As a trans man myself, I was super excited when I found out that there was a trans male character in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Seeing any kind of trans representation in games, especially the kind of representation I can relate to, is incredibly rare and I won’t lie when I say it was definitely a factor in why I bought the game. The other major factor was Morrigan whom I have a huge crush on.
The game wound up disappointing me for two reasons. The first, I couldn’t kiss Morrigan (it’s okay though, her heart belongs to my Grey Warden from Dragon Age: Origins…), the second reason was… Well. Krem wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. Which is good in a sense because it allows me to write this article on just why he wasn’t spectacular trans representation in the hopes that other aspiring game devs will read this and go, “huh! I’ll keep that in mind!”
The first warning sign was the fact Krem was voiced by a cis woman. I love you, Jennifer Hale, you’re a talented lady, but you’re just that. A lady. I’m sure there are plenty of trans male voice actors who would have jumped at the chance to play a trans character, but no. Especially given that Bioware has a history of letting fans voice characters in their games, even if they’re minor. Though I’m hopeful that Bioware has learned their lesson here, hiring a trans woman for Mass Effect Andromeda with the talented Jamie Clayton joining the team.
Though that’s all fairly minor in comparison to Krem’s characterization. Now, he’s a nice boy. He’s lovely. I enjoyed talking to him. But it was seeing how he interacted with other characters that bothered me. On talking to Krem, I soon found that I, as the Inquisitor, had the option to begin asking about Krem’s gender identity. And, unfortunately, I found the only way to do this was to be incredibly rude and invasive on his privacy. There was no option to be polite, no option to say I could have been trans myself or simply understood and didn’t need an explanation in the first place. The fact that it’s the player that initiates the questioning rather than letting Krem explain it for himself on his own terms was also incredibly unfortunate.
Why did the game just assume my player was ignorant, and why did it remove all Krem’s agency, when the other queer characters in the series were fully capable of explaining themselves on their terms in ways they were comfortable with?
Furthermore, and this is an issue that seemed to pop up a couple of times, is that Krem’s story involved him being unable to defend himself and his identity. His origin story was that he was defended by another character, Iron Bull, when attacked for being trans. This pops up a few times with Bull, despite being a really nice guy, being the one to defend Krem on multiple occasions, with this even costing him an eye. Now, it’s established that Krem is a solid fighter himself. He’s pretty high up in Bull’s mercenary group, and he wouldn’t get that far without knowing a thing or two. It reminds me of how the player character seemingly has to step up and be the source of change for Dorian and his story revolving around his sexuality, when they should be a pillar of support, not a main player.
And yet, Krem’s character in its entirety seems to just be him standing around, being handsome, commenting on events and indulging the player in wanting to know more by being rude and insensitive.
In short, Krem is a nice guy, but he’s a bad example of how trans people should be represented in games. Trans people should have their own agency to tell their own stories. If they’re supposed to be powerful, why aren’t we allowed to see that in how they defend themselves?
I feel like Dragon Age: Inquisition at least deserves a ‘You Tried’ sticker. Which is better than a lot of other titles out there.
So I’m hopeful that the future for trans characters in gaming is bright. And that we’ll see trans people telling their own stories.
Image credit: Bioware Development Blog