Progressive and serious representations of homosexuality in Western mainstream video games are a recent phenomenon, and the Canadian developer BioWare has been instrumental in diversifying gender and sexuality representations in mainstream game culture. This thesis is an extensive study of the representational practices of BioWare's role-playing game series Mass Effect and Dragon Age. The study views games as important cultural texts. I approach the games through critical textual analysis drawing on theories from media studies, gender studies, game studies and queer theory, and I discuss how these games can be seen as reflections of, negotiations with and challenges to representations of sexuality and gender in contemporary Western mainstream media and games culture. The thesis provides a comprehensive qualitative theoretical, methodological and analytical contribution to the study of representations of sexuality and gender in games.
The current dominant industrial strategy for representing homosexuality in mainstream games is optional content which the player must actively pursue. In the BioWare games, homosexuality is primarily offered and represented through 'romances': optional romantic relationships the player can enter into with non-player characters (NPCs). In the analysis I make a distinction between 'public' and 'private' gameworlds. The former is the overall gameworld the player traverses during main quests and sidequests, and the latter is the sphere of player-pursued romances. I investigate the different representational practices of each type of world and discuss the complex relationship between representations, player assumptions and player interactions.
The study finds that the public gameworlds generally have a foundational heteronormative premise that is very careful and contradictory in what it represents and communicates, and which is complicated by possible player interactions. This premise weakens over time with subsequent game releases. The private gameworlds, on the other hand, can be much more explicitly queer and experimental with their representational practices, and explore queer themes not readily found in other mainstream media. The study also shows that while both series become more progressive over time, they generally have a strained and anxious relationship with male homosexuality, which reflects overall mainstream media attitudes on representations of male and female homosexuality.