Games

How Could He?: Exploring Social Issues Through 'Dragon Age II'

No one is implying that the LGBT community turn into blood magicians and that the religious march out to cage and murder them, but this conflict still echoes the tensions felt in the lives of real people.

Dragon Age II is subversive on multiple levels, focusing on character relationships with fluid sexualities instead of the usual epic storylines. What most people miss upon a superficial playthrough is BioWare’s statement on contemporary social issues. Everyone can recognize the set-up: the Templars as the safeguard of tradition and society, while the Mages represent the oppressed and the often abused. It’s not a huge leap to compare this conflict between social (typically religious) conservatives and minorities like the LGBT community.

The game exaggerates the relationship, creating a situation that couldn’t happen in reality. Thus, the philosophical ideas that inform the conflict aren’t constrained by the factual details of our world. No one is implying that the LGBT community turn into blood magicians and that the religious march out to cage and murder them, but this conflict still echoes the tensions felt in the lives of real people. BioWare was successful in avoiding moralizing by not choosing a side, while providing enough interactions to allow the player to take a stance on their own. While it is easy to side with the Mages, especially when one thinks of them as social minorities, one cannot ignore how many of them do resort to blood magic and turn into demons.

Anders blowing up the Chantry is at the center of this issue, tying sympathy and anger together in an uncomfortable knot. General reception of his actions has been negative, creating the possibility of a more “obvious” support for Mages to be made problematic. The player’s gut reaction is to reprimand Anders in some way, that pushing against violent oppressors is okay -- until you get violent yourself. Comparing him to a contemporary social minority, however, lends a perspective that complicates our thinking of both Anders and social change.

BioWare uses Anders to ask, “What led up to this? Why did he do it?” The player takes a position of privilege in comparison to the other Mages in the game, since they are open about their Mage identity and don’t face the danger of finding themselves stuck in the Circle. It’s simple for the player to assume a “be patient, one day it’ll all get better” attitude that inactive sympathizers really do adopt when speaking to groups like the LGBT community.

Hawke is more of a witness to social change than a catalyst, and despite choosing to support the Templars or the Mages, it’s too little and too late for Anders. From his point of view, there is only blood on his hands. Does he murder by his own volition or with apathy?

From Anders’s perspective, if every day without equal rights is a day too long, every Mage murdered before he executes his plans to free them is on him. The player encounters many situations in which Mages are forced to submit, turn to blood magic, or die. Additionally, there remains the personal anguish of constantly remaining in hiding and being told by a culture that something is wrong with him. It is no coincidence, then, that the "demons" that he deals with are named Justice and Vengeance, literally an embodiment of rational anger towards society.

Dragon Age II offers no solution to the problem that the Mages face except for what Anders does, and it questions the lengths that need to be gone to in order for social justice to be accomplished in reality. Most gamers find themselves in a position of privilege concerning LGBT rights, passively witnessing the community achieving social rights. They only occasionally lend their voice to this cause, despite the many discriminatory murders and overall culture of oppression that devalues these lives. The player’s relationship to both this viewpoint on social issues and Anders’s actions is based on whether they can actually blame him for his actions.

Deciding whether what he did was right or wrong is only the most superficial analysis. Instead, the game forces the player to consider if blowing up the Chantry is what’s necessary for the oppression to end. Anders wants to ask players that call him a terrorist if they could live with themselves if everything stayed the same.

This question isn’t supposed to have an easy answer. The ending events along with Fenris’s and Merrill’s personal quests complicate Anders’s position. The nuanced nature of Dragon Age II’s character drama speaks to the messy politics of reality. It trains the player to begin thinking “from this perspective” and breaks good/bad dichotomies. Dragon Age II is a testament to the social relevance that games can have by its blurring of the players’ sense of right and wrong and by its translation of that new understanding into actual activism for issues that exist in reality.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D
Television

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.

Music

Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.

Music

Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.

Television

Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman
Music

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.

Music

Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.

Music

The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.

Music

Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.

Books

The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.