Finding Family in Dragon Age: Inquisition

Editors Note: Emma Osborne introduces the September topic for Dream Foundrys Official Media Exploration Club. Please stop by and say hello on the forum, and let us know what your thoughts are regarding our September discussion topic, Dragon Age: Inquisition. We look forward to seeing you there!

Video games provide a unique way of both telling stories and of exploring families and character dynamics. Games embed players in worlds filled with cities to explore, people to meet, quests to pursue. BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition is a game rich with history, with culture, with politics, and of course, with many forms of families.

One of the beautiful things about games is that the player can make active choices in order to discover aspects of the world and the narrative. Story, within the game, can be short and impactful (for example, the Twine game queers in love at the end of the world by anna anthropy), or as is the case with many AAA games, it can span 70+ hours of play time. This provides a staggering amount of room for richness and detail. Dragon Age: Inquisition provides enormous scope for exploring the characters and mythology of Thedas in an active way. The player often learns by doing—by exploring, talking, completing side quests, or working through the main narrative quest. There are also personal quests for the major characters, with satisfying B plots and miniquests tying back into the main narrative.

Dragon Age: Inquisition was selected for discussion in large part because of the complexity of the relationship dynamics within the game. There are many races and classes, e.g. humans, the Qunari, elves, and dwarves, but even within the elvish and dwarven cultures there are nuanced and defined groups. For example, the elves are represented both by the nomadic Dalish elves, but also by servants seen in the Empress’s Winter Palace. We see elvish gods, elvish magic, and even elves who don’t adhere to any particular aspect of elvish culture. When it comes to dwarves, we see the somewhat outcast surface-dwellers versus dwarven traders, miners, and guilds.

Mages are also marginalized within the game, but we see various examples of their status—Dorian is noble and foreign. He hails from Tevinter, where mages are the ruling class. Solas is an elf and a non-Circle mage (a “rebel” mage) but also does not fit within what we know to be the standard elf experiences (not a city elf or a Dalish elf). Vivienne, the most powerful mage in the game, is rich, aristocratic, and part of the “accepted” Mage class (i.e. a Circle Mage) and carries strong political influence in both Thedas and Orlais.

The characters have many different experiences and histories but all work together to close the fade rifts and stop demons from attacking people. The characters learn from each other, argue and disagree in ways that families often do. Many of them have established relationships from earlier in the games’ history, e.g. Cassandra Pentaghast and Leliana are the former Left and Right Hands of the Divine—the lead warrior and chief spy of the game’s Pope character.

Aside from the main group, which is definitely a family, there are many smaller “families” within the game, such as Bull’s Chargers, a mercenary group who look out for each other and fight together. The Iron Bull, their leader (and a Qunari spy) saved Krem (a landmark transman character) in a tavern brawl and lost an eye for it. The Chargers are a diverse group made up of elves, dwarves, and humans.

The Seekers of Truth—an elite order of Templars—are another family within the game. Seeker Cassandra retains immense loyalty to the Seeker Knight Commander, when in her personal quest, she must root out corruption in the ranks. Dorian and Tevinter mage Alexius are a family of sorts, with Alexius mentoring Dorian in his mage studies. Sarcastic elf Sera has her crew of Red Jennies, who combine intelligence from the unnoticed workers of the world. They’re an informal group but are nevertheless united as many small cogs in a vast machine. Varric and Hawke have a family relationship that carries over from DA:2.

There is also an undeniable queer element to the families in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Many of the main characters are queer—Dorian is a gay man, Sera a lesbian. The Iron Bull is pansexual, and Leliana was able to be romanced by any gender in Dragon Age: Origins. In the real world, queer and trans folks have a way of finding each other, of seeking out people who become their family throughout their lives. The Dragon Age games reflect this beautifully, with the characters forming bonds out of a common goal, but also with genuine affection for each other, which can often be seen in the banter the characters engage in when out in the field.

I look forward to exploring the nuances of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and discussing the elements that resonate with folks on the forum!

Editors Note: Interested in commenting? Tell us your thoughts are regarding our September discussion topic, Dragon Age: Inquisition, on the forum. We look forward to seeing you there!

OMEC: Discuss Firefly with SL Huang

Editor's Note: You can check out the forum topic here, but you'll need to log on to post.

There’s a fantastic essay by Hugo-winning writer John Chu about using non-English languages in English-language fiction. I come back to it every time I include multiple languages in a piece. John details the challenge of how “nonfluent readers must never feel as though something is missing but fluent readers must never feel as though anything is extraneous.”

The whole essay is very much worth reading, but there is one section I find myself thinking about during so many other creative circumstances as well, not just multilingual ones. And that’s the parallel story John tells about the composition of the musical Carousel:

The new theatrical orchestration of the Carousel Waltz obviously had to match Carousel‘s existing pit instrumentation, but Rodgers also needed an orchestration suitable for an upcoming concert performance. […] Rodgers wanted one orchestration which incorporated a set of additional instruments. Without those instruments, the instrumentation matched that of the Carousel pit. With those instruments, the instrumentation matched that of a concert orchestra.

The result had to be an orchestration that sounded complete and satisfying either way. Those additional instruments had to sound integral to the waltz when they were used. The waltz couldn’t sound like it’s missing something when they weren’t used.

Don Walker is quoted as saying, “This was the hardest thing I ever had to do.”

I think about this story when I’m writing about anything some of my audience will have a background in and others won’t, like math. I also think about it when I’m writing sequels, or other books in the same universe—how it has to make sense to people who know nothing and also not bore people who’ve read everything.

And I think about it when watching the first two episodes of Firefly.

When the network declined to air episode 1, both episodes 1 and 2 had to act as a pilot episode, letting the audience know exactly what was going on with the world and exactly who the characters and relationships were. But they also had to function sequentially, so that on an eventual DVD release, it wouldn’t seem like episode 2 was repeating information.

And they had to do this using the media techniques of film—namely, dialogue and audiovisuals—to accomplish all of this exposition.

In my opinion, they do a smashing job of this. Whatever other criticisms can be made of Firefly, the fact that the first two episodes are both able to introduce and establish an enormous main cast of characters and relationships—in addition to the world they live in—is a heck of a feat. And it doesn’t feel at all repetitive.

When I think about writing those teleplays, I almost faint with how difficult it feels. In both, it’s specifically established that Kaylee is the ship’s mechanic and also that she’s the sunny heart of the crew. In both, it’s slipped into conversation that Zoe and Wash are married, without it seeming like an “as you know, Bob” bit of dialogue. In both episodes we get told very clearly that Book is a preacher, and in both episodes we’re also given hints of his mysterious past. We get the history of the world and Mal and Zoe’s role in the war and long history together, and we’re shown and told exactly what kind of world we’re signing up for. And with nine people who function as a found family, we get many, many relationships established, sometimes visually, sometimes through dialogue, sometimes both.

If I were to make a list of everything they were clearly trying to establish and squeeze into each of two different episodes, ones that had different stories but that also had to function as one following the other, and tried to write those…well, I’d melt into an intimidated mess. But Firefly manages to leverage the techniques of filmmaking to do all of this to great effect, without it being at all obvious to the casual viewer.

I could keep going with examples, but instead, I want people to come discuss it with me! How does Firefly do this level of establishment of character, story, relationships, and world, and do it twice, using the techniques of film? Come nerd out about it! Or about anything else Firefly-related or film-related you’d like to talk about!

Let’s get our geek on and tear apart exactly how those two episodes drew so many of us in so effectively.

Editor's Note: You can check out the forum topic here, but you'll need to log on to post. Personally I'm excited to talk about Firefly any chance I get! I look forward to seeing you there.