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The Border House Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript

A portrait of Serendipity, an elf trans woman, from Dragon Age 2. She has short black hair, pointed ears, and wears a fancy black and white dress with gold trim.

Fanart of Serendipity from Dragon Age 2 by naiadestricolor on Tumblr.

Fanart by naiadestricolor.

Below is the transcript for episode 2 of The Border House Podcast, Diversity, Cohesion, and the Gaming Community.

Huge thank you to the following folks for their help in transcribing this episode: Nymeria815, James Leung, Lucas, ZacMatic, Coribu Geisha, kiturak, Norah, Llama, and Sir Edmund.

If you can donate about half an hour of your time to transcribe five minutes of the podcast, please email alex at borderhouseblog.com and I’ll add you to the transcription team and assign you a time slot. Thank you!

The Border House Podcast
Episode 2: Diversity, Cohesion, and the Gaming Community

MATTIE: Welcome to The Border House Podcast, your resource for smart conversation in a safe place about diversity topics and gaming. This is episode 2, and I am Mattie Brice.

Welcome, everyone. This week’s episode is on diversity, cohesion, and the gaming community. We’ll be talking about diversity topics in our social community, such as articles, comment sections, online multiplayer communities, and everything else you can think of. First we’ll start off with who’s with me today. First we have Anna. Hi, Anna.

ANNA: Hello!

MATTIE: So what have you been up to recently?

ANNA: So, gaming-wise, I’ve been playing a lot of Dark Souls, and a lot of Monster Hunter Tri with friends, which has been really fun. In terms of articles, I’ve been doing the What Are You Playing Wednesdays, which have been really fun to see what different readers are playing, and it’s amazing the kind of diversity in games that we’ve actually been seeing in those posts. I also didn’t realize how many people are playing shooters, so we need to start covering those a little bit more on the site, I think.

MATTIE: Yeah, I was just about to ask, have you seen any trends about what our readers are playing, for the most part? I’m surprised, I wouldn’t have thought of shooters.

ANNA: Yeah, we actually have some people that have started Gears of War and are playing that, and different multiplayer shooters. And in terms of what different people are playing, it just runs the board. We have a lot of people playing a lot of different games. There are a lot of RPGs, adventure games, some games that I hadn’t heard of before, so it’s kind of interesting to get some new games talked about.

MATTIE: That’s interesting because it’s very common for us to be, like, the diversity, you know, with women, and the GLBT, that we are all stuck in a certain segment of games, like casual or RPGs, and we never see shooters. So it’s really cool to hear that we are, you know, as prevalent in everything else, in equal distribution.

ANNA: Yeah, and there’s been disagreement about which games people like a lot or don’t like. We have some players that are not as big a fan of the BioWare games as some of the writers, so it’s been interesting to watch the discussion about those games as well. It’s been really fun, actually.

MATTIE: That’s awesome. And next we have Rawles. Hi, Rawles.

RAWLES: Hi!

MATTIE: What’s going on?

RAWLES: Ah, well. Article-wise, I’ve been actually writing an article right now about the introduction of multiplayer into Mass Effect. I think it’s pretty relevant to what we’re talking about today because I think that it can be really interesting in terms of the community that will pop up around that. Because online multiplayer definitely has some concerns when you’re a marginalized person, people trying to be… people tend to toss around a lot of slurs and things like that. I’m really interested in, you know, what that community’s going to look like. So I decided to write an article about it.

MATTIE: Yeah, that’s interesting because the first thing I thought about when it came to the confirmation of multiplayer is that all these other people are going to see your avatar. And it will–well, I don’t know if BioWare will include any other details like who you’re romancing, what part of the story you’re at, I don’t know. And it’s interesting to have that information, you know, to think about that because it’s like the multiplayer is going to come to a very single-player experience. I’m so interested in what you’re looking into.

RAWLES: I’m really interested in how BioWare’s rep as a relatively progressive developer is going to interact with online multiplayer’s rep as a very not-progressive environment. So I think that’ll be interesting to see how that shakes out because there are some online multiplayer communities that are actually pleasant, and others that are just nearly unbearable. And I definitely think that taking such a intensely single-player experience, as you said, Mattie, and making that a multiplayer experience is going to have an effect on how people tend to act, as well.

MATTIE: Yeah it’s interesting as well is I find the politics of Dragon Age writers and staff a little bit different from the Mass Effect ones, because whenever you see any of this talk, any talk about diversity issues, it’s always the Dragon Age writers that seem to come up and start talking and then I see almost a reflection, and then oh maybe the Mass Effect team is going to start to take their lead if you will. So it’s strange how that goes so I’m interested in seeing how it all pans out.

RAWLES: Oh absolutely. The Dragon Age team has always seemed much more in touch with social justice issues than the Mass Effect team. So yeah, I definitely agree there.

MATTIE: And last but certainly not least, I have my tech support, Kim. Hi Kim.

KIM: Hello.

MATTIE: So what have you been up to?

KIM: I’ve been playing two games that basically are the total opposite of each other. I’ve been playing Glitch, as have apparently half the Boarder House staff. We found out that we’re all on there. Which is a new kind of social game. There’s no way of putting it that doesn’t sound like bad, but it’s kind of a (browser game’s really really well.) It’s basically like clicking things and making food, but it’s so nicely done, and it’s really big and creative and nicely drawn and cute so I’ve been playing that, either that or horrible online games full of exactly the kind of things we’re probably going to talk about in this issue.

MATTIE: I believe I sort of played Glitch. It’s a browser game I believe?

KIM: Yeah it’s a browser game.

MATTIE: Yeah. I started to play it a little bit because I know everyone’s starting to play it, and it’s really– it seems very innovative. Very like ‘Oh what can all these objects do?’. It’s almost like an online adventure game.

KIM: I’m not sure if it was innovative in any kind of structural way, but the innovation of it seemed to be the kind of really high production values and taking it seriously as a game. I feel like a lot of the game is kind of like Farmville or Mafia Wars and all these Facebook ones that are kind of given that social game category. They’re not well-made games. They’re designed to be addictive, which is something the people specifically design. And they’re designed to be like interconnected, but they’re actually not actually good. Whereas with Glitch it feels like they’ve made something that’s actually good, and the community aspect of it is fun. And also I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that’s quite so, to put a finer point on it…like gay friendly by design. So much of the game is just like cute animals and trees and mushrooms and you can craft things like glitter that all they do is make people’s screens have stars on them, and there’s all this other stuff that’s just so..the game’s in the closet. That’s all I’m saying.

MATTIE: That’s awesome. Well, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Mattie Brice. I am a writer at Border House, and I also write over at my personal place Alternate Ending. I recently wrote about cyborgs. The fantasy cyborg and passing narratives in  Dragon Age 2. I’ve been reading a lot about cyborg theory, if anybody is familiar with Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, which is awesome. And I decided to go and run amok with this cyborg theory. And I really want to talk more about Dragon Age 2 after our last podcast, so we’ll hear more about that from me.

Let’s get on with our scheduled entertainment. So I wanted to open this up with some personal experiences, because while theory  and examples of reactions are very helpful, social justice starts with the personal before it gets political. And I would like to start off with my own personal experience when it comes to multiplayer games. I’ve thankfully avoided a lot of discrimination and hate on the internet, but I have encountered a lot of misogyny, especially with MMOs. I’ve been expected to be the healer very often, which was kind of degrading. I wasn’t expected to be very skilled, also degrading. And I don’t know how many times I’ve been hit on. Just kind of milling about, picking some herbs, and men will hit on me. I’m pretty sure people have similar experiences.

KIM: Which games have you played MMO-wise Mattie?

MATTIE: I’ve played mostly World of Warcraft and I’ve also played Dofus, if anyone remembers that game which is now being advertised into Wakfu. I’ve played a whole bunch like, very spotty, like Final Fantasy 11. And it was really interesting how those dynamics come out that are gendered. “Oh, heal or be support or I know you don’t understand games very well because you’re a girl.” Very degrading.

KIM: I know in my personal experience in MMOs—which is basically one game, a free to play called Regnum Online—that was the first nice online community I engaged in before I got really wholesale into feminism and identified myself as a feminist. But I remember it being a really nice community. The funny thing about that game was that it was one server. And I think the “one-server-ness” of it—well eventually they got a couple more—the “one-server-ness” of it made it feel like a much smaller world. The game I played, I never really saw those kinds of stereotypes in the same way. I mean I’ve seen it in other games, don’t get me wrong. It was actually quite interesting in that, as with a lot of these games, there is a male and a female avatar, which is obviously a huge decision to make when you’re kind of trans. And so, the female avatars you would generally presume were guys but not vice versa. So there was this weird situation where actually, a lot of the women in it could choose to be outed as women—which is an interesting thing to be outed as—and if they were, they would do it to their friends. So I think almost that allayed it a little bit. But it was the presumption of a male world that in some weird roundabout way meant that women didn’t get as much harassment because if they saw someone in a woman’s robe they’d just presume it was a guy. I don’t know if that’s something anyone else has experienced.

RAWLES: I’ve definitely heard of that happening. I’ve played a lot of WoW since release so I’ve definitely had a bit of the experience that Mattie talked about of people constantly hitting on you. You’re out, picking herbs or, you know, doing whatever and somebody’s like “Oh hey, hi!”. And you’re just like, “I’m busy”. I think what happened to me a lot more, which used to annoy me a significant amount was this: I was super-into DPS—I just really love melting faces, stabbing things a lot—and I would like to go out into the world and test my abilities. See how many things I could kill, how many things I could chain kill, how many adds I could get and still come out on the other side playing as a squishy or a rogue. And one thing that bothered me so much was that anytime I was fighting guys wandering past would jump in and start helping me. On the one hand it’s nice enough. People might be dying and they might be having a hard time so you pop off a heal and help them out. But many times I would have it perfectly under control and I would think it would be evident to anyone who had spent any amount of time in the game that I had this under control and I wasn’t about to die or anything yet people still felt the need to come in and start killing things for me. And I’m just like, I don’t need you to do that. Then I would also be followed and they would try to hit on me.

MATTIE: Of course. Go ahead, Anna.

ANNA: I also played World of Warcraft for quite a while and I had similar issues to what everyone’s talking about here. Either someone would come in and start helping even though I don’t need any help. I’m just taking on some boars! I understand this is a Cataclysm area and they are a brand new kind of boar, but they are just boars: I’ve got this! Or they would hit on you. *Or* the other thing I would get, which is something that Kim just referred to, is the assumption that you are male. I heard the term “GIRL” means “Guy In Real Life”, and that really bothered me. It’s like you have to prove that you are female when playing a female toon. And people would say, “Well if you don’t show pics, how am I going to know?” It’s ridiculous.

KIM: There’s also MMORPG being “mostly men online roleplaying girls” I think. That’s one heard quite a lot and it drove me insane.

RAWLES: Yeah I also heard “guy in real life” a lot.

MATTIE: Yes, and this is very problematic for trans people. For me, I was very sensitive to that because I was starting WoW around the time I was really transitioning, very self conscious about how I was presented, about how people referred to me, I was very sensitive. And it bothered me whenever people would be like, “well are you really a girl,” and you know that brings up a bunch of horrible, horrible questions.

RAWLES: One of the things I actually saw with regard to the very odd position, or just unpleasant position, that would put trans people in… the whole idea of people going, “are you really this gender or that?” There was also a tendency, sort of in the forums or LiveJournal communities about World of Warcraft, a kind of drama; there was definitely a tendency of people to pick out situations where someone, they felt, had been masquerading as a different gender. And a lot of the time, there would be these supposed horror stories about people who had met girls on WoW, and then oh no, they were actually a guy! And a lot of the time these people would be trans and it was just really really awful because… it was just the worst, basically.

KIM: Were any of these stories true? Or was it like one of those urban myths like “oh imagine how horrible it would be if this happened! Oooh!”

RAWLES: No no it wasn’t— That is actually… everyone of course knows that’s a very common urban myth of the trans woman who will lure poor unsuspecting dudes or whatever. These were actually things that happened. It wasn’t people luring people in, this would be trans women and they would just be going about their business and then they would be targeted for being trans women. And it was just awful. It was ugly, and very very unpleasant, and definitely part of the whole culture where everybody’s kind of interrogating every one else about their gender identity, for usually particularly selfish reasons. Just very very unpleasant.

MATTIE: Yeah, I’d also like to extend this past social games to forums or also comment sections in articles, how we have a large surgence in game critics and game journalists and reviewers in the comments that come along with them and all these controversies that have been happening—a couple that we’ll talk about. How are people’s thoughts on that?

RAWLES: I think the old internet adage—“don’t read the comments”—is very relevant a lot of the time, frankly. I never listen to it because I just hate myself I guess, I don’t know. A lot of the time, I think, there’s not anything constructive to be found, depending on where you are. It’s just people being awful.

KIM: I think it’s a reminder of how awful the world is, it really can be. It is funny too because the article that everyone’s talked about, “A Letter to My Someday Daughter,” it was really interesting that the comments on that actual article are actually generally quite supportive. And even some of the people mentioning the article specifically responded to it, saying “yeah, you’re right, I hadn’t thought about it this way, I’m not sure I agree with you, but thanks for raising the issue,” those kind of things. But I’d seen it posted on other forums, like most notably Team Liquid, and it was almost on there that the real… there’s almost this whole thing on Team Liquid and I couldn’t tear myself away because there’s like— Oh by the way I should mention that Team Liquid’s a Starcraft 2 forum that’s kind of famous for being the biggest foreigner Starcraft 2 forum. “Foreigner” in Starcraft meaning “not Korean” right.

So, it’s a really big forum with a lot of people on it, like a lot of people read it and use it, and they’ve had some controversies on The Border House before which have been covered. But, um, yeah, so there’s this hundred page thread, and it’s like, a hundred pages of kind of the first few of them being like, “oh no, you know, day9 didn’t really say that–X didn’t really say that. He’s misrepresenting what they said,” and then it turns out that, you know, he actually hadn’t even actually quoted them. Then like another thirty pages of people going “oh, but, it was still wrong anyway. How dare he say this, how dare he, like, slur the name–he’ll have a thousand angry nerds descending on him.” And it’s like, this is the whole point of his article, right? You know? That like, it shouldn’t be this lynch mob justice, which is what it feels like. And then it ended up with just kind of, it just going nowhere, and that was like a hundred pages of comments. There’s obviously, like, that many people that feel, like, that angry about this article, that they’re gonna engage in this debate that’s going no–well, it’s not a debate; it’s just going nowhere. Do you know what I mean? It really confused me why there was so much anger, but on some level, if it didn’t upset people so much, they wouldn’t have responded saying “this is awful.”

RAWLES: Oh yeah, definitely. You know, people will go on, and on, and on in forums about just anything, and definitely, there are certain topics, especially social justice topics, where people will jump in, and they will fight forever, and they will insist they don’t really care, and–who cares what this person thinks–blah blah blah, and then they’re still there fifty, seventy five pages later, still gnawing at that bone, because, you know, it does get to them, and I think, you know, in a lot of ways it’s good. I think it’s good that it’s–you know, it’s getting to them. I think that may be, in some cases, the first step to them getting it, you know?

ANNA: I think that it’s a tough balance to strike between having some people start talking about these topics, and also the, kinda, self-perpetuating cycle of once something really negative gets said, that it kind of lures out all these other people, and feeds them into saying something even more outrageous and more outrageous, and things get very nasty very quickly, and I think it would be nice if more sites had just a little bit more moderation. I mean, it doesn’t have to necessarily be as moderated as some of the sites that are out there, including Border House, but at least some moderation so that when things get really out of control, they put a stop on it before it’s fifty pages of people attacking someone.

MATTIE: What’s really interesting on both of the BioWare social network forum articles we’ll be looking at, it seems like the mods on the BioWare forum tends to cut out a whole bunch of, like, negative name calling. I mean, I just looked at one of the articles that we’re going to be talking about, and we have a whole bunch of people who are part of BioWare saying “look, discuss this intelligently. No name calling. Please be respectful about this, this, and this,” and, I feel like, that helps, when you have, like, these authority figures being like “look, we want you to discuss this, but there’s just no reason for you to be just–no, completely rude.”

ANNA: And in a fourm space like that, it really helps because, like, at BioWare, you can tell that it’s a moderator–the name is different. You see all this, so it’s a voice of authority saying “can we try to be respectful?” and so even without necessarily deleting things, just coming in there and trying to reset the tone really does help.

MATTIE: Rawles?

RAWLES: I think it’s interesting what you just said about the BioWare forum, and their, sort of, moderating efforts, because I think both the things–theBioWare social network forum things we’re gonna talk about are regarding Dragon Age, and I mostly hang out in the Mass Effect section of the BioWare forums, and they’re actually a little bit different in the way they moderate, you know, that sort of thing because I feel like they don’t necessarily encourage that kind of discussion at–in the Mass Effect section, because basically, as soon as you hit on certain topics, they will, if they’re around, they’ll just close it down, like, they’ll delete the thread once you hit a certain point, or a certain point of discussion on certain things, like they have one thread about same-sex romance in Mass Effect games, in the “characters and romance” forum. And people make other threads, usually to like, complain about it, and go “oh no! I wanna make everybody bi,” and “oh, there should be a no-homo switch,” and that sort of thing, but they will tend to shut those down after a couple pages and what will immediately get things shut down is when people go off discussing homophobia and sources of it, discussing the politics of it, discussing religious institutions like that that encourage it and they will close these down. That’s it. Done. And I think that’s a really interesting comparison to the Dragon Age section of the forums where they’ll say “Be respectful, don’t call names” and that sort of thing. And I think that’s another reflection in the differences between the dev teams of those two games.

MATTIE: Yes, we were just talking about how we see this different attitude towards diversity topics between the Dragon Age and Mass Effect teams. It seems that is implemented even more. Kim, you had something to say?

KIM: There was a really interesting article on Geek Feminism blog the other day. We should link all these in the show description. The Geek Feminism site’s really interesting because after pretty much every post, things will descend into where they just say, “these are the only things that are acceptable to have in response to this and possibly this.” And it’s interesting because they had this article about, it’s called, “Online Harassment as a Daily Hazard: When Trolls Feed Themselves.” It’s coverage of someone else’s article, which was great to begin with, and it talks about abuse that women bloggers get on the Internet. They even say at the bottom, “If you’re just an average finger-quotes netizen then don’t suggest anything, you’re not helping the discussion.” I found it really interesting that they’re that explicit about it and I think it’s an interesting approach. With forums, they’re like very different things to tackle and I kind of find it weird that they’d shut down a thread. I suppose from their point of view they’re duplicate threads right? But it doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t have something new to say that’s not within the thread that’s going on.

I find it funny as well because the difference I have between my tolerence for different sorts of games is so huge; in fact I talked to Rawles about this the other day when everyone was gone. In real life my tolerance for sexism, racism and homophobia is not very high at all. I really kind of get wound up about this stuff quite quickly, which is something I’m kind of working on. In games it feels like the goalpost has shifted completely. Especially in multiplayer gaming communities. I think I’ve identified as someone who plays games as social activities. Whether it’s Team Fortress or MMOs or now Heroes of Newerth. That’s always been my scene. I play single-player games but I consume them as I do films; I play them and move on. Whereas as someone who’s had chronic fatigue for a long period of time I really got into online games as a way of passing the time when there wasn’t much else to do. But the kind of abuse you get, just for doing nothing, or being perceived at being bad at the game by somebody else, in something like especially in Heroes of Newerth. It’s just so far and above for so many people. In fact when other people see me playing the game they wonder why I put up with it. In other games that level of abuse would be completely unacceptable. There’s things you can do in HoN that you can’t in Team Fortress. There’s these levels of acceptability really, and I don’t know how other people navigate that. I feel like I kind of have to have a certain level of tolerance to play certain games or I just wouldn’t play them. I don’t know if you play online games much, but I don’t know how you deal with that.

RAWLES: Yeah, I think just from one game to another, I tend to think of it in terms of: “This ain’t what I do in real life from one set of people to another.” I think it’s a really interesting topic and for me I think it relates a lot, or tangentially I think, to the entire concept of coding. Which is a thing, that I’m sure that happens to other minorities as well, but my experience with coding is this idea that as a black person, particularly black women, that if you are in a group of, for instance, predominantly black people, you will interact and sort of even go as far as speak in a different way than you would if you were with predominantly white people or people of another race. And so I actually sort of connect that a lot to the differences in gaming spaces because there are definitely, yes, they are definitely something that would kind of just let go in a sort of competitive online multiplayer situation that you would sort of let go, and a different, you know, gaming community. And yeah, it is, it’s really hard to navigate. It’s just complex and, you know, you can feel a lot of ways about it. Sometimes, you want to say something but you just might not feel like you might not be constructive in that environment or, you know, you–it’s hard and nobody can be on all the time. And you just don’t have the energy for it. And sometimes you just kind of put up the armor and just try to plow through and do what you’re doing.

ANNA: So in terms of you just mentioning the “no one can be on all the time”, I was actually just talking about this, this afternoon: an idea that it’s a difficult mix to have because you don’t want to stay silent when all of this is going on around you and it’s really upsetting you, but at the same time it’s not really the responsibility of people that are marginalized to have to go out there and say that this is a problem constantly.

RAWLES: Oh definitely and especially since, you know, a lot of times you bring something up, somebody will be like “Why? Why?” and they’ll start demanding explanations and try to shout you down. It’s just–that’s just that, like that, in addition to all of the microaggressions or straight out slurs and hatred that they’ve already been sort of throwing around and you just don’t want to deal with that. That’s just chipping away at you. You know, sometimes you don’t want to deal with it. Certainly you don’t want to feel like people are demanding that you explain, you know, their terribleness to them. And, you know, sometimes people should educate themselves but a lot of people aren’t trying to do that. It’s just very, very tiring.

KIM: I suppose in some ways, playing an online game is like reading an online comments thread. [laughs] It’s like it can go one way, it can go another way. If it descends into just horribleness, then on some level it’s like “Ugh, it’s the internet. What can I do?” But on some level, you can’t not get wound up by it. Yeah, it’s funny those two things seem very analogous now that I think of it. Like–and I imagine actually the same kind of people who post offensive comments on YouTube are probably the same kind of people who make ethnic slurs in games.

ANNA: But similar to when we’re talking about moderation in comments, there can be moderation in games. If allies and other people speak up and say “Hey, it’s really a problem that you’re doing this. Knock it off.” It can help in the online as well as helping in the comments section.

MATTIE: That is extremely important. I completely agree. So speaking of tactics, I would like to move on to our selected reading to look at different reactions of how the community has decided to react against hate speech and the discomfort of minority groups in multiplayer communities and such. So, I first would like to look at the–kind of weblog ‘Fat, Ugly or Slutty’ which I’m sure a lot of people now are very familiar with. They recently spoke at… I want to say PAX… I can’t remember but they recently just spoke at a convention and I saw a video they did and it was really awesome. I have mixed feelings about Fat, Ugly or Slutty because I do want there to be exposure. I want people to see how often this happens. But it almost is a big joke, in a sense, because now–now we all know that it happens so how does this help, I guess? Rawles?

RAWLES: I have very, very conflicted feelings about Fat, Ugly or Slutty. My main thing with it–I haven’t seen this video that you said. I don’t really like to look at the blog I remember I looked at it a lot when it first went up. I’ll check that but I kind–I can’t even take it anymore. Like I can’t take it on one level because I just–I don’t–those–the things that they’re posting. The things like, you know, the guys are sending and that sort of thing. Like that. It’s often really upsetting and really triggering for me. But on the other level, it’s like conflict with the entire mission statement of Fat, Ugly or Slutty. And the thing about it is it–that really stands out to me is that Fat, Ugly or Slutty doesn’t identify as feminist, and sort of has in their mission statement that instead of getting offended, they just laugh at the terrible things that people send. And you know, I support people’s rights to identify however they like in terms of words like “marginalized persons” for instance. Like they don’t want to identify as feminist specifically because the movement has let them down and they want to work in their own way against their oppression. But I have little patience for people who sort of seem like they don’t want to identify as feminist because they’re scared of the concept, if that makes sense. Like…

KIM:  Why do you think they don’t… I mean, just because they don’t say in their About page that they’re not feminist, do you think that means they’re not? I mean -

RAWLES: I think that they could–I think a lot of times what happens that people definitely hold many feminist ideals and can sort of–kind of run away from the term? But there’s actually on their sort of Author page–I think there’s one guy who works on the site and in his little author bio he says, you know, they’re like “Oh, he’s the token feminist of Fat, Ugly or Slutty.” Thus the implication being that no one else there identifies as feminist.

ANNA: I just wanted to say that in terms of that, there’s a wonderful video that was just done by feminist frequency–I just forgot her name, which is terrible, but talking about straw feminists and how when media portrays feminists as only extremist and really bad, then you have a lot of people that won’t identify with being a feminist even if they agree with all of the ideals, which I think may also be part of the problem for some of the people that seem to agree with everything but are just not saying – “Well, I’m not one of *those* people” rather than the ones that actually have a legitimate concern with some of the failings of current feminist movement, which–that, I definitely sympathize with.

RAWLES: Exactly, thank you, Anna, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. And the thing about it is, the reason I have a problem with that is because the whole idea of “instead of getting offended” really bothers me, because sometimes that sort of “Oh, I’m not one of *those* feminists, oh I don’t get offended at whatever whatever” can very easily become a dismissal of people who are upset or hurt or offended as being “too sensitive”, and that’s really oppressive. You don’t tell people that they’re being too sensitive if you’ve hurt them or when somebody has hurt them, that’s just wrong and that’s why I always get really sort of just head up about people like “Oh yeah, I’m not like *that*, and “Oh, I just don’t get offended, I *laugh*,” and, you know, you can laugh and be offended, like, my friends and I call the reaction to this sort of the humour and people being terrible, we call it hate-laughing, because of when something is so obscenely offensive and awful that you can’t help but to laugh somehow, but it’s not actually funny at all. So, and just that sort of divide that people sometimes tend to make from the side of “Oh, I *laugh* instead of getting offended” and the side of people who they are implicitly saying are “too offended” or “too sensitive” – you know, it’s not that simple, and you laughing is a perfectly valid response for you, but it’s really really important not to be dismissive of people who choose not to laugh, or who laugh and also then decide to articulate their critique of why this is offensive.

MATTIE: I thought it was very important to include Fat, Ugly or Slutty, because there’s a constant – I have a certain relationship when it comes to having something that’s very niche, something very passionate and trying to reach a broader audience. It seems that Fat, Ugly or Slutty has succeeded in broaching this border of gaming popular culture and, let’s say, diversity topics. Right now, The Border House reaches a lot of people, but there are many many people in prominent positions in the gaming community who don’t know much about The Border House or diversity topics. So, I wonder, what is it that we can learn from Fat, Ugly or Slutty about what is it what we need to do to be more let’s say, more approachable as a movement?

KIM: The one thing I have to say about Fat, Ugly or Slutty is – I can’t remember where I read it, I think it was on Rock, Paper, Shotgun but they were doing some coverage saying that it succeeded in terms of, like, loads of people are on the fence, like you know your kind of typical white liberal guy who’s like, “oh I’m just a humanist, I’m not a feminist, I like people, I don’t see–” There are a lot of people like that going, “I really didn’t realize how bad you had it and I’m sorry.” I’ve seen quite a few comments along those lines. And especially, yeah, like the kind of people who are probably about five, ten years older than the people who are making these comments just saying stuff to that effect. “I didn’t realize how bad you had it, I never get anything like this, I didn’t realize the frequency or amount of the hatred behind it.” And I think what Fat, Ugly, or Slutty do that’s good is they make it short, and I mean obviously the humor is–whether you find it funny or not is kind of irrelevant in a way. They kind of make it short and to the point, and I think one thing that we do is write really really really long articles, which is something we talked about on the email list about doing just a bit more general news, but from a, “oh, this is bad,” or “this is good,” or “look at this thing!” other than these really long articles, which should happen too. But there’s a balance, you know?

RAWLES: Yeah there’s definitely a divide between sort of the avid exploration of these things, and sort of being very advanced with it, and then baser… not baser, that’s not really a good word. More of fundamental level, something like that of Fat, Ugly, or Slutty where it’s just like, yup, here is hatred that’s just being thrown at women for no reason. And that does, like Kim was just saying, definitely reaches out to people. And let me just–I’m not like, “Bring down Fat, Ugly or Slutty!” or anything, it’s just that I wanted to describe why I find it–just, I’m a little bit conflicted about it. Just because of the issue of laugh instead of getting offended thing. But I do definitely recognize that I like anything that makes these issues more accessible to people and I think that my own personal sort of way of going about social justice things tends probably towards a wary kind of radicalism that is not necessarily that accessible. I mean, it varies because I do get a lot of–I mean, I’ve been sort of just posting about these things in various environments for years now, and I’ve gotten many many people to be like, “I never thought about things like this until you said something,” and that sort of thing. So I guess it’s not that anybody who is completely not into social justice things can come in from, you know, a more hardline, I guess, stance. But yeah, Fat Ugly or Slutty does have a better chance of appealing to people who are, like Kim said, white liberal guy who wants to call himself a humanist, that sort of thing. Because you know, it does very much prevent hatred, right there. Undeniable. And that’s valuable. But I think sometimes, in the effort to, I guess, appeal to a wider audience, I feel like sometimes things can get watered down, almost, sort of become like the diet version of whatever sort of anti-oppression it’s trying to be. And I think that sometimes that can sort of push ideas or ways of thinking that are ultimately kind of a little bit destructive, sort of like one step forward but maybe two steps back. And if the end is sort of the intro to some people, but they end up having to, they want to get deeper into it, they end up having to relearn, you know, from what they initially kind of got into it with. Because it was a sort of scaled back version of it that wouldn’t scare them from it. I don’t really have a solution for that.

KIM: And there was a thing on that Geek Feminism thread about that thread that covered the story–okay it wasn’t on that blog, it was something they wrote about, there was a comment, there was an author who got rape threats from an anonymous person–it wasn’t anonymous, they sent it from their work email, like wait, what? You’re sending it from your work email? So all she did was like forward it to the guy’s boss saying, “Did you know he’s doing this on work time?” And got a response saying, “Yeah, I’ll look into it.” Then some conference she’s at like six months later the guy’s there speaking on a panel. And it’s kind of like, so she was almost saying, well you do it and you think you get a result and you don’t? And there was no real answers on that thread, either, apart from that it feels a bit damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

MATTIE: Well, looking to an exactly opposite reaction, I want to look at “To My Someday Daughter,” which is written by an ally who’s writing to this figurative future daughter about the life that she will have if she decides to follow her father’s footsteps and go into gaming. It’s the exact opposite, if you ask me, of Fat, Ugly, or Slutty. It’s not funny, it’s extremely long, and it takes the point of view of someone who’s seemingly not oppressed and what their take on the situation is. I had read through it and it itself is complicated, at the same time. But it showed how the rabid-ness of the community, the hivemind of “we’re just offended” or “we’re not offensive”, can have an affect on our discussion of diversity politics. And I was wondering what other people thought about this article.

RAWLES: I thought it was very good, actually. I thought it was pretty good. I actually disagree, I thought it was pretty funny in places, too.

KIM: Me too.

RAWLES: I thought it was pretty good. I did, however, also think it was pretty heterosexist, but, you know, what can you do. Not that great on just sort of couple of intersectional levels, but on the whole, pretty good. And I did have a sort of pedantic little disagreement in there, with the bit where he sort of was talking about like women’s history, I suppose, and sort of like, how dudes are like the stars of everything, kind of. Incidentally–and I’m very into media and feminism and things like that–and I disagree with his characterization that he made that women weren’t allowed–that everything’s about dudes, that women weren’t allowed to do anything prior to 1970. And that’s really not true at all. Women’s contributions throughout history have been extraordinarily important. Quite robust. It’s just that they’re not covered. People don’t want to cover them, their stories, to be told by the people in power who aren’t interested in telling them. And so they pretend the stories don’t exist.

MATTIE: What I thought was interesting was the idea of allies speaking–because another article we have is allies speaking out as well, but this one was, like, deeply personal. And I thought it was very touching in the sense of, we rarely get these personal anecdotes from allies saying, “Here’s how hurtful this is and how this hurts me.” And how it hurts everyone. And you don’t realize it. And I’ve become more and more interested in the politics of allies and how they affect our movement. And I thought that maybe this was a good example of an ally taking action and how they can call people out on their behavior.

RAWLES: Oh, I definitely agree there. It think it was a very, very good example of kind of the, this is a good thing for an ally to do, as opposed to a lot of things that you see which are not helpful and tend to be sort of appropriative. Just all kinds of other thorny stuff.

KIM: I think what was so great about it for me was, which you kind of alluded to, is that it told a story. And I think it’s that level of storytelling that made it so genuine. It’s something I’ve come to find out about recently is non-violent communication, which I was still looking into. There’s this whole idea of, you say how you feel, and then what you need, and then act on it. And I think that’s why it came across so well because when he does put himself at the center of the story and talks about himself, his own narrative of how he came into this society that’s incredibly sexist and did it, and then realized what was going wrong, and talked about the people who changed his mind and how he came out of it. And I think that’s really powerful. And in a way I find this question that it’s heterosexist a little bit–I don’t quite ride with that because I think it’s for… I know this sounds really bad, but it almost doesn’t feel like it’s for gay people? Or it’s for heterosexuality? It’s kind of about him and his world, and he’s writing it to people who are straight, male, and possibly white, generally speaking. And it’s kind of like, there’s only space to cover so much when he’s trying to get a very specific point across, which is the way this happens socially and what we can try and do about it.

RAWLES: I understand, I understand what you’re saying there, that what his target audience is. I wasn’t really saying that it was heterosexist in the sense that I think that he should go off on a long thing, because yeah, trying to talk to–let me put it this way, I understand that you can only cover so much in any one sort article or statement or anything and you sometimes have to focus to make that point more clear.  When I said that it was a little bit heterosexist, I was just meaning in terms of like the way that he talked about his daughter and…

KIM: [interrupts:]  I see

RAWLES: …her future boyfriend and that kind of thing, that’s all I meant. [laughs]

KIM: I get you I get you, [laughs] Yeah true.

MATTIE: Alright, so also from another allied perspective we had a reaction to what is now called THAT panel, which was the panel at, was it GDC Australia? About a comment about the visibility of female game journalists and none of the speakers could name one, they were like “we don’t know any” and what was very interesting was the dynamic of the Twitter feed going nuts about what we all know female or women journalists and game writers and no one stood up to say anything. And it was kind of like a bubbling ,”Oh that feeling”, no one stood up and interrupted, the different reactions of different people–why they did not and the fears of speaking up for social justice in such a venue. And …there was this one article in particular by Ben Abraham which got so many comments it was ridiculous. And I mean, I commented on it myself, it was just there is 142 comments and most of them are wondering why this person, why people are making  so much of a fuss that you know, just because they couldn’t name any female journalists, it didn’t mean anything and I thought that you know, I had a much different interpretation and I believe you guys do too.

RAWLES: You know, that… I read a bunch of…I sort of like link jumped through a bunch of like articles on that because I hadn’t heard about that really at all that much…but yeah, I think that this whole the invisibility of women and their achievements [laughs] is not new all like, that’ll happen all the time. Mildly off topic, it reminds me of, there was also a big stink over the summer at San Diego Comic Con about the involvement of women in the sort of major comic books companies and, you know how they had very very few–particularly DC comics have very few women on their creative staff. You can see this through their relaunch of their entire line and there was a woman who was going all their panels and being like, and a couple of other people too, were being like “Where are all the women?”  And it was like “Well if you want women to creators where are they? I don’t know who they are, tell me right now you know in the middle of this panel, give me an annotated list of all these great women! blah blah blah.” You know I think that sort of attitude is everywhere. People, especially in these male-dominated environments and professions they see the achievements, the efforts of women just get glossed over and people aren’t paying attention, they don’t think it’s important and then they act like there are no women when there are!

KIM: I think the flip side really annoys me as well like massive games especially, it’s like a new sport that kind of really getting going the last few years there’s, again I don’t want say there’s no women because I’m sure that I can think of like two perhaps that are involved but it’s almost entirely men, and almost entirely like, white and Asian men. And I think the thing that really gets you about that is no one is just looking around and saying “Hey guys how come there’s no women here or hey guys, how come there’s no like, you know, like black people here?” and it constantly baffles me that people aren’t asking those questions, and it’s something that you never see addressed on the mainstream stuff like State of the Game or the people like Day[9] like you know, there’s no like, there’s an article I published on the Border House and another article, both directly refer to him and he’s not responded to either and I’m sure he knows about them. So why are these people, why do these people just not care? Like I don’t want to live in a monochromatic world you know?

MATTIE: Go on Anna.

ANNA: And it’s not simply just that they don’t realize that they exist but sometimes there’s actively exclusionary things that are happening like, I can’t remember now but it was a Battlefield 3 LAN party that specifically excluded women, it’s something that was written about on Border House I can check what game it was.

KIM: It was Battlefield 3 yeah.

RAWLES: Yeah it was Battlefield.

ANNA: But, so sometimes it’s not just not realizing that aren’t women but it’s specifically singling them out as not welcome.

RAWLES: Yeah definitely and I definitely think about what Kim was saying about people, like how could people not look around and notice that *laughs* that no women, there are just all like white people or like all white and Asian guys and that sort of thing. And you know what? A part of that is definitely, that just a function of privilege like it’s just, I just find it so fantastic that you said that because like you know, when I go places when I’m in groups, that sort of thing I always, I’m always hyper aware if I’m like the only black person there! Because….this is something that I kind of have to be aware of, you know my whole life! That’s just how it is. And one of the functions of privilege is just that you don’t have to think about it. That when you are the default, or at least the default in a specific environment, you are not given any real cause to think about the absences around you. And you know, that kind of thinking in something that people actually have to actively work on, because they have been inundated in messages and everything their entire lives telling them, you know, this is the default, this is what is normal. And it’s the same principle as – like it’s the same thing that sort of causes, for instance, how people will not really pay much attention or make any note if there’s like a TV show or something and there are like five dudes and like one token girl, or something like that. Or there’s like one black person or something on the show and people will not really think anything about it. But if you reverse that, if you make a show where the majority of the cast is female, then all of the sudden everyone’s like “Wow, this is really weird,” just kind of – like it’s abnormal or something. And you know, even if – and it can be like six dudes, one girl, nobody says anything, but then if it’s like four girls and two dudes, which is not as much of an imbalance, everybody’s like, “wow, you know, this is such a – this is an estrogen thing!” You know, it’s just really, it’s that privilege, that conviction that this is normal, and everything else is deviant.

KIM: It’s so deep, too. Like I was listening to the world service the other day of all things, and it’s Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu’s birthday, and the radio presenter felt the need to say, “People of all races celebrated his birthday.” And it was like, “What? Like, why did you just say all races, like is that important?”  And obviously that’s something that’s gone through several editors to get there, and it’s just like, why should – do white people obviously not care about black people by default unless you mention that they were there? Is this to appease people? It was like, “What?”

RAWLES: Yeah.

MATTIE: Yeah. One of the major arguments I found when it came to this post, this thread and this overall topic, is that we – uh, not we, well we yes, and a lot of the people who are for diversity visibility – are making a fuss because people don’t generally look a the name of article writers. I find this very problematic, because how people tend to get a following as journalists and as writers overall is mostly to
have their name known, and usually to have their gender known. And when, off the top of my head, when I think of a lot of journalists that I’m not, let’s say, I haven’t become socially connected to are very often male because their content is more often pushed though the front.

RAWLES: Yeah, that’s definitely true, and a lot of times you get – marginalized people tend to get ghettoized in terms of what people think they’re supposed to talk about and what people think they’re supposed to cover, and that kind of thing. So, that definitely happens.

MATTIE: Alright, and now on our last kind of note, which is, you know, very dear to my heart, is exploring these reactions back on the BioWare network of the “Neglected Straight Male Gamer” post, which I’m sure everyone on The Border House knows about, and now this most recent post about transphobia in Dragon Age II and the newest DLC of Mark of the Assassin. And kind of the conversation that happened there, because I was very interested in the writers’ reaction to all
these complaints and diversity issues, and I thought it was very admirable when we got these reactions that were very pro-diversity and I mean I think my heart stopped a little bit when I saw that because I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone from a development team say, “We are trying to embrace diversity.”

RAWLES: Yeah, definitely. I have, on occasion, definitely been impressed with the Dragon Age team sort of reactions to things. I mean, they’re always, you know, things could be even better, but they definitely–they’re clearly making an effort. They’re definitely making an effort to be understanding and to try and be progressive, and that is just really really wonderful to see. I love it. It’s pretty great.

MATTIE: What’s interesting to me is wondering how much does fan reaction matter, and if there’s something I believe BioWare is starting to do, is saying that their methods on either games are questionable, as in we’re not sure where the real results are, but we care what our fans are saying about our games. And we’re going to have a personal dialogue with them, especially in this transphobia forum post, how the writers personally came and apologized, which I have never seen.

RAWLES: Yeah, I’ve only–I’ve never seen that with, like, big-time stuff. I’ve seen it with people, creators who have sort of started out and got a grassroots following, and they’ve sort of come out of that sort of environment. But, you know, I’ve never really seen that much from people are not really connected to that at all. And they’ve only ever been connected to it as they are the developers, they are the creators. And, you know, the audience is over there. I really only see that with people who used to be the audience, kind of thing. That’s very very impressive.

MATTIE: Anna?

ANNA: I liked the way in which BioWare reacted to the two different types of fans. Because when one fan was saying something genuinely upset them and was problematic, they were listening. And when another fan was speaking from a place of great privilege, saying how there didn’t need to be any diversity, they, instead of listening to him and having a similar reaction of “oh, I’m sorry you’re upset,” they smacked that down and said, “no, really? You’re the one that this is a problem, the reaction that you’re having.” But I think it would be very different from a different company who didn’t have that same ethic. Because it could have easily gone the other way around, where the person who was complaining about a transphobic thing in a game is the one that would get smacked down, and the one saying “I have a problem with diversity” is the one that would get listened to. So we’re very lucky in the reactions that we got here.

RAWLES: Oh, definitely. I’m almost at the point where I just expect that the opposite thing would have happened had it been Mass Effect instead of Dragon Age, same company.

MATTIE: Yeah, I find it rather interesting in, how can we foster those–I mean, I’m not sure how much education the writers have in diversity topics, or how much knowledge they have. What I saw was just kind of pure compassion. Trying to balance that compassion with–what is a practical parts of the job that they’re working, like how do they balance their job with the fans? Which is a strange dynamic, once you think of it. You have this job that you’re entitled to perform for, but you have to keep up this ethic standard of being empathetic to your fans. And I thought it was a good display. I don’t know if BioWare received that much backlash, if any backlash, on David Gaider’s reaction to these posts and also all the other writers. And so it’s just interesting to me to–I want to put these forward because I want to say, look, companies, if you’re thinking these things, and you want to say these things to your fanbase, you have supporters. And you also have people who want you to say these things even more, and you don’t have this huge backlash waiting for you.

RAWLES: I think the key to everything you just said is compassion. Just the word compassion, that’s it. What you said about you don’t know what kind of education in diversity topics they have, or what any activism they are involved in, when it comes from a place of compassion, I think it all starts at compassion. It all starts with understanding that other people have been harmed by things that you either did or things that you were complicit with, by action or inaction. That compassion for other people, I think is where all anti-oppression begins, and I think it’s a great place for it to begin.

KIM: Hear, hear.

RAWLES: That’s what drives you, that’s what drives you to want to be better and make things better because you don’t want to hurt anyone.

MATTIE: Well, I hope that we can, let’s say, bottle these events, because I want–I mean, we all want these sort of reactions to keep going, we want the compassion to become more prevalent. And I hope that we can all think of a way, and people who are listening who run their own forums, who moderate their own comments, or post their articles, if we can find a way to reach through compassion and, you know, we don’t need the sappy music or anything, but it’s the true connection of one human to another. And knowing that you hurt someone, and just the thought of you hurting someone should give you somewhat of a pause.

KIM: It’s quite interesting because there is a sense of an idea of like “trolling for the lulz,” which is like a 4chan or those other pretty obnoxious boards, and I’m wondering if that’s kind of the tool that a lot of these people who write horrible comments use as an excuse for being nasty to people.

RAWLES: Definitely, I agree.

KIM: Because it’s like explaining away, it’s like saying, “I don’t have to care about you because it’s just a joke! Hey!”

MATTIE: Go ahead, Anna.

ANNA: In terms of “it’s just a joke,” I have recently written that blog post about how you react when someone says, “I’m really hurt or offended by something that you thought was a joke,” and in the end, it’s pause and listen. You may agree or disagree, but if we have some compassion, we actually listen to people when they say they’re hurt, it makes for a much better world than just a reactionary thing that usually ends up happening online.

RAWLES: Yeah, absolutely. The whole “I did it for the lulz” is just a no for me. For me, 4chan is, like, the gutter of the internet, so…

KIM: Mm-hmm.

RAWLES: So yeah, that kind of mindset is just so awful. Yes, it does come from–it comes from a dissociation, I think, with the idea that at the other end of the computer, or at the other end of the internet connection there are actual living people. And I’ve seen so many people just kind of take that attitude of “oh, it’s just the internet!” Well, what is the internet but a bunch of people interacting with each other? There is no *just* the internet any more than there’s just, you know, talking to someone in real life. It’s everything. It’s the same thing, ultimately. Just because you can’t see the person, just because they’re not sitting right in front of you doesn’t mean anything, really.

KIM: On a philosophical level, I have this slight worry that people don’t really like other people very much, and the internet’s kind of making people talk to each other more than they want to, and everyone’s going to end up hating each other.

RAWLES: [laughs]

MATTIE: Well, there is a great deal of misanthropism, if that’s a word, in the world. I think that the connection of other people forces you to be in conflict with others who are different from you. And you might have not been psychologically ready to deal with these people because you don’t agree with them, you don’t know anyone like them, etcetera etcetera. And the internet is a very easy place to let go of responsibility. And that’s what makes this sort of activism for diversity in these social areas and treating each other with kindness so hard because we all want to respect our First Amendment, which we benefit so much from the First Amendment, we can do this because of it. And we don’t want to become a dictator in telling people what they can or cannot say. However there has to be a way to motivate others to want to be inclusive and kind to one another. And I hope it’s certainly fostering a sort of compassion.

RAWLES: Well, another thing with the internet is it’s global. And the First Amendment is very US-American. That’s not everybody’s First Amendment, you know, it’s different people, different things happening there. And I think one thing that, the internet is a very global community, and I think that a lot of US-American people will go, especially a lot of times when they’re saying offensive things, “oh, First Amendment! You can’t take away my freedom of speech!” Because they’re kind of missing the idea that first of all, it’s the internet, so that doesn’t really count. [laughs] But Freedom of Speech is not really freedom from response. It’s a big thing that people decide on a lot.

MATTIE: Way to go, ethnocentrism on my part.

RAWLES: And I think that whole inability of people to just, when they’re on the internet–”just” air quotes–to understand why the oppressive things they’re engaging with, how that all interacts with the entire culture, is that there’s a lot of time the inability to perceive that this is not something that’s only happening to people on the internet. Marginalized people experience all kinds of microaggressions every day. I mean, that’s why people invented the word microaggressions. Just the ways that the world just kind of dully keeps beating at them over and over again. And when somebody is on “just” the internet, doing these exact same things, and somebody goes off on them because they’re upset, it’s because this is the same thing they have to deal with in real life, which is supposed to be the prime, important thing. It’s all connected, you know. Nothing exists in a vacuum.

MATTIE: Anyone else have anything to say?

KIM: I just–I agree.

ANNA: Yeah, hear hear.

MATTIE: Well, on that note, we are going to wrap things up. I thank everyone again for joining us today, and all of our speakers. We hope that you’re enjoying our podcast, and we will see you in another two weeks.

The Border House Podcast Episode 1 Transcript and Call for Volunteers

The cover of a fake romance novel starring Varric and Flemeth. The text reads: He found the wildest witch... and got more than he bargained for! The Stone Heartbreaker's only hope of escape is... TO TAME THE DRAGONESS

Art by aimo.deviantart.com

Below is the transcript for Episode 1 of The Border House podcast. But before we get to that: we need your help! Transcription is a big job, so we are looking for volunteers who can transcribe 5-minute segments of the podcast for our readers. It takes approximately half an hour to transcribe five minutes of audio (maybe less if you’re quick). If you are interested in helping out, please email alex at borderhouseblog.com.

Just having a few people helping out with the transcript will be a huge help and will allow us to provide transcripts in a more timely fashion. Please consider volunteering!

And now, here’s the transcript:

The Border House Podcast
Episode 1: Lewd-onarrative Dissonance

MATTIE: Welcome to The Border House Podcast, episode one. My name is Mattie, and this week we’ll be talking about romance in BioWare’s Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. The Border House is a gaming site dedicated to fostering a safe place for people who are women, gay, transgender, queer, of color, disabled, poor, or any other marginalized group, along with our allies. Our goal is to promote diversity in the gaming community and provide thoughtful analysis of the latest games and news. Visit us at borderhouseblog dot com.

So, I’m just going to do a quick roll call to show who’s here. First we have two of our editors, one is Alex, and she is doing, actually a recent article on Dragon Age 2 at her personal blog, if you want to say hello…

ALEX: Hello!

MATTIE: [laughs] Almost kind of AA-like, but that’s okay, I’ll do it. And then also we have a new editor, Anna, hello.

ANNA: Hello!

MATTIE: Also excited to have Anna here. We have, as well, Rawles, who is a fellow writer along with me. Hi, Rawles.

RAWLES: Hi!

MATTIE: And we have our guest speaker today, who is Kate Cox, and she is writing at Your Critic is in Another Castle, and also is a guest writer at The Border House, hi Kate.

KATE: Hello!

MATTIE: And with me, who will chat if they want to, is Kim will help me with our technical recording and will help me put this together. So thank you, and hi, Kim.

KIM: Hello.

MATTIE: Awesome. So, let’s get this started.

So I wanted to start off our conversation with kind of a personal walkthrough of how there games have affected us, speak to us. I figured I would start off with my personal experience with romance in these games. For me, what was very interesting, as a person of a multiracial and transgender identity, was how, specifically to me was Dragon Age: Origins, how this world seems to not have those kind of cues involved. Like you can create your character, but you don’t have like this multiracial option where people treat you differently, or I’m a transgender person where people treat you differently. So it was interesting for characters to just interact with me without even, is always treated like this white male, even if you’re some other kind of identity. And I was wondering if anyone else had a similar experience.

RAWLES: I definitely have, especially in Mass Effect. Just the whole situation where, yes they do just basically treat you like you’re a white dude regardless of how you make your character look, which to me as a black woman, it’s just, it’s a really really bizarre experience, frankly.

MATTIE: Yeah, I agree. For me, it was particularly interesting because I’m not used to, especially since we’re talking about romances, I’m not used to someone just kind of coming up to me out of the blue, be it like let’s say a peer or a coworker, when this sort of interesting dynamic happened with my party, especially in Dragon Age: Origins, it was a new experience for someone to just come up to me and be like, “Hey, I find you attractive.” I’m not sure if anyone else had that kind of experience.

RAWLES: I mean, for me, I think that in Dragon Age, I think one of the things that felt the most to me in that, was just the way that the characters in the party, they–like, the four romanceable characters, they are all very diverse in the way that they are presented, but they all sort of more or less react to you in a really similar way. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but because of the sort of structures of the game environment, it’s, there’s just–it’s odd, frankly.

MATTIE: Did anyone else have, kind of like a strange interaction with other characters? Like if you were being, if your identity was fully realized in the game, even let’s say… we’ve had a lot of articles about, let’s take a player–a woman’s interaction with Miranda, which is a constantly cited strange dissonant feeling where a lot of women players felt odd interaction with her, that she felt disrespectful. And like for me personally, I kept seeing her as this posed woman all the time, and that just felt really strange, and I’m wondering if anyone else has?

KATE: Oh, Miranda frustrated the hell out of me. [laughs] Yeah, she was very much targeted toward a male player that I am not, is how I felt. Although I had female friends who really appreciated her, I didn’t. What felt strange to me, actually, in Mass Effect 2, especially, was how Tali and Liara interacted with my female Shepard, in that, Tali especially, had this very sort of flirtatious sequence that just happened happened happened and came to a dead stop in the middle of conversation very, very weirdly.

RAWLES: Oh definitely, I definitely felt that too, with Tali, because yeah, there is absolutely no difference in the way that she interacts with the female Shepard and the male Shepard, except for the fact that the male Shepard then gets an option to actually continue and follow up on that.

KIM: Interesting story I heard about this, apparently the voice actor who played Tali refused to do the lines from the female/female romance option.

[crosstalk:]
MATTIE: Wow.

KATE: I never heard that, that’s disappointing.

RAWLES: Really? I never heard that, that’s upsetting.

ALEX: Yeah, that’s a shame.

MATTIE: That sucks because I’ll admit it, I had the hots for Tali. And I totally–

ALEX: Who doesn’t, really.

MATTIE: I mean, I always had her in my party, in the first game, and I liked her, just because it was an interesting place that she’s put, like the ethnic, racial sort of implications that are associated with her. It was just interesting how Tali is made to seem very flirtatious and looks up to Shepard, and I felt–I agree–I felt a sudden stop. I also thought, while we’re on Mass Effect, that that was the same for Jack, as well. There was an implication that Jack was bisexual, and, you know, you didn’t really get any more than that. And then I was like, oh you know maybe something can happen, and it was kind of like “no, thanks.”

RAWLES: I completely–oh my–Jack is so frustrating to me because she will talk to you, like you said, she will talk to you about having been with women before, and she will just discuss all of these things with you, and just everything about the character is just right there, and then yeah, the wall just slams down. And I found it so–like, as a queer woman, I don’t–okay–I don’t play as a male Shep. I don’t like to play as a dude in games, it’s just not something I do because it’s very important to me, when I have the option to create my own character, to make a character who is, you know, like me, or just not the sort of default white guy. Because there are so many narratives and so many stories where everything revolves around this sort of white guy, and if I get the opportunity to instead make the entire universe revolve around the most important person in the world be a black woman, or you know an Asian woman, or a mixed-race woman or something you know, I’m going to do it. And so the complete like lack of ability, especially in Mass Effect 2, with all of these various female characters who seemed really interested in you, but then the door slams down. It’s just really frustrating, playing a female character, not to be able to follow up on that. It was just awful, and it was so–it was also really just contrived, because there was really no reason they needed to stop it there.

MATTIE: I know, I completely agree. Kate, did you have something to say?

KATE: Yeah, it–that’s what bothered me the most, was the contrived nature of it, how you’re just going along, going along, going along, and these conversations just totally brick wall on you. And I think, part of what frustrates me in general is that I feel like, despite the fact that I love my female Shepard with Garrus forever, and I dig that like crazy even though I didn’t expect to, I feel like female Shepard kind of got the secondary sort of short shrift consideration a lot of the time when it comes to Mass Effect 2. One was one, but two, Miranda’s made this very sort of important, present dynamic character, and Jack is a really interesting character, Tali has been kicking around with you since the dawn of Mass Effect 1, and in Mass Effect 2, female Shepard gets Jacob?

MATTIE: Yeah, I mean especially if… does anyone want to comment on about how interaction between Jacob and female Shepard?

RAWLES: Oh, jeez. I have a whole thing with Jacob in that I know that a lot of people really resent the character because of the way that female Shepard’s lines are delivered to him because he just constantly sounds like, you know, FemShep talks to him, and it just sounds like throw him to the floor right then. But I don’t know, I’ve always had a sort of defensive reaction to Jacob just because I don’t think he’s a bad character, outside of, you know, it’s not the character’s fault the way that they wrote FemShep to respond to him, but I always just feel slightly uncomfortable just because there’s a whole bunch of “Oh, Jacob is useless, oh.” I think he’s a fine character, I just feel a little odd because he’s a black guy, and that’s not generally widely considered basically attractive, so, you know.

MATTIE: I was definitely appreciative of Jacob basically being, I guess, existant there, and a decent character, for the most part. But then, especially when it came to the flirtation between female Shepard and Jacob, especially the ending line, where the “spilling drinks on the citadel” line, was problematic. And Kate, do you have something to say?

KATE: I really wanted Jacob to be an interesting character because I was–excited is maybe too strong of a word because I was investigating the game, but I liked that there was a black male character there, and I wanted him to feel as important to the story as Miranda did. And he didn’t, and that’s part of what annoyed me, I would rather have had more and better Jacob and less Miranda.

MATTIE: Oh my gosh, I completely agree. Anna has something to say.

ANNA: Yeah, since people are mentioning Tali, one of the things that upset me in Mass Effect 2 was, the first game I had a female Commander Shepard, and she romanced Liara, and even with all the backpedalling that happened about whether or not that can be seen as a same-sex relationship or not, I wanted to continue that relationship in Mass Effect 2, and, while she was in the game, she wasn’t someone that I was able to really have a romance with. And so it seemed as if same-sex relationships were taken away from me when I moved from Mass Effect 1 to Mass Effect 2.

MATTIE: Yeah, the whole… it’s really strange, when it comes to how there’s this large availability, and at the same time kind of a strange muddlement of same-sex relationships, when it comes to at least female Shepard. And also what I found kind of strange was the idea, I guess the option to cheat, if you will? Because I had romanced Liara as well, and from what I could tell, because I didn’t have the DLC, I didn’t really know about it, it seemed like Liara was over me, and I was kind of heartbroken. So I moved on.

ANNA: DLC… If you’ve played the DLC–I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, it’s a spoiler.

MATTIE: Well, you know, it’s assumed that, you know, we’re going to be spoiling Mass Effect and DA, so you can go ahead.

ANNA: Okay so if you play the DLC, and you go through the specific dialogue option, what you’ll find out is that Liara is the one that actually went and rescued Commander Shepard’s body after the end of the first game. So she was so heartbroken to have lost Shepard that she is the one that went after the character. She–to my character in that conversation then said “I do still love you and I’m still invested in this relationship,” but she’s still dealing with all the Shadow Broker stuff and was kind of obsessed with that right now and focusing on that, rather than that relationship.

RAWLES: They also did an entire comic series, a limited series going through what she did, all of that business as well.

ANNA: Yeah I ended up liking her character even more once I got that DLC and was able to get more of her story. When you just play the game itself, it feels as though while she’s just up there in this office, she’s not really talking to you. And at least for me, as I was invested in that relationship with her, I felt strange, that, not really talking, nothing is going on, what happened?

MATTIE: Go ahead, Kate.

KATE: The funny thing is, I actually romanced Liara in the first game, too, and while, by the time I got to 2 I wasn’t invested in continuing the relationship with her, I felt really badly that the game wouldn’t let me break up like a decent human being. I just felt really bad that it was this never-spoken-of elephant in the room, and I was like, can’t I at least talk to her and tell her I’m sorry and no hard feelings and thanks for rescuing me from space? So you know, the DLC felt very like content that should have been able to be in the main game. It really rounded everything out.

MATTIE: Yeah, I went through my original playthrough without the DLC, and the most heart-wrenching part was when her picture went face-down on my desk, and I was like, I felt like scum. Because there was nothing I could do, there was no options, there was nothing. I addressed relationship issues with her without this DLC. Oh my goodness.

So as we kind of seem to have already gotten there, I’d like to kind of go through both Mass Effect and Dragon Age and see how a lot of hegemonic culture is represented in kind of blocks. The diverse readership that we have, if anybody has a particular experience of wasn’t very exclusive of these games to other identities.

RAWLES: Well, I’ve always felt, just what we talked about way earlier, about how the game, sort of–Mass Effect, espcially–just assumes that… actually I don’t think that, I was going to say that the game assumes, basically, that your character is straight, except I don’t think that it necessarily assumes that the character is straight, I think the better way to put it is that would be to say that the game assumes that the person playing it is a straight male. Because, like, if you play as a male Shepard, there are all these instances where, like, women will flirt with him, and he will automatically, you know, no matter what you do, there will be automatic reactions of interest and you know if you’re playing your male Shepard as gay, then that’s completely out of character for him because obviously he’s not interested in women. And I’ve talked to a lot of people who have played their male Shepards as gay, and that just completely throws them out of the game, and they end up going through all these contortions trying to find out which options to push to sort of not be forced to show interest in women.

MATTIE: Yeah, also something that was interesting for me was, I guess, kind of an underlying concept of this entire topic is being forced into let’s say a monogamous relationship. Like for me personally, I wanted to explore like polyamory, or let’s say not rigid monogamous relationships. And I remember specifically, I was playing through the first game and there came a point where, to be honest I was flirting with both Kaiden and Liara, and eventually I was confronted about this. And I really didn’t feel like there was cheating going on, we were just talking, you know! So what was interesting was there was an option that kind of insinuates “oh, well let’s just like make something work out that’s not very traditional”? And instead the voice acting implication was like “I just don’t want to be committed, can’t I sleep with you both?” And I was like, that’s really not progressive whatsoever.

RAWLES: Oh, yeah, I know exactly what option you’re talking about. Yes, they sort of… it’s not actually a real stab at anything, you know, any kind of polyamorous situation, but they make it sound really really sleazy, and just kind of, just gross, frankly.

KATE: That gets to one of the things that really irritated me with the romances in general, which has to do with the overall structure of these games where you think you’re getting a dialogue option that you totally aren’t, or the only way to do something is a way that totally breaks with your character. I was saying before, my Shepard went with Garrus, and to me that’s, I like the story that way, but I was totally thrown by the scene in which you have to take a sort of normal conversation between the two of them and basically be like, “So, you. Me. My quarters. Let’s go.” ‘Cause it’s just so dissonant to what you feel is the picture of those characters and the conversation they’re having, and you don’t even realize what these things are going to be until suddenly they’re popping out of Jennifer Hale’s mouth and you’re like “Oh, crap!”

ALEX: Seriously, there’s like so many like cheesy pickup lines in Mass Effect 2, it’s, aw, it makes it kind of–it does make it kind of awkward if you’re trying to play the romances.

MATTIE: Anna, you had something to say.

ANNA: I had a question. When the option popped up, the “I’m not really committed to either one of you,” if you select it, can you actually be with both of them? Or does it still make you pick one character?

MATTIE: No, basically what happens is that Kaiden just says, “No, I’m not interested, bye.” And he leaves. And Liara is like, “Well, I’m here!”

RAWLES: Yeah, I always found that kind of just funny actually, that the game is just like, “Yeah, well, now you have Liara since you said that.”

MATTIE: Yeah, so, it is–I don’t know, that was very problematic for me, especially because that was kind of like an assumption of, I would say, what is going on through how we romance these characters in these games, that the end goal is just to sleep with someone. So I mean, like, in all of these, that’s what it seems, especially in Mass Effect, where it’s just like, well, how many times am I going to talk to you before I fulfill the requirements to sleep with you at the end of the game?

RAWLES: Yeah, and also, there’s also the issue of, not everybody’s ideal relationship involves sex. So, you know, that’s also an issue. There was that one downloadable character for Dragon Age 2 who you could have a romantic but not sexual relationship with.

MATTIE: Oh, I didn’t even know about that. Is that the… I’m not sure, I can’t remember.

ALEX: That’s Sebastian. The–it’s only romantic and not sexual because he’s like, taken vows of chastity or something, until he’s married or something. Because his whole story is that he was a prince and he was like a womanizer or something, and they sent him to the Chantry to shape him up.

KIM: I’m not sure how this fits in the context of Mass Effect 1 though, because it wasn’t that long ago that Mass Effect 1 was on the mainstream news as being this game that let you have 3D fantasy sex, or whatever. I don’t know if you remember the story, but Sky completely overblew it, and there was that really famous YouTube clip where some journalist was like talking to a news reporter, saying, “Well, have any of your played it?” and they were all like, “No, but I’ve read about it!” So I don’t know if half of the second game–I’m not defending BioWare by any means, but I don’t know if half of the second game was like them trying to not offend the same people again, but I don’t know.

MATTIE: Well, I find that, when you see the difference between Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 and the way relationships go, that it’s kind of like they wanted to add a more or less a Dragon Age depth, if you ask me, I saw these two games speaking to each other as a development. I mean we even see in Dragon Age 2, kind of the, you know the conversation wheel comes in and things like that. So, and what seemed very interesting about Dragon Age: Origins, at least for me and I guess Rawles as well, the characters were actually not so bad. Well, for me personally it was Alistair and Morrigan were pretty interesting, and I found Leliana and Zevran to be complicated. But it’s interesting to see how BioWare is adapting, especially when you want to see what they’re going to be doing in the future. Like I remember specifically seeing Ashley’s picture, and she’s become a little bit more sexualized, I think.

RAWLES: Yeah. I’ve been really disappointed in what they’ve shown of Ashley in Mass Effect 3 because they sort of very much sexualized her. They have her hair down now, and when they were supposed to be showing, like they were showing the alternate armors for different characters, and so all the other characters had on, like, armor, and she’s in just this little sort of outfit. It’s a very cute outfit, but Ashley was always very sort of hardline soldier, she wanted armor, and then they just said, “Oh, yeah, she has full armor in the game, don’t worry, blah blah blah” but then I’m like, “Yeah, but why did you feel the need to show her not in her armor?”

KATE: The marketing going forward into Mass Effect 3 is frustrating me so much that I just start running out of words for it. They could have done so much, so well, and instead I feel like they are regressing and getting stupider about it, after giving us some pretty good stuff for the first two games, and Ashley and the new marketing face for female Commander Shepard are the really key points there.

MATTIE: Yes. This is a nice segue into looking for improvements, how to improve what we’re talking about, the things we’ve brought up, and also what BioWare as a company, if they are listening to this, what we can say. Because we’ve seen, especially with that very infamous post about the straight male demographic being ignored, which I’m sure we can all talk about for hours, but we won’t! And to see how that reaction happened and how to include, how we want to include, we want a more diverse cast. I’d like to know what we can do for the future. Rawles?

RAWLES: Now, I spend more time than is advisable probably wandering around the BioWare social network forum. And there is this sort of bogeyman, whenever someone talks about romance in the games, including same-sex romance, and the bogeyman they talk about is Dragon Age 2, where all of the romanceable characters were available to both genders. And to me, that should be the standard going forward. Like, I don’t see any reason to do anything but that ever again. I don’t–I don’t, like–unless you’re actually going to go and make all the characters have distinctive, assigned sexual preferences, and just include people who are same-sexual-relationships-only, which they have said specifically they will never do, then everybody should definitely be available for both genders, there’s no reason not to.

ALEX: Yeah, absolutely agreed. It was pretty awesome when they–when they announced that all the, the romance interests in DA2, they were all bi. Or… yeah. They’re all–they’re available to both genders, and, yeah, that should definitely be the standard going forward.

MATTIE: Any other games that did romance well, particularly well? Anyone have any thoughts on that?

KATE: I actually wrote about this on The Border House. Fable 3 did it terribly, it’s terrible, it’s not romance at all, but that is a game where every NPC is assigned a sexuality, a sexual orientation and a sexual preference, and it shows up when you click on them and get their information. So you’ll see whether a person will sleep with your character outside of marriage, you’ll see whether a character is straight or gay or bi, and your player character can pretty much do whatever. So even though it’s kind of abysmal in so many ways, it was really refreshing to see that level of… thought, I guess? I don’t know, it didn’t seem thoughtful, but I appreciated having that in there, and it made my player character make different choices than I think I would have in a different game.

KIM: So wait, to be clear about that, do you actually have to talk to them to find out their sexual preferences and options, or is it just…

KATE: It’s just a thing that shows up when you click on them. I mean, you have to get into a conversation with anybody–it’s not a real conversation, an “interaction,” they call it–to see their stats, whatever, their information. But as soon as you see their information it just shows up, it’ll be like “Cheerful,” “Poor,” “Wealthy,” “Gay,” “Flirty,” whatever.

RAWLES: I completely agree that it was good that they actually sort of assigned everybody sort of a sexual orientation and everything, but one thing that was always really weird to me about that in Fable was that then, in the actual game, the only love interest you get that actually has any kind of actual personality at all, is always somebody of the opposite gender of whatever character you selected, which always seemed weird.

KATE: Oh, yeah, I mean, it was just terrible, incoherent, and it doesn’t stand up to thought at all, especially as you keep progressing. I had been spoiled by being deeply in Mass Effect this year, and I kept expecting to be able to enter into a romance with an actual character who had lines and a personality. So it’s certainly not an example of what I would say is “doing it right,” but in that one little aspect, I thought it was positive.

MATTIE: One thing I was hoping for, let’s say, the future of romance gaming would go is kind of like the avenue to explore sexuality and romance in a way that you maybe won’t be able to in reality. And that’s kind of important for me because I felt like I personally experienced something I have no experienced in reality, and it was interesting and strange, and I did things that, you know, I wouldn’t have done. I mean, let’s say, for some reason or another, I have more BioWare girlfriends than I will ever have girlfriends, most likely in reality. And I wonder if a lot of good can come from, let’s say, this very, this market that’s saturated with, let’s say, people who have expectations about heterosexuality. And lots of male gamers who tend to be very forward about their heterosexuality. If there were games that just allowed you, without judgement, to just try out what is it like to be another sexuality or another identity, or to have a romance of a particular situation. Because right now it seems like romances are just an added bonus, like “here’s a mini sidequest of just getting the right lines right so you can see something, like a sex scene.” So, having like another purpose for romances would be great. I don’t know if anyone else had a similar thought.

RAWLES: Well I think it’d be interesting. I definitely–if they wove it more into the actual sort of storyline. I actually think that Dragon Age: Origins did that really well. But really only if you romance Morrigan or Alistair. But it definitely did sort of weave the romances into the story of the game a lot better, I think, than sort of Mass Effect where it’s just like, yeah, you know, like you said, you just go through the romance options and you get to a sex scene kind of a thing, so.

MATTIE: Yes. Another kind of way of, I guess, how the structure of an RPG might add to that, so I was wondering if anybody had another idea of, well, something like a dating sim should be employed? Or how else can romance be used in a game?

KATE: I’m willing to cut them a little slack, and to understand that evolving this in a good way might take a really long time because when you think about it, an actual romance is deeply complicated. I mean if you think of all the flirting and the interactions and the way it grows more natural over time, I can understand why, from a development perspective, writers and coders and artists would prefer to give you very limited options. That said, I want the options I have to be better, even if they are limited.

MATTIE: Go ahead, Anna.

ANNA: So one of the things I’d be interested in seeing is that if the characters that you’re trying to romance have more of a say in that interaction because one of the problems I have with romance that I think is done badly is when, oh you give them enough gifts, or in Mass Effect 1 you need to make sure you talk to them enough, and I kind of find that problematic. I’d rather they seem to have some sort of say in whether they want to have a relationship with you, it’s not just what your main character does. And actually I think that Dragon Age 2, even though technically it was still the same setup with the behind-the-scenes numbers or something going on, it felt like the characters had more of a say because they went to Hawke to initiate the romance, which I really appreciated in that game.

KIM: I was just going to make a quick response, which is that I actually heard–again, I’m not sure if I’m just spouting unverified rumors–but there was a bug with Leliana in Dragon Age 1, where if you give her too many gifts too quickly, she wouldn’t romance you because it would glitch out and skip her personal quest so you couldn’t romance her. And so yeah, if you kind of tried to give her too much stuff she won’t be interested in you, which I thought was quite funny in an [? sorry, couldn't hear this word] way.

RAWLES: Yeah, I actually–I have–I very much agree with you that it should be less just kind of handing people stuff, and I would definitely love to see the sort of–for the characters to have sort of more autonomy, but the thing about that is that, you know, what they did in Dragon Age 2 where there are characters who will sort of approach you, and infamously Anders, who if you’re just kind of nice to him, he will make the first sort of move on you, is that people just sort of railed and railed about “Oh no, ninja-mance!” and “Oh, blah blah blah, I didn’t mean to do this!” And I’m like, you guys, in real life, if you’re really unreasonably nice to somebody, they might think you like them, and they might say something about it. That’s good!

ANNA: Yeah, I really love that Anders did that, I love that Anders did that even if you were the male Hawke. I thought that that was a really great decision on the part of BioWare, and that’s one of the things I think they did well, even if it made some fans uncomfortable. I think it was a really good decision on their part.

KATE: I actually, a couple of male friends of mine were complaining about that at one point, and I actually, you know, it was amusing to me, I pointed out to them, this is what happens sometimes if you are female, especially if you are in a male space like being a gamer, if you are a little nice to somebody, you’ll engage them in a conversation, and all of a sudden they’re like, “So, you. Me. Bed.” And you’re like, “Oh, no no no no no no no.” And it was an interesting sort of weight for a few people to see their own privilege in a way they didn’t know they had it, and I got a kick out of that, personally.

RAWLES: One hundred percent completely in agreement there. I’ve had so many just sort of conversations with my friends, we’re just kind of laughing at all these, like, heterosexual male gamers complaining, “Oh, god, someone I’m not attracted to tried to initiate romance with me!” I’m like, yes, welcome to the life of a woman. Any woman! In the world! Because that happens all the time. And you know it’s just every time–I like to post about that issue sometimes on my Tumblr and things like that, and we’ll always people are like “Oh, but this is just so uncomfortable, you know, a male gamer is going to be hit on by a guy!” And I’m like, yes, as a queer woman, I have no idea what it’s like to be hit on by men that I’m not attracted to.

ANNA: Well and also you had the option right away to say “Oh, no, I’m not interested.” And he would back off. So not seeing what the very scary thing was.

RAWLES: Yeah, and especially–yeah. Because the whole thing, where he’ll just immediately back off, that doesn’t also happen in reality all the time. But I think it’s an issue of, you know, what they’re scared of–the gay, I guess they think they’ll catch it? I don’t, I don’t know.

MATTIE: Well, I mean, it’s definitely this interesting topic of, well, you know, is there a time where your privilege needs to show, in that sense of like, these complicated situations of a perspective that you might not see. And I think that’s what games like this can help us with, especially with romance. Romances tend to be something that we have a large media representation of something very stereotypical, but like some actual about, let’s say, sensitive things, like how to deal with someone who’s not of your sexuality approaching you with a romantic interest. Or is anybody doing that? Which is what I kind of liked about what you all have said about Anders approaching, because that’s also not something that happens in a game very often. And giving these characters a little more say with, well maybe I am attracted or I’m not. And as well, I find that things like Aveline, while we’re on Dragon Age 2, how you can try and romance her, but you can’t. You know, she’s already taken in a sense. Or just kind of, how I like that sort of–the controls aren’t exactly everything you say. And that kind of goes along with Alex’s article in a sense of what seems to be very jarring to a lot of people in these games is that there’s no control, you lose control and these events happen to you. And that’s unsettling for a gamer to have you not be the world-changing hero. So I think that’s interesting. And actually, Alex had just come back, and I wanted to see if you wanted to add anything about how to improve romances in games. We were just talking about how we want more autonomy of our characters interacting with us. Rawles, you go ahead while she thinks.

RAWLES: Yeah, about the autonomy, I think what you just said about gamers not liking sort of control taken away from them is very accurate because, especially in terms of like, what characters that they’re trying to romance, and you know, I think a lot of people actually really like it for the characters to just go along with them, that you just say a couple of good words to them and, you know, they are in love with you forever, and they never disagree with you, or anything like that. And another thing, I’ve seen peoples’ reactions to be almost bizarrely extreme to me, is for instance, in the second Mass Effect game, when either Ashley or Kaiden, when you meet up with them again, and you’re working with Cerberus, and Cerberus is this just kind of awful terrorist group, doing all these bizarre and just kind of grotesque experiments in the first game, and you meet up with Ashley or Kaiden and they’re just like, “What the hell? What are you doing?” And they get upset with you, and you can’t talk them down, they’re still going to be mad at you and they’re still going to walk away. And so many people have developed this intense anger and hatred for these characters who have what I felt was a fairly reasonable reaction to what is happening, and it’s so much is just rooted in the fact that they don’t like not being able to control everything about the game world. They don’t like that these characters have autonomy, they don’t like that these characters stood up to them, and you know, did what they thought was right, and you couldn’t just, you know, charm them out of it. And I just thought that was interesting, I mean, the conversation itself is kind of awfully, terribly written, but I think the fundamental basis of what was happening was perfectly reasonable.

ALEX: And on the flip side of that, I think later on, Kaiden sends you like a letter about how he–while he thought you were dead, he went on a date with somebody and he like, feels terrible. And I’m like, why do you feel terrible? You thought I was dead! It’s okay to move on! Like, that part just struck me as so weird.

RAWLES: Yes, oh god, yes. Like, the whole letter–and the funny thing about what you’re saying, and like, yeah, why when you were dead for two years, you went on one date, oh no, like, why would you feel bad about that? The funny thing about that is I saw so many people who are furious about the fact that he went on a date.

ALEX: Are you serious? Oh no…

RAWLES: I am absolutely serious. They’re like, they are furious he sent them the letter, they are–they somehow interpreted the letter as saying like, “Oh, well, you know, I’m seeing other people,” and I’m like, what are you–how are you getting that out of this? I don’t understand.

MATTIE: I think that BioWare relies a lot on Hollywood tropes, like they’re part of these gaming studios that are getting kind of more film-like, and want to be more like blockbusters. Like they keep using that word blockbuster in everything that they’re talking about now, which is driving me insane. And so they want these sort of movie tropes such as, hero has been gone and, you know, wife has moved on and is with another person, and there’s going to be tension, you know, that sort of thing. So there’s a lot of these complications that come into these romances because they’re also framed by this, how we–what we consume, the media, the Hollywood version of relationships.

KATE: That’s also–it’s one of those things that you don’t necessarily notice, at least not the first time, when it’s working correctly, but when you do something that the game doesn’t necessarily expect, that’s when you kind of get that dissonance. Like, I never got a letter from Kaiden because I left him to die in the first game, and I romanced Liara anyway. So it was that very different sort of, you know, where the tension is, like I was mentioning before. But the incongruity of that “By the way, I’m really sorry, I kind of dated somebody while you were dead” letter doesn’t–it’s one of those things I think the game expects the player to feel differently about it than a lot of players are going to.

KIM: I was just going to say, it’s a really interesting position because games aren’t like films, and they’re not like books, they’re really complicated and multifaceted, and they take a lot of money to produce than even a film. And it’s kind of interesting that in all of this, I think it’s important to keep in touch with, there’s not that many games that have really done romance well, like, full stop. And I actually really think it’s quite a good sign that these discussions can happen about the ones that have. And so, and again, like I really sound like I’m defending a company, but I don’t want it to sound like that, I just think it’s really interesting. And if you view it from the perspective of someone trying to write a work of fiction as well, which is essentially what a lot of these games are, like they have a main plot which has nothing to do with romance, right. The main plot has to do with saving the world. And the romance is what brings so many people in, and it’s where the fan culture comes in, and fan culture has this, like, huge impact on the way that video games work, and in a way that happens in books and film but doesn’t happen to quite the same extent as I think it does in video games. So through all of this there’s this real feeling that this is a real new media, and the ways we have to criticize it aren’t really there yet, in a way. And also the, just the budgets and time that goes into these, and then the idea that there has to be a single person just in charge of writing all of these possible ways you can play through this game and kind of make them make sense, it just seems like this crazy thing, and in some ways I don’t know even how people write them. But yeah.

MATTIE: Go ahead, Rawles.

RAWLES: Yeah, this is actually something a friend and I talk about a lot because we’re very very much into–we’re both writers, and we’re both very much into the sort of narrative of the games, particularly the BioWare games. And sort of breaking that down. And I’ve just sort of thought so much on the ways, for instance, that you write a love interest character in a video game versus the way you write it in a static work of fiction where the audience that you’re dealing with doesn’t have any input. And there are a lot of ways that they write romanceable characters that you wouldn’t necessarily write a static love interest. Because if you’re writing a static love interest in a book or something like that, you have to make them appealing because you want the audience to sort of understand why the main character would choose this person or be in love with this person, but there’s a degree to which you have to craft a video game love interest that is not present in a book or a movie or something like that because you have to make the audience member actually think, “I would want to romance this person myself,” and I think the choices that they make as to how they sort of craft the romanceable characters for targeted at specific demographics, just says so so much about the developers and their sort of views of, like, what straight women want versus what straight men want, and just kind of not thinking about what queer men or women might want, so.

MATTIE: Yes, I was just thinking about, I’m actually studying how writing, fiction-wise, differs from an interactive medium from novels and static, and it’s very interesting, we’ll have to do another talk about that. So let’s move on to Kate.

KATE: It feeds right out of what Rawles was saying in that the stories we’re telling in these games are very much, you know, the games we love may tell them better, but they’re very sort of trope-based, standard, template stories in a sense, and there comes a point in that story where the hero gets the girl. And that’s just how it goes. And I think where we do see some of that dissonance and some of that break down is when our hero might be the girl, or our hero might be a girl who likes girls, or our hero might be anything, and so they’ve kind of written themselves into a box where this is the point in the story where the hero gets the girl. How do we do that with a nearly infinite perception of our hero and twelve possible romanceable characters?

ANNA: Well, and I think that since we’re talking about these two BioWare franchises, it seems as though Mass Effect does a kind of, much more generic storyline of, clearly this woman will be in love with this man, and this man will be in love with this woman. Whereas Dragon Age, across the three games that they did, I feel like they’ve done a bit of a better job of making the characters have a bit of their own story and their own interests, and it didn’t feel as much as, if I was being forced into a relationship with any person. ‘Cause I know, as female Shepard, I kind of felt like they were forcing me into a relationship with Jacob, or just really pushing that relationship, and as a male Shepard it’s like they’re really pushing a relationship with Miranda. But I didn’t feel any push toward any one character in the Dragon Age games. I don’t know if other people had a similar experience.

MATTIE: Oh, I totally agree. There were times where I was, mostly with female Shepard and Jacob that felt really strange, just from personality-wise, there was a more platonic relationship, and it just made things really awkward. So, Rawles, what do you have to say?

RAWLES: Yeah, this actually ties straight into what Kate was saying, and definitely what Anna was just saying, that, yeah, the whole sort of trope of, you know, set up where the hero gets the girl, it can’t really sort of, it can’t really work when you put something that’s not very normative in it. And the sort of generic nature of Mass Effect where it’s just that. The hero gets the girl, they sort of point you straight at who they want you to sort of go for, as opposed to Dragon Age. Dragon Age: Origins has what I will–full disclosure–my favorite game romance, which is a female Warden with Alistair. And I find that really really interesting just because I think it was accidentally sort of subversive because Alistair is essentially–he’s essentially the, like, the sort of secret princess character who, you sort of swoop in and he’s very inexperienced, and, you know, sweet on you, and you know he loves you desperately, even down to the point where the climax of the game sort of–a huge climactic point of the game revolves around his sexual purity in a way that would normally be completely reserved for, like, a female character. And so I just found it really interesting, and just, it’s one of my favorites just because it is probably accidental. Like I said, it’s very subversive that you can have, like this female character be very very sort of, just kind of in a very masculine role in that relationship, or a traditionally masculine role, while he takes a more traditionally feminine role.

ALEX: Oh, man, I never thought of it that way, that’s pretty awesome.

KIM: Yeah, me either.

MATTIE: Yeah, that is so on point. Because I was wondering about that when I was, ’cause I had an Alistair romance as well that ended horribly, and–but, either way, it was interesting to be like, well, is it your first time? You know, that sort of kind of–he was witty and enough intelligent–I would say he kind of portrayed himself as a little dull sometimes–he wanted to be, like it was almost kind of his first relationship. And that’s not a trope that we see in gaming very often, the inexperienced male. We have a lot of men who are experienced with weapons, for some strange reason. Like you’ll have lots of young boys who know how to wield swords and guns from a very young age, and romance any woman, and you get Alistair, who you hear the entire story of how he comes into his skill and also how he is inexperienced with romance. But to tie things up, as we unfortunately have run out of time–it has been so quick!–I think that with all these, with games such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age, that once we see how a lot of other games take inspiration from what does well, I’m hoping to see kind of this compound of features, and kind of lengthening these character interactions and these romances.

But that’s it for now, I thank all of our speakers, and all of our listeners for joining us for our first episode. Hopefully you’ll like it. We’ll have a bi-weekly release of all these episodes, and a fresh new topic each time. So thank you from me, and thank you guys, and we’ll see you in two weeks.