How BioWare Created Dragon Age: Inquisition's Trans Character
"The world of Dragon Age has room for people of all backgrounds and identities, and it was a pleasure to show that in one more way."
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THIS POST CONTAINS SOME DRAGON AGE: INQUISITION SPOILERS
BioWare's recently released open-world role-playing game Dragon Age: Inquisition features the developer's first-ever trans character, Cremisius “Krem” Aclassi. In a new blog post this week, writer Patrick Weekes explained in great detail the multi-year process of bringing him to life.
The idea for a trans character in Inquisition was formed a few years ago following a LGBTQ representation panel BioWare held at a PAX event. Weekes said one of the "most repeated requests" from fans was for BioWare to create transgender and/or genderqueer characters. However, fans made it clear that they wanted them depicted "in a way that did not make them either a monster or a joke."
Weekes said he and other BioWare employees discussed how they might go about this, and it was decided that the studio wasn't going to create a trans character just for the sake of ticking off a box. The character had to belong and serve a purpose in the game, he explained.
"First, any conversation about the subject had to come up naturally in-game," he said. "A minor character like a shopkeeper would have no reason to explain that she is trans, so either the conversation would never come up or it would come up because her voice was clearly masculine, at which point it would look like a joke to most players, no matter how we tried to write it."
"Second, the character had to serve a purpose beyond 'being there to be a genderqueer person,'" Weekes added. "Every character in our game serves a purpose--reinforcing the theme of a plot, character, or area--and we do not have the budget for someone who is just there to tick off a box."
Weekes and his team discussed ideas, and ultimately decided that the role of Iron Bull's lieutenant could be filled by a trans character. Krem fit well into this role, Weekes explains:
"Bull needed a lieutenant. He's a mercenary commander, and even if we didn't have the memory budget to have his entire company around all the time, I needed to be able to remind players that Bull has a history of command," he said. "In addition, Bull's loyalty is pulled between life under the Qun and a life of freedom, and I needed a character on each side who could represent that pull."
"Cremisius 'Krem' Aclassi met both challenges. His conversation could come up naturally, along with discussions of life as a mercenary, and he could serve a vital role in the story as a grounding force who would remind the player that Bull is more than just hired muscle," he added. "Krem's status as a trans man, rather than being just tacked on, could emphasize Bull's character by opening up discussions of Qunari gender roles."
With the Krem character formed, BioWare next had to go about creating him, which was somewhat problematic, given that Inquisition's engine--Frostbite--was based on male and female gender assignments, Weekes said. Though it wasn't the simplest of tasks to overcome, Weekes said all other Inquisition departments "stepped up enthusiastically to make sure that Krem was created with respect."
"It would be a lie to say that this was as easy as creating any other human character" -- Weekes
Krem's face, animations, and body language were all specially designed, Weekes said. In addition, Jennifer Hale--who voiced female Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 3--stepped in to perform the voicework for Krem. Weekes himself wrote Krem, passing off his drafts to friends in the genderqueer community for feedback to make sure he got things right. He says he even needed to rewrite some sections as a result of feedback from his friends.
"In the investigate hub where you can ask Krem about his past in Tevinter, the first draft had him deserting after fighting off someone who discovered his secret and tried to assault him," Weekes said. "My friends noted that this played directly into the sad 'attacked trans person' cliché, and while it was plausible, it was an ugly event that could well trigger trans people who have experienced harassment in real life. The goal was for Krem to be a positive character who was living his life happily now, and I revised his departure from Tevinter accordingly."
Finally, Weekes said the entire BioWare team is proud to have brought Krem to life in Inquisition, and points out that feedback from the genderqueer community to him "has been wonderful." At the same time, Weekes adds that BioWare is looking for feedback for how it can do better with similar characters in future games.
"It would be a lie to say that this was as easy as creating any other human character--it was uncharted territory for all of us on both the technical and the artistic side--but it was worth the extra effort," he said. "The world of Dragon Age has room for people of all backgrounds and identities, and it was a pleasure to show that in one more way."
For more, check out GameSpot's Inquisition review.
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