“You know I’m not interested in physical affection. That’s- well, it’s tripped folks up in the past. Folks I thought cared about me for me. What if she’s not okay with that? What if she is, but then, later, she’s not?”
Diversity in video games has exploded in recent years, a move which has encouraged developers to create stories that explore identities and personal stories of all kinds.
The Outer Worlds by Obsidian was recently released to a positive reception. An aspect of the game involves players gathering a group of companions who travel with them, all with various personalities and skills. The darling fan favourite of the game, Parvati, is the first companion to join the player. She’s an engineer whose personal quest is rather remarkable, not just because of how well it’s written, but because of the subject matter it deals with. Parvati develops a crush on a fellow engineer, who’s also a woman. She tells the player of not only her crush, but that she isn’t into “physical stuff.”
With this conversation, the developers created a character with depths that players either relate to or are be exposed to. Representation is the driving force behind diversity in storytelling, and as more people from different backgrounds and walks of life join the industry, so more stories that are varied, relevant and complex will be brought to the fore.
What is Asexuality?
In this case: asexuality. Asexuality is fairly simple: it means you’re not sexually attracted to anyone. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have sex or that you can’t fall in love, it’s just the attraction on a physical level that is absent, something Parvati explains in game. This differs from celibacy, where one chooses not to have sex but is still sexually attracted to others. Asexuality is woefully underrepresented or misrepresented in media (a recent example is in Death Stranding), and as a result it is largely misunderstood.
This brings about challenges when in relationships with others who aren’t asexual (or ace for short). As Parvati says it, partners and people we love can say they’re fine with it at first then change their minds once they realise exactly what it entails, or they can reject you outright. Navigating a relationship within these spaces is difficult, especially if you’re on your own with no point of reference, fumbling in the dark and not understanding why you feel the way you do. Which is why representation like Parvati is so important. Not only is it representation that’s accurate and not in bad faith, her sexual orientation doesn’t form her entire identity. Rather, it’s one piece of the whole.
Why Parvati is Great
Parvati’s asexuality and attraction to a woman isn’t something that distresses her. These are parts of her that bring her joy and bring meaning to the way she experiences the world. The player gets to interact with and be a part of this, which makes the entire experience more personal. People who aren’t ace are able to learn about asexuality, while ace people are able to see themselves in media and depicted in a positive way. Too often asexuality is depicted as a joke (Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory is prominent example), as something unnatural that hails the end of humanity (Death Stranding) or is erased entirely (Jughead from Riverdale).
Parvati’s identity doesn’t begin and end with her asexuality or romantic attraction to another woman. These parts of her are important, but they don’t form the whole of her character. She’s also funny, charming, sweet and hopeful. She’s a fan favourite because of her likable personality and charm. She’s multifaceted and nuanced, and her personal quest is something that adds another layer to her character. As video games are so immersive and interactive, having asexuality depicted this way, where the player can interact with her and decide how to react and ask questions to find out more, is invaluable.
Diversity in Development
Parvati has been positively received by both the ace and gaming community. Hopefully she’s the first of many more to come. Parvati’s writer, Kate Dollarhyde, had inherited the character from another writer, Chris L’Etoile, who had written the character as asexual before he left the project. Dollarhyde, being asexual herself, found the project to be deeply personal and committed herself to Parvati. A reason for Parvati’s success as a character can be given to having a diverse group of developers on the project. Having people inject their real life experiences into their writing results in genuine and compelling stories and characters, and is critical for content to evolve and remain relevant.
As creators move forwards and push interactive storytelling further, hopefully diversity and positive representation will become another tool to create content that is relevant, fun and creative; that people from all walks of life can learn from and enjoy.
For more on Outer Worlds, check out this article: The Outer Worlds: Complete Companions Guide