A screenshot from Baldur's Gate 3's infamous bear sex scene, but it's just a picture of a bear with a sly desire in his eye and a wet nose

I Want to Make Love to a Bear: Sex, Society and Baldur’s Gate 3

You’re all doomed!

Doomed

Sex scenes in pop culture are not only sources of erotic pleasure, but opportunities to think about how sexuality and bodies are imagined and policed within societies. From a storytelling perspective, sex scenes can be used to develop storylines and relationships. Larian Studios’ 2023 fantasy role-playing video game Baldur’s Gate 3 (BG3) understands this, and the sex scenes are enjoyable not just as an expression of desire, but because they contribute to character development and world-building. The fact that Larian Studios hired intimacy coordinators for the mo-cap choreography underscores their own commitment to consent and safety when it comes to producing sexual content. There is, however, one exception to this careful treatment of sexual dynamics: the infamous bear scene.

This scene, in which the druid Halsin shapeshifts into a bear for a sexual encounter with the protagonist, was widely circulated as part of the promotional materials for the game in order to generate buzz. But unlike the other sex scenes in BG3, the bear scene is played off as a titillating joke, added purely for shock value and memes. Bear Halsin is adorable and goofy, and the camera quickly jumps from the potential lovers to a cartoon squirrel, who drops an acorn in shock at the implied sexual encounter. This is not a real sex scene but a gag that makes the developers seem edgy and playful.

Yet human-bear intimacy in fiction is not new – there’s a legacy of literature exploring sexuality through unconventional and taboo relationships. These stories use bears or beasts to raise interesting questions about embodiment, sexual desire, autonomy, safety and consent. Consider, for example, the 1976 Canadian classic Bear, in which a woman has a sexual and spiritual relationship with a bear.

Tender Morsels, a 2008 novel and retelling of the fairytale “Rose Red and Snow White,” asks challenging and at times disturbing questions, like: how does one heal from incest and trauma? And, can revenge be pleasurable? In the fairytale, a prince is enchanted to turn into a bear. In Tender Morsels, a young man is turned into a bear and has a flirtatious and sexual relationship with a teenage girl. At one point she watches him having sex with a female bear and experiences arousal. Later, the bear chases her through the forest and she becomes caught in brambles. He tears her dress and licks her nipples, and she is simultaneously aroused and afraid. This scene is both uncomfortable to read due to the power dynamic and lack of consent, and also unapologetically erotic.

The cover for Tender Morsels, with a young blond person in an embrace with a bear that towers over her with dual human and bear faces and thorns all around them

Tender Morsels is centered around the experiences of survivors of sexual trauma, and while the author could have created an overly simplistic, allegorical tale in which a sexual predator is transformed into a literal predator, rendering the girl a “perfect” victim devoid of any sexual desire, instead the book explores the nuances and complexities of encounters that emerge in the context of rape culture. Many people under patriarchy are initiated into sex through encounters of dubious consent, and may experience a mixture of feelings including shame and fear, arousal and curiosity.

Turning to another popular fairytale, “Beauty and Beast” also features a young woman falling in love with a bear-like creature. While the Disney adaptation offers a happy ending in the form of a thin, white human, other versions take a different approach: Robin McKiney’s 1997 novel Rose Daughter ends with the beast remaining in non-human form. This decision challenges conventional Western beauty standards and requires the Beast to come to terms with his new embodiment.

Returning to BG3, what feelings would the protagonist actually experience when Halsin loses control and transforms into a deadly cave bear? Terror, exhilaration, both? Would the character feel powerful or powerless – and would they like that? How would this relationship be complicated if Halsin had to care for or comfort the protagonist in this moment? And why, when the human (well, elven) sex scene equivalent is so focused on Halsin as a giving and generous lover, is the bear not portrayed the same way, as a sensual and romantic lover? It’s also a missed opportunity for world-building: how do different cultures in Faerûn treat druids in wild shape? Is it taboo to touch a druid in animal form? Are we breaking cultural norms, or is this sexual encounter entirely conventional?

Turning to an allegorical interpretation, the relationship with Halsin could be leveraged to put pressure on our humanoid-centric worldview. Halsin insists throughout the game that he identifies with actual bears, and that he prefers “nature” over humanoid civilizations. How might we reimagine our relationship to the environment – in our own context of climate change, deforestation, and mass extinctions – if we understood bear sex as a metaphor for falling in love with the natural world?

I don’t want to fuck a bear, I want to make love to a bear. I want a strange, uncomfortable, sensual, fearful encounter that makes me ask how desire is culturally curated and why fictional taboo relationships can feel like a release from the corset of societal norms. I want a scene that makes me wonder how Halsin relates to his multiplicity of bodies and how they shape his sense of self. I want to question how ongoing consent is vocalized without a shared language, and how safety and danger are navigated in sexual encounters. I want a scene that takes Halsin the bear seriously as a potential romantic partner, and requires players and fans to deal with the complex implications of that relationship.

———

Adan is a writer and RPG fan who teaches critical design and game design at the University of Waterloo. They can’t stop romancing Halsin and Astarion in Balder’s Gate 3. You can find more information on their work here.

subscribe
Categories
Fantasy, Games
Social