Friday, July 12, 2024

Baldur’s Gate 3 really should just make everyone bisexual

Baldur’s Gate 3 is possibly my most anticipated game this year. It not only recently released a brand new class, but I cannot stop thinking about it the majority of the time, and I’m eager to discover more things about it, and for it to, of course, release its final version out into the world. Yes, there’s a lot I’m loving about Baldur’s Gate 3 – and that includes the romance options, all of whom are bisexual. To a certain point.

I just think that, as fun as these romance options are, there’s something that’s missing for me. I certainly don’t mean the options are lacking. No, I’m enjoying all of my companions and I’m stoked to meet the more good-aligned characters, whether it be when the full game releases or they are revealed during early access. But there’s been something bothering me about Larian Studio’s romance system. And that’s the little part I just mentioned. The characters are bisexual, but…to a certain point.

As players will know, Larian have opted to go with the playersexual route – aka, companions will be into you, regardless of your gender. I don’t have a real problem with this – though it does gameify sexuality in a way that doesn’t really equate to good representation – because of the choice it does give. That said, playersexuality often leads to certain people – straight boys, I’m looking at you – to disregard queer sexuality completely by asking for features like ‘bromance’ toggles, or at the very worst, not even knowing that the characters were able to be in a queer romance in the first place.

Baldur's Gate bisexual
Romance isn’t everything, but it’s something that’s still important to queer gamers

You see, Baldur’s Gate 3 players not knowing a character is bisexual bothers me. At the moment, the game falls into that line of thinking, and that’s where the problem lies: players are able to ignore queer sexuality in the characters they travel with. If that’s the case, then it feels as though queerness is the tacked-on feature that it’s become in so many RPGs with romance options. We’ve come leaps and bounds since the very first gay wedding back in the original Fallout, and same-sex romance in Great Greed – but there is still more we can do, and one of the very first things we should acknowledge is that queerness isn’t just allowing players to kiss who they want. It’s about including us in your world’s make-up and making it natural. Yes, it’s perfectly fine for characters to have preferences, it helps with realism, so show it in a way that’s humane and without falling into the same playersexuality mess that we’re so often given.

To use everyone’s favourite romance option, Gale as an example: instead of Gale deflecting Astarion’s advances of him in a party chat, have him express that Astarion just isn’t the man for him. It’s not an easy change, there’s dialogue involved and time is of the essence, particularly in a global pandemic, but these are the sort of changes that would at least make it clear that Gale is queer. It’s subtlety, and it’s something that at least solidifies that these characters do have sexual preferences without making it so obviously playersexual in the process.

There is quite literally nothing stopping Larian from including more instances where the characters we interact with express queerness in a way that’s more than ‘click this and I will like men.’ We don’t need Wyll, Shadowheart, Lae’zel, and Gale to shout from the top of the mountain tops ‘I’M BISEXUAL’ (though if you want to Larian, I won’t begrudge it) but if you’re going to include queerness, be ballsy enough to make it non-optional. Not just for us, but for straight players. We shouldn’t have to be put down as an afterthought, or as something that can be pushed aside. We deserve to be seen.

There is one character in Baldur’s Gate 3, however, that stands out against the crowd: Astarion. Astarion makes his preferences of both men and women very clear, and for the most part it works – he is considered a sexual character in being a vampire after all, and much like Lae’zel, can initiate sex with the player early on. That brings its own issues of the perception of bisexuality being hypersexual, but it at least lets players know that Astarion does bat for both teams. It’s something that is unable to be denied, and is far more interesting than the ‘will bang the PC if you make the right decisions, regardless of attraction’ schtick that playersexuality provides.

Baldur's Gate bisexual
Astarion is the only companion that’s explicit with his preferences – and that too comes with its own set of issues

There’s also just nothing wrong with making all companions explicitly bisexual, or in some cases, pansexual. While the playersexual route is often used as a way for developers and publishers to communicate to players that all companions will be interested in you, the potential in including small ways to get across to players that ‘yeah, you just kinda stumbled across a whole gang of disaster bisexuals’ outside of the player ticking the right dialogue boxes… It makes all the difference, and while I can’t speak for all queer players out there, the inclusion of queerness in Baldur’s Gate 3’s romance, characters, and its world will show more of an appreciation of the LGBTQIA community than most other big development studios out there.

It isn’t just a more comprehensive and focus on sexuality, particularly bisexuality, that would make Baldur’s Gate 3’s romance feel more organic. Queer stories, whether it be the simple tale of two men in love, or a tale about a knight and her lady love. Hell, queer characters have appeared in tales of The Forgotten Realms, there’s no reason why they seem so scarce in Baldur’s Gate 3.

And, before some people get their knickers in a twist, I very much acknowledge that Baldur’s Gate 3 is in early access right now. Players will not be seeing Act 2 or 3 – or even 4, if there is a 4 – until the final game is done, and that’s something I’m very much okay with. So yes, everything is subject to change.

Still, if Larian Studios want to move away from BioWare’s model of romance, first they need to acknowledge that sexuality isn’t a tick in a box for the player, but something that needs to be nurtured and conveyed in a manner that’s fitting and authentic.

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