40 hours in / if you bring back my mary sue i will bake you a cake bioware

I have now played Dragon Age Inquisition for as many hours as compose an average work week. Unsurprisingly, those hours have been rather more compelling than your average work week.


Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.


I actually have a notebook full of notes, things I wanted to address at length, separately. But I won’t have time for that, not between all the chaos that ramps up at this time of year, and with the passage of time the immediacy of what I wanted to say will fade. So quick jots is all there will be. Better than nothing, and easier on my hands to type it than to write it. (I have always held the pen in a death grip, ever since I learned to write.)

1.)* The last thing I experienced is the first thing I want to say (and did I mention hey these are spoilers and I personally loathe spoilers so if you do too you should really stop reading RIGHT NOW). We actually have a damn good chance of seeing both our previous characters. And to people who haven’t played the games–and unless you took the whole week off work and are further ahead than I am, you should be the only people reading past this point–that’s a big deal. To see versions of yourself from the past, characters you played living out under the choices you had them make. Usually when you have game series, it doesn’t work like that. You play the child of your former hero. Or, more usually, the same damn person (see: Quest for Glory, King’s Quest, even stuff like Rune Factory, etc. for the spawn-of-main-character trend). Not someone completely different, with a different set of politics and concerns, who can actually interact with the one who shoulders the burden of the choices you make before. Which leads me to:

2.) OhmygoditmightactuallyhappenmyoldcharactermightactuallyseeAlistairagainholyshit. I meant to do a separate post for the Mary Sue as a trope, too, and how I’d never thought of it in a kindly light, or romances in general in a kindly light, until I read this article in, of all places, Entertainment Weekly. It’s really long and made me think. I have definitely spent the vast majority of my life as one of those vain prats who looks down her nose at romance novels and those who deal in them, on whatever end. With the exception of slash fiction, which I excused as an outlet through which people like me could experience sex without getting raped or pregnant (as seemed, for a mopey teenager, the only two likely options), I thought of it as a huge billion-dollar waste of time. But I hit this quote and stopped dead:

Somehow in our culture men who read comic books are hip, while women, similarly drawn to stories of heroes and fantasies, are written off as pathetic. ”Romance readers have always been the one category of reader that has experienced shame when they’ve gone to the bookstore,” says Angela James, editorial director for Harlequin’s digital-first imprint Carina Press. ”Not because they’re ashamed of what they’re buying but because of the person selling it to them. Whether by the look on their face or sarcastic, snarky comments. If you speak to any romance reader they will tell you that there have been times on the train or the subway where people see the book cover [and say,] ‘Oh, you read that?”’

I have definitely been that person hurrying past the romance section en route to the sci-fi, furious at the idea that someone might thing I was there for the bodice-rippers. Even though, minus the boobs, I’d written essentially the same thing for years (well, and minus the whole billion dollar part too), while continuing to think of myself as part of some elite coterie of writers who “are into this, but definitely not that.” Well, hell. What makes slash writers or Marvel fans any better than someone toting home a big stack of Diana Gabaldon books under her arm? Not a damn thing. I’d never thought of romance books, and by extension Mary Sue fanfiction (long regarded, among many slash circles, as the lowest of the low, genre-wise), as a feminist issue before. And I get that the roles portrayed in these books are by no means roles everyone or even most people would or should embrace. But how exactly are they indicative of a lesser echelon of literary prowess? Such books do different things, and were always intended to. No one buys watches porn for inspirational rags-to-riches tales that will change their lives. Likewise, no one buys romance novels to try and change their worldview. And everything you read doesn’t have to do that. You’d burn the fuck out.


How does this relate back to Alistair, Dragon Age Inquisition, and the Dragon Age universe at large? Because oh my god, I want my Mary Sue back**. So badly. I want the game to remember how shit went down and I want to fix it. Or even just glimpse the fixing of it, if voicing our old characters (who had no voices, back in 2008), would be too jarring. Just let him see her. Across a crowded great hall or a battlefield, let him see her. Apparently, I could have worked it so they did not have to part ways. The end of DAO is a blur for me; I was in Japan and miserable and kept going back through misremembered save files–I had so many!–trying to fix things, trying to keep these two people together when I, at the time, was a little bereft. And I couldn’t. (My wrath, upon opening up Dragon Age Keep and discovering that it was in fact possible, was incandescent, let me tell you.)

And what I’m saying is I used to feel bad about that. I didn’t want anyone to know how much I invested in the romance of the story. When poking cautiously at the internet to see if it was a commonly shared sentiment, or if most interested players had been wooed by Zevran or Leliana instead, I recoiled instantly and slammed shut my browser as crummy drawings of various elf, dwarf and human Mary Sues mooning over and occasionally making out with Alistair cascaded down my search results screen. I didn’t want to be part of that, of what I viewed as a gaggle of girls making communal calf-eyes at some pile of pixels somewhere.


But holy crap, do I want my hero back and to see Alistair. Who, in my game, is still very much alive. And writing adorable snarky message requesting help shooing cultists from his holdings, setting up tentative meetings with foreign leaders, that sort of thing. I had resigned myself to only receiving letters from him until I remembered that we got to see him in Dragon Age 2, even though that game knew if you had killed him or not. If you had, you didn’t encounter him. Someone else delivered that quest. Thus, the folks at BioWare are willing to spend that much time coding for possibilities. And I want, I need this one to be realized. We have the hero. We have Alistair, whom she left so he could become king without the weight of her (was it the warden-ness? was it just that she wasn’t Annoura? I can’t remember and fear to look it up, lest I ruin the chances of a full second playthrough to hold me spellbound again) around his royal neck. And I want him to…just, I don’t know. Wibble a bit. Have the words die in his throat. I don’t need Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture in a field of flowers or anything. Ten years have passed, for crying out loud. All I want is a furrowed brow, a sudden silence, to acknowledge that. I’d die in my chair, I tell you. The squee would just knock me out cold.

I used to feel bad about that. Guilty. Like I was wallowing right down in the literary muck I so despised, first as a nasty little vain aspirant only of literary prose, and then as a less self-righteous but just as vain trader in fanfiction. Mary Sues, the idea of plopping some formerly unknown character into a storyline with canonical characters and investing her (really, projecting onto her) thoughts and affections…how vile, was the general thought. How contemptible! Why? Was the thought that you were too lazy to make the existing world and characters bend to your will, so you just dumped someone new in there? I don’t think that was it, though. I think people thought of it as being…childish, or greedy. I remember the first time I read a description of a Mary Sue it was given by LOTR fan categorizing fanfic genre types (here is a more in-depth one), and of Mary Sues she said “…and then when Lindsay wakes up and finds herself turned into a hobbit in Middle Earth of course she’s the only hobbit with mysteriously hairless toes that Frodo can’t stop looking at.” Something like that. Even writing that, my impulse is to be on board with the mockery because I mean come on people, swallow the hairy-toed canon or GTFO. But I think the resentment goes deeper than canonical grounds. I think some part of a large part of us swallows the idea that, sure, guys*** can sit around jerking off to underpaid ladies iced and oiled up for a camera with bad music playing, but women writing themselves into love stories? How pathetic.

And, in short, screw that.


Give my hero of five years ago her Alistair back. Even for just a second or two. I want it and I’m not apologizing for wanting it. Give me that and I will bake you a cake, BioWare. A magnificent goddamned cake.

* Okay, well, clearly that wasn’t much of a “quick jot” then. Remind me to mention Vivienne’s creepily American right-wing politics and the fact that Leliana, like most people, is so much more palatable when she has the capacity to doubt herself. Oh, and Dagna! Dagnaaaa. I feel so badly for people playing this with no prior exposure to the other two games; there are so many gestures and implications you’ll miss. And the ball! The ball. Probably the most enjoyable, perfectly-scored-and-scripted single mission in a game I’ve ever gone on. Just perfect. I began that scene with only 164 screenshots in my folder; I have well over 400 now. Also Varric as Castle and Cassandra as (season one) Kate Beckett! Adorable! And Krem! Holy shit! Not just a trans person portrayed decently in a video game but a trans person portrayed decently and willing to talk about what it’s like / how people treat him / what shit the laws are to him in this or that country / if he’d change himself with magic if he could. They seriously let you have these conversations if you so choose. That is so damned amazing. I cheered.

Right, so. Remind me to mention all that. When I haven’t worked a 40 hour work week and played a 40 hour workweek of a game on top of it.

** Okay, so the Hero of Ferelden isn’t a Mary Sue exactly, since of course s/he is the central part of the story. But given that they were voiceless then, yet you still chose how they look, they were ripe for the kind of emotional superimposition people scoff at in trademark Mary Sues, which is why I make the comparison.

*** Yes, yes, they’re not the only ones, I’ve read the articles, but they’re the ones that made it into a billion-dollar industry that is ostensibly sniffed at but not-terribly-covertly viewed as necessary at every level, and that’s the salient point here.

One comment

  1. Pingback: it begins | metaphlame

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