When I heard rumblings that two canon gay characters would be featured front and center in Dragon Age: Inquisition, I was at the same time utterly thrilled and very, very wary. For the record, this particular post won’t discuss Dorian at all, though I certainly have more than enough to gripe about given how deeply unsettling it is that you can continue to aggressively flirt with him as a straight woman. Can we not play into the sassy gay friend trope anymore, devs? Please?
In any event, I’ll be focusing my attention on the first (and only) exclusively gay woman to enter into the Dragon Age franchise, and just how upset I am about the way she was handled, both before the game hit the shelves and during gameplay. For anyone who hasn’t read any of my past articles, I’ll repeat myself for clarity’s sake: I am a gay woman and have struggled to come to terms with my identity all my life. When I hear that a character who identifies the same way will be featured among the main cast in a game, I tend to err on the side of critical. My skepticism was, unfortunately, well-founded in this case.
The fact that Bioware had the chance to destroy all stereotypes with the addition of a lesbian character, but instead chose to play into every single trope greatly saddens me and significantly lessened my playing experience. Before I loaded Inquisition up on my Xbox, I fully expected my playthrough would involve constantly interacting with and ultimately romancing Sera. Instead, I almost never brought her along in my party and endured her personal quests with gritted teeth. This wasn’t the gloriously reaffirming playing experience I’d anticipated, friends.
A special thanks to cypheroftyr for kickstarting my interest in the topic after leaving this particular article half-finished months ages ago. You’re an inspiration! 💕
As you can see above, Sera was originally slated to be designed as a woman of color, which would have brought sorely needed diversity to an already white-washed elven race. (You’ll note that Solas was also intended to be something other than undercooked egg whites.) This could have greatly improved her character arc, as a diverse background would have served to highlight Sera’s struggle with her identity. Not only does she feel set apart from other elves due to her upbringing, but also because of her skin color—a bright contrast to the endless globs of Elvhen mayonnaise.
We’re far more likely to sympathize with the issue she takes with other elves when they’re such a deeply exclusionary people to begin with. The Dalish are well-known for their immediate distrust of any beyond who they deem their own. An elf of color raised by humans and surrounded by the culture of shemlen? One who learned the abilities and skills befitting a human rogue, not an elf? If Sera ever crossed their path before, it’s highly likely the Dalish were as vicious to her as we see she is to them. Could you really blame her, if all of this were the case?
But that wasn’t the case, and for that, Sera’s constant diatribe against the elves only comes across as insensitive. This behavior further plays into her sexuality, as the Psycho Lesbian trope (while an ablelist label) is well-loved and immediately recognizable in popular media. Everyone knows all lesbians are angry and all gay men are cheerful! At least, Dragon Age certainly seems to prop up their gay characters within this limited understanding of the rich complexities of queer stories. Sera comes off more like the widespread cocktail of self-righteous anger and incoherent babbling that make up your token lesbian character than an actual human being, but the issues don’t stop there.
We could have had it all, Bioware.
“White Feminism,” for those of you who don’t know, is a catch-all term used to describe the wholesale brand of feminism touted by white women of privilege. Urban Dictionary actually has a pretty accurate definition, for anyone looking for further clarification:
“A brand of feminism centered around the ideals and struggles of primarily white women. While not outright exclusive, its failure to consider other women and its preoccupation with Western standards and the problems faced by the “average woman” is often alienating to women of color, non-straight women, trans women, and women belonging to religious or cultural minorities.”
Right now, we’ll be focusing on the most glaring aspect of Sera’s character within this concept, and that’s her blatant transphobia. On top of her delightfully racist ranting, she seems incapable of not running at the mouth on other offensive topics, and I’d be willing to bet her comments likely flew under the radar of most cis players (myself included—at least during my first playthrough).
Her first interaction with the Inquisitor has been criticized for being cissexist, though much of her humor is almost entirely related to genitalia and the policing of it. You get a real sense of this in the codex entry involving Josephine given the “Velissisima Ladyparts von Knucklefronts” comment. Further—because oh yes, there’s more—if you choose to bring her to the Winter Palace, Sera offers up this stunning little gem in regards to another guest attending the party:
This begs the question: why, then, was it absolutely imperative that these vile comments be added to Inquisition when it was unlikely many gamers would see it on their first—or even second—playthrough? You can’t engage Sera in a discussion about why her snide comments are completely inappropriate like you can when Dorian asserts to a Dalish Inquisitor that slavery isn’t really that bad. At least in that instance, you have the option of engaging the problematic behavior to explore where the character is coming from and how they might, in fact, be saying hurtful things.
We don’t even have any indication that other characters called Sera out on her transphobia, which would have at least been a little improvement, particularly when there just so happens to be a character who is trans in-game. How did Sera feel about Krem? Did she react to him the way she reacted to elves and mages—with disdain and fear rooted in ignorance? Seems just a bit too unlikely that they never crossed paths and came to an argument, given just how unapologetic her opinions are on the lives of others. It’s one thing to include characters with problematic viewpoints in games, but it’s quite another when none of said problematic viewpoints are ever challenged. That sends a message, friends, and it’s not a positive one.
Ultimately, I took less issue with Dorian’s portrayal than I did Sera’s, but I’d be interested to hear the experiences of gay men on that front. There are a lot of articles out there from the perspective of straight people where they learned, gradually, not only to empathize with the experience of LGBTQIA+ characters, but to eventually find themselves playing through it. I’m all for opening up that conversation! It’s delightful that we can introduce our experiences to others, thus bringing a much-needed perspective of normalcy to the fore. (Confession: I cried during Dorian’s personal quest involving his father. Damn, that hit close to home.) That said, we need to be careful of harmful stereotypes when creating these inclusive characters or we’ll just be taking several flying leaps backward.
I need more than just diverse games: I need realistic, positive representation that actually helps to differentiate from the games oversaturated with tropes and queer-baiting.