A Note From Garwulf on Hainly in Mass Effect Andromeda

A Note From Garwulf on Hainly in Mass Effect Andromeda

While there are certainly cases where ham-fisted representations of a minority group have occurred, this doesn't strike me as one of them.

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Exactly my thought when I came across this whole controversy, and really all it shows is how addicted people are to being offended. As the writer said, a character like Hainly asked about their history saying something akin to "Oh, and BTW I'm trans and Stephan was my former name" like it was no big thing and Ryder not making anything of it is easily one of if not the only unoffensive ways a nontraditional character could be portrayed and exactly the sort of future people in nontraditional roles of any sort should be striving toward, the character's personal significance to the plot and the fictional world itself is irrelevant as well. Nontraditional roles will continue to have a great deal of trouble being represented in fiction if characters in said roles treating and being treated as though what they are is perfectly acceptable and normal is somehow something worthy of screaming bloody murder over.

I dont believe for a second any malice was intended.

But it was shitty writing and shitty characterization and needs to be pointed out (along with all the other flaws of the game).

What is more offensive at this point to me is all the non-trans people who like to tell me how to feel about what I am. To all of you, fuck off. The true offense is the people offended at people like me who arent satisfied with this character's characterization.

If you dont understand why it is offensive, fine. This is a good opportunity to learn to understand other kinds of people. Instead many dig into their prejudices and privileges and dictate how others should feel and that is not ok.

What's funny is that (looking at the YouTube comments), a lot of people complain about SJWs, yet they're the ones who come off as triggered. ZOMG, a transgender individual? How dare you push an agenda on me!? Quick, to my safe space!

Now, people can comment on the realism of the dialogue far better than I can, but in BioWare games, NPCs are far more open than people in the real world - give quests instantly, will answer questions about them readily, etc. So, if anything, this seems more like this style of dialogue/exposition than preaching. Not particuarly well written dialogue, but not terrible either.

The exposition dump isn't really abnormal. NPCs spouting their backstories in the street is the RPG standard.

From a non-trans standpoint, the dialogue makes no sense. The character came 600 years and a galaxy away to get their fresh start... and immediately tells people their old identity that they're trying to discard? It'd be like if the Redguard hiding out in Whiterun in that early skyrim quest just outed her identity to everyone who walks into the bar.

Trans folks all over the place have written as to how the character behaves in a bizarre way, which makes it seems like it was written with basically no consultation or experience with an actual trans person.

They could be assuming this future has dropped some of those stigmas and taboos, but that seems odd that it would carry on the stigmas that would prompt the Hainly to need a fresh start. Or potentially the stigma against referencing a dead name is not quite as widely embraced as the vocal decriers say, but there doesn't seem to be much dissent anywhere to credit that.

I was pretty confused about this controversy, as I had no memory of this happening in the game. Turns out I probably skipped through her dialogue due to being a minor quest giver.

So I'm not trans, but I can see why people do not like the original way it was written. Your argument does correctly state that it would be no big deal in this universe, but still ...
if I basically changed who I was before in a lot of different way, it does not have to be changing the gender, it would still not be the first thing I would tell anyone.

Take being a reclusive nerd, switching to a charismatic business person: Would you tell anyone in the first conversation that formerly you were this big nerd before, and now you are this other, charismatic person? No, because it would conflict with how you see yourself today.

In the same way I would not tell someone I had gender reassignment surgery. I would say I'm a woman, I'm comfortable with it, the other parts are private.
You don't need to make a big deal out of it, still. But you need a certain amount of trust telling someone who you were before. Even if the statement would not let people see you differently. It is about how you see yourself.
I don't know the exact dialogue, but it sounds like Hanley is not telling you she is a woman, but that she is a transgendered individual first.

This feels like a weird beef to have with Bioware cos like... does no-one remember Krem?

I kinda feel like the whole deadname thing is like Gar says, meant to imply its a non-issue any more. But I'm not trans so cant speak from experience and the few I know tend to change their name fairly regularly (I imagine this isnt the norm but its my exposure) so... I guess Bioware can do whatever?

This fictional universe depicts transgender as something trivial for society, while trivializing the individual's decision to change their gender. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think one cause of the intolerance towards transgenders is that people trivializes the reasoning behind their decision. So there is an argument to have here: do the benefits of such depiction of society outweigh the trivialization of personal choice? I think it's worth to note that there are examples out there of less clumsy ways to make such worldbuilding.

CaptainMarvelous:
This feels like a weird beef to have with Bioware cos like... does no-one remember Krem?

I know that some people do. If I remember correctly, a lot of people didn't like his presentation either, because it felt strange in the rigidly organized Qun that someone could declare they have a different gender and be accepted instead of sent to a re-education camp like every other thought-criminal in that society. (In my opinion there are ways that it could work, but it would require writing that was much better than what we got in DA:I).

CaitSeith:
This fictional universe depicts transgender as something trivial for society, while trivializing the individual's decision to change their gender.

Trivializing the fact that they are transgender, yes, but I don't believe it's trivializing the choice itself. Hainly didn't like where she was or who she was, so she changed into something that 'feels right.' Going through the transition is presented on the same level of importance as going to another galaxy.

Thunderous Cacophony:

CaitSeith:
This fictional universe depicts transgender as something trivial for society, while trivializing the individual's decision to change their gender.

Trivializing the fact that they are transgender, yes, but I don't believe it's trivializing the choice itself. Hainly didn't like where she was or who she was, so she changed into something that 'feels right.' Going through the transition is presented on the same level of importance as going to another galaxy.

It's also presented with the same level of importance as changing jobs. It's really tricky to put that trio at the same level and not to trivialize either of them. Frankly she's pretty nonchalant when talking about traveling to another galaxy.

Saelune:
I dont believe for a second any malice was intended.

But it was shitty writing and shitty characterization and needs to be pointed out (along with all the other flaws of the game).

So, I'm going to break my usual rule of not engaging in the reader discussion after something Garwulf's Corner-related is published, because there's something that I think needs to be explained (and it isn't obvious if you haven't spent a few years writing fiction at a professional level) - it actually wasn't bad writing. And, wow...this is going to take a decent amount of explanation.

Here we go..."Speculative Fiction Dialogue 101."

Most dialogue in speculative fiction is naturalistic, but not natural. It aims to feel real, but for a number of reasons it can't actually reflect the reality of two people having a conversation in certain circumstances. The reason for this is that there is always an unseen third party in the conversation who has to understand it (or, if the story at that point requires it, NOT understand it): the reader/viewer/player.

Consider for a moment how much information is left unsaid in any given real-world conversation. We don't reiterate the stuff we already know. If two people have been friends for ten years, nobody reminds the other of that - they both already know. The reader/viewer/player, however, doesn't. The issue is how to convey this information in a way that doesn't feel clumsy or ruin immersion.

Dialogue is a good way of doing this, if you're careful. So, you could have a character say, "I've known you for ten years, and..." - it feels like something somebody COULD say (even though it actually isn't), but it's still a bit clumsy, and that makes it passable rather than good. A better thing would be to have the character say, "In the ten years I've known you, you've always..." - that flows better while still conveying the information. Again, though, nobody actually talks this way - it's dropping information that both characters already know, but the reader/viewer/player doesn't.

Or, put another way, to get best results you're passing the information to the reader/viewer/player under the table such that it is received and understood, but they aren't really aware that it is being passed at all.

That's character building - world building can be even trickier. If you're writing something set in the here and now, you've got a number of shortcuts that allow you to skip part of this, because all of the assumptions the reader/viewer/player will make about how things work will hold true in the story. But, if you're building a fantasy or science fiction world, it doesn't - and as a rule, a reader/viewer/player will assume that somethings works as it does in the here and now unless they are told otherwise.

So, how do you do this? Taking an example from my story "For the Digital Green Fields of Aldamar" (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/video-games/columns/garwulfs-corner/17251-For-the-Digital-Green-Fields-of-Aldamar-Full-Version), you've got a story about MMOs being used as a tool of totalitarian social control. This means that what we would interpret today as online addiction is the norm in this particular future world. To pass this information along, I used a third character in the opening scene. So, there were two characters (Dave and Skazz), each of whom is taking a different position (being online all the time is good for Dave, being online all the time is bad for Skazz) - then, the third character, Terry, expresses surprise at SKAZZ. This conveys to the reader that the online addiction behavior is normal using nothing more than dialogue - and in the story, Terry only exists to deliver that dialogue. When the butchered version went through editing, Terry was removed, and this caused serious problems in the entire story - to fix it I had to add a line in Dave's thoughts about how what Skazz said was abnormal, but because it was coming from the character who already had been established to be an online addict, it didn't have nearly the impact of having Terry in the scene to express surpise.

Turning this to Hainly in ME:A, the writers have to accomplish two things: 1. Establish her character and backstory QUICKLY (after all, she's a minor NPC, so she's not getting a lot of time for character development); 2. Establish how transgendered people are seen and treated in this future world.

And, that's what her dialogue does. She drops the fact that she's gone through the transition as a piece of trivia as part of her backstory, and it does play into the "getting a fresh start" idea that she's talking about, so it is something that somebody could conceivably say. Ryder reacts to it as though it is trivia, but this only sets up Ryder's reaction - the third parties are the people standing around, who do not react to this at all. So, Hainly treats it as trivia, Ryder treats it as trivia, and all of the third parties treat it as trivia. As a result, the viewer/player becomes aware that being transgender is not a big deal in this future world, without clubbing them over the head with the information.

Here's where it gets tricky (as though it wasn't already) - as somebody who (as I mention in my article) comes from a family and non-visible minority that has fought its battle for acceptance and come out the other side, this conversation rang true to me. I've had variations of this conversation, where I mentioned my Judaism (which two generations before would have been intensely personal and a guarded secret) as a piece of trivia that was relevant to the topic at hand. So, even if this is something that feels inconceivable now, it would probably ring true to a transgender person 50 years from now, who grew up in a world where being transgendered is just a piece of personal trivia.

But, as so many comments suggest, it clearly did not ring true to transgendered people in the here and now. And there was a big mistake made: the "deadnaming," which somebody who is not part of the transgender community would easily be unaware of, and that caused clear problems. But, again, this makes it flawed writing, but not bad writing. The information that needed to be conveyed was conveyed without relying on an infodump (such as "As you are no doubt aware, back in my grandfather's day transgender people like me were treated..."), it is used as a relevant answer to a question that Ryder asked ("Why are you out here?" "Well, back home I didn't feel like I was who I should be or was doing what I should be, so I changed myself and came out here."), and for most people the dialogue probably worked. So, the writing is passable.

Which leads us to the next tricky question: what would have made it good?

And make no mistake, this IS tricky. In this format you can't use Hainly as a point of view character and just write about some moment she remembered back before her transition. So, dialogue is all you've really got. You can adjust it to resonate with the modern day transgender community, as Bioware has stated they are doing, but this then leads viewers/players with the understanding that what it is to be a transgendered person in the ME:A future is what it means now, as there is no worldbuilding that suggests otherwise. And, you can only go so far in what Hainly says to fill in the gaps - if she says "You know, back in my grandfather's day, transgendered people were..." it won't feel connected to the conversation, and will end up a badly written infodump (and the same would hold true if Ryder said, "Wasn't it true that back in our grandfather's day, transgendered people were..."). Also, you can't have Hainly refer to being a man in a past incident before her transition, because it wouldn't feel right to have her say, "Back when I was a man, I saw..." because her sex at the time would be irrelevant to the memory - it would not feel like a piece of information she would volunteer alongside her account of the incident.

(And, again, speculative fiction dialogue is all about what FEELS like something somebody would say - a lot of times, it's conveying information that nobody would never feel the need to say aloud. So, the trick is to strike a balance between what the reader/viewer would THINK somebody might say while putting words into a character's dialogue that they wouldn't actually say.)

If I was doing it, I'd probably give Hainly an additional line that was something like, "I know it's a bit extreme, but I wanted a complete fresh start - after all, if you're going to do something, why do it by half measures...and who could resist a new galaxy to explore?" This would feel like something she would say, convey that she didn't feel the need to move to a new galaxy just to change her sex (which is something people got out of it), and add some additional characterization (an adventurous spirit, etc.). But other than also removing the deadnaming, I don't think I'd do much more than that - it is a really delicate balance, and the minute something feels too far off from what somebody would say in real life, the immersion for the reader/viewer/player is shattered.

So, that's why it's not bad writing. It could be better, and it did make a big mistake that destroyed immersion for transgendered people, but it actually WAS passable for what needed to be conveyed.

Robert B. Marks:
Turning this to Hainly in ME:A, the writers have to accomplish two things: 1. Establish her character and backstory QUICKLY (after all, she's a minor NPC, so she's not getting a lot of time for character development); 2. Establish how transgendered people are seen and treated in this future world.

Sure, but this implies the only way the writers had an opportunity to explore transgenderism in the setting is with a single line of NPC dialogue. Supposing that was an actual restriction, you could still avoid some basic pitfalls in how you insert a line. Here's one off the top of my head: An NPC could be inside a clinic, and say a line to Ryder about how excited they are, waiting for their partner's in-progress reassignment surgery to finish. That would indicate the exact same thing about trans people being fully accepted in casual conversation, without dead-naming or having to get a trans person to squeeze in a reference to themselves getting a new identity. Heck, that could even set up a pay-off for later, where you bump into the partner; she doesn't at any point mention being trans but it is left to the player to notice they are a spouse to the first guy.

In all fairness I have the benefit of hindsight, seeing the blow back this one got. I'm a relatively ignorant person who probably would have fallen into the exact same trap as the writers of coming up with a similarly contentious scene. But then again, I could just ask trans people to look over what I had written to see if it made sense before putting it into the game.

maninahat:
Sure, but this implies the only way the writers had an opportunity to explore transgenderism in the setting is with a single line of NPC dialogue.

Not the only way to do it, but a way that deals with the situation in the simplest manner. Having it happen at a clinic in Andromeda raises a lot of questions (how does this strapped colony have the resources to do this now, why did the person wait until they were in another galaxy to do it, etc.), while having Hainley mention it off-hand reinforces the idea that people came on this expedition in search of a fresh start, which is a theme of the game.

maninahat:

Robert B. Marks:
Turning this to Hainly in ME:A, the writers have to accomplish two things: 1. Establish her character and backstory QUICKLY (after all, she's a minor NPC, so she's not getting a lot of time for character development); 2. Establish how transgendered people are seen and treated in this future world.

Sure, but this implies the only way the writers had an opportunity to explore transgenderism in the setting is with a single line of NPC dialogue. Supposing that was an actual restriction, you could still avoid some basic pitfalls in how you insert a line. Here's one off the top of my head: An NPC could be inside a clinic, and say a line to Ryder how excited they are, waiting for their partner's in-progress reassignment surgery to finish. That would indicate the exact same thing about trans people being fully accepted in casual conversation, without dead-naming or having to get a trans person to squeeze in a reference to themselves getting a new identity. Heck, that could even set up a pay-off for later, where you bump into the partner; she doesn't at any point mention being trans but it is left to the player to notice they are a spouse to the first guy.

Would it project that information, though?

It's still very problematic. For one thing, now nobody in the initial conversation is directly reacting to a transgender person - the transgendered character is off-screen. The character everybody is reacting to is somebody who KNOWS a transgendered person, and that's a different set of reactions. Remember, any given reader/viewer/player will assume that something is as it is in the real world unless told otherwise - and in the real world, finding out that somebody knows or is in some way attached to a transgender person is not necessarily something that elicits a strong reaction (to be fair, it CAN - there are religious communities where having a transgendered family member can cause the rest of the family to be ostracized - but this type of reaction, as far as I know, is not common enough to be the norm). So, Ryder and the third party characters reacting with apathy in this scenario doesn't actually tell us that something is different than in the real world. Having Ryder encounter the transgendered character that's being talked about later without any comment about the transition CAN transmit this information, but there's a lot of danger that it won't be received. So, for example, the spouse is talking - possibly openly, but also possibly nervously (which is when things can slip out) - about this, but the actual transgendered character is still acting in a manner that could indicate that the transition is being kept a secret, or something that cannot be talked about in casual conversation.

Now, there is a variant on this that WOULD work - having Ryder overhear the newly transitioned character in casual conversation with two or three other people, where they're asking what it was like to have the reassignment and the transgendered character is answering frankly, as though it's no big deal. And, so long as the dialogue was properly finessed, it would successfully transmit the information to the reader and push it into good writing.

As I said in the earlier post, this is NOT easy stuff. Finessing something like this is hard, and when you're dealing with a video game, there are a number of tools that would exist in written fiction that you just don't have at your disposal.

Who the fuck cares, they should spend more time fixing the game, and working on important things rather than something this mundane.

Robert, you let the emotions take over common sense in this one.
Three things:

1) Whole commotion is done purposely by EA's marketing as part of simple touch-and-go marketing. It's really ugly form of drumming up publicity and padding sales. However, there is a much worse background of this here. It is used to literally cover up for overal poor quality of the product and mishandling of customers and their feedback (sometimes rather rancid but show me business were unhappy customers provide non-vitriolic feedback if they feel scammed).

2)

Today, the transgender community is, in a lot of ways, where my family was sixty or seventy years ago.

This claim is baseless. You have no first hand experience of any racial or religious opression because you grew up happily, cushioned in one of the most liberal and welcoming parts of the world. Transgender people are not opressed in USA nor Canada, comparing their situation to what Jews had to endure is outrageously false and demeaning.
You being a Jew with no experience and apparently no regard to history makes it even more bitter to stomach. Nobody actively hunts and brutally murders transgender people in your part of the world. Nobody actively discriminates them based on their sexual preferences as long as they keep it personal.
Exactly the same as it is with faith or political views. Keep them personal and nobody will pass any judgments at public place / work about it. Make them flagrantly opressive towards bystanders/co-workers for absolutely no reason aside self serving outlash and you will be asked to get out/get fired/not hired because of it. It isn't however your faith or gender that got you discriminated it was you displaying disregard to social convenance (keep your personal life to yourself) and disrespect to other people's privacy. They're not opressing Jew, queer, catholic, muslim or Russian they are removing raving troglodyte.
And I mentioned nationality purposely. What transgender people do endure in western countries is akin to ridicule and hate that all targets of steorotypical jokes go through, given they end up in xenophobic community: Russians, Jews, gays, lesbians, Polish, French, Mexicans, blacks, whites, Irish etc. Tens upon tens of bad taste jokes, peculiar looks and general disdain, originating from xenophobic background: lack of knowledge, irrational stereotypes and basic common sense to get to know someone before passing judgment on them, coupled with enclosing themselves in coterie and selected echo chamber provided by social media.

3) Most important: Bioware should just focus on quality. They provided broken product - fix that first. It's a huge studio, backed by giant of a publisher, that worked on a winner and flopped. Made a medicore game that is broken and needed series of patches to bring it to playable condition. Concentrating on shit-storm started up by marketing does nothing to help to provide gamers what they want and recently (looking at you Ubisoft and Bethesda) is ignored - good quality of games and good value for their money. On purchase. Not few weeks after, not when modders fix most gambreaking bugs, not togeather with another paid dlc. On day 1.

Here is the difference between you being Jewish and Hainly being Trans: You are currently Jewish, Hainly is not currently transitioning. It is a subtle difference functionally but it is there. Your religious affiliation can have ramifications such that they might actually come up in casual conversation, ie restrictions on how you can eat, prayers and other rituals that need to be performed. If you just ARE a woman, what effects does it have on your current life that you used to be a man? It really only makes sense to bring it up when your history comes up.

So if they wanted Hainly to feel more genuine, she should have talked about how excited she was to start her new life in a new galaxy but include a slip of the tongue or word something slightly off. Just enough that Ryder asks what she means, then if they player selects the conversation option to ask about it, she could elaborate that she transitioned and just wanted to get away from her old life. She may not be ashamed of her old life but she's here for a reason and it feels more natural to make the player ask instead of just throwing it out there.

Personally if I wanted to include a trans person I would have gone a totally different way: Have someone coming out of stasis know her from before the transition and play it off like "I like the new hair style". Then again, not having any first hand experience with this I would probably also have just stuck my foot into something and riled everyone up.

 

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