BioWare Put A Lot Of Work Into Dragon Age's Trans Character

BioWare Put A Lot Of Work Into Dragon Age's Trans Character

Dragon Age: Inquisition has a terrific cast. There are dwarves, elves, mages and towering Qunari, all of whom are interesting people with diverse backgrounds. Awesomely enough, the game also includes one of mainstream video gaming's best trans characters.

The character is a trans man named Krem; he's second in command of a mercenary company under the leadership of the Qunari warrior Iron Bull. Krem's backstory is revealed naturally through conversations with Krem and Bull, all of which are handled well by the game's writers:

Krem has been lauded around the Internet; The Mary Sue goes so far as to posit that Krem may be "the awesomest representation of a trans character in a mainstream game." Krem is voiced by veteran voice actor Jennifer Hale (who played the lady Commander Shepard in Mass Effect, among many other roles) and while BioWare has drawn some criticism for casting a cis woman to play Krem instead of a trans man, others see casting a heavyweight like Hale as a minor character like Krem as a sign that BioWare was committed to getting the character right.

In a cool new post on the BioWare blog, EA/BioWare writer Patrick Weekes has shared some of the process behind coming up with Krem. It's a neat read, and demonstrates just how seriously the game's creators took issues of representation and how carefully they approached the character.

The whole thing is worth reading, but the standout bit is where Weekes talks about running early drafts of the script by some friends in the genderqueer community, and how that wound up revealing a lot of mistakes he'd unintentionally made:

On the writing side, I wrote Krem as best I could, and the editing team looked at every line and cleaned up dialogue and paraphrases that could give the wrong impression. I then passed him to two friends in the GQ [genderqueer] community… at which point they showed me where I was absolutely messing things up and gave me constructive feedback on how to improve. In the first draft, Bull was the one who brought up Krem's binding as a friendly joke. My friends pointed out how incredibly hurtful such a callout was for many trans people in real life ("Hey, by the way, you're actually a woman, just wanted to remind you!") and that it made Bull into an incredibly offensive jerk. This was not at all what I wanted — people playing now will note that Bull and Krem give each other grief about little things all the time, but never attack truly sore spots — and I rewrote the scene so that Krem is the one who brings it up first. This makes it clear that Krem is comfortable discussing being trans, and the player will not be offending Krem by asking questions about it.

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. 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.

That realisation — that the best way for non-trans writers to keep from screwing up trans/genderqueer characters is to ask trans and genderqueer people for feedback — is so crucial. It's awesome to see someone be so clear and transparent about that process, and the learning experience that followed. It also suggests that even if BioWare didn't get everything perfectly right this time, they're still actively listening and learning, and will likely continue to move toward better inclusivity and representation in their games. Here's hoping that more studios can follow their example.


Comments

    Absolutely loved that character. Reminded me of meeting Cortez in Mass Effect 3 and how they were just characters who happened to have other aspects to them.

      Cortez was one of the best first steps ever. Just some normal guy.

      I think it's particularly telling that some of the homophobe criticism about him was that everyone acted like he was normal, like being gay was normal, nothing remarkable, not worthy of comment until it was actually relevant to the discussion at hand.
      People like that would prefer 'the gays' be more like Zevran.

        It sounds like a cliche, but positive, interesting, fully realized portrayals like that does go a long way in making it easier for folks to come out.

        So people want gay characters to act in their preconception of what television has been doing for decades with their preconception?

          Pretty much, yeah. Assholes saying gay men should 'get back into their box' that they're more comfortable with seeing them in, instead of the utterly scandalous and deviant behaviour of being portrayed as normal human beings with a less-common sexual orientation that doesn't need any attention called to it or to define their personality and role in life.

          Yeah. There are actually fuckwits out there like that, who probably think that 'tolerance' = not lynching.

    and yet, some people are still demanding the blood of Bioware for its portrayal of characters in regards to trans. One person even crying and demanding nobody ever buy a Bioware game again because of Sera.

    Maan, talking about genders and sexuality always starts going down a terrible road. To the point that some people start hating on "cis" for being terrible people.

      To be fair, Sera can be very, very, very, abrasive. Although that has no direct bearing to the topic at hand, but any opportunity I can take to say she's annoying I'll take.

        Yeah, I didn't like her at all. Her worldview is very inflexible, she takes offense at being reasonable and fair VERY often if you aren't taking her side. I dun'like her at all. Nothing to do with gayness or whatever. The same criticism, for example, does NOT ring true with Bull, Krem, or Dorian.

          Sera's basically a child. Everything has to be her way or she throws a tantrum, and she has no concept of responsibility or consequences.

          I can't say I particularly like her either. Or Vivianne for that matter. Female companion representation is pretty poor in DA:I, imo.

            Vivianne is alright- she's definitely the noblesse oblige counterpart to Sera's... well, she's got something against nobles but I can't elevate her ideals to something with actual good merit against the higher order, like.. communism. :P

            In general the character interaction is.. hmm, I could go on about this, but the majority of the cast don't seem to mesh well. Which both works for and against them, really.

            Vivienne's a one-note bitch. And she's meant to be. She has some good points on various topics, but they're all self-serving. She's not really meant to be likeable, because having you like her doesn't particularly suit her goals, so she doesn't bother with it. Quintessential gold-digger.

            As far as good female party representation goes... I have a surprising amount of empathy for Cassandra that I did NOT expect from the start. Wandering around the Hinterlands with Varric very mean-spiritedly needling her at every opportunity, and her initial one-note representation as devoted hardass, it didn't look good... but man, there are some subtleties and layers there, later on. I really feel for her as the whole Inquisition thing really runs away on her.

            Can't romance as a female, and while you can as a male, it's just so... fucking tragic for this woman to be responsible for risking so much to start the inquisition, to be so pivotal at the most dire moment, only to end up in the annals of history as, "Famous person's girlfriend." It makes sense, in context, but it's so fucking unfair.

              Vivienne is a one note bitch but she'd be the first person to admit it which is why I still kind of like her. She has goals and pursues them more or less honestly, gotta respect that.

                Sera really nails her with her description, I think.
                "She's a bitch, but she knows it. She'd have to, right?"

      I was the same... So there's a trans character and people are annoyed because it's not voiced by a trans person?

      Never ending outrage is stupid... A voice is a voice...

      I'm pretty sure Krems nose is actually heterosexual...

        Colour me surprised that the same handful of people are - for the millionth time - having an

        IT'S AN OUTRAGE THAT SOME PEOPLE GET OUTRAGED

        discussion.

        Yes, yes - everything is cool and awesome, those troublesome feminazis just have to go and sour the experience for everyone.

        Sure, you can argue that some people's sensitivity on these issues is overblown.

        But you can see why, because they represent communities that actually are oppressed and have suffered so for time immemorial.

        It's annoying, but they have some degree of an excuse for their dramatics.

        You don't.

          Yeah, I think you're imagining it. I didn't see any 'outrage at the outrage', there. Just some disgusted eyerolling, which is pretty much the appropriate response.

    this what needs to happen in heaps of games, having interesting people that are fully fleshed-out characters and to hell with people who say " i don't want gay or gender queer characters in my game (makes fart noise)"

    I gotta say, Krem is definitely one of my stand-out surprise favourites of the new cast. Part of it's because of good writing, part of it's because there's MORE writing. Krem gets a lot more dialogue than Lysette (who I can't figure out the purpose of yet), for example, and it's more interesting and funnier. (I love how many responses are available in the 'tell me about an interesting job' option.) He has a pretty boss attitude.

    I didn't expect him to have so much dialogue, and I thought it was a little weird that he sounded like a woman, initially, only to find out that no, that's legit. He was. But wasn't. Whatever. Voiced so well.

    (Also, I totally couldn't tell it was Jennifer Hale. Wow. How'd I miss that?)

    Last edited 05/12/14 12:28 pm

      Yeah I have to admit I was surprised to find out it was Hale myself, she really is damned good at her job...

    What's interesting is that Krem isn't the first trans character in Dragon Age- there's Maevaris Tilani, the widow of Varric's cousin who's featured in the comics. (There's also a drag queen in DA2, apparently. Don't rightly remember.) Apparently Maevaris is pretty damn rad.

    There was a branch of dialogue, yeah? I forget the specifics, but your character had the option to ask whether or not "Are you a man" or "Are you a girl?" And that struck me as incredibly blunt & potentially insensitive; luckily there was a option labelled "When did you know?" or something along those lines. DAI, compared to past Bioware games, had a lot of times in conversation where I had to really stop and think about what I was going to say, but I took those two questions the most seriously. I think that's when it hit me that I was paying a lot of attention to Krem as a character and that he was written quite nicely. Gave me something to ponder while I was playing.

    On a similar note, the controversy of having a cis character play a trans character is a interesting topic, but I suppose that's a opinion for another conversation.

    I really liked Krem. He's just one of the many side characters in the game I wish I could take out into the field with me as a companion.

      Right? That's what I want!

      Scout Harding, too. Dagna is just... too damn irrepressibly cheerful not to have more lines. I'd love to see how she interacts with the world as you travel it. Lysette is very interesting for her worldview (like a lite version of Cassandra), but I'm sure that's going to go unexplored.

      Hrm. I'm struggling to think of males to bring along from the non-companion (non-advisor) list. Bizarrely, I think this game has deeper, richer, better-written women than men. Felix was kinda cool. MAYBE Stroud, but he was a one-shot.

      Really though, I'd want a Krem, Dagna, Harding party.

    What do cis and trans refer to here exactly?

      Cis refers to someone who sticks to their traditional gender, trans is when someone choses to take up another gender.

      I believe. :P

        Oh ok. So in this case, Krem is physically female but male gendered?

        Haven't played the game, so I'm quite blank on the specifics.

          Hyep. It's not the best definition, I think you have to discern sex and gender for that.

          Yup. Also one of the better characters. Good, dry sense of humour. Banters nicely with Iron Bull.

    Everytime I see "cis" I want to kill myself. Seriously. It's like I'm not allowed to refer to myself as the gender I was biologically assigned in fear that I might upset someone. Cisgendered. Fuck outta here.

    Last edited 05/12/14 1:21 pm

      It's useful in the very rare context where it's actually relevant, but it's got a lot of baggage attached to it, thanks to most peoples' exposure to it being on the receiving end of self-righteous internet crusaders using it to berate and lecture people.

      Very much hate how cis is used in general, I agree. Mainly for the reasons outlined by Transient.

      Last edited 05/12/14 1:53 pm

    This game is so packed! I have play 45 hours and only just got to skyhold! All the stuff, I keep getting side tracked. Bulls companion mission is a hard choice! Krem and bull are awesome.

      That mission is one of the few things I refused to spoil for my brother, when he missed seeing me play it. "Play it yourself." It's so much more powerful for not realizing what's coming and having to make the best of two bad choices on the spot.

    I fee like i'm taking too much time, i'm like 40 hours in or so and haven't met half of who everyone keeps mentioning on the internet...

      No such thing as taking too much time! This thing is meant to be savoured and explored down to every minute detail.

        Too right, I've waited so long for this game, the way I see it I have 2 years to play it before the next of the series comes out, so that's 2184 hours I have to finish the game (average 3 hours a day)

      Yeah, I'm 33hrs in, close to level 10 and only just finished picking the sword coast clean. I'm savouring this, much like Skyrim.

    BioWare has drawn some criticism for casting a cis woman to play Krem instead of a trans man

    This is a real problem. Bioware offers the community a character that is handled well and with respect, and they still have a problem with it. Their choice of voice actor comes down to the person who is best for the job. Unless Freddie Prinze Jr. has grown horns and pecs the size of mountains since I saw him last, he's worthy of the same criticism.

    Don't trivialise progress with petty nonsense.

      From the comments on one of the linked sites about why it sucks that Krem is a trans man instead of a trans woman, when it should've been the other way around to make up for Bioware's previous insensitivity toward trans women:

      "Because it's video games, especially role playing. Men = awesome, women = sex and /or the McGuffin. (healing is just a metaphor for sex). So a trans man is just more awesome MAN characters to play awesome manly fighting with!!! When RPG's are written by completely well adjusted people and not, well to put it bluntly, RPG man children, perhaps things would be different."

      There are crazies in every section of the full spectrum of ignorance.

        "Healing = Sex"?? Someone's been spending too much time watching doctor themed pornog.

    So Krem is written as wonderfully as Bill from TLoU and people are taking offense, this fucking world >_>

    So I spent a while with a mates help to make my character look like me. I was 70% happy with it I guess.

    Then I met Krem...... twins I sear it!!!

    Although my character is a Tri-gender root-rat. So there was a natural attraction to Krem for my character.

    Damn you Bioware, why wont you let Krem and I be together!?

    You done messed up...

    GOTY

    Doesn't make up for it being a shitty game. Those dragons are a fucking joke.

    That criticism about a straight actor playing a trans character is such bullshit - are those critics suggesting that actors should only be allowed to act in roles that align to their own personal gender or sexual preferences? that trans roles should only be played by trans actors etc etc? I appreciate the importance of the increasing number of quality trans characters in games to the trans community. But actors act. They play characters, not themselves. And the mark of a good actor is one who can convincingly masquerade as anything,

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now