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Diversifying your team will only lead to better games, says Dragon Age writer

Gamasutra catches up with David Gaider at GaymerX to discuss workplace diversity, the role of empathy in writing, and being gay in the industry.
David Gaider serves as the lead narrative designer for BioWare's Dragon Age franchise. The games are well known among triple-A titles for their gender inclusivity, and in 2011's Dragon Age 2, Gaider and his team wrote all four of the main romance plotlines as being open to both male and female player characters -- which earned them a bit of backlash from certain fans who believed the game "neglected" to cater to their straight white male demographic. More recently, Gaider showed up at GaymerX, an LGBT-focused games convention held in San Francisco. Appearing in a series of panels alongside several of his EA colleagues, Gaider spoke of the need for diversity in games development and the common sense of making all players feel included in one's games. "There's a perception that the gaming industry is only made up of straight white men," Gaider tells Gamasutra. "And while they're certainly the majority that's not to say there aren't many other people comprising the industry as well." Gaider, himself a gay man, is leery of leaning too heavily on identity politics to discuss diversity in the workplace. But he does agree visibility can send an important message. "Perhaps it's a sign of the times that it's even a question, or one where the answer might be, 'yes, but it's important to speak up even so,'" he offers. "Someone who doesn't conform to the perceived norm might think they don't have a chance of getting into the industry -- a gay person might think, 'oh, there's no point in applying. I don't want to work in a frat house.'" "It's important that more companies get broader viewpoints from within their own teams, and that first requires that people with different viewpoints apply for those positions." As Gaider is fond of noting, his team of writers for Dragon Age -- affectionately monikered the Writer's Pit -- is predominantly women. This can have an impact, such as Gaider recounted late last year on his personal blog, when women on his staff expressed discomfort over a particular aspect of a sexualized scene. It extends further than the writing department, of course. During one of his GaymerX panels, Gaider described a complex interrelationship between narrative designers and concept artists -- a "yes, and" style of creative improv in which both departments build off one another's ideas. Failure to get on the same page, by contrast, can spell problems for the whole production. "Storytelling isn't only for writers," he tells attendees. "In fact, it'd be really selfish for the writers to go off on our own and create a story without their involvement. It needs to be a collaborative effort." On the final day of the convention, over coffee and breakfast menus emblazoned with cheery anime characters in San Francisco's Japantown, Gaider says that while seeking out the perspectives of people from different backgrounds is important, so is the human capacity for empathy. That's a skill he considers the cornerstone for any creative work.

I think that's true for any writer, regardless of their experience. My being gay might mean I have more personal insight when I write gay characters, but I don't think a writer needs to be gay in order to write about gay characters any more than I need to be straight to write about straight characters. Any writer worth their salt digs down into parts of themselves where they find these ideas and characters that seemingly have nothing in relation to who they are -- but it's not true. We all have those things within us somewhere, even if we don't always admit to them.
Don't miss: David Gaider's talk from the 2013 Game Developers Conference, "Sex in Video Games."

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