Fantasy Round 30: Dragon Age Origins
One of the things that has been heavily eating into my free time for the last… months, is the game Dragon Age: Origins. I managed to get a copy free, largely because Bioware is heavily promoting the sequel, Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Overall, I like the game, although it has its flaws.
And, as ever, spoilers abound below.
Character Complexity and Plot Choice
This is probably the best part of the game. Interactions with your allies and other NPCs actually allow for a fairly complex set of dialog options, and ultimately influence the long-run of how the game plays out. You can befriend your party members, or tick them off so much that they ditch you or even attack you. Being able to actually hear the conversations, rather than just read text, is also fun.
Admittedly, most of the choices are fairly binary in the end. (I can understand how having multiple choices makes the programming more difficult.) But it is interesting to watch how your meddling in, say, the succession of the dwarven kingdom of Orzammar plays out. I appreciate the consistency.
That said: if I can pause combat, why won’t you let me pause the cutscenes or dialog? Very frustrating when I need to skip off for a moment to do something, but the important NPC is still talking.
That, and, well… this game is channeling Lord of the Rings so, so much. Hordes of Always Evil enemies produced in darkness due to horribly evil magical manipulation? Check. Likely self-sacrifice to defeat a single evil enemy who’s controling all the evil dudes? Check. But it’s mostly about the music and the ambiance really reminding me of the movies.
Grey and Black
The story is very dark.
Like, super-mega-dark. The choices are not usually between good and bad, but bad and worse. And sometimes it’s not clear which option is worse.
Consider, for example, the succession to the throne of Orzammar. If you make one choice, a reformer takes the throne. He makes life better for the casteless dwarves and the otherwise downtrodden, but he also acts as a bit of a tyrant and dissolves the Assembly. The other guy is less reform-minded, keeps the Assembly in place, and eventually gets overtaken by a bunch of revolutionaries if you choose to suppore him instead.
Not clear where the win is. On the other hand… things like that happen in real world politics, too. So the game lets you explore some of those moral ambiguities.
You Said It Would Be Balanced…
The introduction to the game states that, culturally, there’s no distinction between men and women in the continent of Thedas — they are free to choose their professions, be warrior or artist, be the nobility running the place, and so forth.
So, I figured I would test that assertion: I counted.
Yup. In a realistic world where there was no difference, I would expect about half of the characters I encounter in the story should be women, and about half men.
To make the counting easier to manage, I stuck to NPCs that were significant enough to have a name (“Alistair”) or an important title (“Master of the Proving Grounds”) and also got some zoom-in dialog time. Here’s the finaly tally:
- Male elf: 12
- Female elf: 9
- Male human: 71
- Female human: 33
- Male dwarf: 31
- Female dwarf: 13
- Male werewolf: 1
- Female werewolf: 2
- Male golem: 1
- Male oak spirit: 1
The overall total is dominated by the human characters, but it leaves me with a highly unsatisfying overall ratio of 117 male to 57 female. 2/3 of all characters are male.
And that’s just the characters with significant speaking roles. It gets worse when you start hitting the mooks that the party mows through, and the minor NPCs. Darkspawn? All male. Cultists? Mostly male, and the few female cultists are wearing such short skirts that after you’ve killed them, you can see their underwear. Demons? All male, except for the succubi. Because obviously demons of desire have to be scanitly clad females. Mercenaries? Also mostly male. Bandits? Male. Shopkeepers? All male. Friendly militia? Male.
Admittedly, this is actually not bad for a game… there are some women with significant amounts of power and influence (notably the dwarf paragon Branka and Queen Anora… with the former being evil and obsessive and the latter needing rescue) and if I hadn’t counted the overall numbers, I probably would have thought it was fine.
Consider, for example, this study, with some further discussion here, which found that in family targeted films and TV shows… about a third of characters were women. And they tend to be wearing “sexy” attire much more frequently than men. And the ratio is even worse for background characters in crowd scenes. Apparently, women are never curious or angry… or nearby… yikes.