Should Mage Hawke have not gotten a pass?

Back in February, Mattie wrote about Anders, and how Hawke is in a position of privilege in the game, the same way most players are in a position of privilege with regard to the LGBT community. It is a great piece that really got me thinking. There was an idea I saw popping up all over the place back when Dragon Age 2 first came out that said that DA2 missed a huge opportunity with Mage!Hawke, that playing as a mage should have been significantly different from Warrior or Rogue in that the mage should have had to go through what all the other mages in Kirkwall go through. The whole abducted from your family, imprisoned in the Gallows, under the constant scrutiny of the Templars, who will make you Tranquil if you step one toe out of line, or even for no reason at all. I actually think that, for the purposes of DA2 specifically, the team at BioWare did exactly the right thing by giving Hawke the Thedas equivalent of “passing privilege” as a mage, first via bribery and later via her wealth and finally her title of Champion.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that games do have a very strong ability to put players temporarily inside the experience of another person. A while ago, I wrote about a hypothetical game that would allow a male player to allegorically experience–and therefore better understand–rape culture. Games are essentially systems, and oppression is a system, so it’s completely possible to create a game that communicates what it’s like to experience oppression. The problem is, while both games and oppression have rules, the rules of oppression are rigged so that the “player” can never win. This means it’s not very fun at all (to put it mildly). A game where a player is put in the shoes of a marginalized person–such as a mage in Thedas–isn’t going to be any fun. Who wants to play being stuck in a tower, or even confined to one small room, for weeks or months on end? Who wants to play a game where your character can be lobotomized randomly and without reason?

Well, I do. But this game will never, ever be made by a company that’s in the business of entertainment, that wants to make money.

So, what if the player just got a taste of it? What if they had to disguise themselves, tiptoe around Templars, make sure they don’t use magic in battle inside the city, at least in the first two acts, before Hawke becomes Champion?

I believe this strategy would backfire. The player gets a taste of what mages like Anders experience and most would think, this isn’t so bad! It’s annoying, but not worth blowing up a building over! It’s like when games or shows depict sexism as being the domain of openly-hateful old men who just need their butt kicked by and/or a sassy remark from the spunky heroine. At least when Hawke gets a pass that other mages don’t, the player is aware that they have it better than other mages. There’s no way to get most players to truly experience and understand what mages are going through without completely breaking the game (and even then, players would still have the option to turn the game off and walk away, which is not an option real oppressed people have), so it’s actually better that BioWare went in the opposite direction and gave Hawke a privileged position among mages. This way, when Anders does his thing, Hawke and the player are more or less on the same page. In a way, it forces the player to roleplay by making sure Hawke, as a character, and the player themselves have the same reaction: how could you? If Hawke was actually meant to be oppressed, herself, but the game never had the player experience what that actually meant, then for the vast majority of players who don’t experience violent oppression themselves in the real world, there would be a huge disconnect between Hawke’s perspective and the player’s.

I desperately want to see a game that puts the player in Anders’s shoes and forces the player to not only do something so extreme, but to feel as if it’s their only course of action. But while that game could be interesting and meaningful, it certainly won’t be fun, and so we will never see if from any huge studio like BioWare.

Tallis Amigurumi Doll

I made a Tallis amigurumi doll for the Dragon Age Mark of the Assassin Fanart Contest. Amigurumi is a type of crochet that is used to create plushie animals and dolls. I’ve never tried amigurumi before so I’m really excited about how this came out!

Lots of photos behind the cut. Just in case embedding doesn’t work, here is a public link to the Facebook album.

MANY more photos after the cut!

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A fate that we deserve: Choice, Triumph, and All That Remains

“When he read to me–stupid things, dragons and heroes–he wouldn’t turn a page until I reached over and took his hand. That big man made every step of the story my choice. I loved that.” — Aveline, regarding her father

(Dragon Age 2 spoilers)

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Go on alone because I won't follow

So I (finally) played the last Dragon Age: Origins DLC, Witch Hunt. There were two things that stuck out to me about it. (Spoilers to follow, obviously.) The first was that BioWare jammed quite a bit of characterization for the two companion characters–Dalish warrior Ariane and Circle mage Finn–into a mere two hours of content. The DLC revisits locations from Origins and Awakening, but there are many more conversation trigger points. The characters seemed to strike up a conversation every minute or so. But the more interesting thing was how there’s additional characterization to be found by looking at the original equipment for each character. Each item description is filled with great little details, like Ariane’s Gauntlets of the True Path:

Ariane once defended her keeper, Solan, from a belligerent templar. She says she spared the man his life, and only took his gauntlets. However, its hard to tell if she’s telling the truth.

Or her Band of Gold, the description of which simply reads, “There is an engraving on this ring. Ariane refuses to let you see it.” (Also, her sword is named Girl’s Best Friend, which is awesome.) Meanwhile, Finn has his Immaculately Clean Robe:

Finn’s robe is perfectly spotless. It also appears to have been recently starched and ironed. Finn proudly states that he’s enchanted it to always remain wrinkle-free.

Just reading the item descriptions of Ariane’s and Finn’s equipment fills in a lot of characterization details that wouldn’t fit in the dialogue, especially since most of the dialogue is infodumping about Eluvians and how to find Morrigan. In Origins, it was rare that a companion had more than one equipment item specific to them, and all the other items were interchangeable. But by using the item descriptions in addition to the usual methods of conversation and party banter, the developers were able to communicate quite a bit about two new characters within the constraints of a 2-hour DLC pack.

The second thing about Witch Hunt is that this is the most blatant time I have felt like I was playing a character that was outside the canon. This happened occasionally in Origins, but usually in minor ways (for example, the bug near the end of the game where Alistair refers to himself being king even if he isn’t); Witch Hunt actually feels like it was made with a certain segment of players in mind, perhaps even assuming anyone else wouldn’t be interested. The “canon” seems to be that of a male Warden who helps his best bro Alistair become king while teaching the Witch of the Wilds how to love–and Witch Hunt definitely makes sense if that’s your story. But my Warden was just friends–close friends, but still friends–with Morrigan and wanted to know what she was up to. Most of the dialogue choices during the final confrontation were far too intense–either in the direction of wanting to know about the demon baby or feeling betrayed by Morrigan–for my character. It seemed as if it were supposed to be this highly charged meeting when I was mostly confused and just wanted to know what was going on.

Because of this, I ended up enjoying the hunt itself more than the final confrontation, even though speaking with Morrigan again was the entire point of the DLC. There’s also the references to Anders, Cullen (“Do you think he still carries a torch for her?” a mage says about him and my Warden, which made me laugh so much), and Kirkwall, which amused me since I played this after playing Dragon Age 2. Overall, I enjoyed it, but I’m looking forward to revisiting it with a character who romances Morrigan.

FFVII Replay: "Just the same as him…"

The next segment of Final Fantasy VII is important because it introduces Aeris. But first, Cloud, Tifa, and Barret go on another mission to blow up Mako Reactor #5. The scenery is exactly the same as the first mission, though getting to the reactor is a bit different because the gang triggers the alarm system on the train and has to jump off, ending up in some sewers. On the way in, there’s the first of many goofy and badly-explained minigames: in order to open the door to the reactor (the same door that Jesse hacked last time), Barret, Tifa, and Cloud all have to hit buttons at the same time; this requires the player to time a button press so that Cloud raises his arms and then hits the button at the same time Barret and Tifa do. It was an annoying and nonsensical attempt to add variety to the gameplay.

Once at the reactor itself, Cloud has his first freakout. There is a short flashback to a scene where Tifa, dressed like a cowgirl, discovers that her dad was killed by Sephiroth and declares, “I hate them all!!” (referring to Sephiroth, Shinra, and SOLDIER). This is the first actual glimpse of the Nibelheim Incident we get in FFVII, and I was surprised at how early on it happens. It’s shown very early on that something is not right with Cloud, and it adds a layer of mystery to the story. When he regains consciousness, Cloud just says, “… Tifa?” It seems as if this was either not a memory of his, or something that had been deeply buried that he had forgotten. But why?

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Playing Character Death

Over the New Year holiday weekend, I played a lot of video games, finishing two of them. Coincidentally, both of those games contained scenes where you play as a character in an unbeatable scenario, where the character is eventually killed (permanently). They were similar in a lot of ways, so I’d like to examine and compare them.

The games I’m talking about are Naruto Shippuuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, and obviously this post will contain huge spoilers for those games (and the Naruto Shippuuden anime, obviously).

Let’s start with Naruto. Naruto Shippuuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 (hereafter “Storm 2”) is a fighting game that includes a single-player adventure campaign that covers the first eight seasons (just under 200 episodes) of the Naruto Shippuuden anime. Storm 2 is the sequel to 2008’s Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm (“Storm 1”), which covered the entire original Naruto anime (aside from the last “filler” arc). The show has an enormous cast of ninjas that all have unique fighting styles and abilities, which makes it perfect source material for a fighting game, and a great many have been made. What makes the Storm games unique is that they attempt to most closely recreate not only the story of the anime, but the over-the-top battles that are the main draw of the series. In normal battles, each character has their own “Ultimate Jutsu,” and at the end of each story chapter is a multi-phase boss battle split up by quicktime events (here’s an example from early on in Storm 2).

Late in the game–here’s your second spoiler warning–Naruto’s mentor, Jiraiya, faces a former student who now goes by the name Pain. It’s a normal boss battle (here’s the video if you want to watch it), but there is an additional segment at the end:

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FFVII Replay: "The Planet's Dyin', Cloud"

I picked up Crisis Core again recently, and toward the end of the game, it catches up with some of the backstory sequences from Final Fantasy VII. I’ve only played FFVII once, a long time ago, so I decided to play it again to fill in the gaps of my hazy memory. I’ve only played the first hour or so so far, but what I wanted to remark upon was how great this opening hour is for setting up the world, plot, and a couple of the main characters of the game quickly, without sacrificing excitement.

In the opening scene of the game, our protagonist, Cloud, and a group of four people who call themselves AVALANCHE infiltrate and destroy a thing called a Mako Reactor. The group breaks codes on security doors, battles through the facility to the reactor where they face a giant scorpion robot, sets a bomb, escapes before the place explodes, and flees the area via train. Throughout all of this, we learn about:
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