Robert Purchese

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In a talk at Brighton’s Develop conference this week, former Larian writer Baudelaire Welch declared the bear romance scene in Baldur’s Gate 3 “a watershed moment in game history”. They said it was an unprecedented example of a developer recognising and validating the fanfiction community surrounding a game by realising something they wanted in it.

Welch was responsible for overseeing the companion romances in the game, and wrote the Dark Urge storyline, but didn’t join the team until partway through development. The game had already come out in early access at that point, in autumn 2020, which meant considerable work had already been done – companion romances included. But there was still a lot of work to do, and some characters weren’t yet romanceable – Halsin in particular.

“I don’t think there were specific plans for him to be a love interest,” Welch told me in a follow-up interview after their talk. However, the fanfiction community surrounding the game was clear about what they wanted, and what they wanted was “daddy Halsin”. Welch knew this because they themselves were a part of that community. They’d written Astarion fanfiction before applying to work at the studio, and were partially hired for their embedded knowledge about what that community wanted (they also have a game design background alongside this).

So Larian acknowledged the desire for Halsin to be a romance and started to pursue it. “This is a character that everyone likes and sees as a possible love interest,” Welch said, summarising, “let’s try it out and see how it works.”

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“The specifically turning into a bear thing,” Welch continued: “It was originally meant to be a gag that took place off screen in another scene that I pitched, because I didn’t think that it would ever go anywhere, but then Swen [Vincke] and John [Corcoran], who’s writing Halsin – as they were writing more major love scenes – were like, ‘Oh, let’s bring this idea forward and let’s escalate it and make it a main thing for this character.’

“I have to admire that something I thought was just a gag – there’s this off-stage sex scene where he turns into a bear as part of it – was taken as, ‘Oh, that’s really cool or funny, let’s run with that.’ That was a great attitude that was always there at Larian. Sometimes I would think something was too ridiculous to be done or too much of a joke, especially because so many people have to work on something in a game with cinematics and motion capture and scripting, but something that feels like ‘oh this is a ridiculous little idea’ did have the space to grow.”

The upshot of this was an idea surfaced by the fanfiction community after the game was released in early access was now in Baldur’s Gate 3.

“Why did it make such an impact on people?” Welch went on to say in their talk. “This is what it meant to me when I was involved in Baldur’s Gate 3. This scene feels like a watershed moment in game history where the fanfiction community feels like they’re not a subculture but are the majority audience being catered to in a scene and in the game as a whole.

“In order to reach out to that part of the community, Larian gave them an incredibly silly sequence that takes an identity moniker from the gay community – literally the gay bear becomes the bear (if no one has actually made the connection before) – and that is giving players something that feels like it’s from the tradition of fanfic, or just something from your Discord shit-posting hole, and presenting it as a mainstream feature. And that feels like all the time you spent joking with your friends is validated. And how many games of this kind of scale have made you feel that way before?”

Welch’s Develop presentation talked a lot about the importance of fanfiction for games. “Romance is one of the longest-tail parts of a fandom you can create,” Welch said. “People will write about a good romance in fanfiction for years to come.” It’s the sort of discussion that sustains a game’s community for a very long time – far longer than the main storylines themselves. The fanfiction community also appeals to female and LGBTQIA+ players in particular, Welch said – the sort of community that’s propelled the collective love-in around Baldur’s Gate 3 since it launched nearly a year ago.

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How the Baldur’s Gate 3 bear sex scene came to be, and why it’s “a watershed moment in game history”