Desire, compulsion, and all the hours

Notes on Dragon Age: Inquisition #3 — In which momentum is substantial, but not the kind desired

I’m in kind of a funny place with Dragon Age: Inquisition right now. I want to play, like all the time — It’s been quite a while since I’ve had an impulse to keep picking up a game like this, maybe not since Far Cry 4, and that’s a comparison that’s worth exploring, but let me get back to that in a second — but I don’t entirely want to talk about it, or maybe, more accurately, don’t feel that I have as much to say about it as I should.

Part of that is that I feel the need to put off a lot of the big questions until I have something resembling a definitive statement (and I may need to resist that). For example, religion continues to be an interesting question, and I keep adding little things to my notes from events and dialogue and such, but It’s hard to say anything meaning full until I know where things are going. And as a story game, DA:I is very much invested in drawing back the curtain slowly, and revealing half the time, well, another curtain.

But another part is that I’m playing DA:I in something of a compulsive manner. I’m exploring areas thoroughly and trying to complete as many side quests as I can, and even putting off main story quests. On some level, that’s because I don’t want to have completed much more that one major quest before writing my next note, but especially since I’m a bit behind in turning those notes into letters, I have to hold myself more accountable for my delay than the structure of my note-taking/writing.

I’m putting things off, actively. (That is, I’m not putting things off by not playing, I’m putting things off by playing in a narrative standstill.)

In DA2, this was a productive way to play, because if you moved forward in the story, you stood the chance of losing access to side quests, and what could be worse than that? (As someone who started playing RPGs in the 8-bit era, I’ve also never entirely grown out of the grinding impulse, that is, spending a lot of time running around and fighting to raise my level before moving ahead in the story. Sometimes that works in modern RPGs — and sometimes it’s even still necessary — but sometimes it can get in the way of the experience as designed.)

And I need to move on. I’ve spent more than 40 hours playing DA:I so far, which is almost as much time as I spent playing DA2 (nearly 47 hours) or DA:O (A little more than 48.5 hours for Origins and the Origins-integrated DLC. Add another 3 hours for “Witch Hunt” and “Leliana’s Song,” and just shy of 16 hours for Awakening.)

I’d estimate that I’m somewhere around a third of the way into Inquisition, which means I may spend as much time playing it as all the other Dragon Age titles combined. That’s a bit intimidating. And exciting! But also intimidating.

Because I need to make it productive, at least by my own standards. As I mentioned, I spent a lot of time playing Far Cry 4, even after finishing the storyline, and it felt more than anything else like it was driven by a basic but deep-seated task reward neurochemical cycle. Blow up a few more cars. Find a few more collectibles. Complete that list. To the point where I would almost find myself coming down when I turned the game off.

And you know, that’s just a bit disturbing. Right?

So let me resolve to move on, and play the game rather than let the game play me. As much as I can.

TOMORROW: Leaving Haven, dragons, and the strangeness of encountering a self that is no longer me in a video game.

Originally published on TinyLetter, re-posted 1/22/17 on Medium