Dreamfall Chapters’ first episode is out now, and by early accounts it’s typical of Ragnar Tørnquist’s finest work: a bustling sci-fi world that takes pleasure in defying cliché.
But a flurry of ableist language from one character in the game has upset fans who’ve come to expect inclusiveness and diversity in the Dreamfall series. Tørnquist, however, is unrepentant.
“You know, when we create and write characters, those characters are not always pleasant and they don't necessarily reflect our own point of view,” wrote the Red Thread boss. “Those people exist in real life, and so they must exist in fiction.”
The controversy centres around one scene - in which protagonist Zoe’s boss, Mira, subjects her friend and business partner Wit to a hail of abuse. Mira labels Wit a “retard”, and accuses him of faking his apparent autism.
Players in the Red Thread forums and on Twitter said that, in the wider context of the game, they’d been given the impression that Mira was a rude, crude, but otherwise likeable character - and that her subsequent bigotry wasn’t presented with the gravity it deserved.
But Tørnquist insisted that Mira is “horrible”, and defended his studio’s right to mirror the ugliness of the real world in their work.
“Mira is an unpleasant person,” said the Norwegian designer. “She’s offensive and rude and controversial.
“Have you never watched a film, a TV series or read a book where a character has expressed racist, misogynist, ableist views? Those people exist in real life, and so they must exist in fiction.”
Tørnquist argued that games “should not be exempted” - and said that Red Thread “accept the consequences” of their depiction.
“Do we think she is nice? Of course not,” he said. “She's horrible. And she's supposed to be. She's a character in a world we've created. That world isn't always pleasant, and that's the point.
“We're sorry to hear you regret your purchase, but this is part of our mission to bring more maturity, diversity and soul to storytelling in games.”