Digital Media Concepts/Representation in Baldur's Gate 3

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Representation is the inclusion of diverse identities, including gender, culture, race, sexuality, religion, etc, seen in various forms of media, including video games. Baldur's Gate 3 created and developed by Larian Studios is a turn-based role-playing video game, sequel to Baldur's Gate 1 and 2. Based on famous tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons, Baldur's Gate 3 is set in one of Dungeon and Dragon's settings, the Forgotten Realms. Larian Studios has carefully crafted Baldur's Gate 3 to be incredibly inclusive, incorporating various identities and subjects that have been under-represented in video games.

Race Representation and Racism[edit | edit source]

The setting that Baldur's Gate takes place in, the Forgotten Realms, and Dungeons and Dragons beyond it, has had a history with representing race. As a fantasy game, it is typical to have various fantasy races such as Orcs and Elves to play as and as characters in games. As such, these races are also linked to stereotypes about them. This racist tendency has been slowly whittled away but is still present when it comes to modern day Dungeons and Dragons, which translates to media that it is based on, such as Baldur's Gate 3. Many authors, journalists and developers have criticized Dungeons and Dragon's publishers, Wizards of the Coast, for pushing stereotypes of these races within mechanics, such as certain races having a mechanical feature of being less intelligent, or categorically being evil.[1]

In the initial stages of the game's narrative, there is a focus on two distinct races: The Githyanki and the Tieflings.

Githyanki[edit | edit source]

Githyanki, commonly referred to as Gith, are a race of people native to the Astral Plane. As such, they are outsiders to the people of Faerun and are rarely encountered, leading to suspicion, stereotypes and misunderstandings about them as a people and individually. Among these include that Githyanki are untrustworthy, evil and brutish. Lae'zel is one of these Githyanki, and provides details upon her culture and beliefs. Upon finding her again, she is captured by two Tieflings, who call her "yellow as a toad and twice as ugly", reckoning her to be dangerous. It is given more explanation that one of her people had killed another Tiefling, but this is an irony in regards as Tieflings face similar prejudices. Lae'zel is a complete stranger in these lands and sometimes struggles to communicate properly, despite her flowery language, as the language of her people does not have the same words or understanding in the words of the common language in Faerun. There is even a quest in the video-game to steal a Githyanki egg and wait for the youngling to hatch and raise it, as the quest giver states, to not be evil. Much like many non-standard human or Elf races, Githyanki are put into the "Other" category and are consequently feared.

Lae'zel, as stated, is an important character to the plot and provides more information. Her beliefs in her people's foundations is strong, and gives you context and more understanding. The Githyanki are a proud people who broke free of the bonds of slavery once before in the past, and continue with their traditions. Lae'zel may be blunt, direct and rude, but she is also loyal and thoughtful. Her inclusion brings to the point that a person is more than what they are.

Tiefling[edit | edit source]

Tieflings are a race of plane-touched people, meaning their blood has been affected by other dimensional forces. For Tieflings, they are descendants of people who have made pacts or interacted with Devils and Demons from Hell. This manifests in red, yellow or blue skin, horns, tails, sharp nails, all typically demonic traits. In the initial stages and among the first settlements, there are a group of Tiefling refugees seeking aid and shelter on their way to Baldur's Gate, the city. There, the interim leader of the Druids, Kagha, and many of her followers, call the Tieflings sub-human parasites and want for them to leave. They are also called an affront to the natural order of the world, for being born a Tiefling. Kagha, beyond her other motives, even intends to shut off their settlement and leave the Tieflings to fend for themselves against a horde of Goblin raiders.

In contrast to this, the running dialogue shows that the Tiefling refugees are characters with wants, needs and goals much like any other. They show concern, anxiety, wanting to stay and protect their kin, worry about being forced out, worried over their children, writing songs to honor the fallen, showing their passions. It is in this that the Tieflings are a story of proving to be better than those who would oppress them. The game also presents you with these people who are being hunted from one force and being shunned by another group, and allows you to empathize with the, understand them. As a form of media and art, the goal was to make you think, but also to learn and to care for people.[2] There is no outright statement, but Tieflings have connotations with both Indigenous Americans and African Americans, people who are forced to move from what they know to find safety and shelter. The journey is arduous, but they survive, and prove to be stronger.

LGBTQ Representation[edit | edit source]

As of many video games, the player character is capable of romancing characters while progressing storylines. More recently in video games, it is increasingly more common to allow the player character to romance anyone who has a romance path, regardless of gender. This is often referred to as playersexual, which has some criticism from activists. Certain characters are also shown to display polyamory. When Halsin joins the player's party as a companion, many companions make comment about him, with Well outwardly admiring his physical appearance. Baldur's Gate 3 shows more queer relationships outside of the main characters. Alfira and Lakrissa, two Tieflings women first met in the grove, are later encountered in the city of Baldur's Gate, relishing each other's company. Isobel Thorme and Dame Aylin are two prominent supporting characters, both of whom the player can aid, reuniting and stating that they are lovers.

Baldur's Gate 3's character creation also allows for the creation of trans or non-binary identifying characters, as well as the option to choose your character's genitalia. Ed Greenwood, a Dungeons and Dragons designer who worked on the Forgotten Realms which Baldur's Gate 3 takes place in, claims that the realms and Dungeons and Dragons have always had LGBTQ characters, not just for being inclusive but for writing a good story.[3] Following in this, there is another character named Nocturne, remembered as being male at first by a character, later revealed to identify as male when properly met. This shows Larian Studios has taken into account not just main characters, but introduces LGBTQ characters among the supporting cast.

Abuse and Awareness[edit | edit source]

The origin characters are characters who you can choose to play as instead of making a custom character and/or the Dark Urge, colloquially called "Tav". All of these characters, Shadowheart, Well, Gale, Astarion, Karach and Lae'zel all have suffered some kind of abuse that they delve into and overcome as their story progresses.

Shadowheart and Lae'zel represent religious and doctrine abuse. The both of them are foils, having grown up in a strict, rule heavy regime that molded them from youth to have a certain mindset. Lae'zel's worship and loyalty to her queen, Vlaakith, is intense, and would rather wish to die instead of besmirching her name. Betraying her ideals and the things she was taught was tantamount to betraying her god-queen. Upon wanting to be cleansed of a parasite, the machine which attempts to do so also tries to kill the character being cleansed, whether that is her or the player character. Believing this to be a betrayal, she intends to speak to a higher ranking officer. When she meets Vlaakith and other high ranking members of her people for the first time, she is respectful and believes in them, despite having been shown that her people do not have good intentions for her. When Vlaakith orders their demise, Lae'zel is shaken, as she had thought her loyalty that she offered would have her god-queen to raise her up as ascendant, when in truth Vlaakith did not care for her whatsoever.

Shadowheart grew in the doctrine of Shar, Lady of Loss. Believing her dark presence to be comforting, Shadowheart speaks about her faith in ways that makes it seem she is trying to convince herself. Upon learning more about her, her past is uncovered, with it being that instead of a loyal Sharran childhood, she was kidnapped, cursed, and taken from her trial of another goddess' worship, and forcefully converted with torture, manipulation and brainwashing [4]. Every time she failed her tasks, her memories were suppressed and her training was restarted. As with Lae'zel, Shadowheart wanted to believe and follow in Shar despite her innate kindness, even wanting to become a Dark Justiciar, a kind of dark paladin. If she did so, that would have resulted in several losses of life which would weigh heavily on her mind. Even if she were to turn from Shar and return to her original goddess, Seluné, that was the goddess she had spent years mocking and insulting as Shar doctrine taught her, driving her embarrassment and humiliation further.

Astarion when he was young, was killed and mercifully saved by a vampire who turned him into a spawn. A spawn, in Dungeons and Dragons terminology, is essentially a vampire's slave and servant. Typically, men in media are written with being charismatic, handsome and seductive in mind, as they are written that way by men. As sexual objects, men are treated as comedic relief, disregarding any abuse or trauma that was inflicted upon them as it is not spoken about.[5] Astarion subverts this, being a firty, seductive vampire but has issues with physical intimacy beyond his mask. For 200 years, he was used as a sexual object by Cazador, his vampire sire. This was not only personally, but Astarion was used as bait to seduce innocent victims and lure them into traps in the same manner as he was. Whenever he spoke of Cazador, Astarion firmly believed that there was no way he'd ever truly escape, and constantly paranoid. When given the chance to fed on people to consume blood, he did so, as Cazador forbade him and other vampire spawn from drinking blood, which is similar to eating for vampires. When in a romantic relationship, it is possible for the player character to persuade him to have intimacy, only for Astarion later to realize that he refused to be treated like a toy, standing up for himself and ending things with the player character, and refusing any further romantic advances from them.

Wyll's personal arc reveals that he has had a complicated relationship with his father, who was a great hero in the past and well respected in the city of Baldur's Gate. Desperate to gain his father's approval, and to aid people, Wyll created a pact with a devil known as Mizora, gaining magical powers as a warlock. When Wyll's father, Duke Ulder Ravengaurd, returned home, all he had seen was Wyll's demonic powers, not the good it had been used for nor his son, and promptly banished him. Similarly, Mizora also represents an abusive parental figure, dictating Wyll's actions, threatening punishment and bodily harm for disobeying her, taunting him and manipulating scenarios to come out to her advantage, leaving Wyll indebted to her. When Wyll refuses to kill Karlach, who Mizora commanded him to execute, Mizora forcibly transforms him into something of a devil, with dark eyes, ridged skin and large horns. This later makes people suspicious and wary of Wyll, especially those he previously has met, which Wyll finds disheartening and uncomfortable in the changes forced upon him. When inquired about it, Wyll is receptive to breaking the contract but hesitates as it is difficult to do so, likened to a child not wanting to leave a parent behind. If the contrast is broken, Mizora promises to return and to manipulate Wyll's life.

Gale is a prodigious wizard, so much so that the goddess of magic, Mystra, took him as an apprentice, but also as her champion and lover. Yet Mystra first encountered him when he was in his adolescent, becoming his teacher then his lover, which directly implies that he was groomed. In an attempt to empower her, Gale made a devastating mistake which caused Mystra to abandon him completely. Her forgiveness came in the form of a command, to blow himself up in order to stop the antagonistic force of the game. As he was so enamored by her, so in love with her and willing to do anything to appease her, he accepts it. If he does not follow through with it, Gale appears to be in a state of confusion, unsure what to do with his life, as if taking his own life was a better alternative. Gale, as a wizard, also interacts with her constantly in some subtle fashion, as she is the goddess of magic. Gale's abuse represents an unhealthy relationship where one partner has more power over another. Similarly to Astarion before him, typically in media it is the man who has more power over the woman.

Player Character[edit | edit source]

In regards to the player character, this is a culmination of various factors. LGBTQ representation, gender representation, and racial representation can all be taken into account with the player character. With the sheer variety of choices, dialogue options and play styles in the game, it is very easy for a player to feel represented by their player character. A trans or gender fluid character could also change their appearance whenever they are in the safe area, change their pronouns, or even change lifestyle by selecting gods to worship or how they interact with the world around them. They have the ability to choose how they represent themselves in the game, which also works to be invested in the game as they can be closer to the storyline. There is an agency in the decision making in creating a character and playing the character that is missing in other video games.[6]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. D'Anastasio, Cecilia. "D&D Must Grapple With the Racism in Fantasy". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2023-10-22.
  2. Kaur, Tessa (2023-08-07). "The Fantasy Racism In Baldur's Gate 3 Affected Me More Than I Thought It Would". TheGamer. Retrieved 2023-10-22.
  3. Tamburro, Paul (2016-04-06). "Forgotten Realms Creator Ed Greenwood is "Saddened" by Baldur's Gate Controversy". Mandatory. Retrieved 2023-10-23.
  4. "What is Spiritual Abuse?". The Hotline. Retrieved 2023-10-26.
  5. "Understanding Male Socialization, Stigma, and Reactions to Sexual Violence". National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Retrieved 2023-10-23.
  6. Dazed (2023-08-10). "Baldur's Gate III: the queerest video game of all time?". Dazed. Retrieved 2023-10-23.