Dragon Age: Inquisition was a big step forward for BioWare – one that fans are celebrating on Dragon Age Day 2022 with its support of the Trans Empowerment Project. Not only did Inquisition give the studio’s acclaimed fantasy RPG game series several firsts with its art direction, level design, combat, and use of the Frostbite engine, it was also the first entry to feature a proud trans character: Cremisius ‘Krem’ Aclassi, who is known as one of the first earnest portrayals of a trans man in gaming. He had a thought-out history, friends who respected him, and a positive, memorable role in Inquisition — things that weren’t typically afforded to trans characters in the early 2010s, when Inquisition was released.
“Krem was the biggest impact for me,” says Eddie, otherwise known by his Dragon Age-inspired Twitch and social media handle UniFadewalker. Like Krem, Eddie is transmasculine. He defines Dragon Age as not just an escape but a comfort for him, one that inspired him to cosplay its beloved male characters, and thus, provided him a way to be comfortable in his skin and reassured of his gender identity.
“Trans men are often overlooked or not seen at all,” Eddie says. “When Krem was brought into the games and treated as if being trans was as normal as breathing, I was very happy.”
This year, Eddie is among several volunteers and streamers supporting the trans community through the fan-created Dragon Age Day on December 4. All proceeds from their yearly fundraiser will go to the Trans Empowerment Project (TEP), a US nonprofit. Founded by Jack Knoxville and staffed entirely by people who are trans and/or queer, TEP is dedicated to uplifting people across the queer gender spectrum, especially those who are also disabled and persons of colour.
Knoxville’s spouse and TEP’s Communications Director Heather Knoxville is herself a huge Dragon Age fan. Asked about how she reacted to Dragon Age Day’s offer to work with TEP, she radiates excitement. “Up until [the offer], I had no idea that Dragon Age Day was even a thing. To find out that there was an entire community dedicated to the series, and that they were choosing to raise money for us, was seriously amazing,” she says.
Dragon Age Day co-founder Angela Mitchell explained that factors like need and urgency was what ultimately led to choosing TEP as this year’s nonprofit. “The Trans Empowerment Project was the pick of founder Teresa M. It was such a terrific and important choice, allowing us to show our support for the trans community in a year that was especially challenging and restrictive for so many there worldwide.”
The biggest challenge for the trans community in 2022 is the matter of their safety in society. On November 19, just two weeks before this year’s Dragon Age Day, a shooter killed five people and injured at least 17 others in a LGBTQ+ club in Colorado, some of whom were trans. (It’s worth noting that a trans woman helped to subdue the shooter.) The attack was one of countless consequences of the rise of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation across the US. According to Heather, Jack and TEP staff themselves received severe death threats after the rollout of an initiative that provided 500 self-defence kits to trans individuals, around 300 of which went to Texans after Texas Governor Greg Abbott stoked prejudices by falsely labeling healthcare for trans kids as “child abuse”.
“The threats were credible enough that we had to get the FBI involved,” Heather remarks of the event. “It was a very scary moment for our entire team.”
In this period of immense danger for trans minorities, the Dragon Age games and community are a striking oasis that celebrates transness and queerness — in large part because of the studio behind the games.
Corinne Busche, Dragon Age’s first trans game director and a featured developer on the BioWare blog, speaks highly of her time with BioWare. She’d undergone her transition while developing Dragon Age: Dreadwolf, and credits her colleagues for helping her through it. “I was really grateful early in my transition to meet other trans folks at EA and BioWare that took me in and held my hand through the process,” Busche says. “It’s largely because of the support others gave me, in my journey, that I try to be visible and [open about transitioning] on social media. My most sincere hope is that other trans people can draw from that presence, in the same way I drew upon those that helped me.”
The commitment to normalising queer and trans representation BioWare and individual developers like Bushe have, in terms of both fictional narratives and real life scenarios, is what many fans have held onto and cherished for over a decade. To borrow a metaphor from Busche, queerness is woven into the tapestry of Dragon Age. As Fenn, a trans fan since Dragon Age: Origins puts it, “I will never forget the feeling I had as a young, newly out queer person playing Origins for the first time, upon realising that Leliana and Zevran could both be romanced by a player character of the same gender. I hadn’t come across anything remotely like it in the gaming medium before, and I cried a bit.”
Another fan, Ennis, who’s a non-binary writer and huge Fenris fan, notes what Fenris did for their coming out journey and how they coped with their trauma. “As someone with genetic health issues, I grew up feeling like I didn’t have ownership over my body.” They continued, “A few years after coming out as non-binary, I scraped together some money from my first adult job and dyed my hair silver. I don’t know if that counts as part of my transition journey, but Fenris has sure as hell had an impact on me. In his storyline of coping with trauma and reclaiming agency, I see myself.”
And then there are fans like Dragon Age Day volunteer Laudenael, who, though they don’t associate their coming out or transition journey with Dragon Age, do feel it’s helped them in other areas of life. “Some characters and romances helped me to be more confident with my relationship with other people. Seeing characters love your character deeply, whatever their gender or looks are, is so comforting. Shoutout to Iron Bull and Josie! They’re literally the sweetest.”
Dragon Age isn’t perfect. The fans I spoke to, and Busche, admitted there were past missteps with Krem and other trans characters who debuted in the comics and Tevinter Nights anthology. A common complaint was that, when introducing Krem in 2014, BioWare didn’t give players the dialogue option to acknowledge and celebrate that they were trans too. But it’s one of the rare few game franchises that’s done the job of daring to take the first shaky steps — to show someone cares. By showing that care, it’s opened up opportunities for better trans representation in future BioWare projects and the games industry, whether through character creators, narratives, or studio ranks. And most importantly, it’s rallied fans to stand up and support our trans brothers and sisters in their time of need.
Quoting Laudenael, “If there’s something Dragon Age brings, it’s hope. Hope to see more queer and trans representation in the future, and hope for you to be able to make that representation yourself. [BioWare] did it, so you can definitely do it as well.”
For more information on how you can support trans communities via the Trans Empowerment Project beyond Dragon Age Day, visit their website. For more on the forthcoming Dragon Age Dreadwolf, catch up on everything we know right now about the Dragon Age 4 release date, or peruse some of the best fantasy games and the best dragon games on PC for more adventures.