Dragon Age The Veilguard Rook mage promotional image

Former ‘Dragon Age’ Writer Likens Bi/Pan NPCs to ‘Sex Dolls’ in Wildly Misguided X Thread

Earlier this week, BioWare and EA Games released a flood of information about the next Dragon Age game, The Veilguard, coming in fall 2024, and fans are eating up every last morsel after a decade of minimal teasers. With that, of course, comes the dreaded Discourse.

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This time, that has particularly been about the news that every companion in The Veilguard will be romanceable—regardless of the player character’s gender. In an interview with IGN, The Veilguard director Corinne Busche confirmed that all of the companions in this game are pansexual, but not “playersexual”—i.e., they aren’t specifically attracted to the player.

She explained, “Their past experiences or partners, they’ll reference them and indeed who they’ll become romantic with. For instance, we saw Harding. I might be playing a straight male character flirting with her, but I choose not to pursue a romance. She might get together with Taash. So my perception, my identity has no bearing on their identities, and that comes through really strongly.”

This is a shift from past Dragon Age games, in which some NPCs are heterosexual, some are gay or lesbian, and some are bisexual or pansexual, but it seems NPCs will still have the ability to make their own choices separate from the player’s. Many people, including former Dragon Age lead writer and novelist David Gaider, have attributed this shift to the success of last year’s Baldur’s Gate 3, in which players can also romance whoever they want. Unfortunately, in a thread posted to Twitter/X on June 13, Gaider made some frankly gross comparisons between pansexual characters and “sex dolls.”

What did David Gaider actually say?

“First off, the fandom is pretty split on romance design. A huge part just want whoever they want, and NOT getting to romance them is tantamount to a slap in the face. Others like characters with more agency, even (and maybe especially) if it doesn’t align with their preferences,” Gaider writes. “Nothing wrong with either desire, honestly. It all depends on what you want out of your game. We’re not all here for the same reasons, OK? The only unfortunate aspect, in my experience, is that these two approaches are more or less diametrically opposed, from a design standpoint.”

Gaider goes on to say that making a character romanceable “limits the type of character they can be and the types of stories they can tell” because appeal to the player character becomes a necessary component of their arc. For example, he then explains that during the development of Dragon Age: Inquisition, the writers chose to make Varric non-romanceable “so as not to ‘destroy Varric’s character.’ You can’t have it both ways, I’m afraid.”

He then says that making NPCs pansexual isn’t “new,” noting, “The only difference between [The Veilguard] and [Dragon Age 2], after all, is that not every DA2 follower was romanceable. The ones you could were pansexual. In fact, we made the *same* argument that the were not ‘playersexual’ (ugh). The call to back away from that approach in DAI was mine, made with Mike’s and the team’s support. I didn’t like what taking away the followers’ agencies did, that it turned them into sex dolls whose only purpose is to have the player mash them together and go ‘now kiss!'”

In the following post, Gaider calls this “a personal (and uncharitable) preference” and notes that he also disliked having so many romance options in Baldur’s Gate 3. He concludes, “So while I’m not personally keen on the change to DATV‘s approach, if they unapologetically lean into it as BG3 did it should be fine. It’s a legit approach, like I said, and many many fans will be gleeful and happy for it. Which, at the end of the day, is not a bad thing.”

It’s worth noting here that since Dragon Age: Inquisition was released in 2014, rumors have flown that Cullen and Solas were both originally meant to be bisexual, but the developers didn’t have time to create the animations for their male Inquisitor romances, and thus they were made to be heterosexual. However, a 2022 article from Gayming Mag cites a since-deleted 2015 tweet from Dragon Age writer Patrick Weekes stating that Solas, a.k.a. the Dreadwolf, was never meant to be bisexual because the writers wanted to avoid the “depraved bisexual” trope. It’s also worth noting that Cullen and Solas will only romance certain races of women, which is its own can of worms.

Why Gaider’s take is, at best, problematic

Dragon Age The Veilguard trailer screenshot of Harding and Varric

The most egregious statement in Gaider’s thread is his likening of pansexual NPCs to “sex dolls.” In real life, bisexual, pansexual, and queer people who are attracted to more than one gender are frequently labeled as “greedy,” “slutty,” or worse. They’re pushed out of LGBTQIA+ spaces if they enter into “straight-passing” relationships, and they’re often assumed to just be in a “phase.” There’s an assumption that bisexual, pansexual, or queer people are making a pitstop on their way to “coming out” as lesbian or gay, all of which contributes to erasure and violence within the LGBTQIA+ community and outside of it. Although Gaider is talking about video game characters, he’s perpetuating the same myths and stereotypes by referring to NPCs who like more than one gender as “sex dolls.”

Simultaneously, he’s perpetuating the harmful stereotype of the “Mary Sue” (yeah, I said it) by suggesting that NPCs exist solely to be molded by the player and have no other agency or purpose beyond that. In Inquisition, companion and advisor quests were the same regardless of whether the player romanced them; who’s to say the same isn’t true of those quests in The Veilguard?

To be frank, if a character’s agency is based entirely on their romanceability, that’s poor writing, and assuming a loss of agency because of romanceability is at best closed-minded and at worst queerphobic. “Uncharitable” is perhaps the kindest way of framing Gaider’s public posts about the game’s romance options, but I’m more inclined to call them straight-up harmful, especially since he continues to hold a lot of sway in the Dragon Age fandom and as a game developer at Summerfall Studios.

Shortly after he published his thread, Gaider made a separate post stating, “And I think, with that, I should shut up about Dragon Age for a while. I have other things to do than to provide fodder for news articles that like to talk about what ‘former Dragon Age lead writer’ tweets, after all.”

Is this the time to gentle parent Gaider about public posts and reactions from queer people whose excitement for The Veilguard might be at least partially from the ability to fully customize their gameplay experience down to who they flirt with and romance? Comments on both his thread and the post above are a mix of fans who agree with him (some of whom have previously said that “forcing queerness” into Dragon Age is a “woke” move—apparently forgetting that there have been queer characters since Origins was released in 2009) and fans who are concerned about the harmful content of his tweets, like me.

The Veilguard is doing gender and sexuality right

In a Discord Q&A with Busche on Friday, she confirmed that players can choose their character’s pronouns and gender “because those are not necessarily the same.” In the character creator at the top of The Veilguard, players can take advantage of these options for their Inquisitor and their Rook, meaning they can canonically retcon their Inquisitor to be non-binary. Although The Veilguard won’t use the Dragon Age Keep to carry players’ choices from previous games into this one, there will be a chance to shape the world via tarot cards at the beginning of the game.

It sounds like BioWare is making massive strides for gender and sexuality in Dragon Age: The Veilguard, whatever the detractors say. I’m here for it.

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Samantha Puc
Samantha Puc (she/they) is a fat, disabled, lesbian writer and editor who has been working in digital and print media since 2010. Their work focuses primarily on LGBTQ+ and fat representation in pop culture and their writing has been featured on Refinery29, Bitch Media, them., and elsewhere. Samantha is the co-creator of Fatventure Mag and she contributed to the award-winning Fat and Queer: An Anthology of Queer and Trans Bodies and Lives. They are an original cast member of Death2Divinity, and they are currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction at The New School. When Samantha is not working or writing, she loves spending time with her cats, reading, and perfecting her grilled cheese recipe.