[Guest Post] The Dragon Age Fandom Hates Characters (and People) of Color

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Note: Previously posted on the website Fandoms Hate People of Color (click the link to reblog it), I received permission to host this essay about the experiences one fan of color (who has requested to remain anonymous) had and witnessed within the Dragon Age fandom before exiting due to stress from everything that the fandom kept doing and perpetuated with regard to racism, harassment, and constant antiblackness directed towards fans and characters in the series. While this post has received minor edits for clarity and consistency as well as clarifying comments from me in endnotes, it remains largely the same as the post published on tumblr.

Content Warnings for: racism, antiblackness, ableism and ableist terms, mentions of abuse and trauma, and a brief mention of sexual assault in fan fiction in one of my clarifying comments


I had to leave the Dragon Age fandom a while ago because of all the racism (the last straw was right after that terrible Vivienne fic, not even the fic itself but white fandom’s reaction, the pointblank refusal to acknowledge that it was part of the same bigger problem that they contributed to every day) and ever since I’ve been thinking a lot about what the patterns actually are. I know for a fact that these patterns aren’t unique to the Dragon Age fandom, but it’s where I personally saw them most blatantly and was hurt by them the most. Specifically, I was most involved in the DA2 fandom, so my examples are from there.

I apologize for the length of this and also just… all of this, I don’t want to put this on my own blog because I really don’t want to re-enter the fandom or have anything to do with it, but I needed to get it out somehow. Also I specifically talk about black people in many places here, but I am not black myself. I felt it was important to emphasize where many issues that I feel particularly hurt by as a Latino affect Black people even more, but if I made a misstep somewhere, I apologize.

Most of what I’ve observed can be simplified to two things:

– Characters of color are by default viewed as the worst possible versions of themselves. 

This means not only a higher focus on a characters of color’s canon flaws in contrast to white characters’ flaws that get downplayed, but also interpretations/headcanons that aren’t even actually canon.

If you say you like Sebastian, white fans will assume that you support what they consider the worst aspects of Sebastian. if you say you dislike Anders, they will hear that you hate what they consider the best aspects of Anders (including some that aren’t even canon).

For example, some fans who hate Sebastian will claim that every kind word or action of his is false and manipulative. I’ve actually seen some of his banter called gaslighting[i] (which, to get personal for a moment, was one of the things that upset me the most out of all the things I’ve seen in this hell fandom because he happens to be a character who gave me a lot of comfort in recovering from my past abuse, specifically the gaslighting I experienced!)

There is nothing whatsoever to prove this in canon, but it’s impossible to disprove in canon as well because that would require complete, objective knowledge of his purely internal thoughts and motivations, something we don’t have for any character.

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Sebastian in Dragon Age II.

Another example is the assumption that Isabela making a sexual comment about Fenris’ past is fetishizing and ignorant, when her own past makes it flat-out impossible for her to be ignorant.

Given that she uses humor and sex as coping mechanisms for herself (and Fenris encourages her sexual humor at other times) it’s a much more likely read that she intended it as bonding over mutual coping, which regardless of whether you (or Fenris, and really think about what Fenris’ canon attitudes and actions regarding Isabela are before assuming he would dismiss her as quickly as white fans do) think that was a good idea or not, it is still a completely different situation.

For an example of how white faves in contrast, are twisted to the most positive interpretation, I’ve heard arguments that all of Anders’ anti-elf racist comments and actions are explained by the fact that he is somehow completely ignorant of any elf oppression. (I’ve heard arguments that it’s bigoted to expect him not to be). I have also seen claims that Anders killed “a few” people and that fans who claim he killed more are pulling it out of their ass and deliberately making him seem worse, when in fact Varric canonically (in the game DA2) tells Cassandra, “He destroyed Kirkwall’s Chantry. Killing hundreds.”

Then there are the fans who claim that Fenris believes mages deserve their treatment. This is a tricky one, but I feel it is an important distinction because of how people of color are viewed as inherently violent, dangerous, and angry. If two people, one black and one white, for example, ask to talk to a manager and make the exact same complaint with the exact same words, the black person will almost certainly be viewed as more aggressive, more unreasonable, and more demanding.

The most that Fenris ever actually claims (and what he says varies depending on his worldstate but the most extreme view that he is in any canon capable of taking) is that the treatment of mages is necessary, not desirable, but preferable to what he believes to be the alternative (Tevinter). This is far more in keeping with his canon personality, which is logical and pragmatic. His past experiences color his views considerably, but in the sense that his past is what provided him with the evidence on which he bases his views, not in the sense that he is blinded by spite and rage.

I am not arguing that he is right.

When I say logical, rational, etc., I’m not calling the circles themselves logical or rational. I am not saying his conclusion is correct, I am talking about the methods he uses to reach his conclusion. He is not vindictive towards all mages: he does not call them scum or believe them “subhuman.” His view isn’t that “mages should be harmed, maximize harm against mages” but rather that “someone will be harmed, this situation minimizes the harm.”Fenris_close

I do not think that’s correct (and within the actual canon, it is possible for him to admit it), but that isn’t the point. The point is that fandom popularly interprets him as being a far less “cerebral” person than he is, more motivated by anger and emotion, less rational, and more aggressive.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a person ruled more by your heart than your head, but Fenris isn’t a person ruled by his heart.

Pretending like he is on the one hand, is a way of delegitimizing him and ignoring his actual point of view. On the other hand, it’s a way of portraying him as far more aggressive and angry and dangerous than he actually is. There are ways to disagree with him while in fact acknowledging him, (I know there are! I do it!).

Refusing to do so seems like evidence of a lack of respect, the belief that his opinions don’t matter, regardless of what they are.

And of course POC, in particular Latinx and especially Black people being automatically viewed as angrier, more aggressive regardless of what they actually are doing or saying is connected to so, so many issues I can’t even get started on that and it hits really close to home. so I apologize for getting so far into this one example when there are really so many others, but it’s so prevalent throughout the entire fandom and it… really hits me hard.

It also goes directly into the next point, although there’s a lot of overlap for every example I can think of.

– Basic common decency in treatment of characters of color is probationary, reliant on whether they have the “right opinions.” In addition, there is a (frankly horrifying) demand or at least an assumption that others consider it probationary as well.

This happened with the anon on this blog[ii] who was attacking Vivienne not too long ago, but it’s extremely common. When called out for shitty treatment of characters of color, white fans go directly to defending reasons why they disagree with the character’s views. because they assume that basic common decency and agreeing with the character are connected.

Or to be more precise, a basic level of respect is dependent on the character agreeing with them. Characters of color much like POC in real life can be accepted by many white fans only if and when they do not contradict the white fan, or the white fan’s faves.

When people say they love Anders, they don’t feel obliged to accompany that statement with multiple caveats and disclaimers saying they don’t think Fenris is a wild dog, a maniac, and less than a man, that spite and wanting someone to learn a lesson is a good reason to hand them over to extreme abuse (whether you find that OOC for Anders or not, it’s interesting that it’s a flaw that does exist in canon for him and not Fenris, but it’s the exact flaw that is given to Fenris in fandom instead), that they don’t think all Dalish women are crazy, or that asking a man not to flirt with you means you are trying to control him.

The only Anders fans I’ve ever met who felt obliged to distance themselves from the character’s flaws are people so horrified by other fans’ behavior that they are really trying to distance themselves from the racist fans.

Yet it’s assumed that in order to be a fan of Vivienne or Sebastian, or even to just sort of accept them as having some level of worth, you must agree with the very worst aspects of those characters.

I am a fan of Vivienne. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I shouldn’t have to say that every time I express that I find her to be an interesting character and I’m fond of her and I relate to her in my own struggles and I would like to see her happy and doing well. those things aren’t incompatible.

but when the shit hit the fan about that Vivienne fic[iii] (and even when the anon was challenged on this blog), the arguments were immediately “but Vivienne is wrong” as though that was ever the issue. White people continue to make posts assuming that fans of Sebastian support the Chantry and Templars exactly as they exist, something not even Sebastian does in all canons.

Because in order to appreciate them as characters at all, in order to allow them a basic humanity (which I know is a tricky word in the dragon age setting but I can’t think of a better one) they require that characters of color conform to them in every way. And so if you appreciate the characters to any extent, they assume that those characters must conform to your opinions in every way. because the idea that someone could accept and appreciate a POC who disagrees with them is just far too alien of an idea.

The exception to this is that Fenris does have a lot of “fans” who disdain his views on mages, and those fans do everything they can to warp that side of him as I explained above, presenting it as something purely visceral and inhuman (again, tricky wording I know), something that they can somehow easily separate from what they like about him. writing fics where he’s “taught a lesson” somehow, where his eyes are opened by an extremely OOC version of Anders. white people who claim to be his fans have even made art that depicts him sneering about how mages are scum so that a white Garrett Hawke can spray him with water like how someone might train a pet.

Fenris still isn’t acceptable unless part of him is taken away, and it probably isn’t a coincidence that he’s lighter skinned than most of the characters who get the real hate either. I’ve even seen (darker skinned) Sebastian be interpreted as a corrupting influence on him, encouraging terrible opinions and Fenris needing to be removed from him by a white character before he can see the light. Because that isn’t completely transparent in the least.

 

Isabela

Isabela from Dragon Age II.

A lot of the difference in levels of hate that Vivienne gets compared to Isabela is because it’s possible for fans to choose to interpret Isabela as nonblack and Vivienne is darker skinned regardless. If Isabela’s depiction were more unambiguous, she would get a lot more hate for all the things that she does get hate for. But it’s also because Isabela doesn’t express as many strong opinions that would need to be removed from her in order to make her acceptable.

This seems obvious, that a character that isn’t what people like will get more hate. but it isn’t Vivienne’s personality that people dislike aside from her race. (People hate an ambitious black woman, not ambition in general.)

It’s her race and her opinions.

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Vivienne from Dragon Age Inquisition

Where people aren’t willing to openly admit that her race is why they want to fantasize about her being abused or describe her in “dramatic” degrading terms, they still feel able to claim that her opinions make that okay. and this isn’t a standard that is as widely applied to white characters.

People may disagree with and even dislike Wynne and Cassandra, but they still see those characters as deserving of a basic level of respect.

Respect for characters of color is probationary. It is viewed as not inherent, as something that must be earned (from white fans) and can be taken away (by white fans).

Optional.

These two things combined make it so that any fan of a nonwhite character is instantly put on the defensive. Characters of color are judged more harshly and when they do not meet those standards, their punishment, the reaction of the fandom, is more severe. just like for POC in real life.

It really should not come as a surprise to anyone when POC don’t feel welcome or even safe in that sort of fandom environment. It should come as no surprise when we leave. and white fans need to ask themselves if they are okay with that. Because if a white person is perfectly complacent with a fandom rampant with racism, does not object to themselves and their white faves benefiting to the detriment of characters and fans of color, and is a-okay with their community losing the voices and views of fans of color who just can’t take it anymore and becoming ever more homogeneously white, I don’t know what clearer definition of fandom racism there could be.

White fans don’t get to be neutral on this.


[i] Gaslighting, by the way is a form of emotional and mental abuse where someone tries to make you believe that the things you are feeling and experiencing aren’t real and that you’re making things up. It’s an abusive tactic meant to make you distrust your instincts and emotions.

[ii] Fandoms Hate People of Color (I’ll link to the ask(s) if I can find them)

[iii] A story that centered around Vivienne being subject to brutal sexual assault as a way of “taking her down a peg”.

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About Zina

Zina writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
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