Me as not-me

Notes on Dragon Age: Inquisition #4 — Awkwardly running into myself at a party

One of the interesting features of the suppressing, sidequest-laden RPG is that some of the things I’ve done feel like they were so, so long ago. This is true not only within Dragon Age: Inquisition, where it feels like I left Haven in some almost forgotten past (it was a little less than 40 hours of gameplay ago), but the multi-title nature of the Dragon Age series emphasizes it even further. When I met Blackwall, he mentioned offhand that the Hero of Ferelden killed the archdemon ten years ago (and thus has been dead a full decade).

I’m still dealing just a bit with the loss of the kind of weird dead/not-dead status of my Warden from DA:O — I had chosen to sacrifice myself to slay the archdemon, but DLC import weirdness meant that that my Warden was inexplicably alive for Awakening until recreating my world state for Inquisition meant that she had to go back to being just dead. It’s cleaner, but I like weirdness — but after meeting Hawke again in Skyhold, maybe, maybe it’s okay.

I could hardly have been more exited when just after arriving in the Inquisition’s new home, Varric informed me that he had a friend that he wanted me to meet. It was even really striking to watch Cassandra’s displeasure that Varric had secretly been in contact with Hawke all this time. The detail that Cassandra had wanted The Champion of Kirkwall to lead her incipient Inquisition before the disaster at the Conclave might have been a bit awkward for the Herald to learn just after having been acclaimed as leader herself, but it rang true, and it added useful context to the interrogation of Varric that frames Dragon Age II.

But then when I met Hawke, it was kind of flat. Hawke is something of an anomaly as a Dragon Age player character. She has to be human. She can be a mage or not, but her family background (apostate father, mother whose noble family has fallen on hard times) is fairly determined. It makes for good storytelling, but it leaves the danger of Hawke feeling as if she doesn’t quite belong to the player. On the whole, I’m not sure that I felt that way, until I met Hawke as an NPC. There was an other-ness in talking to me (Hawke) as me (the Herald) and navigating the shift of me (Hawke as player character) to not-me (Hawke as NPC).

It made me miss my Warden, and, paradoxically, it made me almost happy that my Warden was dead, and thus couldn’t be taken from me.

And all the more, it made me miss Merrill, who is, apparently, no longer with Hawke, at least on a day-to-day basis. I was happy to hear that Merrill was working with the Dalish, but all the same, it reinforced the sense that I was never going to get the story impact I felt I needed after the death of Merrill’s clan in my play of DA2. I’m happy to hear that Merrill has patched things up with her people, but without a reckoning, without her voice of pain or atonement or acceptance, I’m left with a certain hollowness.

Maybe that’s life. But this isn’t life, it’s a story.

And I don’t want Hawke to talk to me. Is there a form of the uncanny valley that applies to narrative? To the me as not-me? Is this Brechtian? The RPG as Epic Theatre?

Is that too generous a read? There doesn’t seem to be any other indication that DA intends to be anything other than immersive.

I don’t know. But the consequence has been that I’ve been delaying meeting with Hawke’s Warden ally outside of Crestwood. I’ve killed five dragons. I’ve liberated three keeps. I’m going to have to do it eventually. But not yet.

TOMORROW: Orlais and the flatness of politicking rather than politics.

Originally published on TinyLetter, re-posted 1/25/17 on Medium