Choose Your Party: What It Means to Build a Family in RPGs

Mass Effect

Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect: What do they all have in common, other than being Bioware games? Well, it doesn’t take a genius to look at them and see. There’s one customizable main character of varying genders who has a mission. This character is widely considered to be a hero, but they face some big problems throughout the games. They have to travel, fight, and delegate. Not too different at all, really.

The most important similarity between these games is the companions. In KOTOR, you have to pick up a few beings of varying species and allegiances. In Mass Effect, this is even more involved, and there are many companions you can find throughout all three games. There are even DLCs with more companions and more fun to be had with them. The best example of this is the Citadel DLC for the third game, which is essentially a tribute to the companions and their relationship with Shepard. In Dragon Age (I’m only on Origins, so bear with me here), your companions are of the varying groups and species that should hate each other, but never seem to any more than Morrigan constantly insulting Alistair.

This is the real gift of these games: You get to make a family. 

With KOTOR, your family is little and rather messed up with lots of fights. Juhani, a Cathar Jedi Padawan, is naturally repulsed by Canderous, a Mandalorian warrior (the Mandalorians destroyed most of her people). Canderous loves to make fun of Bastila, the other Jedi Padawan aboard your ship, the Ebon Hawk. Jolee is an old man who likes to pretend he’s senile and has lived alone far too long, Carth has serious trust and paranoia issues after losing his planet, Mission is a teenager (scary, right?), Zaalbar is a depressed Wookiee, HK-47 likes to kill things more than any droid should, and T3-M4 only communicates in ‘beeps’ and ‘boops.’ Somehow, adding only one character to the group—your character—can make all these misfits form a very tight-knit family. 

Similarly, Mass Effect has lots of characters who should not get along. Wrex and Garrus should hate each other, but they become the best of friends and make really dumb jokes upon reunion. Joker actually did hate EDI for a long time, but they end up being able to fall in love, given proper encouragement. In Dragon Age: Origins, Morrigan and Alistair may bicker all the time and Sten may be as friendly as a boulder, but I’m very sure they would all die to defend each other—especially the dog. 

In all these games, your companions are found over time and differ throughout the series. I can’t really talk much about the Dragon Age series yet, but in Mass Effect and KOTOR, the friends and family you make throughout the game are really amazing. All these misfits with amazing potential finally realize it through the playable character’s guidance.

Mass Effect

Of course, there is the romance aspect in all of these games. In KOTOR, there is not very many options, but it did introduce the first lesbian romance option in a video game ever, involving Juhani. Still, other than a male character and Bastila, there is no kiss and no love scene. The second game is even worse, with half the galaxy interested in your character but, due to the game never actually being finished, nothing ever goes very far with anyone. 

Mass Effect is much better about this, and so far Dragon Age is too. They both offer lots of options, seemingly for all different preferences. There is not even a need for any romance, either. They are all complete games (KOTOR 2 with the Restored Content Mod) when you’re just really good friends with all your companions. The options for these different relationships is wonderful and shows real diversity.

For someone with difficulty branching out and making new friends, this is a wonderful experience. It not only shows us that great friends can be made anywhere and at any time, but it teaches us that we can. How easy is it to make friends with Garrus Vakarian, the dorkiest Turian alive? Or Tali’Zorah, Leliana, Canderous, and all the others? These games give us enjoyable stories we guide and choose, but they also give us friends and family, and in doing so, teach us how to do it without a computer mouse or controller in our hands.

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One Comment on “Choose Your Party: What It Means to Build a Family in RPGs

  1. Last summer I binged through all three Mass Effect games and got totally immersed in the world. When I finally finished the last game, I ended up feeling this profound sense of loss over the family that I had just left behind. Bioware gets an A+ for world building and giving their audience so many families.

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