I’m Not Calling You a Liar: Complicated Canon & Unreliable Narrators in ‘Dragon Age II’

Dragon Age 2

About a month ago, I finally gave up trying to finish Dragon Age: Origins and just skipped straight on to Dragon Age II—and Maker’s breath, am I ever glad I did, because it was amazing. A character-driven, darker and grittier sequel set in one unholy mess of a city over the span of ten years? You can keep all your epic quests and your goofy Grey Wardens, I’m going to go hang out with the gang in The Hanged Man for the rest of my days.

Naturally, one of the first things I did once I finished was to go online and try to find all the memes and fanart and things that I’d scrolled past in confusion before playing the game, but which would now finally make sense. Coming straight out of a playthrough that had dominated my free time for the entire past month, it was pretty jarring to discover that, of course, not everyone had the same playthrough as me. Most of what I found was Garret Hawke/Fenris shipping, or people drooling over Anders, or Cassandra and Varric Dragon Age: Inquisition stuff that was confusing at best and spoilery at worst.

What I was seeing wasn’t my playthrough; the warrior Marian Hawke taking names and snarking at people with Varric at her side, who sided with the mages at every turn out of undying love for her sister, and who really thought she could’ve smoothed out everything with the Arishok bloodshed-free if he’d just come by The Hanged Man for a drink or nine.

Ultimately, I was left grumpily pondering one of the fundamental questions of fandom, especially with interactive media: what made my playthrough any more or any less legitimate than all these others?

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Lost in Translation: When You Don’t Know the Lore, Substitute Your Own

Dragon Age
Elsa (Frozen) in Dragon Age: Inquisition

I am the first to say it when I don’t understand something. I know some people wait, hoping that they gain understanding before admitting defeat. When it comes to video games, I will constantly shout out, “What is happening right now?!” If it is a video game with a long history, a drawn-out background, or three other games behind it that basically require you to study the lore like you’re taking a final exam, I say no. That’s probably why I love Crash Bandicoot and some of the oldies, because I can easily pick it up without needing to do research, although a little backstory may enhance your gameplay.

This is a common occurrence for Dragon Age, which is something my sister introduced me to, so I blame her for my current fixation. If you are like me and don’t know anything about Bioware games or Dragon Age lore, then you know what a large project this actually is. This journey has taken a little over a year for me to fully grasp—however, I think I cracked the code on how to jump into a beloved series.

My journey really took off when I created Elsa Lavellan, an ice mage. Yes, that Elsa. As I had my trusty sister beside me to explain in basic terms what larger plot points were or the importance of certain decision-making dialogue, I chose to make these choices not as myself, but as another character that I knew well.

Elsa is a diplomatic character, understanding the importance of networking with nobles and putting the safety of her people above all else. This made things easy conversationally—always making sure that Elsa responded in the kindest way possible. Obviously, in larger plot points, this was harder to maintain, but I saw each major chapter through the eyes and temperament of a familiar character, thus it was easier to understand the lore.

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Your Bioware Crushes & Squishes: ‘Dragon Age’ Bonus Edition

Dragon Age

Welcome to “Your Bioware Crushes & Squishes,” where I report on the FemHype crew’s favorite Bioware romances and friendships! Both the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series are near and dear to many of our hearts, so I thought I’d throw a virtual sleepover of sorts where we talk about our ~tru luvs~ and brush each other’s hair. Romance not your cup of tea? No worries! We’re gonna talk about our best buds, too, since friendships are just as valid. After discussing heavy theory and social issues, sometimes it’s nice to just kick back, relax, and cry about video game characters.

You might have seen the poll that Jillian and Paige were spreading around on FemHype’s social media accounts where you, dear reader, were asked to spill the beans about your favorite Dragon Age characters to smooch and befriend. One hundred and fifty of you (myself included) chimed in. After crunching some numbers, I put together the definitive rankings for FemHype’s favorite Thedasian romances and friendships. Respondents were able to choose more than one option, so the percentages listed will not add up to 100.

Today, we’re wrapping up the Dragon Age half of the series with the third installment where we explore your responses to the poll’s open-ended questions. Cheers!

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Magic & Magpies: The Real Reason Why Varric Isn’t Romanceable

Dragon Age

I’m a sucker for tragic romances. You know the kind I’m talking about: war-torn setting, impossible odds, and two people in the middle of it all without a clue as to how they got there. They wouldn’t have even met had a series of events not thrust them together in the first place, but when they do meet, it’s with the earth-shattering realization that they were meant to fall in love and change the world. Probably in that order.

Countless articles have been written about Varric Tethras, and rightly so—he’s our infamous narrator, the voice that navigates us through each dizzying chapter until the story’s completion. Many Dragon Age fans have speculated that Varric is asexual or aromantic, and given the complete dearth of asexual characters in video games, I fully respect (and encourage!) fans to identify a beloved character with whatever they so choose. It’s also perfectly reasonable to headcanon Varric anywhere on the sexuality spectrum given the fact that we have so little information on him in this regard, and I’m certainly not here to fire those theories out of the sky with anyone’s crossbow. Keep on keeping on, fandom.

For my part, while playing through Dragon Age 2 on our YouTube channel, I couldn’t help but notice something a little too intriguing to be overlooked. You’re all well-acquainted with Varric’s near-constant chatter every time you bring him along in the party. Regardless of what character combination you decide on, Varric seems to be free of bias, and shares snippets of his ongoing tales of adventure and romance as you stumble your way through Kirkwall. Not surprising to anyone, right? Except, the thing I couldn’t get over is, Varric sounds a lot like he’s dropping hints for us about his own personal story—the one we almost never hear about. I think he’s talking about himself. And once you start really paying attention, the reason why Varric isn’t a romance option becomes glaringly obvious.

Before you venture any further, though! Please note that none of these theories will be taking the DLCs into account.

Continue reading “Magic & Magpies: The Real Reason Why Varric Isn’t Romanceable”

Long Way Home: ‘Dragon Age 2’ on Immigration & Identity

Dragon Age

you broke the ocean in
half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you.

[“Immigrant” written by Nayyirah Waheed]

Dragon Age 2 is the story of immigration. It’s dressed up in the high fantasy that defines the series, but it portrays the struggles of forced migration, acculturation, and xenophobia closely and honestly. In fact, the strengths and weaknesses of the game’s design are far more harmonious when viewed through this lens. The themes of fate and choice — of defining your place in the world of Kirkwall — are at the heart of the plot and an immigrant’s journey. In much the same way, you could view the limitations of scope and content as a reflection of the harsh realities of forging a new life from precious few resources.

From the first moment of the game, Hawke is characterized by their migrant status. We’re given precious little information about their life before, because all that matters now is that they must start a new one. During the game’s prologue, narrative and mechanics conspire to push Hawke and their family into the unknown, far away from their home. Fires block paths, a horde of monsters lurk just behind, and the only company on the road are other survivors, just as desperate and lost.

Hawke has no choice but to keep moving, further and further away from everything they have known. And they must pay a terrible price for this journey, one that they didn’t even want to take; a sibling, an ally who they may even have to kill with their own hands; and their agency, as they are forced to enter a deal with a potentially malevolent force in exchange for safe passage.

Even though the prologue is packaged for the player as a tutorial on controls and an introduction to the game’s larger story, it reflects so much of an immigrant’s struggle. It’s The Blight that drives Hawke away — one of those faceless, generally evil plot devices that you find in fantasy stories like these — but it could have easily been corruption, violence, hopelessness, or one of the many true evils that we find in our world (see: “How This Happened” by LatinoUSA).

Worse, the sudden and horrible trauma of the journey is true to life as well (see: The Beast: Riding The Rails And Dodging Narcos On The Migrant Trail by Óscar Martínez). Even Hawke’s precarious deal with Flemeth, a mysterious being who offers aid at an uncomfortable cost, mirrors reality (see: “El coyote” by Radio Ambulante). 

Continue reading “Long Way Home: ‘Dragon Age 2’ on Immigration & Identity”

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