On (virtual) friendship

Notes on Dragon Age: Origins #3

If a game gives me the ability to rescue a dog, I will always, always rescue the dog.

After Ostagar, I traveled to Redcliffe. Yes, yes, there was a bit in the middle with Morrigan’s mom, and some village or other outside of Ostagar, But traveling to Redcliffe felt like the next decision of significance.

And maybe that’s worth taking just a second to talk about—there are places in Dragon Age: Origins that feel to me sort of rote. I’m occasionally bored and/or in a hurry, and the game says “Nope. You need to take care of this first.” I’m not even always sure exactly what “this” is, and maybe it’s just that I don’t have the movement down yet. Given how much time I’ve spent with Mass Effect’s galaxy map, I’m finding Dragon Age’s world map suprisingly non-intuititive. Maybe it’s that I’m used to walking around an overworld in RPGs. Maybe it’s that mass relay hyperspace jumps help some part of my head wrap better around the discontinuities in BioWare’s large-scale geography.

Maybe I’ll just get used to it.

But anyway, I’ve picked up a couple of new party members, Leliana and Sten, one of whom is a nun and a rogue (right?), and the other of whom is a walking statue. I may be exaggerating. A walking statue would probably be far more interesting than Sten.

My combat party in Redcliffe, however, was still Alistair and Morrigan. (And Dog. Always Dog.) Alistair confessed his ignoble noble origins (such a burden!) and Morrigan made fun of everything I did.

Which is something of a bummer. I mean, Morrigan is under no obligation to like me, but I kind of like her. She doesn’t have time for fools, and she embodies the freedom from the Mages Circle and the Chantry that my character has kind of been edging toward. Except that I get the sense that Morrigan would be happier if I just stabbed people instead of listening to them whine, and I get the sense that Morrigan’s category of fools she doesn’t have time for is much broader than mine.

I mentioned before the sense of possible improv that Dragon Age speaks to from my paper RPG days, and (I’m told that) one of the key rule of improv is to respond to everything with “Yes, and. . .” You take ideas and twist them. Shutting them down breaks the game. At times, Morrigan reminds me of high school friends who thought it was cool to role-play as a walking “no,” resisting everything as an (adolescent) attempt to establish character. It sucked.

Except that Morrigan is voiced by Claudia Black, and I adore Claudia Black. Morrigan may be a “no” character, but she’s the apotheosis of no, and you totally have to respect that.

So since Morrigan and I can’t be besties, I’ve been hanging a bit more with Alistair, who at least has a sense of humor. Sort of. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that his sense of humor makes me feel funny, which is maybe not a compliment to his sense of humor.

But I think I’ve kind of killed things with Alastair, too. I let Jowan use blood magic to save the Arl’s son. (Which didn’t seem like a great choice—I don’t have high hopes for Connor, but someone was going to die, and it didn’t feel right to deny his mother’s sacrifice. Also, I see bad things ahead for Connor, but I was more afraid of making an enemy of his mother.) This, of course, brought out Alistair’s prig side.

And it’s so much easier to piss companions off than to make them happy, and Dragon Age’s explicit quantification of their reactions emphasizes this. When you do something a companion likes, you get a +2, or maybe even a +5. Using blood magic to save Connor earned me a -25 from Alistair.

So maybe I’ll be giving Leliana another chance.

Originally published 3/6/15 on Medium