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Everything I Need to Know, I Learned From Dragon Age

It’s no secret that I’m a gamer. If it is a secret, it’s a pretty crap one. Ever since my early infatuation with the Diablo franchise and scaring the bejeezus out of myself clearing various dens and dungeons, I’ve had a thing for fantasy RPGs. There’s something about them I can’t get enough of. And when Dragon Age: Origins came out a few years back, I fell all over myself trying to get my paws on a copy.

I’ve probably played the entire game through about five times. And I’m the type who does the super-thorough playthroughs. I’m a little bit of an achievement junkie. I think for DA:O, I’m only missing three total, including the downloadable content.


And don’t you forget it.

Even if you don’t play video games at all, there is a lot to be learned from the world of Dragon Age. I’ve kept a little running sourcebook of lessons I’ve taken from the game, and now I will share them with you! Enjoy!

Lesson the First: It doesn’t matter if you’re born a human noble or a lowly casteless dwarf in Orzammar, you can still become a hero. 

Some of the most inspiring people on the planet came from humble beginnings.  It doesn’t so much matter where you come from, but the decisions that you make along the way to where you’re going. If you happen to be a casteless dwarf, you might have to work twice as hard to get half as far, but origins don’t dictate destiny. I may have been raised with a hole in the ground for a toilet, but now I have one that goes flush, so hey, people can move up in the world.

Lesson the Second: You might think that demon-possessed boy just needs to be killed for everyone’s sake, but the easiest way might not be the best way — and you might never win the love of Alistair if you opt for the express decision.

Sometimes there are no good choices. Sometimes life is one big, fat, blurry gray area. You might have to choose between paying for rent and paying for heat, or paying for a phone or the meds Aunt Gertrude needs to stop hearing voices. On occasion, you might be forced to take the easy route and offend someone you care about — or prove you care about them by doing it the hard way anyway.

My secret Dragon Age lover. Don't tell the hubby. Gorgeousness brought to you by

Lesson the Third: Choices Matter in the Big Picture. You can side with the werewolves, the Templars, and Prince Bhelen if you want, but then you’ll have to face a horde of grotesque Darkspawn with only melee fighters, and then where will you be?

I know, I know, something about trees and forests and how you can’t see one through the other, but perspective is important. Take it from someone who thought it would be a good idea to drop $120,000 on an undergraduate degree (which I paid for myself with loans and scholarships) and then go into a program (let’s call that program Smeach por ‘Murica) that required me to take on more debt and ended up with a net worth of around -$80,000 at 27. Each one of those choices wasn’t horrible, but they add up to the cost of a mortgage…well, a mortgage if you happen to live anywhere outside of a major metropolis.

You might think you’re being compassionate and open-minded by letting the cursed werewolves get their revenge on the Dalish elves for years of slaughter (and, you know, making them werewolves in the first place), but you might need the Dalish later. And their longbows. I’m just saying.

Who wouldn't want to side with this gal? She's all foresty. Image via

Lesson the Fourth: Sometimes you have to say the right things or you’ll ruin the chances of a romantic relationship. If you’re going to insult something close to your target’s heart, like say…Duncan, you have to expect Alistair to be a bit miffed. And to not like you. And if it’s too much trouble to be yourself with someone, you should be looking for someone else. Like Morrigan, maybe. Or Bodahn.

Everyone says to be yourself, but people seldom listen. I remember when I was in junior high and I decided I liked someone. I barely knew him, but by golly, I was going to like him. Because of the tingles. Turned out, we had less in common than a dragon and a nug-wrangler, and it took me a solid ten years to learn that particular lesson.

If you’re looking for love, you’re not going to find the love you want if you’re busy being someone you’re not. Worst case scenario, you succeed and then end up miserable for the rest of your life and wither away hating the game you pigeon-holed yourself into.

Yeah, don’t do that. Bad idea.

Aw, look at the wee nug. He's so...pig-like. And bunny-like. With a hint of rat. Image via

Lesson the Fifth: Sometimes the hardest job of all is left to you. Sometimes the choices you made in turn make it so there are no other Grey Wardens to slay the archdemon, leaving you to sacrifice yourself for the world. Maybe there is another Warden, but you can’t let him or her make that sacrifice. Or maybe you kept them alive so you wouldn’t have to be the one. 

When it all comes down to it, we choose our paths. Whether we started out a noble or a nug-wrangler, where we end up depends on our choices, and we’re the ones who have to lie in the beds we make. Whether we succeed or fail is in our own power. Sure, sometimes a meteor will fall from the sky and make you the owner of the best star-metal sword in the land without even earning it, and sometimes that same meteor will crash right into the house you’ve so painfully constructed and wipe out your life’s work with no notice, but we always have control over our choices. For good or ill, we’re steering this tugboat.

So when the credits roll and the world is safe from the Darkspawn threat, who do you want to be? Do you want to be the Hero of Ferelden who beat all the odds to push back the tides of evil? Do you want to seize the throne and beat down anyone who challenges you? Or do you want to end up dying in quiet ignonimy? Whatever you choose, choose it and do it.

But hey, I’m just a gamer. Your life’s up to you.


Video Game Fantasy and the Evolution of Experience

I’m a gamer. When I’m not writing, reading, or hanging out with my husband, I can often be found in the world of Kirkwall (Dragon Age 2) or the various cities of Albion (Fable), or sometimes in Renaissance Italy (Assassins Creed). Right now, the flavor of the decade might just be Skyrim.

As I’ve been playing with my new Kinect and sweating appropriately, it’s made me think quite a lot about some of the other possible venues for fantasy writing. Namely, video games. If you’ve ever played a large scale, open world RPG, you’ll know just how much writing and world building goes into those things. I get tingly thinking of writing for Bioware (home of Dragon Age and Mass Effect), and the more I play Skyrim, the more I’m convinced that the writers have a ball down there in Bethesda. I’ve even met a few of them — I think I have their autographs floating around somewhere.

I got a taste of where fantasy RPGs might be headed when I played the in-store demo of Puss in Boots at Best Buy. You slash your arm like a sword, claw things, jump, etc. In Kinect Adventures, you dodge obstacles, jump over things, duck under other things, and reach to collect pins and gems. If this sounds easy, it’s not. I broke a sweat, and my arms are very sore after a couple days of this.

As someone who has always loved the sword and sorcery type of games, the idea of slicing, shooting, or slamming enemies with magic is intriguing, to say the least. In Puss in Boots, you can jump to pounce an opponent, then scratch your hands over and over to claw him. HA! And don’t even get me started on Fruit Ninja.

As I played Skyrim with a controller last night, I thought about how it might end up, with our bodies going through these adventures. Granted, without the long miles of walking and the sleep/food deprivation, but I think it’s safe to say that thanks to Kinect (which destroys the Wii, by the way), gone is the gamer couch potato. Oh, I’m sure he’ll turn up here and there with some crumbs stuck on his butt and a ghostly pallor, but no longer is “gamer” synonymous with “lazy bum.”

As someone who has been a gamer for a long time, I neither take offense or mean any insult to my peers on that count. We all know what the stereotype is, and we accept it.

How cool is it to move your hands and see something respond on screen? Well…very. To slash at something and have it fall into chunks in front of you (Fruit, silly…not people. Yet.), to punch and kick and move your body to play a video game? Extremely. It’s not the equivalent of a kung fu class, but it sure as hell beats having your blood congeal in your arse for twelve hours while you play. It’s tiring — I played Kinect Adventures for a half an hour and had to take a break. I’m sure games will still be released with controller options, but I’m really curious to see where the world of the fantasy RPG goes from here. For me, all I see in the future is an evolving, evocative experience of game play — and I can get behind that.

And if I can’t make a living as a novelist, maybe Bioware could find a place for a fantasy-loving gamer-writer.

Hey, I can dream.

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