Saturday, 26 March 2011

It's a man-on-man's world

For decades, games programmers have struggled to develop workable artificial intelligence for the characters that inhibit their virtual worlds. It's all part of making the in-game experience that much more believable. In racing games, that means more aggressive drivers. In first-person shooters it means more stealthy snipers and assassins. And in Grand Theft Auto, it means whores who run away when they see you driving towards them with an Uzi hanging out the driver's side window.

But the gaming universe is about much more than just shooting and speeding. RPGs in particular offer an entire world to explore, and relationships to pursue. So it's only right that they make those characters more intuitive and three-dimensional.

BioWare, the makers of bestselling RPG series Dragon Age, have taken this one step further and created a number of gay characters for the latest instalment of their fantasy adventure. As you set out on your mythical quest, many of your companions flirt with you, and it's up to you how far you want to take it. Not that there's any polygonography on offer - instead, when Anders comes to your bedchamber, the cut scene pans away to a flickering candle. Even in cyberspace, we're still stuck with laboured phallic symbolism.

As sex scenes go, it's about as racy as an episode of Take The High Road. And yet it's still managed to get some hardcore gamers hot under the space where their collar would be if their necks were thin enough to wear them. One gamer in particular has bashed out an angry rant on one of the forums, taking BioWare to task for their PC agenda.

Moaning that the company has "neglected their main demographic: The Straight Male Gamer", Bastal laments the fact that "It makes things very awkward when your male companions keep making passes at you." I'd hazard a guess that this may not be his first experience of an 'awkward' social encounter, so he probably knows what he's talking about.

Even so, this must surely be the first documented case of gay panic in cyberspace. It's one thing to worry about guys hitting on you in a bar when your defences are down, but in a virtual medieval playspace? Really? Backs against the wireframe boys, this avatar's one of them. 

In fact, the game constantly offers player the chance to let their hirsute suitors down gently - after Anders tells the lead character "I never want to leave you", the three options are "I love you", "I'm hungry" and "Get out of here". It's not like players are forced to pick between "Face or chest?" and "This time you're the bottom".

The way Bastal sees it, all of this discomfort could have been easily avoided if BioWare had simply incorporated a 'No Homosexuality' option in the game's menu. Maybe he thinks it's that easy in real life too. The debate has raged for years about whether gayness is a lifestyle choice or genetically predisposed, with most people putting their money on the former. 

Since nobody gets to choose their orientation, the lack of a 'straights only' version of the Dragon Age world just gives it an extra layer of verisimilitude. Well, that and the fact that it's also full of protesting-too-much dickheads who spend far too much time imagining that every gay they encounter wants a piece of them. 

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