She stands, a cleric with an unusual name she pieced together herself, symbolic of her own experience.
Her dialogue options, like many minor characters in RPGs is brief and limited. She is Mizhena and she has somehow absolutely destroyed Baldur's Gate and by that extension Dungeons and Dragons forever.
Her only crime: she is transgender, and as such she is forcing her very existence down the throat of gamers everywhere. It matters little that the character only goes into her brief back-story after several questions probing her about her unusual name and its origins. It matters even less that this bit of dialogue is barely a four-sentence paragraph. Her mere existence is loud, in-your-face political pandering propaganda. Somehow. She is there and she has destroyed, and must be destroyed in return.
The character has faced harsh criticism from gamers for no reason other than her very existence. Reviews containing vile slurs appear on metacritic and GOG.com, destroying the game's ratings. These are reviews coming from people who haven't even purchased the game. They are simply so aghast that a trans woman exists in their space that they must destroy any incarnation of her existence. Most illustrative of this is a video of the player going through Mizhena's dialogue options, then forcing the entire party to attack and murder her. This actually mirrors similar themed vandalism to the webcomic Questionable Content, where the comic’s gentle approach to a trans woman undressing in front of her boyfriend for the first time was later manipulated into scenes of rage and violence on the boyfriend’s part. The parallels to real-life violence against trans women are unsettling.
It bears repeating, Mizhena's only crime is being a trans woman who has dared to exist in their space. It is a crime that gamers see punishable by death. One review complains that there should at least be dialogue options where the player is allowed to react unfavorably to this realization, wanting jokes where they can belittle her for her very identity. They aren't allowed this, and so lash out at the developers and the character for the slight of being refused the ability to harass trans women.
Other criticisms include that the character's existence in the Forgotten Realms is disruptive to the rich history and lore of the game's settings. They can’t imagine that someone who has altered their gender would fare too well within the Forgotten Realms, that they would be met with suspicion and violence. This is inaccurate. In an earlier Harlot article, we've already explained that the Forgotten Realms already had a trans woman character in 1985 ( the Baldur's Gate series has already proven that the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon exists in the same universe as them). The Girdle of Femininity/Masculinity is a gender-altering item that appears in the original Baldur's Gate, and goes back to classic Dungeons And Dragons. RPGs have contained similar gender-altering items for as long as they have existed. Previously this belt has been used in a problematic fashion by mischievous dungeon-masters to pull pranks on unsuspecting player-characters. Yet the idea of someone using such magic on purpose is completely implausible to gamers. It’s also worth noting that Ed Greenwood, the creator of the Forgotten Realms universe, has himself stated that homophobia is far less common in the Realms than it is in the hearts of emotionally stunted gamer manchildren. Okay, he only actually said the first part. He’s further clarified his views on this specifically on Facebook recently.
Several have also criticized Mizhena's writing for blatantly coming out and discussing her gender with the player-character. It's a belief that queer people shouldn't discuss their sexuality or gender openly in narrative fiction. The same criticism has been used against queer video game characters in the past such as against Janey from Borderlands the Pre-Sequel, whose only crime is a line where she expresses affection for female player-characters and openly states that she's not interested in men. Straight people don't like it when queer people are up front or assertive about the things they find uncomfortable or othering about us. They'd much prefer us to keep things to ourselves, keep quiet, stay in the closet. It's much easier to pretend we don't exist that way, or violently defend the straightness of the character once we begin examining the subtext.
They couch these sentiments in grotesquely pantomimed concern regarding Mizhena “outing” herself, which itself is ridiculous. Similar complaints have been leveraged against the suggestion that Samus Aran is a trans woman, somehow imagining that fictional characters face the same risks of employment discrimination and social ostracization (amongst others) due to outing as queer folks in the real world, which is quite the stretch. NPCs in video game RPGs volunteer completely unnecessary information about their lives constantly. They volunteer all sorts of private and personal details like family histories, past relationships and living situations, and deeply-held personal convictions. It’s a way to distinguish nearly-identical blobs of pixels from each other, and enriches and deepens the gameplay universe.
Mizhena's critics hide behind a wall, claiming they care little for her transness, only that they don't like bad writing in their rpgs, or that the game has several bugs and a wonky multiplayer feature. Bull-fucking-shit. If you're going to hate queer people, at least do us the dignity of being honest about it instead of lurking in the bushes like cowards. Games with poor writing aren't met with this level of vitriol, otherwise the entirety of the Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed franchises would have collapsed years ago. When Divinity Original Sin was originally released it featured an unstable multiplayer connection, a shoddy plot, and multiple game-crashing bugs and nobody felt the need to call for the destruction of Larian Studios or to send multiple rape and death threats to the game's lead writer.
Though that is exactly how gamers have responded to Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear. Gamers have launched a vitriolic hate-campaign against developer studio Beamdog, and more specifically the expansion's lead writer Amber E. Scott has been caught in the crossfire. What's specifically bizarre is how Amber is being treated like an outlier of gaming, as if she hasn't been working within this medium for a decade now with a long list of publishing credits such as contributions to D&D's Eberron setting, as well as the critically praised Wrath of the Righteous adventure path for Pathfinder. She's been openly critical of the elements of sexism within the original Baldur's Gate and how her take on the story would hope to improve these elements to update the classic game for a modern audience.
She’s went as far as to openly identify herself as an SJW in the Beamdog forums, and hopes to write many more diverse games in the future. Gamers have latched onto these specific quotes, claiming that Amber has forcefully inserted her politics into their favorite game. One has to wonder how many games they’ve actually played that they would assume no game has ever had a political motif whatsoever. Asides from maybe of course Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed, The Division, every single modern-military shooter in existence, etc. Fantasy and science-fiction have long used their fantastic world-building to comment on the politics of the day, and anyone who would say otherwise is being disingenuous at best.
For gamers of course, this is a sin that can only be purged through mass-targeted harassment and doxing. This is not unprecedented. The treatment Amber has faced from the gaming community for daring to "fuck up" their beloved franchise is most similar to the harassment writer Jennifer Hepler received following the release of Dragon Age 2. Hepler was not even the main writer of the game, only a contributor who added specific bits of dialogue here and there. Criticisms of the game's writing, accusations of "gaying up Dragon Age" were lobbied at one small writer. There was even a petition to have her fired. She was stalked, threatened, even had her phone number leaked. Compounding the mindless outrage, when Bioware released the third Mass Effect and fans were displeased with its ending, Hepler became a target for harassment again despite having nothing to do with the game.
The crimes Hepler, Scott, and Mizhena have committed against the gaming community have nothing to do with the quality of writing. It is because they are women who dare to have a voice, who open their mouths while existing within the gaming space. For so long, gaming has exclusively pandered to a straight cis white male audience that any deviation from the norm is met with a violent uproar from those who would maintain the status quo. They see anything that doesn't exclusively pander to them and the opening up of the gaming medium to other people as a threat on their very existence.
And maybe they are right. Queer characters are gradually becoming more normalized within the gaming medium, whether it's through Paizo's Pathfinder, the updated Baldur's Gate, Shadowrun, and even in big-budget MMORPGs like The Secret World queer characters are leaving a larger footprint upon the medium. This is largely in part thanks to people like Amber Scott, people who value stories that appeal to a wide variety of audience, who refuse to cave to the bullying and harassment of violent conservative reactionaries. It's important to remember when looking upon the face of horror that is often the gaming community, that these sorts of bigots are only lashing out in fear. They are slowly but surely losing their stranglehold over this medium.
They are of course unaware, that until their petulant whining Mizhena might have gone unnoticed by the world at large. The power she wields is power they've unwittingly given her. A four-sentence paragraph contains a newfound weight and meaning of a character who dares to exist in the face of violent bigotry.
"When I was born, my parents thought me a boy and raised me as such. In
time, we all came to understand I was truly a woman. I created my new
name from syllables of different languages. All have special meaning to
me; it is the truest reflection of who I am."
A hero worthy of any fantasy rpg.
Editor Note: This article is actually a collaboration between Dorian Dawes and Rani Baker. Since this article was drafted the CEO of Beamdog has spoken up to say the character Mizhena will become more fleshed out and play a larger role in a future update.