Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Depraved Bisexual trope shouldn’t have stopped Solas from being bisexual in Dragon Age

I once joked that, if anyone asks me how I’ve written Dragon Age’s Solas as well as they think I have in my fanfiction, I would tell them, “you see, I too, am a chaotic bisexual.”

The joke here isn’t my self-deprecation, or that, for a trickster god from Dragon Age’s Elven pantheon, Solas is horrible at lying and the execution of his calculated plans tends to go sideways; it’s that Solas isn’t canonically bisexual – though I will die on the hill that he should’ve been.

According to a 2015 tweet from current Dragon Age writer Patrick Weekes, Solas was never meant to be bisexual, despite fans’ belief that developers at BioWare’s studio planned to introduce Solas as bisexual in Dragon Age: Inquisition. The reason was that they feared how fans would receive him and wanted to avoid the “Depraved Bisexual” trope.

Depraved Bisexuals are “cold-blooded murderous sociopaths,” the TV Tropes site says.“‘Simply’ supremely manipulative; recognising the effectiveness of sex as a control mechanism.” They “resort to [sex] at every opportunity — reasoning that successful seductions gain new thralls, while even unsuccessful ones tend to increase others’ fear of [them].”

Solas is one of the most popular Dragon Age love interests, despite only being limited to female elf players

I’ll give credit to BioWare for their sensitivity towards bisexual fans, in a world where bisexuals are stereotyped as promiscuous and untrustworthy romantic partners. But as a bisexual fan, I can’t help feeling BioWare missed an opportunity to give bisexual fans one of the most complex representations of a bisexual character in video games. 

Solas’ personality and motivations don’t match up with the “Depraved Bisexual” trope’s description. When players meet him again in Inquisition’s Trespasser DLC, decked in gold finery and a luxurious wolf pelt befitting a god instead of the humble apostate he was introduced as, he doesn’t approach us with a different, loftier persona. His armour is decadent, but he speaks truthfully and candidly, with sorrow and regret for the deaths to come when he tears down the Veil.

Though the Veil was created to lock away the other Elven gods, who Solas claims were brutal slavers, its creation unintentionally stripped the elves of their immortality, most of their magic, and their way of life. When Solas wakes from an induced rest millennia later in the aftermath, his people either live in clans, who wander and seek traces of their histories destroyed by human hands, or in city alienages, where they live in poverty and mistreatment. The little magic left is controlled and feared by the Chantry, a religious institution that criminalises illicit practitioners as “apostates,” and who’s responsible for crusades that result in the slaughter and oppression of elves and mages.

In the first one-on-one interaction with him, Solas notes he faces danger as “an apostate surrounded by Chantry forces in the middle of a mage rebellion,” despite him actively helping the Right and Left Hands of the former head of the Chantry to seal a Breach in the sky. 

Solas bisexual
Solas is morally questionable, but does he really fit the depraved bisexual trope?

Other beings adversely affected by the Veil are spirits, or “brethren of the air” as the ancient elves called them. Post-Veil, spirits became misunderstood and feared and easily twisted into demons, as seen in Solas’ personal quest. Players witness the harm done to spirits when his friend, Wisdom, is unfortunately twisted into a Pride demon and killed by mages who don’t know better. 

Solas’ morally questionable actions are thus motivated by a world’s worth of grief, regret, and guilt. He believes he owes it to his people to fix the world he broke, to return them—if not to the glory of an empire—to the strength and magic he remembers. 

One of those people could also be a female elf, Lavellan, the sole player type who can romance Solas. 

Through Lavellan, we find hidden playfulness in Solas’ flirtations (that he’d like to “see [Lavellan’s focus] dominated” is a Solasmancer’s fan favourite for a reason), all-consuming loneliness in his all-consuming kisses, and a god’s ego brought to the level of a mortal’s through compassion. The romance in Inquisition starts with Lavellan declaring she’ll protect him in the first one-on-one scene, and ends when Solas realises he’d give up his mission to be with her. Theirs is the one relationship where Solas’ desire to build something new out of his mistakes is crystal clear to players.

But what about consent, right? Does Solas “depravedly” seduce Lavellan?

BioWare’s portrayal of bi characters has always been complex

Nope. Lavellan initiates every advancement of the romance, and Solas and Lavellan don’t have a sex scene. In fact, he emphatically denies he’d sleep with Lavellan under false pretences in Trespasser (whether as manipulation or in entirety is up to the player’s headcanon). And it’s worth mentioning he’s as mortal as Lavellan throughout Inquisition, and she’s essentially his boss as Inquisitor. Power dynamics-wise, Lavellan has the upper hand. 

I might’ve agreed with BioWare’s concerns if Solas was the sole bi character in Inquisition, but Josephine Montilyet and Iron Bull, a sweet diplomat and a kinky spy, were in the mix. The game already had a diverse and inclusive roster. For a character and love interest to feel almost too much, the way Solas does, making him bi would’ve worked to make more room for a more morally-grey representation like him. Not less. Even Weekes acknowledges that Solas isn’t depraved further down their Twitter thread. 

I’m not arguing for representation’s sake either—Solas’ character and romance do have undertones of the bisexual experience. Namely, the constant internal struggle between one part of ourselves and another. Do we walk the path we believe is expected of us, or do we take the risk to embrace something new and free?

Plus, to look at it from a game design perspective, locking a significant portion of the playerbase out of his romance may not help in positioning him as a sympathetic antagonist in the fourth Dragon Age game.
It may sadly be too late for Solas to receive the Kaidan Alenko treatment and become a new bicon, since Dragon Age: Dreadwolf is well into production. Even so, its title reveal was made during Pride Month and Solas’ name means “Pride” in Dragon Age’s Elven cipher. Then there’s the logo reveal having a colour scheme close to the bi flag.

Still, it looks like I’ll have to borrow a phrase from Solas, and say I’ll always wonder if Solas would’ve been bisexual and how that’d be received “in another world.”

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