If you’ve poked around a bit on this blog, you may have noticed that I’m a fan of Bioware’s roleplaying games. A huge fan, in fact. One of the things that drew me into Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (and my subsequent Bioware love) back in the olden days of 2003 was KOTOR’s inclusion of romance quests. While watching my ex-boyfriend play KOTOR, bored nearly to death (KOTOR is one of those games that’s so much better to play than watch, no?), a lightbulb went off in my head.
“Wait, there’s a romance element to this game? You’re going to hook up with that Bastila chick?”
“And you can make a female character, right?”
“If you make a girl character, do you get to hook up with one of the dudes?”
Like many other girl gamers (to judge from the internet, anyway), Carth hooked me from the start. He was a cutie—as much of a cutie as any character rendered by the graphical capabilities of the day could be—with his two little pieces of stray hair that swayed as he moved, his can’t-be-bothered-to-shave-while-saving-the-galaxy stubble, and his oh so earnest brown eyes. And the voice acting…well. I’m a sucker for good voice acting, and Raphael Sbarge’s performance just did it for me.
Carth is the first character to join your party in the game, after tutorial-level Trask Ulgo (RIP!), so there was a long time to get to “know” him before highjacking the Ebon Hawk and picking up the rest of the party. His backstory is pretty freakin’ epic: he’s an honored Naval officer, and he was betrayed by his hero and admiral who blew up his home planet and killed his wife and child…to the best of Carth’s knowledge, that is. Discovering the continued existence of his grown son Dustil, who was on the verge of joining the Sith (the party responsible for murdering Carth’s wife and Dustil’s mother!) was one of the most emotionally intense character quests I’ve ever played through in a Bioware game. Carth was occasionally distrustful, turning on my character with suspicion after conversations that led me to believe we’d established a bond. By the end, however, they’d fallen in love, and their slow-growing relationship greatly added to the story experience for me, particularly since I played that round as a light side character and their new-found love added another layer to her redemption. I straight up cried when Carth turned up in KOTOR 2 and told my (different) character that he would always love my OG KOTOR lady. Tears were welling, people.
My ex-boyfriend, however, the one who introduced me to the game…well, he HATED Carth. Loathed him with a passion, to the extent that he’d dress Carth in unflattering armor while he was playing KOTOR, and bring him up as an object of mockery in conversation long after we’d both finished the game. He despised Atton Rand of KOTOR 2 (not from Bioware, but carrying on the KOTOR tradition) similarly, and did unflattering imitations of Atton’s dialogue constantly while I was playing. He hated Sky from Jade Empire possibly even more than Carth, peppering the insults he’d practiced on Carth and Atton with homophobic nastiness about Sky’s potential bisexuality: “How can you POSSIBLY like him? You know he’ll go gay for a male character, right?” We broke up before Mass Effect or Dragon Age: Origins came out, so I never got to hear his repartee on Kaidan, Alistair, or Zevran, but I’d imagine he’s still out there somewhere slamming every male love interest Bioware includes in a game.
I’ve heard the same sort of “criticism” (if vicious, hateful ranting or unnecessarily snide mockery can be called that) from a number of male gamers of my acquaintance, and I find it pretty disturbing. In their February 2010 issue, Game Informer magazine listed Alistair of Dragon Age: Origins as one of the “Top 10 Dorks of 2009,” referring to him as “the new Carth” and calling him a “crybaby” and “loser.” In the April 2010 issue, GI rounded off their response to a number of letters from angry female fans of Dragon Age and Alistair with this:
“We were going to use this opportunity to make fun of Alistair yet again, but if dozens of women are willing to write in to defend his honor, the dude must be doing something right. This could be an important revelation for all you single gamer guys out there: If you want the ladies to think you’re adorable, all you need to do is act like a stupid weiner.”
Now, of all the video games in existence, these Bioware games are some of the few that show the developers really considered a female demographic when they made the game. A heterosexual female demographic, largely (with a gay option for light side ladies only in KOTOR, and bi male and female love interests in DA:O), which isn’t utterly and completely enlightened perfection, but it’s something. It’s a huge step for a medium whose vehicles often have me playing as a male and getting or not getting the girl at game’s end, playing as a meant-to-be-titillating-to-men female, or playing as an imaginary creature, only very occasionally allowing me to play as an ass-kicking but sexless chick. I enjoyed the romance quests in all of Bioware’s games for their writing and development, and I think a major underlying component to my appreciation of their inclusion was knowing that this part of the game was designed with me in mind. ME. A hetero chick who loves video games. Much as I’ve enjoyed some of these characters, I don’t think Carth’s, Kaidan’s, and Alistair’s popularity was based solely on their writing, their looks, and their voice actors’ performances. As an astute commenter pointed out recently, women are DIFFERENT. We all like different things. I can’t think of a romantic comedy I’ve ever enjoyed, and I don’t think it’s possible that Bioware has found a magic formula that applies to different characters, but somehow manages to appeal to all women. And yet, a remarkable number of women adore Carth and Company, myself included. I do think they are well-written and performed characters, but I also think the warm glow of feeling that my interests were actually considered in their creation adds to my appreciation.
That’s what bugs me about guys who whine about Carth and Co.—there’s a distinct stench of old boys’ club exclusion about it. Based on my wildly unscientific and anecdotal experiences with my ex and acquaintances, the boys who hate on Carth adore Bastila. They like having a sassy, conventionally hot female love interest included in the game, but balk when confronted with a character obviously written for the ladies (or even worse, TEH GAYS! OH NOOOOES!). If you don’t like a character, fine. There’s a bunch of ’em in your party; talk to the ones you want to talk to, ignore the ones you don’t like, and move on. It’s the tantrums over Carth that make me feel something more misogynistic and sinister is at work, that some of these boys are outright offended that “their” space is being invaded by female interests. I’m sure there are girls out there who dislike some or all of these characters (personally, I thought Kaidan’s story was pretty dull), but I’ve never heard a woman spout off on a vitriolic rant over Carth and Co.’s inclusion in the games. I’m saddened that the person who introduced me to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was ultimately petty and small-minded enough that he valued his heterosexual male primacy over my engagement with the game, even as he encouraged me to play it.
In the past, I’ve stayed quiet while men of my acquaintance made fun of Carth, or even, to my shame, half-heartedly joined in. No more, my friends. I loved Carth Onasi, and I plan to shout it loud and proud if confronted with haterade in the future. I love Bioware’s inclusion of my demographic, I love the creations they’ve dreamed up with my demographic in mind, and I, like the women who wrote in to Game Informer to defend Alistair, will not be silenced. You don’t like my man in that Bioware game, Mr. Gamer Dude? Suck it.
With that said, I still wish my dark side lady Jedi could have hooked up with Canderous in KOTOR. Gimme gimme, Bioware.