Hey there Beamdog forums. I just wanted to give my feelings on the inclusion of this character from the perspective of someone who is trans.
For background: I was born 1991, as a biological male. As early as I can remember, I have wished that I was born female. When I was in kindergarten, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said a girl. My parents first recognized (but not accepted) my feelings when I was four and thought I would grow out of it. I thought I would to, but I didn't. I'm 24 now, I've been on hormone replacement therapy for a while and am trying to make the best of my situation and live my life in the way I feel is most comfortable for me.
Baldur's Gate is one of my favorite games of all time. I first got the game when I was 10 and loved it. I remember deliberately giving my character the belt of femininity/masculinity because back then I didn't know it was possible to 'change' your gender, I had never heard the term transgender and didn't even know there were other people in the world who had feelings like me. It gave me a deep sense of personal investment in a game series that was already incredible without it, and I've replayed the games more times than I can count.
I was really excited to hear about Siege of Dragonspear because playing new content in one of my favorite old games is like a dream come true. I won't get into my feelings about the expansion, I just want to talk about the inclusion of Mizhena.
Mizhena is a cheap, lazy, 'safe' character who is included for the sole purpose of having a transgender character in the game.
Let me just say that as a transsexual I would never, EVER introduce myself to someone by telling them that I am a transsexual. Being trans is not fun. People are mean and cruel to you. You are mean and cruel to yourself. I do not do the things I do because I want to be a transsexual, I do them because I want to be a woman. I want to blend in as a girl as a best I can, the last thing I would EVER do is draw attention to myself for being trans (except for this thread of course, har har). Even when people are trying to be nice it feels awful. I have had people come up to me, tell me they liked my clothes or hair, converse with me, make me feel good, and then end the conversation with "You know, I think people like you are so brave" and that sentence just makes me want to die. I just want to be seen as a normal person. Of course, usually when you get attention for being trans, it is not positive at all, which brings me to my next point:
The way your character converses with Mizhena is almost totally different than it is for everyone else in the game. You can be rude, mean, funny, or just throw a witty retort or remark to almost everyone in the game over the smallest thing, but even an evil blackguard who murders everyone in sight can only say "What a lovely name, tell me more", "How interesting" or "Good day to you". I understand that it would be politically incorrect to be rude or insult a transgender character for being trans, but to me all that does is highlight that being trans is different. The trans character is not on the same level as every other character, who can 'take' abuse from you. The trans character has to be protected from this because they're different. The way the trans character is implemented doesn't make me feel like "I'm just like everyone else" as I imagine the writer intended, it just makes me feel more like a freak or novelty. It's unrealistic.
The inclusion of Mizhena is utterly pointless. Having a transgender character just to have one brings nothing to the story, all it does is take you back to the 'real world', which to me ruins the immersion I'm supposed to feel playing a fantasy game. I would rather there be no trans character than a pointless one.
I also think that this was a massively missed opportunity for something special. There have been transgender people in many cultures across all of human history, and there are certainly stories to tell here. Why couldn't it have been done in a fun or interesting way that actually fits the game? Maybe there could have been a transgender npc who asks you to find the belt of masculinity/femininity for them. Then if you asked them why, they would actually have some context to explain that they're trans. Or why not make the trans character a full on party member? You could have Jaheira call Mizhena out on being an abomination against nature (choice words from my own mother by the way), and maybe over your travels the two characters bond and Jaheira learns to accept and appreciate Mizhena for being who they are. And if you actually made Mizhena fun, witty, and interesting, and had good dialogue and interactions along the way, maybe somebody in real life would actually have better feelings towards transgender people after enjoying that quest line. Wouldn't that be something.
Harshness aside, I do want to say that other than this I think the expansion is fun and I applaud Beamdog for working hard on it, especially for getting the old voice actors back. I'm still looking forward to what you guys release in the future.