David Gaider (lead writer of Dragon Age at BioWare) and I previously talked about anti-oppression critiques of the games, then delved deeper into the DA universe and the upcoming Inquisition. For this final segment of our interview at GaymerX, we talk growing up gay, writing Alistair and Fenris, demonic possession, and more. Also, cats. Fictional cats. Real cats. All the cats.
Warning for a discussion of heterosexism, as well as an instance of ableist language in this article.
THE MEDIA AND GROWING UP GAY
As a queer person myself, I was particularly interested in David Gaider’s experience as a gay man who leads the writing of one of the few mainstream game series with significant queer representation. After he touched on his experiences with coming out while working at BioWare during his GaymerX personal panel, I asked David Gaider during our one-on-one if he could discuss a little about his experience with the media and queerness, particularly as a kid growing up gay. How did his sexuality impact his experience of popular culture?
Offering the context of being born in 1971 and spending his teenage years entirely in the 1980s, Gaider recollected how media depictions of queerness he had been exposed to were either absent or designated as a heterosexist, doom and gloom morality tale: “I did not see it in the media. I mean, there was occasionally a movie, maybe a TV special, but it was always– if it existed, it was always about, solely about, being gay. And generally in the context of it’s scandalous or bad in some fashion.”
“Everyone dies?” I offered, all too familiar with the kind of narrative he talked about.
“Yeah, exactly!” In the messages he was receiving from the media, “being gay was sort of messaged… as a cautionary tale… I would say that, you know, for my formative years, the idea of being gay didn’t really seem too linked to entertainment at all?”
These concepts were pervasive to him, and unfortunately easy to internalize: “That’s part of that environment, that you don’t question it, that you just sort of buy into it. And it just seemed perfectly normal. So the idea, when it finally came along… that this [being gay] is something that could happen was pretty surprising actually.” Gaider also articulated awareness of the impact this had on him growing up, noting the influence this internalization of missing or negative media portrayals had on his sense of self-worth: “Just realizing how I hadn’t questioned it at all was realizing as well the sort of effect that it had upon me, because I think that’s all wrapped up into self-esteem.”
This narrative of his media exposure during his formative years speaks to the touching segment of his personal panel where he admitted that, when he first discovered BioWare’s inclusion of same-sex romances, he was “shocked,” having previously felt that “even as a gay man, my experience had no place” in the media, and having previously thought that he would spend his career “writing other people’s fantasies”– namely, straight people’s fantasies only.
This kind of internalization is tough, and I appreciated David Gaider sharing these struggles with me, GaymerX attendees, and this magazine’s readers.
Check out the rest of our discussion on the false dichotomy between fans and professionals, how David Gaider would fare in the DA universe, and, of course, cats, at shallowgraves.org.