This article is spoiler-free.
There's this scene early in Dragon Age: Inquisition when you, as the Herald of Andraste, gather your advisors around the war table and talk about what the Inquisition's next move should be. Your council is a pretty savvy lot. You've got a Seeker of the Chantry, wise in the ways of the church; a Spymaster, with eyes and ears seemingly everywhere in Thedas; an Ambassador, who understands the necessity of playing politics; and an ex-Templar, training soldiers for those times when diplomacy and manipulation aren't enough. It's not actually that important of a scene, as the war table serves as the menu for choosing side missions that earn you extra goodies like Inquisition perks and coin, so you'll see your posse take their places around the table quite frequently. What struck me, though, is that in my version of the game, four out of the five people at the table are women.
It's not a big deal. Nobody takes a moment to comment on how the leaders of the Inquisition are primarily female. Cullen, in charge of of the soldiers, doesn't offer a monologue on what it's like to take orders from so many lovely ladies. It's just how it is. Cassandra, Leliana, Josephine and my own Cordelia are just the folks who happened to all come together to form the Inquisition, and they all just happen to be women. Barely worthy of a shrug, let alone a conversation.
Except it is a big deal, because it's a scene you never see in video games without it being a Thing, without their womanhood being the entire point of them being together, doing whatever it is they're meant to be doing. If the situation were reversed, and it was four men and one woman, nobody would blink, because that's considered normal. By doing something equally unremarkable, BioWare has constructed a situation that's both progressive and disruptive. Not that the Inquisition gives a damn, of course. They've got work to do, and couldn't really care less which bathroom everyone at the table prefers to use.
Inclusion and diversity are hot button topics right now, with lots of people shouting a lot both about how it is necessary and pointless. More characters need to be female, no they don't, why does it matter what gender a character is, because it does matter so check your privilege, and so on and so forth. It's a topic that's very worthy of discussion, and it's a discussion I myself have engaged in quite frequently. For me, though, this is exactly the way I like to see diversity addressed in games: without a lot of shouting or preaching, without grandstanding or drama.
Would it change the game if Cassandra were a man? Not really. I'd argue that certain Dragon Age characters absolutely must be the genders they are (Morrigan and Varric spring to mind) but most of them could be either without it really impacting their personalities or their influence on the game. Inquisition would still be great and Cassandra – or whatever her new name would be, Chuck, maybe – would still make you pee a little bit when she disapproved of you. But that's exactly why it's so encouraging for her to be a woman. Because there's no particular reason that she needs to be. She just is.
A scene like that one around the war table, with four out of five characters being women, but that not being important, is practically mythical, that's how rare it is. You don't see it. It's a freakin' unicorn. No, actually, you see more unicorns than you see groups of women coming together to save the world.
So thanks, BioWare. Whatever else Dragon Age: Inquisition does, I will always appreciate how it gave us a truly remarkable moment of the ordinary.