Between Dragon Age: Inquisition’s companions, war council and the residents of Skyhold, it’s hard to keep track of all the characters in BioWare’s gargantuan RPG. I’ve already made it very clear who I reckon the best character in Dragon Age: Inquisition is, but there’s another who has struck a chord with more than a few players: Krem.
He’s a bit of a badass, is Krem. A member of Iron Bull’s Chargers, he’s a no nonsense bloke, a tough warrior, and able to match his boss when it comes to verbal sparring. He’s also transgender, born female, but identifying as male. BioWare writer Patrick Weekes has written a blog post detailing the creation of the character, and he provides interesting insights into the process. Expect some minor spoilers.
“Talking over drinks at the bar later, we hit two major challenges,” writes Weekes. “First, any conversation about the subject had to come up naturally in-game. A minor character like a shopkeeper would have no reason to explain that she is trans, so either the conversation would never come up or it would come up because her voice was clearly masculine, at which point it would look like a joke to most players, no matter how we tried to write it. Second, the character had to serve a purpose beyond “being there to be a genderqueer person.” Every character in our game serves a purpose—reinforcing the theme of a plot, character, or area—and we do not have the budget for someone who is just there to tick off a box.”
BioWare knocked it out of the park as far as this is concerned. When I first met Krem, he’s simply introduced as one of Iron Bull’s Chargers. There was something about him that made him seem a little different, because his voice actor is actually Jennifer Hale, but it wasn’t immediately apparent that he had a female voice actor. I simply thought that his voice sounded youthful, like a boy’s, but also gruff, which was an unusual juxtaposition.
Later, during a drinking session with the Chargers, I was able to – rather bluntly – bring up his gender, and the resulting conversation was refreshingly natural. Iron Bull brushes it off as a non-issue, which is exactly what it is, cracks a joke that’s not at Krem’s expense, and we all got back to having a nice blether. BioWare doesn’t treat it like some shocking twist or irregular, because it really shouldn’t be considered so.
But at the same time, this conversation opens up an intriguing chat about gender roles in the Qun, and comfortably ties into a discussion about one of Thedas’ most mysterious factions. Krem feels as organic as any other character in Inquisition, and his gender neither feels like pandering or tacked on.
“Once we had decided what we wanted to do, we tackled the concept of Krem with other departments to figure out how to do it correctly,” continues Weekes. “In doing so, we saw how much of our game’s engine was based on set gender assignments, from voice to face to animation set to localization plan for foreign languages. Every single department stepped up enthusiastically to make sure that Krem was created with respect. Colleen Perman gave Krem his fantastic face using the character art team’s head-morph system, John Epler nailed his animation and body language, Caroline Livingstone and Jennifer Hale found a great voice for a trans man in a world without access to transitional procedures, and Melanie Fleming made absolutely certain that Krem was gendered appropriately in all languages.”
Weekes also mentions part of Krem’s backstory that was revised, because it ended in a cliche that made trans people look like they are defined by being victims, and it could have been a trigger for trans players.
“The goal was for Krem to be a positive character who was living his life happily now,” Weekes explains.