sincere: DGM: Rhode stares in flat disbelief (just wow ;;)
Kay ([personal profile] sincere) wrote2014-11-29 11:10 pm

Inquisitioning Bioware

I'm at the part of the game where I have to pick between mages or templars with zero middle ground, and so I want to vent some frustration with the infamous Dragon Age mage-templar conflict.

I'm mostly going to be talking about the previous two games and I'll avoid talking about the specifics of the IC situation so it's spoiler-free under here. (This is only, like, the third plot quest anyway, I'm still super early in the game.)

It was only hinted at in DAO, but you still have to choose: do you agree with the mages here, or the templars? You can only side with one! Then in DA2 it is in your face. Mages and templars are both crazy assholes and a danger to everybody. You still have to pick one! :D

Now in DAI mages and templars are openly crazy assholes and a danger to everybody. Still, pick one! :D

I'm not frustrated that it's s a complex situation that isn't black and white with a clear villain and clear good guy. It's that I feel like Bioware is trying to sell me on a gray area that they don't really believe in.

From the very beginning we are painted a picture of oppressed and hated mages vs templars who are just trying to protect people from the dangers that mages pose. The series goes out of its way not to make it a "people fear us because we're awesome and they're scared of awesome" thing like with the X-Men; the reason people fear mages and need to protect ordinary people from mages is because mages are incredibly vulnerable to demon possession and then demons kill bitches. So there's a really good reason why everyone locks the mages up in a tower, but at the same time, it's not humane to go locking people in towers just because they were born differently than you.

So Bioware says, "Look at this shades of gray situation! Look at how both sides have things they're right about and things they're wrong about! Now we force you to choose from this totally level playing field."

Only it's not level -- it's never level. I have never even for a moment felt like Bioware isn't telling me that the correct answer is to choose the mages.

To begin with, there's a certain amount of bias just from the nature of the conflict. Templars have a reasonable fear on their side, but mages have freedoms and human rights on their side. In a real life version of this scenario a lot of people would absolutely side with the templars -- just look at recent US politics and our perspective on Muslims/immigrants/countries with that disease we've all already forgotten about -- but theoretically, in a situation where most people feel no actual fear, the fear-based response isn't going to be as powerful as core Western values like liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness. I have heard a lot of DA fans thumping their drums and trumpeting about freedom and human rights and noooot a lot of people talking about how the only correct solution is to enslave everyone who can use magic.

So I feel like to combat this impression, Bioware goes out of their way to underline the threat that mages pose. This results in it seeming like a weird percentage of the mages in Dragon Age are batshit insane. In DAO a power squabble resulted in the entire Circle tower being turned into a hellscape and we have tons of demon possession happening just left and right. In DA2 we have comically evil Tevinter magisters who rule their country with blood magic orgies on a bed made up of the backs of slaves and whatnot -- there's Quentin the necromancer engaging in serial murders and then hacking up corpses while keeping his victims alive via sorcery -- and then the First Enchanter (who tacitly endorsed Quentin to begin with) turns himself into a fucking abomination for really no good reason. Even your own party member mages are borderline psychopaths and/or terrorists!

And yet.

Anders bombs a building and now everyone is ready to kill every mage everywhere including your sister (/you) and you have the option to either say "Uh most of those mages didn't ruin everything" or "Yeah let's just kill everybody". That's not a gray area choice; that's practically a litmus test for being a sociopath. Murder people you know to have done nothing wrong and your own relatives, or side with the mages? Hmmm. That's a toughie. What a gray area.

And in both games you have this choice. In DAO, you get to decide "Try to save innocents trapped in the tower, or just kill fucking everybody?" Back up, Cullen. Let someone whose response to everything isn't "genocide" step up to the plate. Only, that wasn't much of a gray area at all, was it? That was a choice between "Try to save lives" and "Eh, let's just give up and nuke them all".

Why isn't there ever a choice that isn't "templars just love genociding mages: do you help them yes or no?" I don't recall ever being given a choice where mages have the upper hand and we're choosing between genociding templars or saving lives. It seems slightly... lopsided.

It doesn't help that you always have the mage perspective and not really the templar perspective. First of all, you can be a mage in every game but you can never be a templar (you can spec as one, but that's not the same thing). And in every single game you have mage party members -- each game has at least one apostate -- who champion the Mage Liberation Front and give you dirty looks if you say anything mean about mages and always, unfailingly tell you how unfair the Circle system is.

But all the characters who are affiliated in any way with the templars have sads about being templars. Alistair has already quit and he didn't like it to begin with. Cullen quits after spending two games with all these squishy human feelings about mages. Cassandra is an Ur-Templar and she has squishy human feelings about mages. Fenris just flat-out hates mages but he's not in any way affiliated with the templars, so his contribution to the mage-templar conflicts is 100% personal and not connected to any agreement with the templars -- and technically it's not even connected to the mages because his grudge is against all-powerful Tevinter magister slave-owners rather than the Circle mages, which means that even Fenris logically shouldn't approve of the systematic oppression of mages -- just killing them all.

The Super Vague DAI Commentary

This has brought this home again, both ICly (with our resident apostate loudly endorsing freedom -- although for the first time we also have a Circle mage loudly endorsing the Circle) and OOCly. For the first time I don't have to choose between saving lives and committing genocide, but they made up for that by making it a weirdly slanted scenario.

They introduced the templars being huge assholes and then said "You can go do the templar storyline now if you want (but then you can't get the mages)" -- but there's no imperative reason to do so. Then they introduced the mages via them begging you to help with a convoluted plotline that has multiple sympathetic characters and a threat to the very fabric of reality. Then they said, "You can go do the mage storyline now if you want. Or you can go get the templars! Pick one."

They gave me every reason to want to side with the mages and no reason to want to pander to the jerk who sneered down his nose at me during the ten seconds the templars were on the screen. Who the hell would just let the fabric of reality sort itself out to go make nice with templars who don't like you? I'm sure that if you're not roleplaying it out in your head you can make whatever call you feel like, but I'm always trying to do what I feel makes sense for my character, and I can't think of a sane way for her to walk away from the mages.

I don't mind gray areas and I like the idea of the mage-templar conflict, but in execution it feels like Bioware is telling me there's a gray area but not bothering to actually give me any gray to be in the area of. Whenever I get to make a choice it's always black and white. "Pick mages or what the hell is wrong with you?"

This definitely seems to be the consensus of the fandom -- at least the portion of it that doesn't think that both sides are more trouble than they're worth. Playing mages, siding with the mages, passionately defending mages on forums... That seems to be the order of the day.

Slightly tangentially, I was kind of offended because I saw a guide suggest playing as a mage because that will make the story feel more personal. If you want to play a mage because they're fun more power to you, but you know what else can be personal? Being the everyday person who is caught up in an increasingly deadly war between explosive anarchists and self-righteous assholes.

Also, I was expecting a lot more inquisitioning for my Inquisition.
starsinyourwake: tea (Default)

[personal profile] starsinyourwake 2014-12-01 08:39 pm (UTC)(link)
That sounds unsatisfying to me. :/