Title: DragonAge 2
Release Date: February 2011
My friend bought DA2 from Amazon. Then she began to rave about it. I mean, seriously rave. Eventually, I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. So she let me borrow the game, and give it a try. I have so many good things and a few bad, to say about this game. (I have an entire rant devoted to Orsino. Seriously, Orsino what the hell? Also, I have a second rant devoted to my character's friends and proposed love interests. Why am I friends with all these dysfunctional people, much less encouraged to be in relationships with them? Why do they play cards and have beers with each other, but whenever I turn up its all “Wah wah, help me Hawke. I'm needy and in pain, and no one understands me”? When is it Hawke's turn for cards and beer?)
But most of those things have already been said before, by a ton of people. I really am arriving late to the debate this time. So, I'm going to hold off on saying everything I want to about this game (since that blog post would be epic-novel length) and focus on one aspect of it instead; Aveline.
Since Anita Sarkeesian's kickstarter project aimed at exploring the depiction of women in games, and the forceful backlash that project received, I've been paying more attention to the female NPC's in the games I enjoy. Sometimes, I wish I weren't. (For more on Sarkeesian's project, go here).
I'm not going to make the ludicrous claim that I never noticed the objectification of women in the games I enjoy until now. I would have had to have been playing these games with my eyes closed and wearing ear plugs in order to avoid this. Sure, Ivy in Soul Calibur is a ridiculous dominatrix-character wearing an outfit that I have trouble believing she could easily sit down in much less fight in (seriously, her boobs should be springing free of her costume every time she turns around. . . or is it not really costume but simply a thick coat of paint?).
Don't worry, her left arm is totally protected from attack.
And the outfit made primarily out of hair in Bayonetta that can become more or less revealing depending on your combat choices makes me cringe when I think about it. The list of female characters I was ignoring could basically go on forever.
Want to save some money? Just wear your own hair.
But I did begin to willfully ignore it. Often, it seemed that the only way I could enjoy the games I wanted to play was to imaginatively put on blinders and play the game without paying attention to character depiction.
I'm also not going to make the claim that female characters are the only ludicrous characters in video games (Soul Calibur, I'm looking at you again).
I think this picture speaks for itself. I'm just not sure what it's saying.
Nor, here, am I going to discuss how and why the objectification of women in games is or might be different from other ludicrous depictions of male characters. I have not conducted a study of this material, (as Sarkeesian is planning to do) and can in no way claim to be an expert here, or even widely informed. I am speaking of my own gaming experience only.
But I do want to talk about Aveline. Because, seriously, I love this character. She was like a breath of fresh air to me. My main character first meets Aveline and her husband fighting for their lives against the blight in Lothering. Shortly after the battle, it becomes apparent that Avenline's husband is dying, and needs to be put out of his misery. I could choose to do this myself, but it felt awkward to make such an offer when I barely knew these two people, so I left it up to her. She killed her own husband to spare him the pain of dying as a result of the blight, in a move that was both strong and heart-aching.
Unlike other female characters in the Dragon Age storyline, Aveline is fully clothed.
What happened to Morrigan's shirt?
Aveline also looks like a warrior. She's dressed for battle. Not only do I not fear that her boobs might fly out of her armor at a moment's notice, I also do not fear that a sword will simply slice through her exposed flesh. There isn't any exposed flesh. Aveline is not here to be sexy, or enticing, or flirty. She means business. She is here to fight, and kill if necessary.
But, and here's where things got interesting for me, I would not say that Aveline is simply a man-with-tits warrior. There is always a risk when one writes a woman-warrior that one will simply end up with a stereo-typical warrior-male in a woman-shaped body. But Aveline, somehow, manages to avoid this. She is not a man, she is definitely a woman. She is also not the tough-but-brittle female warrior figure that one often sees. She isn't simply out to prove herself as tough as any man. In fact, the issue of her sex rarely comes up in her decisions to pursue the career she does. She likes being a guard. Maintaining law and order is important to her sense of identity and purpose. She is also secure in her sense of self, at least most of the time.
One of the funniest quests in the game is Aveline's Companion Quest where Aveline, very shyly and awkwardly, asks for Hawke's help in courting a man. She has flaws, just as much as she has strengths. She's not a sex symbol or a stereotypical out-for-blood warrior. Rather than being a flat one-dimensional character, either portrayed exclusively through sexuality or blood-lust, Aveline is complex. She's a fully rounded woman. She is also (which amounts to saying the same thing) a fully rounded human being.
Having discussed female NPC's with other gaming friends, I know that Aveline is far from being an exception. However, I don't believe she is the norm either. And so I love Aveline for being strong, smart, funny, compassionate, kind, and vulnerable. I love her for being a female character that I can understand and identify with. I love her because when I'm playing DA2 with Aveline, I don't have to set part of my mind to willfully ignore her attire and mannerisms. She isn't trying to catch my eye with a flash of cleavage, and she isn't trying to seduce me. As a result, I can simply enjoy the game.