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.

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Transparent excuse to talk about Dragon Age 3

Wired has an article up today headlined “BioWare: Next Dragon Age Will Draw From Skyrim.” I have… mixed feelings! I love Skyrim. It’s fun as shit and exploring is genuinely fun; it’s always exciting when that chord plays and “MARKARTH DISCOVERED” or whatever pops up on the screen. But ultimately I don’t find it very interesting; I’m not going to write five (or even one?) posts about it when I’m finished playing it. It’s just a good time burning undead and looting dungeons and killing dragons.

I expect more from Dragon Age, especially after DA2. I expect deep characters and actual politics and not a little bit of tragedy. I expect playing a Dragon Age game to be like reading a good medieval fantasy novel, not a Lord of the Rings knockoff or someone’s D&D novelization.

This part intrigues me:

The story of Dragon Age II took place across a decade-long span in the city of Kirkwall, allowing players to see how the city and characters evolved over the years. Muzyka hinted that the next Dragon Age game could take that narrative structure and apply it to a variety of areas, rather than a single city.

I ~LOVE~ the idea of a game taking place over the course of a decade. I was excited when Assassin’s Creed 2 did it, but that game didn’t do much with it. In DA2, it suffered from poor/rushed implementation. No, the guy saying “I’ve been waiting here all day!” for six years is not clever commentary on bureaucracy. But the idea itself is brilliant. If we could concretely see how the world changes based on the events the protagonist is involved in, that would be just fantastic. I just worry that by making a huge world map, larger than DA:O and DA2 combined, it will be impossible to implement the kind of detail that this would require.

Not to mention, I hope characterization doesn’t suffer–it’s what I play DA for. Overall, I just think that sacrificing depth for breadth (face it, it’s impossible to do both; there has to be a balance) is a bad way to go, or at least the way that most other games go. Seeing a game go the Majora’s Mask route and make a small but deep world is something I would love to see more games try, even if it doesn’t completely succeed on the first try.

Also on my wishlist: a canon female protagonist. Both games and all three books have canon male protagonists and it would be really nice if there were some important female heroes in Thedas. (And a rainbow unicorn I can ride to work, while we’re making outrageous requests of Santa Claus.)

What do you want to see in DA3? Where do you want to go?

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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Supporting Your Cosplayers

So, BioWare is having a fanart contest for Dragon Age 2: Mark of the Assassin, and to help out, they released reference shots and textures of Tallis, and linked to the costume designer’s blog where he describes in detail the whole process of making the costume. Considering cosplaying still gets shat on by a pretty wide swath of gamers, it’s pretty awesome to me that they are actually reaching out to cosplayers, which I don’t think any other game company has done in any sort of public, widespread way. Sucker Punch sent my partner some concept art when he wrote to them about cosplaying a Reaper, and I’m pretty sure Final Fantasy X-2 was deliberately made to be cosplayer candy, but that’s about it as far as I know.

But what’s interesting about BioWare, the Dragon Age team in particular, is that they aren’t just providing references and having contests, they’re keeping cosplayers in mind when it comes to the actual design of the game. Here’s Mike Laidlaw on Twitter:

The key is to strike a power chord between followers looking great and cosplay-able and player agency. Plans: I has them.

Glad to hear it! I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

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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And I'm through believing

Fantasy religions in games aren’t typically very nuanced. Whether they are stereotyped as righteous and pure crusaders of good or corrupt and evil cults, they are often depicted as being literally true–gods speak directly their followers, if not make actual appearances. Praying at an altar or shrine often confers some sort of real bonus or blessing, suggesting an actual source of power. At the very least, there generally isn’t much that outright contradicts what a given fantasy religion has to say about a world, sometimes because the fantasy religion is being used as a conduit to info-dump at the player. In the Dragon Age series, the Chantry starts out as a way to explain parts of the world of Thedas to the player, but the player is quickly and increasingly encouraged to challenge the Chantry’s teachings.

(Spoilers for DA:O, Awakening, DA2, and the Legacy DLC to follow.)

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