Ever since the end of sophomore year of High School, I wasn’t sure that I was entirely straight. It’s not like it was something I thought about that much, I knew that I was attracted to women, and in senior year of High School I started dating my significant other who I’m still with, so I guess it’s never been a thing that I’ve just sat down and figured out, so to speak. But it was just a thing in the back of my head that I was conscious of. Some guys seemed kinda cool! But like, it was different than the way I was attracted to girls. Sexuality is weird. And hard to figure out. But what I want to talk about is how video games actually helped me figure things out!
Dragon Age: Inquisition features a dashing mage from Tevinter called Dorian. He’s funny, attractive, and an interesting and complex character. My Inquisitor and I were swept off our feet by the witty banter that we would engage in, and as anyone whose played a recent Bioware RPG knows, if you keep chatting up a companion, sooner or later some romantic dialogue options will pop up. I started to choose them. I wasn’t really sure of what I was doing at first, but was having a blast! I really liked Dorian, and talking with him was really enjoyable. When the option came up to start a romantic relationship with Dorian, I took it.
This may sound strangely like I’m talking about a real person. Part of the reason for that is just the way I try and play RPG’s, especially those where choice plays a major role, like in Dragon Age. At least for my first playthrough, I do my best to put myself into the mind and body of the character I’m playing as, and try to make the decisions I think I’d make if I was faced with such a situation. And, at a certain point with this situation with Dorian, I became self-aware of the experiment of sorts that I was engaging in. I just wanted to see what would happen if I kept going with this, if it’s something I’d enjoy playing/watching, or if it would make me uncomfortable at a certain point.
My flirtation with Dorian was lovely. Our chats in Skyhold’s (the name of your castle in the game) library, dances at royal balls, and first kisses were all as picturesque as a fantasy game romance can be. But, I was enjoying it too. Playing a game is different than watching a movie, because you have agency and control over what happens. Even though this is really an illusion of sorts, it doesn’t feel like that if you let yourself be immersed in the fiction, and I think that’s what matters. Similar to what we talked about in other contexts in class, if you let some imagined thing become a reality, then it will. Sure, game’s really just present the illusion of choice in most cases, but if you believe in the fiction, that doesn’t matter.
Then, one day when I went back to my bedroom in Skyhold, Dorian was there. He said something to the effect that he was tired of these games we’d been playing and was ready for something serious. To be blunt, he wanted sex. I found myself feeling very uncomfortable (well, not in a way where me, as Frank was uncomfortable playing this game, but my recognition that if I were in the situation of the avatar I was roleplaying, I would be extremely uncomfortable) and after some consideration, declined his request, and broke off our romance, though we parted as friends.
Around that time, I also came across this post on Tumblr:
Putting the two pieces together, I realized, well, hey! I thought Dorian was cool, I was down with flirting and dancing and doing a bit of kissing, but wasn’t really down for doing any actual sex-things. Basically, the description of sensual attraction in the above post.
Part of what I’d been worried about was that because I wasn’t interested in having sex with a man, I wasn’t “really” bisexual, which I guess is right. I’m heterosexual but sensually attracted to men. But it doesn’t mean that I’m “fake” bi or anything, it’s just something somewhere a long a spectrum of infinite possibilities.
Games can be incredibly powerful in allowing players to interact with the themes they present and discuss in whatever way they feel comfortable with. Not everyone roleplays games to the same degree I do, but the option to allow oneself to be immersed into a choice-based narrative with whatever depth a player is comfortable can allow for far more interesting stories that can reach out into our real world lives and identities as well. This kind of exploration can exist for more than sexual identity, but other identities as well. Dragon Age: Inquisition allows the player character to have a choice in how faithful someone is, and I can easily imagine someone trying to explore their faith in a similar way to how I explored sexuality. If we’re lucky, hopefully games will become even more complex in their understandings of gender, sexuality, and race, and give players the choice to think complexly about those identities within games in ways that will affect our thinking outside of games.
Perhaps the greatest way in which games differentiate themselves from other mediums is the way in which they allow the player to represent themselves in the narrative. You cannot passively play a video game, it requires some degree of interaction. Even if the player character is some stock body, it’s you inhabiting that body, and your mind is what’s controlling it. You have agency over that avatar, despite whatever limitations the game may impose on you.
For games to become the art from I know they can be, to reach their highest potential, I think they need to internalize this. Identity is at the heart of playing a game. The moment you pick up a controller, or a mouse and keyboard, you are projecting yourself into a virtual body, and that body represents you. The closer we can get to games that think complexly about that relationship, that think about how a player’s own identity is projected into the virtual world, the closer we can get to games that can change our lives, and affect us as deeply as any other art form, if not more so.