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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.


The Hey Sweetheart Scenario: Deconstructing How Role-Playing Games Talk to Women

One of the coolest things in an RPG is when a character within the game comments on something you’ve customized. It might be something about your character’s class, or the way you handled a particular quest. There’s nothing as immersive as having the story react to your decisions as a player. And there’s nothing that breaks that immersion faster than something I have dubbed the Hey Sweetheart Scenario.

The Hey Sweetheart Scenario is one that plays out with female protagonists, and it pops up all over the place. It’s usually very subtle, presenting itself as a bit of throw-away dialogue separate from the main plot. The Hey Sweetheart Scenario has many incarnations, the most common of which are as follows:

1. An NPC warns you that a life as a warrior/soldier/adventurer is even harder if you’re a woman.

2. An NPC expresses surprise that the hero that was sent to help him is a woman.

3. An NPC assumes that you are a stripper/concubine/cheap date, even though you are armed more heavily than an entire SWAT team.

4. An NPC actually calls you “sweetheart.”

Following this bit of dialogue, the Hey Sweetheart Scenario typically gives you the option to contradict the NPC, often by causing verbal or physical harm to the speaker. You will almost definitely have the chance to prove them wrong in some way. The underlying message of the Hey Sweetheart Scenario is that your heroine is such a badass that even those silly boys can’t get in her way.

I hate the Hey Sweetheart Scenario.

Purely from a storytelling standpoint, these interactions don’t make much narrative sense, especially if the game in question has fully embraced gender customization. I’m talking about games that give you a sense of equal opportunity right from the character creation screen, games with mixed-gender militaries, folk heroes of either gender, armor that fits properly, the whole nine yards. If this is the social norm of the world you’re jumping into, why, then, would anyone be surprised to see yet another woman strolling up in soldier’s garb? And if we’re in a world in which this norm is well established, why would any NPCs have contrary assumptions about what roles a woman can or should fill?

The counter argument, of course, is one of lore. Game settings are places of fantasy, and writers have the right to create whatever cultural norms they want. Conflict is what makes a story interesting, and if you’re creating a whole universe, naturally you want as much diversity and nuance as possible. Even gender prejudices, if written well, can be an interesting part of the story — but only if they exist with an actual point. To show you what I mean, let’s look at two conflicting examples from Dragon Age: Origins, as played with a female character. Sten, one of the NPC companions, is a member of the Qunari, a people with a very strict social caste. In Sten’s eyes, women fill roles such as priestesses, farmers, merchants, and artisans. This stratification is so deeply ingrained in him that at first, he can’t even believe that you are a woman. He expresses the same confusion towards any female companion characters you have in your party.

Sten: Why are you here?
Morrigan: Excuse me?
Sten: Obviously you are no priestess. But shouldn’t you be… running a shop, or a farm somewhere, rather then fighting?
Morrigan: You think to tell me my place, Qunari? You are very brave.
Sten: It is not done.
Morrigan: But it is done. Do not be such a blind fool.
Sten: I speak the truth. It is not I who is blind.
Morrigan: Look around you, then. You see women throughout this land, fighters and mages both.
Sten: That has yet to be proven.
Morrigan: Which? That they fight? Or that they are female?
Sten: Either.
Morrigan: So I am not truly a woman to you? Hmm. ‘Tis good to know.

See, that’s interesting. Even though Sten’s views on women don’t jibe with our own, I have now just learned something about the world I’m exploring. The message is not that all women are inferior; it’s that Sten comes from a place with rigid societal roles. That’s good storytelling.

On the flip side, there’s an early scene with Alistair (admittedly one of my favorite characters) that invokes gender differences for no apparent reason. It’s a very benign example of the Hey Sweetheart Scenario, but as a player, it grated at me nonetheless. After you’ve completed all sorts of minor acts of heroism to get recruited into the Grey Wardens, Alistair points out that not many women have joined the order. It’s not an insult, but it does make you feel like the odd one out. In response, the player has the following dialogue options:

- You want more women in the Wardens, do you?
- Probably because we’re too smart for you.
- I can handle myself better than most.
- How about you stop thinking of me as a woman?

In other words, you can:

- Flirt.
- Take the “boys have cooties” route.
- Admit that your gender is a handicap, or that you are unusual.
- Deny your femininity.

Aside from the fact that those options all suck, they also lack one key response:

Alistair, are you high? I’ve seen women fighters in every single environment in this game.

Dragon Age makes it clear from the get-go that the Kingdom of Ferelden is one in which male and female soldiers co-exist on a regular basis. There is nothing in the lore to suggest otherwise, and throughout the game, you’ll see female military commanders, arena fighters, and highway bandits. This bit of dialogue from Alistair doesn’t do anything to illustrate cultural norms within a fictional world, but has everything to do with the cultural norms of the writer. I haven’t learned anything about the game here. I’ve just been told that girls are weird, for no apparent reason. And no, not everybody in a role-playing game should be nice to you. One of the marks of a good game story is the opportunity to clash with some of the characters. But there’s a very big difference between being made to feel weird because your character is, say, a dwarf who has journeyed to human lands, and being made to feel weird because you’re a woman living the life of a warrior. What does the latter prove? What does it add to the story to point out that my heroine has it tougher than her male compatriots? If you, as a game writer, are tasked with creating a story in which the player feels like a bonafide hero, then what purpose does it serve to point out that my heroine is going to have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously, purely because of her gender? That’s a feeling I already have in the real world, and it’s not one that I want to experience within a game. If you’ve actually got something to say about gender norms within the narrative of a game, then say it. Tacking it on just because it’s what you’re used to takes away from the integrity of the story and kicks female players right back to an uncomfortable reality.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that the Hey Sweetheart Scenario is sometimes intentional. If so, that means it’s meant for a particular audience. But who? I can think up a few different possibilities, none of which stand up very well on their own. Let’s break them down.

  • The Hey Sweetheart Scenario is meant for women. By giving the player a chance to strike back towards sexist remarks, she will ultimately feel empowered.

Admirable, but misguided. It’s true that I find games to be very empowering, especially if I can play as a female character. I love getting the chance to be a hero that I might see in the mirror. I love barreling into battle with imposing armor and giant weapons, off to conquer evil and save the day. What I don’t love, on the other hand, is being made to feel that I had to overcome my gender to get there. Yes, I’ve had to deal with plenty of degrading remarks and unwanted come-ons in the real world, but that doesn’t mean that I fantasize about skewering those guys with a broadsword. Some women may get a sort of catharsis out of these scenes, but for me, they tap into that an “us versus them” approach that runs counter to a true search for equality. If you really want to make female players feel empowered, give us a world in which sexist conversations don’t exist at all.

  • The Hey Sweetheart Scenario is meant for male players who love immersive storytelling. They may enjoy the realism of having to experience the challenges of sexism from the other side of the equation.

Objectively, I can appreciate this. As a gamer whose drug of choice is immersive storytelling, I totally understand the drive to use character customization as a means of stepping into somebody else’s shoes. It’s a very intriguing sort of mental exercise. The trouble here is that using such an approach to cater to the needs of male storytelling junkies completely ignores the female players that are feeling slighted alongside them. This brings us right back to the “hey, girls play, too!” drawing board.

  • The Hey Sweetheart Scenario is meant for male players who are likely to express Hey Sweetheart sentiments in real life. By showing that the female character is angry about comments such as these, the game is slipping these characters a cleverly disguised morality lesson.

Hey, fair enough, Hypothetical Game Writer, as unlikely as you are! But wouldn’t a better lesson be to just show those guys a heroine whose gender never invokes any sort of prejudice whatsoever? Go play Portal or the original Metroid and you’ll know what I mean.

  • The Hey Sweetheart Scenario is meant to show what a badass the heroine is. Sexism makes her angry, and anger makes her strong!

Ugh. Raise your hand if you’ve ever played a game/seen a movie/read a book wherein the heroine’s desire to fight stems from her anger towards men, particularly where a male abuser is concerned. It’s a trope as old as the hills, and it drips with lazy, one-dimensional storytelling. A real heroine doesn’t need to be goaded into action by ill-mannered men. Just let her save the day. That’s more than enough evidence that she’s a badass.

Whatever the reason for the Hey Sweetheart Scenario, it’s time to put it out to pasture. The gaming industry is slowly but surely taking steps to make its female audience feel included. We’re seeing more games with gender customization, armor is getting more and more reasonable by the year, and female characters are no longer exclusively sidekicks or support classes. That’s awesome. Now let’s have the dialogue follow suit.

Thanks to the Dragon Age Wiki for the assist with the dialogue quotes.

Becky Chambers is a freelance writer and a full-time geek. She blogs over at Other Scribbles.

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  • Anonymous

    Bravo!  And I *hate* these sorts of moments in games so bloody much.  I really don’t need to be reminded of my second-class status while gaming, and it’s rarely an integral part of the game, it just a glaringly obvious ‘hello’ from the writers themselves.  Ugh.

  • Robin French

    Brilliant article. I love how many posts here manage to speak out for women without being crazy militant feminist.  :) Please go and write dialogue for videogames.

  • Karen Gulledge

    For me, the Hey Sweetheart moments in Mass Effect were characteristic of the NPCs directing them at my Shepard. Case in point, when you go to Chora’s Den to get intel from Harkin, a drunken slob, he gives you the full barrage of Hey Sweetheart. But that’s his character. He’s meant to be shown as despicable and you definitely do not harbor any love for him with or without the comments. As with the Batarian who remarks that the strippers/dancers auditions are in another room in Afterlife, he’s not even looking up at you so all he hears is your femShep’s voice and assumes. He attempts another Hey Sweetheart, but when that doesn’t work, he makes another snide remark, then it’s business as usual. Sometimes, as you said, it’s necessary to gameplay in that it reveals character traits. I guess it’s less prevalent in the Mass Effect universe.

  • Jayme

    I just wanted to chime in that Alistair’s comment about females in the Wardens makes absolute perfect sense. Whoa, spoilers!! Wardens lives are short. The darkspawn taint kills them. It also renders them infertile. Only existing Wardens know what it means to be a Warden. The point is that Wardens do not normally recruit/conscript women because of this. I’m not saying they are wrong or right in the assumption that a woman may be more upset than a man at this loss. I’m just saying that is why there are not many women in the Wardens. Of course, it could also be that for some reason women do not survive the Joining as often as men do, but that, as far as I know – I haven’t read the books – is never brought up in lore.

    Alistair’s comment isn’t that there shouldn’t be women warriors. It is that they are not common in the Wardens. Also, he has only seen Ferelden Wardens. As far as I’m aware, he has not been to Weisshaupt, where he would have likely seen more female Wardens. It is also possible that Duncan, who is responsible for recruiting the Fereldan Wardens, feels bad about forcing that kind of life on a woman. Which, after reading this:, seems more likely.

  • Ryan ‘Quavey’ Havers

    As a guy who quite often plays female characters (not just for sake of that annoying old thing that some male gamers say of “Well, what would you rather look at for 40 odd levels?” etc) I’ve noticed this scenario as well. Since I have been with my girlfriend of 4 years I’ve harboured a huge understanding towards gender prejudice in both video games and real life (plenty of over the shoulder “that didn’t just happen, did it?” moments.) and It bugs me to no end that scenarios like this can be so -easily- avoided by straying from the stereotypical female characters seen in maybe some older works of fantasy/sci-fi fiction and just treating both genders with no bias. It seems they either hit the target bang on or stray from it entirely. Great article, really got me thinking about this again.

  • Anonymous

    Ugh, yes, thank you for this article. I loathe these situations. For me, it’s not even that the “oh hey, a woman fighter/mage/whatever” question gets asked–I’m perfectly willing to believe that all sorts of idiot prejudices can thrive when rationally they shouldn’t, because they depend on people being idiots. What gets me is that the dialogue responses are never how I would react. I want the “quietly ignore this ignorant fool and get on with my job” option. Or the “witty remark that turns the prejudice back on the questioner, making him reconsider his beliefs, then walk away being awesome” option. Or even the “I am offended but I’m not going to make a scene about it because we just met and we have to work together” option. Instead it’s always something that goes way too angry and/or violent, or something that sets your character up as Better Than Those Other Dumb Women, or you can flirt the tension away. Again I say, ugh.

  • Jemma Prophet

    It also has to do with (MORE SPOILERS) the fact that women can become Broodmothers, if the Taint is left in them too long without them dying. And if you’ve seen a broodmother, you know what a horrific fate that is. I think they tend to take women as Wardens a bit less readily just for that. 

  • Sheila

    The answer is easy: because the people who write the dialogue for these games are (mostly) male. That’s male privilege for you.

  • Cait Knee

    In the books, there were two female Wardens, one of them was the Commander at Weisshaupt. So yes, there are quite a bit of female Wardens as far as I could tell. One of which -SPOILERS FROM BOOK- is Alistair’s mother, so I suppose it doesn’t render them COMPLETELY infertile. It’s just rare for them to reproduce. As stated in the book, it does happen, just not very often. -END SPOILER- Women in Ferelden tend not to fight unless they have a reason to. They don’t usually go looking for trouble, so when a Warden comes along, they don’t exactly jump at the chance to leave their families and never see them again. By the time many women are of age to join the Wardens, they are also of age to be wed and have children, the latter choice is often already arranged for them or pushed on them because of society. If you recall the Cousland female origin, your mother is constantly pushing marriage on you when you are only the *suspected* age of 18. (If you go about the time line the books give, this is about the age of Alistair, so I assume it would be the age of the Warden Cousland). So that’s the reason I really think there aren’t many women in the Wardens, not because that they are WOMEN and “can’t fight”, but more of the women that do, don’t follow the traditional standards by getting married and having children at a young age. They’re not odd for doing so, they just either were forced into fighting and stealing, or have a taste for adventure! 

  • Eva Marie Heater

     Yes, and I hope they STUDY this article!

  • Anonymous

    Great article, I’m glad someone brought up this scenario (and gave it a handy name).

    I don’t remember the specific incident, but one of these moments happened to me in Skyrim once, which really was quite jarring.  Especially since overall Skyrim (and Bethesda in general) does such a good job at gender equality.  I remember some random NPC made to comment to the effect that they were surprised I was a woman who was also an adventurer. And it made no sense, the land of Skyrim has female soldiers, adventurers, warriors, sorcerers, thieves, HouseCarls, even Jarls.  It was so out of place and weird.

  • Anonymous

    Certainly an interesting read. I’d just like to note, though, that it’s not because “most game developers are male.” The studio I work for is 45% female (For this industry, that’s a lot), including game design, writing, and art design (technical has some women, but the ratio is closer to 25%), and the women are responsible for many of these moments in the game and the design of “sexy,” bare-skinned armor.

  • Michelle Davis

    I love and completely agree with this article – thank you so much for writing it. I’ve been enjoying playing Skyrim immensely, and had gone many hours of gameplay without having any really sleazy “Hey Sweatheart” moments. Then I went to talk to an NPC in jail, and as I walked up – dressed in Orcish armor with fresh blood on my gigantic sword – he says, “Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes. Don’t get to see many pretty girls around here.” Really? That was the first thing you noticed about me? I love Skyrim, but at that point in the game, when I’ve been confirmed as the Dragonborn and am clearly badass, it was just a ridiculous and off-putting piece of dialogue.

  • Anonymous

    I read a post by one of the ME writers (though I can’t find it at the moment) that discussed this issue. According to him, the writers tried to only include sexist scenes that gave Shep the chance to tell the sexist off or punch him in the face soon after.

  • Joe G

    I don’t think Alistair’s comment makes much sense at all. The Warden’s Keep DLC makes it pretty clear that female Wardens weren’t uncommon, and they can rise to the highest ranks of the order. So I’ll interpret it as either a) Alistair’s ignorance, since he’s a relatively recent recruit himself, b) the weakness of the Grey Wardens overall, and especially in Fereldan (as explained by the Warden’s Keep DLC), or c) part of his awkward attempt at flirting.

  • Joe G

    Female Human Noble was my first playthrough, so I thought Mama Cousland’s remark about my PC “playing with swords” was descriptive of the usual social role of women in Fereldan. Thirty minutes of game time later, Mama is in full armour and packing a longbow, helping me kill Howe soldiers while we look for Papa Cousland (although notably, all the Howe soldiers are men). That’s when I realized this wasn’t a “proper” lady rolling her eyes at her untamed tomboy daughter, this was a woman who’d grown up in a violent society and had to deal with violence herself, and wanted to protect her children from it as best as she could. Your brother Fergus, being the eldest, had to render military service to the crown, but perhaps she could shield at least one child. 

    It is difficult to get a grasp on social conventions in Dragon Age when BioWare games in general rarely illustrate what a typical family unit of the setting looks like. Aveline shows that married women can still be active soldiers and city guards, but how many mothers of young children keep those jobs? We don’t know, because we almost never see stable monogamous relationships, and even less with children. Fergus Cousland’s family is one of the few.

  • Joe G

    True enough. Dragon Age, with a writing staff that’s almost half women, is better than most, which makes those few Hey Sweetheart moments really jarring. Alistair’s comment is one, but mostly in hindsight, because it’s one of the first bits of lore you get on the Wardens, and probably long before it’s contradicted by the Warden’s Keep DLC and the Dragon Age novels. 

    The other weird moment is the “Village Under Siege” questline in Redcliffe. Throughout the rest of the game, you come across women as warriors, rogues, and mages. During the undead attack on Redcliffe, all the women hide behind closed doors with the children, while nearly all the men fight (or can be convinced to fight). With the prevalence of women warriors and mages in the rest of the setting, you’d think there’d be at least one or two women willing to help defend the village. You can goad Lloyd the fat bartender into joining the fight, and the elf who has no personal stake in defending the village, but you can’t ask Bella the barmaid to pitch in. Why not?

  • Bel

    The only thing worse than the Hey Sweetheart scenario is the Evil Rape Reference scenario.  Same deal, in that it’s a comment NPCs direct only to female characters.  Apparently someone decided all of the origin stories would be more immersive if some random baddies threaten you with rape at some point or another. I really don’t appreciate it, and killing them is definitely not enough to make me feel better.

  • Bel

    Men are completely capable of understanding these points and not incorporating them into their writing, and women are just as capable of commiting the fallacies.  Don’t let anybody off the hook for lack of critical thinking.

  • Anonymous

    [TW: rape, rape threats, rape culture]
    Hello Rape Culture! 

    Where rape/rape threats is treated as:

    1)this most horrible thing that only the most evilest of evil people would ever do and is evidence of how really evil they really are.  And by the way, it’s sooooo rare for rape to happen, too, dontchaknow.


    2) A necessary component of any female character’s growth as a person.

    and always

    3) A completely derivative plot point and the refuge of the laziest of unimaginative writers.

  • Karen Gulledge

     Which is fine by me! Some of my femSheps had anger issues after being brought back by Cerberus! XD

  • Joanna

    What really annoyed me about Gears 3 was that, for the first time you could play a female character, but they never really did anything and were only drawn attention to when a character wolf whistled at them.

  • Dark

    I admit, I have allowed myself to have a sexist streak in games I gamemaster at the table even. But I have also found that it is often reported as less fun if you just put women on equal footing. In an RPG, they often want sexist douchebags to one up, ridicule, trounce, and generally outperform in every way. If you pretend like their is no sexism at all, they don’t get to have the full escape of the RPG, whether a video game, computer game, or tabletop.

    My little sister enjoys stabbing lecherous NPCs because she can’t do it in real life.  

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    I’d say “yeah, duh,” except you will find that most people pushing for and writing these situations are men, and when women point out how that would make a game less fun for women, they don’t care. Women will rarely write this way (please read the article again for why) so it’s not just a general people problem, no matter how nice that would be.

  • Anonymous

    This was addressed in the article. The world of Mass Effect has the atmosphere of equality. Most people don’t remark on Sherpard’s gender. But the game itself DOES, meaning, the game developers do. That’s a problem. As the article’s author says here, it may be a little bit empowering to punch those guys, but what’s MORE empowering is to never be thought of that way to begin with. That’s the breath of fresh air – I don’t actually want to bloodily assault men for saying sexist things, I want them to … not say them. Having me be a super space hero that’s awesome grinds to a screeching halt when they couldn’t find a better way to make a character look bad other than poking at wounds that are still so fresh. How many “your dick is small” bad guy characters are there in Mass Effect? If it’s substantially lower than “you’re a woman, herp derp”, then that’s a big problem, and that’s what this article is saying.

  • Anonymous

    Who is in charge of your projects? The main producers? The head developers? Who gets to approve or scrap these women’s work? Is it men? Who hired these women? Was it also men? Were they cherry-picked to write and design to the preferred aesthetic of the group, which is dominated by men? Ask yourselves these questions, because just because a group of women in your studio do things a certain way, they exist in a very controlled environment. They are not a sample selection of all women, or even most women. What they are doing is a job, not what they love or even prefer. They know that men want ABC, so they’re going to produce ABC, because it gets them a paycheck. They’re women that were hired by certain people for a certain job. If you want to see what women really want to produce, look to the indie scene.

  • Anonymous

    Dude, don’t hate on feminists.

  • Anonymous

    An escape into a game means a break from reality – reality is what’s sexist. The game is what’s not.

    And, really, your little sister dreams of stabbing people? I doubt that, or I think you should get her into counseling. Or you’re completely misinterpreting her or projecting what you THINK she feels onto her. And if she does have such a VIOLENT reaction to sexism, why do you want to keep subjecting her to it?

  • Anonymous

    And that’s great for your sister, seriously. An outlet like that can be a very welcome and necessary thing. But a tabletop game where you know the DM and you know what you’re signing up for is very different from a computer game that breaks immersion through stupid sexism.

  • Adam Whitley

    I think the problem is that people are projecting their opinions on everyone else as if its some universal truth. Now it doesn’t make sense for sexist comments to appear in a game where gender equality is shown to be prevelant and there should be games that don’t have that kind of dialogue nust to round it out. Same goes with how far villains take it, having a serial rapist you have to put down isn’t rape culture or lazy story telling its just law and order svu with swords (or ray guns or what have you).

  • Anonymous

    The Lead Game Designer has the final say. The Lead Artist approves or the work of their artists. In this case, both are female.
    Maybe it’s because they know men want “ABC”, but that’s my point: There’s more to it than the gender of the developer.
    I’ve actually tried to convince the lead artist and designer during the concept phase of the design that the armor should cover the whole body, that leaving the midriff and cleavage (and thus many vitals) exposed is a bad idea, and that women who play the game might not like it. I got a weird look on the last one, since I was a male talking to two females higher-up in the organization about what females might not like. They went ahead with the “sexy” armor concept.
    My point is, it’s NOT just men who are responsible for this. There’s outside influences. The women I work with may not be a representative sample of all women, but I never claimed they were. I specifically said I was talking about the studio I work for, and that I saw women perpetuate these decisions.

  • Anonymous

    I think Robin was just hating crazy militant feminists, not just feminists.

  • Anonymous

    Your studio appears to be extremely progressive demographically, yet you admit you guys are sticking to the same old sexist stereotypes. I think your group should have a pow wow and talk about it.

    We can pull out exceptions to the rule all night long, it doesn’t matter. Remember in the Space Marines article, that YOU, a self-proclaimed man, wanted more Hey Sweetheart in your Skyrim, and I  disagreed? That’s what this article is about. That’s why I disagreed. I am a woman, and you are a man. You can’t point any fingers at any person I don’t know, because I was talking to YOU. 

    Blaming “men” for things is wrong, I agree on that. This article never says that, instead it is speaking in women’s interests, which people usually confuse as being against men (hint: it’s not). The Hey Sweetheart situation apparently does benefit men, however, as you vehemently desired it in your previous support of it. What I am really angry at is not “men”, or anyone in specific, but towards society and gaming culture that teaches us that we MUST have misogyny in games for them to be entertaining. That’s so damn stupid. I hope someday you agree.

  • Anonymous

    In the article, the author points out that it all lies in execution. She took 2 examples from the same game and showed how one was about supporting lore, and one was nothing more than sexism painted as something poignant or empowering — when it really wasn’t. Don’t over generalize this, because creating a patriarchy in your game, and going out of your way to be sexist are two different things.

  • Anonymous

    I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate for a bit…

    Personally, I tend to have a bit of a problem with pre-modern RPGs that present a clearly Medieval/Ancient/Pre-Modern world that has total gender equality, simply because I think presenting such a fantasy world is a bit facile and insulting to the intelligence. The sad fact of the matter is, for much of human history, women have been treated as second-class citizens, and the idea of a woman going to war or taking up traditionally male roles was usually considered an exception rather than the rule (cultures like the Sarmatians, Scythians, Gauls etc notwithstanding).  So for a Sword-and-Sorcery or High Fantasy setting that is staunchly Medieval or Classical or otherwise in every other way – politically, economically, culturally, technologically, socially – only to have women treated in a 20th Century way seems very jarring.

    It’s like having your cake and eating it, presenting a twee fairytale version of the past – except many of these games, like Dragon Age and Skyrim, actually show the dark and sordid side of monarchy and feudalism. They have religious intolerance with the worship of Skyrim’s patron deity being outlawed, they have rampant racism among all the different nationalities and ethnicities and species, they have discrimination against wizards and magic-users, class conflict and succession issues among the monarchy… but gender issues are practically pre-existant. Why show the rampant inequality of class, race and religion in a setting, but NOT gender in a setting that’s practically Dark Age Europe in all but name?

    Now, science fiction settings and RPGs that are very clearly worlds away from real human history (most JRPGs, Zelda, etc) are another matter, because when everything about the setting is either modern or different, it just stands to reason that gender issues are also modern or different.  I just think having a world which has feudalism, monarchy, serfdom, religious intolerence, bigotry, and whatnot, but NOT endemic sexism, is about as immersion-killing as anything else.  I feel if you’re going to deal with things like intolerance, bigotry, persecution and whatnot in a setting that takes practically all its cues from a defined period in history, it’s only right that you take the effort to address all aspects.  If your goal is to provide escapism, then provide total escapism: picking and choosing just seems problematic.

    That said, I hate Hey Sweetheart moments because they’re usually extremely poorly written and implemented. Especially Skyrim, Mass Effect and other games mentioned.

  • Kaarel Jakobson

    Since when is using video games as an outlet for violent impulses in any way strange or notable? Shooting (or stabbing) fictional people as catharsis for real-life frustrations is common in my experience, and I’m surprised anyone would recommend someone get “counseling” for that. o_O

  • Anonymous

    Actually I was complaining about a Hey Sweetheart in Skyrim that didn’t follow through.Yes, I want a game that falls into the second or third scenario. That’s just for my own personal desire, as expressed in the scenario given, that I want to role play it. If games are already designed for men, how about a game that uses that to teach a lesson?
    But in Skyrim, my specific problem was the woman who says it’s tough for women in Skyrim, when it isn’t for the PC. There are two solutions: 1) Make it difficult for the PC until she proves herself, or 2) Don’t include the “Hey Sweetheart”. In the case of Skyrim, I don’t particularly care which is chosen. As I said multiple times in that thread, Skyrim was an example because of its inconsistency.
    My initial comment was more aimed at several other comments than the article. The industry and society has a lot of inertia.
    I will agree that a game doesn’t HAVE TO HAVE misogyny to be entertaining. I would prefer most games to not have any misogyny. This is why I tried to convince the designer and artist to make the armor more practical (or at least make the sexy armor have lower defense). There needs to be some difference beyond swapping the pronouns and character model, but that doesn’t necessitate misogyny.
    I only want a game that lets me see misogyny from the female perspective as an art piece. One good game that makes a point about the misogyny. Not every single game, not most games, not many games. Just a, one, single, well made game.

  • Anonymous

    Uh, yes. If you really want to shoot and stab people in real life, please get help, I’m begging you. Maybe I’m speaking just as a woman who doesn’t get more vendictive than wanting to punch sense into people, but I still wouldn’t want to be in a game that was constantly sexist and gave me the option to punch those people. It’s still very much subjecting me to that which I don’t like, over and over. Violent reactions and taking advantage of them in video games are symptoms to a problem, not the solutions.

  • Bel

    I couldn’t disagree more – and I hate this argument.  To say that “women have been opressed most of history and therefore patriarchy must necessarily be present in any semi-realistic setting, especially those that deal with other kinds of prejudice” is normalizing.  It’s supposing that there is something inherently sensible about this prejudice, that it isn’t based on a ridiculous idea that proliferated and was aggressively spread, but is instead a natural thing for any society to develop.

    Not to mention it’s just absurd that people can suspend their disbelief to permit dragons and magic, but not capable women in an egalitarian society.

  • Devi Sage

    Little tidbit: Dragon Age’s writing staff, as of right now, is majority women (3 women, 2 men, I believe.  David Gaider did an interview recently and was talking about how awesome it is to have a writing crew of women majority in this industry and the perspectives it does and can bring to a game. 

    That said, while it would be great to have more women in the industry at every level of design and writing and production, I will have point out that this does not suddenly equate to equality or fixing the issues (sexualization, exploitation, poor portrayals of women, tropes and stereotypes like the Hey Sweetheart Situation etc) that the industry already suffers from.  That’s the sad part.  Ingrained/internalized sexism and misogyny, for example, affects women as well as men due to socital norms and desensitization and growing up in environs where so many things (sexploitation, etc) have become ‘the norm.’  etc etc. 

    I don’t mean to be a downer for the discussion, just using this as a spot to note that ‘more women involved’ doesn’t necessarily mean that the product will more socially responsible and social justice-y. (Not that Joe implied that whatsoever, I’m just piggybacking off the writer’s pit gender diversity topic with added comment.) 

  • Devi Sage

    I completely agree, Bel.  I cannot, cannot, cannot disagree more with the argument of ‘it’s European Medieval-Middle Ages!’ and despise it passionately. 

    We can create a fantasy or sci-fi or steampunk or any non-REALITY setting where you can fling fireballs with the snap of your fingers, or beat up mythical dragons with your bare fists, or come across aliens turning your entire species into garden mulch just so they can use said mulch to make more of themselves, or hurl laserbeam light swords and wield powers of Chi and psionics and matter-creation beyond destructive reckoning, and we’re supposed to swallow all of that wholesale and without question.  Yet, egalitarian societies, or equality in the treatment of men and women is somehow unbelievable, pushing the limit of reasonability, not part of this or that culture the game is very, very, very loosely borrowing from?  Well, Khajiit, dragons, elves, asari, murlochs, aren’t even real.  Women, however, *are* real and are a big portion of gamers playing games.

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  • Robin French

    Yeah, I don’t hate feminists at all, I just find there’s a many who seem to hurt their own case with finger-pointing and lashback sexism. It doesn’t help the issue. It’s like the difference between a vegetarian who goes ‘you shouldn’t eat meat, here’s my informed opinion as to why’ and the one who kicks your steak off the table and screams ‘MEAT IS MURDER’ in your face. You’re much more likely to listen to the first.

    But for the record, I’m both female and vegetarian. xD I really appreciate everything feminism has done both now and historically, but often when I read feminist forums and blogs, it seems like unhelpful complaining about men rather than discussing the issues and solutions. This one’s refreshing because it does just that.

    So thanks. :)

  • Kaarel Jakobson

    If you really want to punch people in real life, please get help, I’m begging you?

  • Anonymous

    This very article and its comments would fit perfectly on most feminist spaces. The commenters here are actually a lot more brazen and less well-spoken. The next time you visit a feminist space, keep in mind that they attract those that have been in the movement for a while and have seen every trick in the book, so their reactions to things are because they’ve seen it a *million* times before, and they’re tired of it. Being oppressed makes you rather angry, and I would think for right reason.

    It’s sort of like the Occupy Wallstreet movement. You can recoil at the sight of a some semi-naked man slathered in body paint screaming nonsense while beating a drum made from trash – but he’s still on your side (assuming you’re part of the 99%). Sure, your instinct would be to think that he’s not helping the movement, but in reality, he’s crucial. Without theatrics, radicals, extremists, the “crazies” … people would over look the humble person with a sign calmly begging for attention.

  • Robin French

    Alright, fair point; wasn’t trying to stir stuff up. :) Most online feminism stuff is pretty new to me – mostly I’ve been exposed to it when it’s found its way into other forums, which is probably the more shouty kind anyway. If you’ve got any recommendations for other sites with decent stuff on it, I’d be glad to hear ‘em.

  • E S

    Probably, but just in case I think it’s worth mentioning that most feminists aren’t of the crazy militant persuasion; those types just tend to be disproportionately loud.

  • E S

    Yeah I think that’s mostly what bothers me too. Not so much that it exists in the game because realistically, as you say, there are always idiots, but that responses tend to be so limited to those depicted in the article. Give us an option that is a true reasonable teaching moment and make the player think about it!

  • Anonymous

    I can’t directly reply, but I personally love this site:

    It’s about video games, specifically.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t really want to punch people in real life, I yell it at characters I watch on TV shows. If I did, I should definitely check myself into anger management classes. Hurting other people is not cool. But yes, touche. Still, I think wanting to *murder* people is much more alarming, than just teaching them a lesson. Congrats on ignoring my main point, though.

  • Nonny Morgan

    Hm. I can see where you’re coming from, but I personally find those interactions cathartic. I can respond in ways that I wouldn’t be able to IRL (either because of appropriateness or because of my social anxiety), and it’s in some ways a stress relief. So I would personally not like to see it totally disappear. I mean, books with the trope of “woman fights against sexism and comes out on top” (like Tamora Pierce’s Lioness books) are some of my favorites and comfort fiction for me — so getting to play this in a game? Is pretty awesome for me.

    I do agree that it comes up gratuitously and in places that make no sense. The comments in Dragon Age didn’t bother me so much, because Alistair is pretty damned ignorant and naive and that’s shown increasingly through the game, and Sten is from a totally different culture. But I have seen it in games where women were otherwise equal except for dialogue options like these, where it came off as that they needed to remind you that you’re playing a woman.

    I think it’s a matter of that there needs to be more variety in how games approach women. Because frankly… there isn’t a lot.

  • Trevel

    I’d suddenly love to see a game where you encounter a culture to have a “Hey sweetheart” moment at a male. “Hey, we don’t get a lot of men as warriors here…”

  • Jayme

     True. I wasn’t thinking about that at the time.

  • Jessica Senning

    In SWtOR as a female trooper, the first time you go in to meet your commanding officer you are intercepted by a kid who’s like “oh man, you’re a WOMAN!  I never expected a WOMAN to come from Havoc Squad!  And wow, you’re HOT too!”  My high hopes for no gender bias in the game were dashed at that moment.

  • Joanna

    This article was very thoughtful and enlightening. I especially liked your examples from Dragon Age, since I am a huge fan of the game myself. I never really gave much thought to Alistair’s comment (he is, admittedly, also one of my favorites). He does remark about not many women being in the wardens if you are a human or an elf, and it may have more to do with the Wardens than with Ferelden, or maybe the Ferelden wardens in particular? There have been notable female wardens there, nonetheless.

    I do notice if you play a dwarf, he comments on how there aren’t many dwarves in the Grey Wardens, and this happens even if you are a female dwarf.

    And I always understood Sten’s take. It’s meant to reflect on his culture and adds more depth to the narrative. I had the conversation with him recently, but it went around in circle because I basically kept saying “you’re not making any sense!”  …Because that is what I imagine this particular character doing. (first playthrough- female human mage)

    I’ve enjoyed playing Dragon Age as a female. Overall, you’re character is treated fairly equally. Someone might make an occasional comment, but nothing too serious. I made my character to be a kind, brave, fairly intelligent, but occasionally absent-minded mage who goes out of her way to help others, even to the point of getting in trouble or disapproval (refer to mage origin story).

    Messed up on a side quest, but overall I haven’t had any real complaints about the role-playing. Compared to other games, Dragon Age and Mass Effect do a pretty good job. Doesn’t really make it better when it comes up though. *facepalm*

  • Joanna


  • Adam Whitley

    Just because you want to punch people in real life doesn’t mean you need to get help.

  • Adam Whitley

    and I agreed with most of it just certain nuances I had a diffrence of opinion , the fact that anyone makes disrespectful comments to any gender character in Skyrim baffles me though because if I saw someone slay a dragon and steal his soul I would not mess with that person even if it was  ten year old child.

  • Adam Whitley

    Well if you take into account that all of these settings have monarchies and rigid hierarchies then having the world have class prejudice, racism and sexism do make a sort of sense.  Should there be more stories of truly egalarian societies fighting off evil or what have you? yes yes there should be

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  • E S

    Perhaps these women were subscribing to the popular theory of “what sells more games” which is definitely something both genders can be guilty of.

  • E S

    The best revenge (in my humble opinion) I could see as a response to these situations in games wouldn’t be revenge at all but the offending NPC acknowledging that they were wrong while my character is all full of success. Would be nice to see that in a game sometimes in response to sexism (or any other bigotry for that matter)!

  • Edina

    Why would you think that women in Ferelden are less likely to look for trouble then men? And as far as I remember, Couslands of both genders are pretty much pushed towards marriage, it is not a specifically female thing.

    We don’t know for a fact that there are generally less women in the wardens at all times, only that at the specific time when the PC is recruited there aren’t other women. The Warden’s Keep DLC clearly shows that there were quite a few female Grey Wardens in the past, when there were more than a handful of Wardens in Ferelden.

  • Image Freedom

    I’ve always played Mass Effect, the game you screenshotted here, as “FemShep”.  I love Jennifer Hale’s voice acting.  Her work as Bastilla in Knights of the Old Republic is fantastic, and she is even lending the voice to Carol Ferris in the new Green Lantern Animated Series.

    I can’t tell you that I’d ever had someone doubt FemShep because she was a woman.  I don’t think there’s a single dialogue option in Mass Effect that follows your “Hey Sweetheart” formula.
    In Dragon Age, come on, Alistair’s a playboy.  Of course he’s going to make a quip!  There are plenty of things to bitch and moan about when it comes to sexism in video games, but I think this particular article had it’s headline written before the body and had to come up with an article that supported the sensationalist slate.People know better than to mess with FemShep, less they take an arrow to the knee!

  • LJB57

    Feminism is responsible for the withering of western women.
    Some of the hysterical gals spend their whole lives complaining 
    because they hate being women, and envy men.

    Most are sociopathic and in need of mental evaluation and treatment for
    deep seated emotional problems.

    It’s the old story they blame everyone but themselves, for their 
    perceived problems.

    Like the Nazi’s blaming Jews.
    The Feminazi’s blame  Men.

  • Joshua Thibodaux

    Militant crazies are *not* essential to a movement that can stand on its own merits, and in fact do more harm than good. Intelligent and reasonable people are disgusted by such antics, which is why even animal lovers with any sense of taste no longer support PETA.

    Such cheap shock-value tactics can help garner support from a shallow target audience that thinks more in terms of sound-bites than facts; but will, in the end, alienate it from the larger populace (especially if the larger populace is educated in critical thinking and seeing past propaganda).

    So Robin’s initial point was correct: whether it’s from vegans, feminists, or whoever else, disproportionate militancy is ultimately unhelpful. And morally speaking, two wrongs don’t make a right: so whether it’s lashback sexism or the more traditional brand, it’s still wrong and still dumb. 

  • allreb

    I’m another person who more or less makes a :-/ face when I run into this argument, because the thing is, it is fantasy, not history. I’m not much of a gamer, but I read fantasy novels and this same argument gets applied there a lot — but the thing is, I read fantasy novels for escapist entertainment. One of the things I like to escape is sexism. I also read them for, you know, fantasies. One of my dearly-held fantasies is, get this, not being surrounded by sexism.

    If you’re world-building anything speculative, even if you’ve got a basis in kinda-sorta-history (as a lot of fantasy does), you still get to choose what to keep and what to discard, what your world’s culture is and how it came to be that way. There is every opportunity to decide not to include sexism and play with that as element of worldbuilding instead of deciding to keep it because hey, that’s how it was in the real world. And if your not-so-sexist world is fleshed out and well built, it will feel every bit as real as the scenario that didn’t question sexism, and heck, probably more real than a lot of what’s out there because of the active thought you put into decisions like that.

  • allreb

    I’m another person who more or less makes a :-/ face when I run into this argument, because the thing is, it is fantasy, not history. I’m not much of a gamer, but I read fantasy novels and this same argument gets applied there a lot — but the thing is, I read fantasy novels for escapist entertainment. One of the things I like to escape is sexism. I also read them for, you know, fantasies. One of my dearly-held fantasies is, get this, not being surrounded by sexism.

    If you’re world-building anything speculative, even if you’ve got a basis in kinda-sorta-history (as a lot of fantasy does), you still get to choose what to keep and what to discard, what your world’s culture is and how it came to be that way. There is every opportunity to decide not to include sexism and play with that as element of worldbuilding instead of deciding to keep it because hey, that’s how it was in the real world. And if your not-so-sexist world is fleshed out and well built, it will feel every bit as real as the scenario that didn’t question sexism, and heck, probably more real than a lot of what’s out there because of the active thought you put into decisions like that.

  • Sarah

    I think you took a wrong turn somewhere. Did you mean to go here?

  • Han

    Really well written and YES to all of the points!

  • Lucas Picador

    Wonderful article. I’m a man who often plays female characters in RPGs, and I always cringe at these moments. 

    I think that much of this problem can be chalked up to what may be a deeper problem with the development of complex games and other multi-authored narratives. Writers for a game need to have a set of common reference points about the world — in the case of Dragon Age, the deepest underlying common references are “medieval Europe” and “21st-century cosmopolitan urban life in North America or Western Europe”. The setting becomes a pastiche of these shared contexts (along with lots of Tolkein, Howard et al.), leading to a certain incoherence in depicting the game world. Unfortunately, hot-button issues like race, sex, slavery, rape, reproduction, religion, caste, social class, wealth inequality, and so on are perversely some of the topics LEAST likely to be addressed in depth by the lead writers with respect to how they play out in the game world, except for some obligatory “sexism is bad” platitudes.

    In addition, any setting where sexism, racism or other forms of discrimination exist will need to address how these institutions affect the PC. Limiting a PC’s options because they belong to a suspect class is an approach that has a sordid history (e.g. lower stats for female characters), and developers are understandably reluctant to do anything that risks enshrining real-world institutions of privilege into the structure of the game itself.

    I’m not making excuses for developers — as you say, Bioware shows that it can be done right (Sten) but also that it is sometimes done wrong (Alistair), so they need to focus on doing it right more consistently. I do think that some of this could be alleviated by making fantasy settings MORE FANTASTIC (i.e., no more Tolkein pastiches, which are in any case pretty reactionary in all kinds of ways unrelated to gender). I also think that writers could solve a lot of problems in this area by generally thinking through some of the incoherent elements of their setting: e.g., if praying at a temple cures all your diseases (see Skyrim), then life expectancy and fertility are going to be really high relative to medieval Europe, which means that reproduction is going to be much less of a priority for any community, which means that women of childbearing age are going to be much less of a valuable resource (for better or worse), which means that they will probably have as much freedom as their male peers, which (combined with the ability of magic to diminish the importance of upper-body strength in violent confrontations) reasonably means more female warriors and adventurers (whatever that means). But this sequence of causes and effects also means that the entire world is likely to be a very, very different place from medieval Europe in all sorts of other ways. You can still have sexism, but it’s going to exist for a reason that grows out of the setting rather than being a weird form of 21st-century urban cosmopolitan sexism grafted onto a medieval European backdrop (which seems to be the default approach used by Bioware, Bethesda et al.).

  • G P

    for me i like to stick to the game,  but if clever female dialogue can start the “did it just move meter”,  then i might just take a gander at what naughtiness  i might be able to quickly accomplish. 

  • Lina

    The post was by Patrick Weekes over on Livejournal: “Gender-Blindness in Video Games: Opinions?” ( and then the follow-up “Reactions to the Previous Post” ( 

  • Lina

    I took it as all three of those. ;) The Wardens were newly restored to Ferelden, they were small in number, and Alistair was the newest Warden before the player’s Warden. He wouldn’t've known about Broodmothers, nor would he have had much experience with non-Fereldan Wardens. (And Duncan himself is foreign — Rivani, IIRC — and Riordan was Ferelden-born but Orlais-trained and based there.) 

  • Lina

    I can’t tell you that I’d ever had someone doubt FemShep because she was a woman.  I don’t think there’s a single dialogue option in Mass Effect that follows your “Hey Sweetheart” formula.

    Harkin, the human male C-Sec officer whom one must contact to find Garrus, first greets a fully-armoured femShep with “Hey there, sweetheart. You looking for some fun? ‘Cause I gotta say that soldier getup looks real good on that bod of yours.” He is drunk, in Chora’s Den, a club full of scantily-clad asari and human female dancers, and his reaction tells a deal about him, but it still happens. 

    The batarian male merc with the Blue Suns recruiting people to fight Archangel greets a fully-armoured femShep with ”We~~ll, aren’t you sweet? You’re in the wrong place, honey. Strippers’ quarters are that way.” There’s the opportunity to have her take the renegade interrupt of “Show me yours, tough guy. I bet mine’s bigger.”

  • Gillian Hall

    Yo if you’re going to go for the straw feminist or the tone argument can you at least have the spine to back it up instead of pretending to be all nice about it

    it’s patronising and ignorant to be all “oh you’re one of the GOOD ONES” when talking about issues of social inequality

  • Pera Medina

    The city elf origin has always bothered me the most out of all the gender cards pulled in the game. If you are a female elf, you nearly get raped but are saved by the strapping men. If you are a man, you get to save the helpless females who are even telling THEMSELVES they are should submit to the perverted violence of the male authority figures. First of all it is the ONLY time in ANY of the origins that gender makes a difference in story line and that bothers me, right there. What bothers me even MORE, however, is the even more damaging message. The message that says men can’t be rape or abuse victims because they are men. That is so hurtful and ignorant that my head nearly explodes every time I think of it. Sexual stereotypes hurt both ways and most people like to ignore that. We women still have to deal with a lot of prejudice, but I know two good men who are very damaged because of gender prejudice, abuse, and rape. The fact that no one helped them because it was assumed that men are sex pigs and can’t possibly ever want to say no makes me very touchy about the subject, I admit, but I feel it needed to be pointed out here since most people don’t even notice that the sexism goes both ways in this game. Maybe it’s not as in your face as the example against women, but it’s there. Dragon Age 2 made me feel better since they had a LOT less gender cards and because there’s Fenris, an obvious abuse victim and hinted rape victim and one of his abusers was even a woman so it seems they took our outrage to heart and tried to change. Despite the 2nd game’s shortcomings I do love it,mainly for the characters.

  • Eric Mitacek

    Alistair’s comment could be lampshading that without a female PC, the party is a sausagefest. But I’m a dude, so what do I know?
    I guess it could actually be something lore-relevant. Like that the Grey Wardens are weird in this world for having something like a 5:1 ratio of male:female members. There might even be an interesting lore-based reason for this policy. Maybe because the grey wardens know about brood mothers?
    Whatever, this whole post is dedicated to giving the benefit of the doubt to something that doesn’t need or deserve it. Especially considering other small oversights in the game.

  • Karie

    “it’s hard being a woman in Skyrim…”

    Well, no, I hadn’t noticed that – unless by any chance all those dragons are attacking me because I’m female.

    For the sake of immersion, I actually appreciate some acknowledgement of the attributes, including gender, of the characters I create IF it isn’t done in this clumsy, incongruous kind of way. Thing is, it usually is.

    Sorry for commenting on an old post and whatnot.

  • geminithief

    Just give me an option to make my character punch anyone who’s sexist and I’ll be fine.

    But in all seriouness, as someone who only plays as females in RPGs, I hate NPCs that treat my character like dirt just because she’s a woman.

  • Dara Crawley

    Actually the Alistair dialogue is probably in refrence specifically to the Grey Wardens, which at first does not make too much sense. Until you meet the Broodmother. A female warden poses the risk of becoming one after their calling…in the context of that I thought it was foreshadowing. Alistair specifically focuses on the Wardens in that remark so I connected that to the brood mother

  • Valerie DeBill

    Not to be too defend-y of Bioware and the Dragon Age dialogue, there being fewer female Wardens is actually a very relevant plot thing as well. If you’ve played it, you’ve fought the Broodmother, and seen what happens when women are taken prisoner by the Darkspawn.

    I think the Grey Wardens would probably go out of their way to not recruit women, knowing what fate can await them at their Calling. A single Broodmother can produce thousands of darkspawn, which is very likely more darkspawn than the female warden would have killed in her lifetime, making it not a compassionate decision but a practical one on the part of the Wardens as an organization. Because of the gender eq

  • Kamil Kukowski

    while I aggree this might be off-putting for a woman playing a female dragon-born; we must also see it from the NPC’s point; he’s in jail (either a guard or convict) and he sees the first woman in days; his reaction is natural (althgrough due to the limits of scripted events).

  • Kamil Kukowski

    1. An NPC warns you that a life as a warrior/soldier/adventurer is even harder if you’re a woman.The NPC shall be named captain Obviosu, we all know it’s hard, so if a woman decides to take arms it should be a reason to rejoyce for another ally.and keep the concern for when she has those days

    2. An NPC expresses surprise that the hero that was sent to help him is a woman.This would make sense if the NPC was a damsel(don’t get me started on them) that was supposed to marry her saviour

    3. An NPC assumes that you are a stripper/concubine/cheap date, even though you are armed more heavily than an entire SWAT team.
    ME2 was brought as the example, but you must remember the guy that said that, was one of the guys FemShep was going to backstab, so this way the player felt less guilty. But generally speaking this makes no sense

    4. An NPC actually calls you “sweetheart”.To be honest I myself call few of my female friends “sweetheart” but only because we know eachother and I have a certain opinion of them. But I would never call a stranger “sweetheart” and dunno why an NPC would. As prooven the Hey sweetheart scenario lacks any logic