I am no Harvard graduate, social scientist or politician but I think there’s a lot to be learnt from the world of Dragon Age Inquisition. Games give us a unique opportunity to watch another world, sometimes different to ours, and sometimes not and can be a portal to bring social change to the masses.
Thedas should make you question how we treat minorities and the stereotypes and judgments our society sees as normal. Dragon Age gives us the Andrastian Chantry, a church based on the teachings of the female prophet, Andraste. Ask any feminist about the role of women in our modern churches, for example the women in religions like the more progressive Church of England and they will tell you that women are just as capable as the men who have traditionally ruled this realm ad this is what Inquisition shows us. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that all men should be excluded from the church or relegated to toil at the bottom, that isn’t feminist and I’ll get to that in a moment. Rather if we lived in a society that saw it as an option, both the men and women who serve and society as a whole would be better off. None of the women of the church, the Left or Right Hands, Divine Justinia even, had an easy ride, they questioned what they did and why and faced doubts and fears. They showed us how things could have been different if we had a society where those we anointed were not made in his image but in hers and this is a powerful reflective tool.
Thedas shows us not just women of religion, but women of strength and prowess. They are powerful, tactical and pivotal to the success of the inquisition. Cassandra is a warrior, brusque, sometimes harsh and fiery. Leliana is a tactician, spy master, a doer of things that need to be done that most would consider unsavoury. The same applies to Josephine, a remarkably boring character to be sure, but a master of the realm of diplomacy, a meticulous and brilliant mind. Not so long ago these were entirely a realm of men in the modern world, women are creeping in the edges in our society, but the fact remains that women in such masculine roles wouldn’t find such favour in our world. I am heartened by the fact that over and over women in Thedas prove themselves, and they do so on their own merit. No one thinks to question their place as equal members of society, and someday we should get there too.
Before the internet dismisses me as some kind of feminazi (oh how I loathe that term), I want to make it very clear. Feminism is at its heart about equality. Equality doesn’t necessarily mean being treated the same, nor does it mean advantage for women at the expense of men. Bringing equality to women doesn’t mean bringing down men, and the women in power don’t mean there’s not capable men who they work alongside, of course there is! Dragon Age demonstrates that this society is possible and beneficial for all involved and is it only by involvement of men in this process that it really works. Before you trot off ill-informed judgments about feminism, stop and think of a world where men and women are equals, you’re a person, not a gender and free to pursue the occupation you choose without judgment. Cassandra has very traditionally masculine qualities but is seeking a storybook romance ripped from the pages of a paperback novel. If that isn’t freedom to be and do what you choose, than what is? Of course Dragon Age haven’t solved the genetics issue – men don’t carry babies, but they show us a world closer to where we need to be.
It isn’t just women in Thedas who we can learn from, there’s also interesting comments on sexuality and sexual preference. While the real world is starting to come to terms with this concept more and more, we’ve still got a lot to learn. With Australia on the cusp of gay marriage it feels appropriate to address sexuality as an important issue in our world. My favourite example, and one of my all time favourite characters is Iron Bull. He’s a hulking huge Ox-man, a spy from a society ruled by a strange religion and a second class citizen of Thedas. The Qunari are treated with contempt, open hostility and scorn, and not only is Iron Bull burdened with his racial status but also his sexuality. Iron Bull is interested in whoever he likes, men and women, sex isn’t dirty, sex is a need, like eating or sleeping. Qunari don’t marry, don’t live in family units or in ways we would consider normal, but they can and do form strong romantic loves. Iron Bull may be a monster of a man, but he wears his passion, his heart on his sleeves. What I described earlier as a burden – his sexuality, is not treated as such, it’s a strength. He is passionate and steadfast in his love, should the inquisitor choose to be his Kadan, no two will be happier, whether they be male or female. The fierceness of Iron Bull, his hulking physical form gives strength and legitimacy to his sexual and personal choices in a way that cannot be ignored.
There are other occasions where it feels a little like Inquisition plays by the numbers – balancing characters with each preference so they line up. However the characters are so fully formed in themselves that they don’t feel forced into a cookie cutter sexual mould that a less nuanced hand may have ended up with. Even better the storyline only develops if the Inquisitor pursues a positive relationship with that person. A callous and uncaring inquisitor would never come across Dorian’s troubled history with his father and the difficulty his homosexuality caused for his high-born family. It’s an issue treated with sensitivity and an authenticity of thought and feeling that one might easily see playing out in a traditional family in a modern setting. Dorian stands for himself with strength of character and his father seeks forgiveness for this actions to manipulate Dorians sexual preference. In true Inquisition style Dorians father had tried to use blood magic, but really if you think about it, isn’t that as shocking in Thedas as any of the ‘straight camps’ or religious manipulation that somehow still goes on in ours?
On a lighter note – Sera is uniquely comfortable, playful or even crudely humorous about her sexuality. She only wants an Inquisitor with the right bits and is open about her attractions from the beginning. If you’re a female Qunari, watch out because Sera is not shy about your appearance. Despite her frequent vulgarity Sera doesn’t rush into a relationship with the female Inquisitor and will only commence a romance should she approve of, and know the Inquisitor well enough. Like the other characters, Sera is more than a one dimensional being, she is defined by factors more complex and nuanced than just her sexuality but the game shows us a world where women can be crude and funny and express attraction in a way that could be considered masculine in a more conventional world.
Now there’s things in Inquisition that aren’t so rosy. While there is a hint of something greater in the treatment of the sexes and their in this world, they have a pretty poor record in racial factors. The elves could be likened to a Indigenous native groups in that they have faced great difficulty and prejudice, do not necessarily live freely and have been treated as a sub class. The elves are split into ethnic groups – the Dalish and the city elves, those who have gone back to their roots in the land and those who live in the city underclass. There’s similar negative treatment of the Qunari, the hulking Ox-Men considered uncivilised brutes for their race and religious preferences. The politics and royalty of the realm is very focused on its human inhabitants, the elves and Qunari living in Thedas do not form part of the decision making class. But even so the inquisitor has the power to change this – to promote Briala to rule Orlais with Celine, to be an elf or Qunari and change people’s opinions by example.
No world is perfect and Thedas have their own issues with race, politics and the nobility but it seeks to show us those things within our world that we can and should strive towards and it’s about time we take note.