering into a relationship could assume she is exclusively homo- or heterosexual. This is something that exists to an extent in all media (there is the somewhat recent example of J.K. Rowling outing Dumbledore posthumously and after ending the books), though games that allow romance options have the ability to make this this all the more apparent due to their interactive and quantum narratives. Because the player can make assumptions about the characters based on only what the game's text presents, I call this Schrödinger's sexuality. Again, as this has the chance to exist on a spectrum for the character and player, either individually or together, certain states and assumptions about the character may exist dependent on the text to which they are exposed. As yet, I don't believe we have horribly many examples of such, but depending on how games proceed in the future, this is a possibility that can occur more often. Now, the characters actually being bisexual regardless of whether or not our Hawkes are privy to this fact does tend to underline that we can often make assumptions about peoples' sexuality that may well be erroneous. In Dragon Age 2, this has often taken the tone of bigotry against bisexual people themselves, which also includes some peoples' tendency to assign a certain label until proven to be otherwise (therefore, a person in a same-sex relationship is gay, until proven bi, or vice-versa with a heterosexual relationship). What the game has the chance to do in the metanarrative, then, is to apply a social commentary about people who see it through the lens of Schrödinger's sexuality, or allow their Hawkes to do so. As I am of the belief that Dragon Age 2's characterization is for the most part well-written, this then allows a further example to be drawn about how we see and assume certain aspects about people in real life. Just as assumptions about gender and pronouns to use are often made on first contact by many (though not all, depending on one's own privileges and acknowledgment thereof), having a cast that includes at least four bisexual people speaks to society's own expectations when people start to naysay this in various fashions. When people make the argument that it is unrealistic to have a party where so many people could be bisexual, they are imposing their own world, and in particular worldview on to the game. As someone whose friends include quite a number of people among the queer spectrum, it really is not that difficult to imagine. Therefore, that Schrödinger's sexuality can be said to exist in the game for some people says more about the individual, as either a player or Hawke, than it does about the game. This is where authorial intent can become tricky for some, as they are firmly bisexual, regardless of how our Hawkes may interpret their sexuality. After all, if Fenris, Merrill, or Anders (in the case of a female Hawke) never reveal their bisexuality to Hawke, that is their right and decision to make. That does not mean they are exclusively hetero- or homosexual, though.