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Dragon Age: Origins

I know I’m late to the party, but I recently finished playing Dragon Age: Origins, the fantasy RPG from Bioware.

God, what an amazing game.

It really has it all. An immersive world. A completely absorbing plot. Lively and engaging characters. Moral choices that are grey and darker grey. All of those things would be enough to make me very, very happy to spend 50+ hours lost in this story.

But the game was really pushed over the top into “favourite thing ever” by how inclusive it was for all kinds of gamers. Although it’s not perfect, it is definitely one of the most feminist and most progressive fantasy games I’ve ever had the pleasure to play.

The plot is fully inclusive of female players

In fact, some parts of the game seem more immersive to me if you play as a female character (although that may be a misconception, since male characters may have just as compelling plotlines that didn’t get to play). The only character you have to keep in your part is a sweet, awkward warrior named Alistair. You might like him or hate him, but if you choose to take the romance option with him, you unlock what I believe to be the most intriguing and morally difficult plot in the game.

You get a fantastic team of female characters

Even if the player choose a male protagonist, they will end up with a team of competent, well-developed female characters in their team, with a wide range of personalities and skills. Rebel mage Morrigan is fairly ruthless and disdainful of weakness and religion, and her motives for helping you in your adventure remain one of the major mysteries of the story, while ex-bard Leliana is sweet, devout, a great storyteller and deeply feminine with a love of shoes, cute hairstyles and giggling about your romantic adventures. You even get an elderly woman in your team (shock! Horror!) in the wise healing mage Wynne, a somewhat nosy character with strong morals and a fairly wicked sense of humor. Outside of your party, female characters play a similarly significant role, as you encounter Morrigan’s powerful and inscrutable mother Flemeth, the dignified and ruthless Queen Anora, corrupted dwarven hero Branka, and on and on and on. As it behooves you to interact with your party members as much as possible, and as the party members have hilarious and insightful conversations between themselves as you walk through the game, the Bechdel test isn’t even in question.

No bikini chainmail

The game has good armour options for both male and female characters. Although my rogue’s light leather armor was slightly cleavage-y, I never got the sense that my character’s life was at risk in order to up the eye-candy factor, and warriors wear full heavy armor regardless of gender. The only character with truly skimpy clothing was one of the companions, a mage named Morrigan, and her clothing choices made sense for her character.

Same-sex relationships are possible

Two of the four romance-able characters are bisexual. Although this could be taken further (if there are two exclusively straight characters, why are there not any exclusively gay characters?), it’s definitely more than a step in the right direction for RPGs, and it allows the player to fully insert him or herself into the world, or roleplay a character who is something other than straight white male.

The game acknowledges discrimination (but doesn’t let it hold you back)

Part of the plot is built around fantasy discrimination (against elves and mages, as well as a dwarven caste system), and if you play as a female protagonist, some characters will comment on it or underestimate your ability as a result. This biases don’t stop you doing anything in the game (even the in-game brothel caters to all individuals and all tastes), but they add a somewhat realistic dynamic to your progression through the game world, as well as the ability to force more prejudiced allies to reconsider their assumptions with your general competence and bad-assery.

 

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

4 thoughts on “Dragon Age: Origins

  1. Dragon Age was a great game, particularly in the ways that it dealt with character interaction. At times, though, I felt that learning about your party’s lives was forced, like you had to subject each one of them to an interrogation. Still it was a welcome change from how many RPGs have dealt with gender, class, and race issues.

    1. There was definitely something strange about the repeated “Can I ask you a question?” “Ask away!” “Never mind” you end up cycling through every time you wanted to check if new conversation options have opened up. I think the conversations that were initiated by other characters when you returned to camp were usually more compelling and more natural than randomly stopping for an interrogation in the middle of fighting darkspawn. I’m not sure if the system in Awakening, where they respond to items in the environment, worked better though… it was too easy to miss interesting interactions that way.

  2. “Two of the four romance-able characters are bisexual. Although this could be taken further (if there are two exclusively straight characters, why are there not any exclusively gay characters?), it’s definitely more than a step in the right direction for RPGs”

    It irks me a little bit that you consider including gay characters to be somehow MORE inclusive than including bisexual characters. Google “bisexual erasure” if you wonder why. I’d be all for both gay and bi characters being included, of course.

    1. I wasn’t suggesting that there should be gay characters *instead* of bisexual characters. However, I do believe that, since there are exclusively straight characters, it would be better to have exclusively gay characters as well as bisexual characters. The fact that the only non-straight characters are bisexual seems a little off to me, not because bisexual characters don’t seem diverse or inclusive enough, but because it feels like the writers thought it would be a little too extreme to include characters who couldn’t be in a heterosexual relationship in the game.

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