I know I’m late to the party, but I recently finished playing Dragon Age: Origins, the fantasy RPG from Bioware.
God, what an amazing game.
It really has it all. An immersive world. A completely absorbing plot. Lively and engaging characters. Moral choices that are grey and darker grey. All of those things would be enough to make me very, very happy to spend 50+ hours lost in this story.
But the game was really pushed over the top into “favourite thing ever” by how inclusive it was for all kinds of gamers. Although it’s not perfect, it is definitely one of the most feminist and most progressive fantasy games I’ve ever had the pleasure to play.
The plot is fully inclusive of female players
In fact, some parts of the game seem more immersive to me if you play as a female character (although that may be a misconception, since male characters may have just as compelling plotlines that I didn’t get to play). The only character you have to keep in your part is a sweet, awkward warrior named Alistair. You might like him or hate him, but if you choose to take the romance option with him, you unlock what I believe to be the most intriguing and morally difficult plot in the game.
You get a fantastic team of female characters
Even if the player choose a male protagonist, they will end up with a team of competent, well-developed female characters in their team, with a wide range of personalities and skills. Rebel mage Morrigan is fairly ruthless and disdainful of weakness and religion, and her motives for helping you in your adventure remain one of the major mysteries of the story, while ex-bard Leliana is sweet, devout, a great storyteller and deeply feminine with a love of shoes, cute hairstyles and giggling about your romantic adventures. You even get an elderly woman in your team (shock! Horror!) in the wise healing mage Wynne, a somewhat nosy character with strong morals and a fairly wicked sense of humor. Outside of your party, female characters play a similarly significant role, as you encounter Morrigan’s powerful and inscrutable mother Flemeth, the dignified and ruthless Queen Anora, corrupted dwarven hero Branka, and on and on and on. As it behooves you to interact with your party members as much as possible, and as the party members have hilarious and insightful conversations between themselves as you walk through the game, the Bechdel test isn’t even in question.
No bikini chainmail
The game has good armour options for both male and female characters. Although my rogue’s light leather armor was slightly cleavage-y, I never got the sense that my character’s life was at risk in order to up the eye-candy factor, and warriors wear full heavy armor regardless of gender. The only character with truly skimpy clothing was one of the companions, a mage named Morrigan, and her clothing choices made sense for her character.
Same-sex relationships are possible
Two of the four romance-able characters are bisexual. Although this could be taken further (if there are two exclusively straight characters, why are there not any exclusively gay characters?), it’s definitely more than a step in the right direction for RPGs, and it allows the player to fully insert him or herself into the world, or roleplay a character who is something other than straight white male.
The game acknowledges discrimination (but doesn’t let it hold you back)
Part of the plot is built around fantasy discrimination (against elves and mages, as well as a dwarven caste system), and if you play as a female protagonist, some characters will comment on it or underestimate your ability as a result. This biases don’t stop you doing anything in the game (even the in-game brothel caters to all individuals and all tastes), but they add a somewhat realistic dynamic to your progression through the game world, as well as the ability to force more prejudiced allies to reconsider their assumptions with your general competence and bad-assery.