The 15 Greatest Women in Video Games

4. Sera (Dragon Age: Inquisition)

SeraOne of the strongest BioWare characters ever, Sera came out of nowhere in the third game of the Dragon Age series, a Dalish elf who has disowned her own race, can place an arrow between the eyes of any creature you like from as many yards away as you like, and who instantly annoyed two groups of gamers: those who don’t understand Cockney, and those who have never been bullied or outcast. But she’s not one of those rock-hard-exterior-until-she-realizes-she-needs-to-be-loved messes; oh no. Sera’s sure enough of herself. She’s a ranking member of a secret organization of freedom fighters called the Friends of Red Jenny, who specialize in orchestrating elaborate revenge schemes against those who have wronged the poor. She’s also a lesbian in a world that, although a fantasy setting, is still uncomfortably heteronormative and puritanical in most places. Still, it doesn’t bother her, and she doesn’t have some lame “homophobia as backstory” schlock. Sera’s biggest problem (leastways the only one that could tangibly hinder her ability aid the player’s character, the Inquisitor, in battling a world-conquering psycho) is that she’s viewed as little more than a child by the experienced soldiers, mages, and templars who make up the rest of the team of good guys.

In spite of being treated like a tiny pest by most of the cast, Sera has more worthwhile layers than any of them, and the player has to work very hard to be trusted with the touchiest of it. Should the player choose a female protagonist, she can get to know Sera very well if her macro choices line up with what Sera would choose (she really, really doesn’t tolerate mistreatment of commonfolk, and can leave your team forever if you don’t respect that). If one’s cards are played right and the player strikes up a romance with Sera, that player is in for a realistic relationship that real-life happy people actually have: wherein a couple isn’t afraid to remember that they were once children. In the midst of this crazy war against a demon army, the Inquisitor and Sera can sit on the castle wall and eat cookies, pull pranks on “respectable” folk, or make out on a balcony like it ain’t no thing.

But all of this can only come after a vital scene that initiates it: Sera gets the Inquisitor a gift, and the latter needs advice on how to reciprocate. She goes from friend to friend, teammate to teammate, asking what to get Sera as a gift. Not only does no one help, but most of them are appalled that the Inquisitor would be involved with such a crude and immature pain in the ass. When the Inquisitor returns empty-handed and admits to asking others for help, Sera is more touched than we’ve ever seen her. Get this: it is “gift” enough for Sera that the Inquisitor would actually admit to others that she has feelings for her. She knows what people think of her. It’s a heartwarming moment, and also a recognizably sad one – some players are too annoyed by Sera to interact with her, much less get on her romantic side, and that’s the entire point. In this way, the game challenges the player’s open-mindedness, whether you’re genuinely put off by her East-End-ish neologisms, or you’re just playing a character who can’t curb their biases. Lighten up, Inquisitor.

Sera exists in an era of gaming where characters are more fully fleshed out than ever before, and can truly feel like they have full lives outside of what we see onscreen. DA:I takes advantage of this through varied and extensive party banter wherein we can learn about her in a non-expository way, from anecdotes to action she’s seen with the Red Jennies to pubic hair jokes to her attempt to reconcile the fact that she considers her own ethnic group to be a bunch of whiny, inactive navel-gazers who refuse to better themselves with the fact that she can’t look in the mirror without seeing the same pointy ears and slight frame. We and the other characters get to know Sera in real time, not via blatant exposition or artificial time jumps, and it’s a testament to the game’s writers that we already know whose personalities she’ll clash with and whose she’ll gel with (the latter is a short list). If she gels with you, I’m willing to bet that you have a close group of friends that actually like you, and that you understand what it means to have such a treasure.

One character urges Sera to continue a story she was telling him back in the tavern. “Where we left off,” he says, “you were elbow-deep in…circumstance.” “Naw,” Sera quips. “That wasn’t her name.”

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