Pretty much all I can think about (or all I wish to think about, with the snow starting and the light fading) right now is DAI’s release next week. It is ultimately what I built my present gaming computer, over a year ago, to be able to play: yes, ESO has tided me over and I continue to gain enjoyment from it, but DAI was the (estimated, until the official specs came out) benchmark.
I’ve watched the trailers. The interviews. The so-many-minutes of gameplay. I’ve wrestled with The Keep, trying to force myself to remember actions I took three and five years ago–did Sebastian join my party? er, who was Sebastian again?–and toyed with the kingdom of Serrault in The Last Court, at least as much out of my fondness for StoryNexus (Fallen London!) as for the Dragon Age ethos. I will reread the comics this weekend. I will be ready.
But what–besides the obvious, besides the good writing and grandness of map–do I want? What do I want to cause to happen in this world?
*mild spoilers: Dragon Age Origins, Dragon Age 2, (less mild): The Da Vinci Code, the Wheel of Time series*
Honestly, I’d kind of like to end the Chantry.
Give me a minute, please, before the eye-rolling begins. Obviously the opportunity is ripe to superimpose the abuses of the various churches of today’s modern world onto the fictional Chantry, but that’s a pretty limp (and ultimately, I should think, unsatisfying) reason to want to do it. Mostly I would like to do it because writers keep walking us up to that edge, in fiction, and then walking us back “for the good of the people.” The most vivid example I can think of off the top of my head is that of that (not too great) book that was such a runaway hit in the early 2000s, The Da Vinci Code. I don’t necessarily credit the idea that Jesus hooking up with Mary Magdalene and having a bunch of kids would “ruin the Vatican,” but all right, if we take the drummed-up high stakes at face-value, and buy the book’s premise that such a revelation would ruin the church, we find ourselves at one point observing a character with a slip of paper in his hand that will do exactly that. He knows its power and has a certain regard for the truth as something that should, on general principle, be known…but then he sits there imagining all the good work that would be undone in the face of such a churchly crumbling, and he chooses not to divulge the paper’s contents to the world. Poof. End of story. Everything can carry on as usual, same-old same-old. How utterly boring.
Contrast that with when people really do go all the way and shatter, if not strictly religious, certainly as closely-held tenets and beliefs about themselves and their heritage, as Rand al’Thor does to the Aiel in the Wheel of Time series. Many of the Aiel are wrecked. Absolutely wrecked. Some retreat into a kind of waking coma, others take off into the desert to form raging warbands, still others throw down their weapons and worldly connections and commit to living the rest of their lives in a kind of permanent penance for the sins of ancestors they totally misunderstood until Rand al’Thor opened his mouth.
Except that not all the Aiel end up that way. It takes Jordan–and then, after he dies, Brandon Sanderson, following his notes–a while to get to this, what with the end of the world having to be staved off and all, but finally in Memory of Light we start to see people actively constructing a moral and philosophical staircase out of the pit al’Thor threw them into with his revelations. They do that work. Whether by simple stubbornness–“this is who we are, girl, and the fact that people long ago were different doesn’t change that fact”–or through something more complex, as Aviendha struggles to formulate–how else to go forward, to survive the future she has received glimpses of, than to continue to build on the strength the Aiel have eked out over thousands of years, passive origins notwithstanding?–they do it. They recontextualize themselves on an individual and cultural level, within a world that’s still taking shuddering steps back from the edge of the abyss. That is work worth reading about. And it’s certainly far more interesting than the humdrum, and not unnoticeably patronizing, decision to “let them keep believing what they’ve always believed.” Let’s not force them to ask any serious questions of themselves or anything. We wouldn’t want people to have to do any work.
Of course, with the Qunari planted in counterpoint to the Chantry–and with some of their beliefs poised to rub us even more raw than some of the Chantry’s–we’re placed in the very plot bunny-friendly position of being stuck between two rather shitty ideologies bent on world domination (see: any ideology bent on world domination) crushing everyone underfoot in the process of trying to extinguish each other. Given the trying-but-true assumption that the majority of their initial playerbase will be informed by a Judeo-Christian worldview, BioWare places us, through albeit supposedly secular plot contrivances, in the position of working for the Chantry–the more familiar of the not-exactly-opaque religions.
Where I hope we don’t go is through some supposedly life-changing revelation re: the Chantry actually being a bunch of asshats. Common sense tells us this. Both sides are going to be full of very pious asshats. We’ve also seen rather a lot of “well shit, we all suck, don’t we?” kind of revelations. That can be done artfully and insightfully, but it wouldn’t be much of a departure from previous plot points, even within this same series.
What I would like to see is the implicit understanding of all that, but the necessitation of the destruction of the Chantry in spite of it. Make the believers of Thedas work for their belief. For their selfhood. Don’t let them just sit there spouting the Chant blindly, assured of their place within its cadences. Make them work.