Spoilers for Baldur’s Gate 3
“I’ve played porn games that weren’t as hot,” was my fiancée’s verdict Baldur’s Gate 3– and she meant it as a compliment. There are delicacies that Baldur’s Gate 3 of course can’t be touched (you have to pay attention to titles like Ladykiller in trouble for a particularly ruthless eroticism that finds both joy and humor in kinky sex), but BG3 comes shockingly close to a AAA title aimed at a mass audience.
It deserves praise for portraying sexuality in ways that range from amusingly sophomoric to genuinely erotic to delicate and tender. But beyond that, we now have a CRPG in the BioWare model that enables true polyamory – without hacks, extremely esoteric or flawed game strategies or mods.
After all, the fact that your custom character can end up in a polycule with Shadowheart and Halsin is more than remarkable. But beyond that, there’s growing criticism of this game’s portrayal of “romance options,” and it’s an argument that I thought had been dead and buried since around 2012: that characters don’t have a defined sexuality as such , rather Player sexuality.
That they have no identity other than what best suits the player’s imagination, thus weakening any agency or independent identity of the non-player characters.
Of course, a one-time threesome doesn’t make polyamory. But it at least hinted at other possibilities and was a clear indication that the player wasn’t always there The Center of their desires. For other characters, however, it was less clear.
But there’s also something to be said about a world in which queerness has been so normalized that it usually doesn’t need special mention – a fact that is made clear in Dragon Age: Inquisition, in a book that the player can find in his travels by the incomparable universal chronicler of all things anthropological Thedan, Brother Genitivi:
“Normally, sexual habits are considered natural and independent of questions of reproduction, and only in the nobility, where reproduction involves questions of inheritance and the union of powerful families, are they considered vital. But even there there is a nobleman who…” Those who have fulfilled their duty to the family are allowed to pursue their own sexual interests without raising eyebrows.
As I learned from previous BioWare employees’ background information, this Codex entry was written to provide something of a definitive statement on how homosexuality is viewed in Thedas.
In short: it is as diverse as one might expect, although modally less homophobic than the real world. Genitivi goes on to write, “Views on pursuing desires with a member of the same sex vary from country to country,” and the game makes this clear over the course of its three entries—providing a comprehensive sociological basis for the homophobia that surrounds it Game experiences Tevinter wizard Dorian, but also the relative nonchalance towards the strangeness expressed by or through other characters.
The accusation of player sexuality DA2 has been dramatically overrated. There’s nothing wrong with giving queer gamers the fantasy of a world where we don’t have to explain or justify ourselves. There is obviously an attraction to a universe in which we are so normal and uncontroversial that it hardly requires direct comment.
Queer Sexuality and NPCs
This takes us from Thedas to Faerûn. If the “player sexuality” argument was overrated in the case of DA2the fertile soil from which it was born, how can it endure? BG3? Even worse. The game’s novel depiction of polyamory (at least for a AAA game) shows why.
Player sexuality requires that an NPC:
(1) Refrain from any personal or cultural explanation for their sexuality,
(2) clearly demonstrate that their sexuality is unique and discreet to the player character and has the sole purpose of pleasing the player; You may not engage in any other sexual activity that suggests queerness, polyamory, or kinkiness.
(3) Being unable to reject the player.
I could say a lot more about (3), as it feeds into the slot machine model of romance options; Provide the NPC with enough gifts and a sex scene will appear! But we can interpret it loosely for our purposes and say that player sexuality requires that there are no believable game states in which an otherwise romantic character can reject a player character.
Baldur’s Gate 3, measured by these three criteria, is pretty far from a player-sexual game. And it’s finally time for us to examine our favorite goth/bear polycule to make the case.
If you choose to play as the original character, you can play someone who falls in love with the headstrong Sharran cleric Shadowheart And Build a meaningful relationship with the noble druid and all-around beefy elf Halsin. Together, the three of you can undertake further sexual exploration in the city of Baldur’s Gate, with many amusing and sweet thoughts along the way.
Much emphasis is placed on the fact that Shadowheart cannot swim; In a crucial love scene, your character may help her learn. When Halsin finds out about this, he very politely and noblely offers to transform himself into a porpoise to help Shadowheart with his lessons – while also suggesting that it could be a date. It’s deeply sweet and very poly, even if it’s just in the party banter while exploring.
But the most important thing of all is, both The characters attribute their varying degrees of polyamory to different personal preferences and cultural contexts – Shadowheart to the conviviality of a Sharran monastery (“There are stories I could tell you…”) and Halsin to his views on nature being free of hierarchies. When placed in certain situations (such as an orgy involving two drow, himself, and perhaps someone else), Halsin talks at length about his past sexual experiences – not all of them pleasant, but certainly all of them his own and not directed at the player aligned.
“Let others know how lucky you are to be with you,” he says when you ask his opinion about whether you have other lovers. They are words that could just as easily have been spoken by any of my own partners, and they clearly express a view of sexuality that is independent of your character’s intervention.
The player’s sexuality requires that the player be hinted at as the only non-normative sexual experience the character has had (his first gay, kinky, or polysexual experience), but that fact is never mentioned, nor does it lead to any character development, yet it can be repeated with anyone who is not the player character. At its strongest, the invocation of player sexuality criticism is a call for stronger writing – and who could argue with that?
But when applied to any game where most or all romances are bi/pansexual, it feels unintentionally detrimental in itself. Especially if the criteria for the strong version of the argument are not met. BG3 is horny for many reasons, not just the mere depiction of sex, but the frequency discussion of this (and current bug fixes do not change this).
More importantly, everyone expresses a sexual attitude character. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum applied rigorous thinking to the oft-abused idea of “objectification,” arguing that it has several key characteristics—among the most important of which is “fungibility,” the idea that a truly objectified person is stripped of all distinctive characteristics and humanity , and therefore her body is interchangeable with someone else’s.
That is not the case here. Shadowheart and Halsin each have fairly different sexual footprints (for one thing, Halsin’s is suspiciously bear-shaped). Shadowheart’s sensuality is slow, gentle and careful – while at the same time allowing her primary partner to find pleasure elsewhere as long as she stays on track. Halsin is fierce, powerful, moves quickly, yet is an equally gentle communicator.
Lae’zel? Your job is “top”. Karlach wants to go on a date and is a cuddly cinnamon roll. On and on and on. These people are charactersand that includes and permeates her sexuality.
Potentials and stumbling blocks
Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, and I think a productive discussion can be had here. It seems that romantic options are still dependent on character approval, regardless of how you play on the whole.
Does it make sense for Lae’zel to fall head over heels for you if you’re squeamish and forgiving? Would it perhaps be even more useful if there were more conversations that demonstrated a shift in their thinking? Is this what their larger conspiracy, with Vlaakith as a proxy, is intended for?
A possible unspoken reason why everyone is pansexual by default could be the fact that the game allows you to be trans and non-binary – from physiology to identity. But the fact that it remains unspoken is a missed opportunity and the subject (as far as I can tell) of precisely zero meaningful conversations with your lovers.
But even these flaws and open questions show that this CRPG “romance option” model is far from dead; It is full of powerful life and potential.
This means there is room to build. Shadowheart and Halsin show a possible iteration of this: what it looks like to portray polyamory as a positive choice for the characters, woven into their backstory, allowing them to express their agency rather than simply functioning as a convenience for the player.
This framework can go even further, with dynamic interactions that allow for the co-development of a player character and a romantic NPC who can change and grow together like real couples. BG3 provides real, tantalizing evidence of this. Shadowheart learns who she is and learns more about her past, which, for example, changes the structure of your relationship with her. Astarion can… make you worse.
It’s anything but perfect. And at the end, as you stare through the illusion, you can see the numbers behind it and see some unfortunate references to the old machine model. But the decoration and the layers of illusion magic around it are important. The degree to which BG3The companions have inspired fanfiction, fanart, and memes, and the universal admiration is a testament to the strength of their writing. Which luckily also penetrates her sexual sides.
But I wouldn’t just dismiss the game as “gamersexual.” Instead, it provides an inspiring framework to build upon.