Dragon Age: Inquisition was a huge step forward for BioWare, one that fans are celebrating on Dragon Age Day 2022 with their support of the Trans Empowerment Project. Inquisition not only gave the studio’s acclaimed fantasy RPG series several firsts with its art direction, level design, combat, and use of the Frostbite engine, but it was also the first entry to feature a proud trans character: Cremisius ‘Krem’ Aclassi, who is known as one of the first serious depictions of a trans man in gaming. He had a well-thought-out story, respectful friends, and a positive and memorable role in Inquisition, things that trans characters weren’t normally allowed to do in the early 2010s, when Inquisition came out.
“Krem was the one that struck me the most,” says Eddie, also known for 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 solace for him, one that inspired him to cosplay his beloved male characters and thus gave him a way to feel comfortable in his skin and be sure their gender identity.
“Trans men are often overlooked or not seen at all,” says Eddie. “When they brought Krem to the games and treated him like being trans was as normal as breathing, I was so happy.”
This year, Eddie is among several volunteers and streamers supporting the trans community through the fan-created Dragon Age Day on December 4th. All proceeds from their annual fundraiser will go to the Trans Empowerment Project (TEP), a US non-profit organization. Founded by Jack Knoxville and staffed entirely by trans and/or queer people, TEP is dedicated to uplifting people across the queer gender spectrum, especially those who also have disabilities and people of color.
Knoxville’s wife and TEP communications director, Heather Knoxville, is a huge Dragon Age fan. When she was asked how she reacted to Dragon Age Day’s offer to work with TEP, she beamed with enthusiasm. “Until [the offer], I had no idea that Dragon Age Day was even a thing. Finding out that there was a whole community dedicated to the series, and that they chose to raise money for us, was really amazing,” she says.
Dragon Age Day co-founder Angela Mitchell explained that factors such as need and urgency ultimately led to the selection of TEP as this year’s nonprofit. “The Trans Empowerment Project was the choice of founder Teresa M. It was an excellent 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 around the world.”
The biggest challenge for the trans community in 2022 is the question 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 at an LGBTQ+ club in Colorado, some of whom were trans. (It’s worth noting that a trans woman helped subdue the shooter.) The attack was one of the myriad consequences of rising anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation in the US. According to Heather, Jack and TEP’s own staff received serious death threats after the launch of an initiative that provided 500 kits self-advocacy campaigns for trans people, about 300 of which were for Texans after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott stoked prejudice by mislabeling trans health care. children as “child abuse”.
“The threats were credible enough that we had to get the FBI involved,” Heather says of the event. “It was a very scary time for our entire team.”
In this period of immense danger for trans minorities, the Dragon Age games and community are a surprising oasis celebrating trans and queerness, largely due to 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 went through her transition while developing Dragon Age: Dreadwolf, and credits her colleagues for getting her through it. “I was very grateful early in my transition to meet other trans people at EA and BioWare who welcomed me and helped me through the process,” says Ella Busche. “It is largely due to the support that others gave me, on my journey, that I try to be visible and [open about transitioning] on social media My sincere hope is that other trans people can take advantage of that presence, in the same way that I turned to those who helped me”.
BioWare and individual developers like Bushe’s commitment to normalizing queer and trans representation, both in fictional narratives and in real-life settings, is what many fans have embraced and cherished for over a decade. To borrow a Busche metaphor, queerness is woven into the Dragon Age tapestry. As Fenn, a trans fan since Dragon Age: Origins, says: “I’ll never forget the feeling I had as a young, newly discovered queer person playing Origins for the first time, realizing that Leliana and Zevran could fall in love with a character gamer of the same genre. I hadn’t come across anything remotely like it in the middle of gaming before, and I cried a little.”
Another fan, Ennis, who is a non-binary writer and a huge Fenris fan, points out what Fenris did for their coming-out journey and how they dealt with their trauma. “As someone with genetic health issues, I grew up feeling like I had no 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 sure had an impact on me. In his story of dealing with trauma and regaining agency, I see myself.”
And then there are fans like Dragon Age Day volunteer Laudenael, who, while they don’t associate their journey out or transition with Dragon Age, feel it helped them in other areas of life. “Some characters and romances helped me to be more confident in my relationship with other people. Seeing characters deeply love your character, whatever their gender or appearance, is very heartwarming. Shout out to Iron Bull and Josie! They are literally the sweetest.”
Dragon Age is not perfect. The fans I spoke to, and Busche, admitted there were mistakes in the past with Krem and other trans characters making their debut in the comics and the 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 also trans. But it’s one of the few game franchises that has done the job of daring to take those first shaky steps, to show that someone cares. Showing that care opens up opportunities for better trans representation in future BioWare projects and in the games industry, whether through character creators, narratives, or studio ranges. And most importantly, it has rallied fans to stand up and support our trans brothers and sisters in their time of need.
Quoting Laudenael, “If there’s one thing Dragon Age brings, it’s hope. I hope to see more queer and trans representation in the future, and I hope you can do that representation yourself. [BioWare] he did, so you can definitely do it too.”
To learn more about how you can support trans communities through the Trans Empowerment Project beyond Dragon Age Day, visit their website. For more on the upcoming Dragon Age Dreadwolf, catch up on everything we now know about Dragon Age 4’s release date, or take a look at some of the best fantasy games on PC for more adventures.