As a female gaming journalist at E3, I’ve come to expect a few things over the last few years I’ve attended. There will always be at about a 20 to 1 ration of men to women in attendance, the playable demos and theater events will showcase male avatars, and if a game that even considers the female audience is going to be there, odds are it’ll be at one of the smaller booths. Fortunately, there are instances where these preconceived notions are shaken up, and I was happy to see one of them was the Dragon Age: Inquisition theater event. From the second I stepped inside and sat down, I was treated to the most unbiased presentation of the show.
Which isn’t surprising. When it comes to gender and orientation equality, BioWare has always been on the front lines of promoting an agenda that celebrates gamers of all creeds. Be it in Mass Effect, Dragon Age, or Star Wars, your avatar can be an accurate representation of yourself, down to your behaviors, gender, and romantic preferences. It’s even to the point where, as with the original Mass Effect trilogy, the female version of Commander Shepard, voiced by Jennifer Hale, is considered by many critics and fans to be superior to the male Shepard voiced by Mark Meer.
Still, I have to admit I didn’t expect this mindset to come through at E3 2014. After all, as I’ve said earlier, the audience attending the event is made of predominantly straight men. I was just happy to be able to see the game in action on one of the next gen consoles. However, I have to say that it truly made my evening to see the demo not only considered the women who may be at the show, but actually presented an empowering situation.
To start, the Inquisitor featured in the Dragon Age: Inquisition demonstration was a woman. A female, Qunari mage, to be exact. I’m sure part of it was to highlight the first appearance of a Qunari female in the series, as well as the debut of a playable Qunari character, I must admit I was both pleased and shocked to see that BioWare was showing off this new adventure with a woman saving the world.
It didn’t end there, though. Another important point was that the party of characters throughout the demonstration was filled with strong, female characters. There was only one man in the party led by this female Inquisitor at the beginning of the demo, the Iron Bull. The others were Sera, a new, Elven archer, and Vivienne, a mage who was an advisor to the Orlesian Empress, Celene. BioWare chose to pack the party filled with strong women, and both the Qunari Inquisitor and Vivienne were clearly women of color. It was refreshing, to be sure.
Not to mention, it was a trend that continued throughout the demo. When the story flashed forward into spoiler territory, adding Dorian to the party, it also eventually led to Leliana coming back as a non-playable party member who was accompanying the squad as they were attempting to take Redwall Castle as a stronghold. As we know from previous games, Leliana has proven herself as an important figure in the Dragon Age world, as Sister Nightingale, the left hand of Divine Justinia V. She returns in Dragon Age: Inquisition as just an important a character, and in the demonstration she single-handedly defeated an opponent, despite being tied up and held captive, and was willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good.
The more cynical could see these choices as less than noteworthy. They could just be opportunities to showcase a new, playable race, introduce companions, and highlight the return of a fan favorite. However, I’d like to think of it as something more. I choose to see it as BioWare coming to E3 with a crew of strong, female characters, using them to promote the game, but not making a big deal of it. BioWare didn’t call attention to the fact that the Dragon Age: Inquisition cast at E3 2014 was overwhelmingly female. It just let it happen, and it was a delight to see a company show that women can be included, have it not be a big deal, and be accepted by anyone who chose to watch the demo.
Dragon Age: Inquisition will be released on October 7, 2014. It will be interesting to see if BioWare continues this inclusive push, and to see if we perhaps get trailers highlighting female Inquisitors as we did for the female Shepard in Mass Effect 3.