I will note that while I am critical of Dragon Age in this post, I am enjoying the game and it has taken over most of my gaming time.
Ronia is a character I make in most games where I can customize. She is the first ‘best friend’ I made who made me realize the impact of a true friendship based on respect and admiration. She is both similar enough to me while having a very distinct personality from my own that playing a game while imagining how she would see things presents a delight. Like many, I started creating characters in the pre-released generator that BioWare provided for Dragon Age: Origins. Ronia was the second of these characters. I have not mentioned it yet, but Ronia is black.
Ronia has great, curly hair that I wanted in game. Nothing doing. Okay. Maybe something close? Nope. My options for non-European centric hair for both sexes were cornrows, cropped hair, or bald. I went with bald, because I know real Ronia doesn’t use chemical relaxers and straighteners, and this character would be no different. In general, the hair options in the game are wanting, for a POC they are beyond wanting, and border on the non-existent. Unfortunately, this is nothing new in games.
Seeking Avalon has written much more about this issue, and expresses aptly other issues I have with the character generator and race. The same blog also explores the issues I have with Tolkien and how this game falls into the old tropes.
I will continue by examining the game as I have played it. After selecting Human Noble Warrior and assigning skills, talents and attributes, I was given a brief video explaining my origin. Then I show up in a castle with my father talking to me. My white father (pictured left). Proceeding, I meet my white mother. My white brother.
As a noble, I find it difficult to believe I am adopted, but I think back on my other character, the mage who is a blown up personification of my misanthropy. Perhaps it might be true that I was adopted and not one person mentions it, but that does not explain this troubling question: Have I seen any POC in this game? If so, no one notable. Certainly not enough to explain my presence.
What I am presented with is another Tolkien-esque, Eurocentric fantasy game that has a dark-skinned menace, with all the ‘good’ races being white, even if I have the option of opting out of such.
However, the nail in the coffin is hammered some more when I begin to realize that the game has a lot to say about race. I was rather taken aback when I first met Sten, asked him about the Qunari, and he told me my ignorance was my own fault, not his (nor his problem to correct).
The non-human races, both dwarves and elves, have strong allusions to race problems and issues we know in our own world: a belief of inferiority leading to enslavement and being treated as lesser, ghettos, isolationism, a main religion that subjugates others’, et cetera. In fact, there’s a lot to explicate in terms of what that says in a rather smart manner, but is for another post.
All these parallels to racial tensions and mistreatment are just that, however: abstract reflections of what we know in our own world. As soon as I create a POC and start playing him or her, it strikes me when I see no other POC and no one comments on it, but they are willing to see elves as slaves. If we are talking immersive gaming, I am already shunted out of any role playing, because I was never allowed to enter the role.
There are many ways to address such issues, but ignoring it shows a big gaping hole of logic. If the game wanted to have a cast that is almost all white (I have not fully played the game thus far, but the front-end of it is packed with them), then turn off the option to select skin tone in the character generator. That is a poor option, and not one I would endorse.
Then it behooves putting NPCs of color in the game. Since most major characters look to be designed individually, this would merely require someone to decide that this particular NPC will not be white. The character generator already exists (flawed as it is), and it tells us that we can choose these options for ourselves, after all.
I do want mature games, and that includes games that focus less on blood spatters that cling to me ridiculously while distracting from the scenes in which I am interacting (yes, I did turn this off, as it was making me giggle at its ludicrousness) and more on making a world in which I can believe the inherent logic concerning not just the races as it concerns humans, elves, and dwarves, but also the inclusion of a variety of skin colors. BioWare set out to make a game to divorce itself from others’ stories, and create something original, but they still brought the Tolkien-esque privilege with them. Which is odd, as right before this I was in the middle of playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and was impressed with how many POC I encountered.
When someone creating a story decides that it is okay to talk at length about race issues but ignore the fact that as the only person of color in the world, I might feel a bit alienated (and I’m white), we’ve reached a point where I believe the developers wanted to say, “Your skin color doesn’t matter! We won’t treat you any differently! You are Human! Elf! Dwarf!”
Yet all I hear is, “While you may want to create POC, we are still blinded by our own privilege and didn’t think you might want to see others!”