mind the gap

Okay! So this sounds familiar! Group of once-dashing twentysomething heroes appears 10-15 years later, not just “battle-hardened,” which itself is trite, but worn-out and weary by so many of the things they believed in beginning to tarnish, their relationships with each other not beginning to fade, exactly, but to change in ways their exuberant younger selves wouldn’t have thought possible…

I’m speaking here of book two of the Dragon Age prequels (and I suppose, book two of all of the four non-graphical books that exist right now), so I’ll give you a spoiler cut just in case. We’ve got both DA:O prequels as well as a little Inquisition and Awakening spoilers going on here, as well as a very large one for DA2, so watch out.

I know, I know, I do things all out of order. DA:O first, sure, like everyone else, but then I missed out on Awakening between grad school and the fact that I was too wrecked that Alistair was still off being sodding king instead of my dearest, when he comes to the keep early on in Awakening, that I just never went back to it. And then I read Asunder after my first Inquisition playthrough, and god knows how I’m supposed to get ahold of Masked Empire and Last Flight because the library that so helpfully provided these two prequels, Asunder and the World of Thedas book besides, does not have those two.

Anyway. This is delightfully familiar, returning to the people we knew when they were brash and young and seeing that veil settle on them. It helps, of course, that Maric is written (or was, in the previous book; I’m only a chapter into the next) very much like Alistair–which, yes, as his father, makes some sense–and so we get to see what time and responsibility and loss have done to someone who so closely resembled, once, our sheepish and awkward and wisecracking but mostly good hero…who has yet to be born.

Yep. I forget which Inquisition Is About To Come Out So Let’s Catch You Up On The Lore primer I read (and I read several) that insinuated that Flemeth was Alistair’s mom, but nope–totally didn’t happen. And here we have Fiona, cold but catching Maric’s eye (however mutedly) as early as chapter one, which, given his history with Katriel, makes one wonder if perhaps her concern for Alistair in Skyhold’s tower really is because she’s his mom. The Maric we see here just doesn’t seem like he’d go off with some serving girl. He’s miserable. And he certainly would then just keep the girl in his employ once she got with child. He’s too responsible for that. So perhaps Fiona is indeed Alistair’s mom? Trysted with by Maric either because she reminded him of Katriel or because he was already primed in that elfly direction by said Katriel? One assumes that, first, he has to surmount the at-the-moment-rather-insurmountable edifice of his grief over Rowan. (Which, an aside within this aside–really good job with Rowan, in the last book. I had only passing interest in yet another cookie-cutter warrior woman until we see her buying a stupid red dress and trying to fit into it and knowing she looks ridiculous and wearing the judgment of others along with the dress–you’re too big, too bulky, you’re not a regular woman like that and no one looks at you like that so why are you even trying; you either get to be strong and sexless or sylvan and sexy and those are your options, bitch–that, oh, that twisted me up. Which I’m sure was the intent. Mission accomplished.)

ANYWAY. Duncan! Damn you, Duncan, you were this close to Alistair’s dad? I sure as fuck hope you shared some stories with the poor guy before you died in DA:O. Because if you didn’t it’s kind of unforgivable. He never even got to know his dad. Unless I guess whatever feelings led to Alistair’s conception weren’t the sort of thing one might want to share with the conceived. I suppose that could be the case. Still, that aside–Duncan! Seeing him as some weasly resentful kid! Duncan, Mr. Patient and Responsible and Decent and Kind! It’s exactly as adorable as it was intended. That gap, see–that’s so endearing. Being able to see that long-term change in people. Even in giant fantasy series that take 10+ books to finish, the long game isn’t ever really that long. We see, what, five years pass in WoT? Not even. Like four. *after some googling* Oh for godsake, it’s only two. TWO. So yeah, like I was saying: the long game isn’t really so long, in fantasy. I suppose this comes from an internalized and surely in some cases unconscious adoption of the Great Men of History mindset–“of course shit happens this fast when you’ve got these awesome dudes right here changing the world!”–but it’s really boring to watch. It’s all fast action, none of the long slow action that goes on under the surface. That’s what we see in Inquisition, with these people we’ve known so long now doing things ten years after we first knew them. And that’s what we see here.

I’m reading these books as his husbandly self is trotting through the first Dragon Age games. Because when he saw me whooping with joy or shock or a dozen other feelings (all of which clearly call for whooping) as I saw people in DA:I and what they’d become, he correctly decided that for maximum impact and appreciation of DA:I he ought to play the other games first. So that’s what he’s doing. And as I was reading about Loghain’s early life, he was sitting there listening to Loghain’s speech at the Landsmeet and just loathing him. “But there’s a reason he’s like that!” I cried, whereupon he would remind of things I’d forgotten Loghain did, like the selling off of the elves in the alienage. I had…forgotten that. So yeah, okay Loghain, you’re shit. But–

–so I got the Inquisition art book, and I know, I know, I know that the text in there doesn’t necessarily go through all the channels (how could it? too many channels, too little time), and doesn’t necessarily speak for the whole story. This is visual. Not the writing of the lore that’s going on here. But there’s a line in there that was such a thump to the chest to stumble onto–“Dragon Age is, at its heart, a tale about the weakness in people.” Which just brought me clattering to a halt. Because 1.) How could you stop and just sum it all up for us like that? Don’t give shit away. 2.) Weakness? That’s a pretty liberal interpretation of that term. Loghain does shitty things later. He behaves shittily for much of his life. But usually, taciturnity and brusqueness aside, the actual bad decisions he makes, and the prejudices he has, come from watching his mom get raped and killed by Orlesians when he was twelve. And that’s weakness? You want us to believe that having an emotional response to such an act that clouds your vision for the rest of your life is a weakness? What was he supposed to do? It’s not like they have therapy in Ferelden.

Maybe that’s actually legit, and the problem is that I come from a culture that excuses–or not quite excuses, but explains, as though it’s inevitable–terrible acts based on horrible things experienced in childhood. Nobody I know saw We Need To Talk About Kevin, and I didn’t either because Americans were so afraid of the movie no one showed it anywhere not on a coast, but I read the book and I always wondered if and how they’d show the mom losing her shit at her nasty, awful, manipulative, smirking child and shoving him. Because if you show that in this country…boom. Instant excuse. “Your mom shoved you when you were seven and that’s why you shot up a school when you were sixteen.” You’re still allowed to loathe what happens, of course, and to loathe the boy, but the blame goes to the parent.

So do I look at what Loghain witnessed and struggle forgive his blind hatred of all things Orlesian because I grew up in late-90s early 2000s America? Am I hesitant to call his reactions, however foolish, cruel, and generally awful, a weakness for that reason? Because even if I don’t approve of what he does, the logic behind how he came to be the person who would do those things makes sense to me. But maybe that logic doesn’t make as much sense if you cross cultural lines. Maybe other people are playing this and going “Loghain, you fuckwit, you need to let that shit go.” And not letting go is a weakness. Again–here, you see terrible things as a kid, and you’re written off as scarred for life. We even have that phrase for it, specifically. But if that’s not a universally-accepted thing–if you still get to be held accountable, not just in a legal way (obviously) but in a moral way for what you do–maybe, then, calling Dragon Age “a tale about the weakness in people” isn’t so off.

But that’s still an awfully Judeo-Christian mindset, to call the dominoes that fall and cause the rise and fall of nations products of “weakness.” Was Maric weak to sleep with Katriel? It’s easy to say yes but foolish to do so, I think. Being someone’s best friend isn’t the same as wanting to sleep with them. He and Rowan were close, but not–on his end–like that. So no, I don’t think that was weak of him, even if it wasn’t his brightest idea ever. Or what of Morrigan, turning out to love the child she jockeyed into existing for her own personal gain. We don’t call that love weak! But again, this culture deifies mother-child relations as sacrosanct. So of course Morrigan turning out to love Kieran is great, awesome and inevitable, while anyone having sex is weak and a slave to his lusts. *eyeroll*

Anyway, that aside–I really just didn’t like that oversimplification in the art book, is where that whole line of argument basically goes–I really love being able to see the 14 year difference in our characters.

And now I’m late for work. Dammit.

Edit: Wow, okay, so obviously you don’t get a blank hatred check for having watched one type of person rape your mom. (This is what I get for hurrying off a post in pajamas with no breakfast 10 minutes before I’m supposed to be on a bus.) But you see how easy it is to start to make excuses, or even if you’re smart enough not to (something I clearly can’t claim to be), how there is still the urge to call attention to the past as a way to explain the present? As though with explanation, the damning acts of the present are made less so?

Are we, then, to see that as a weakness? That malleability, the capacity to be warped by events years, decades gone? I suppose you could argue that the games’ answer is yes, since those who overcome those past prejudices are deemed as good, as having done good work. Consider Cullen re: mages, for example. Or Fenris. Physical attraction aside, is not some of the fandom’s embrace of these guys because of the emotional work they do? We see that and are moved by it?

What of people who are “for” Anders’ final actions in DA2? Are these the same people who wrote sexy fanfic of the Boston bomber? Or who wouldn’t write it, but would try to understand why people would? Because those two acts of destruction are pretty much the same thing, folks. I never replayed DA2 and have just begun to, now. But knowing what I do about Anders, there is no fucking way I’m romancing him. And I completely get that no small part of that may have to do with the fact that whenever someone makes a sound of anguish, looking at their phone or a computer screen and then turning to me, 100% of the time I assume there has been another attack and that my dad is dead. And that means I don’t care if it is a fucking spirit of justice animating him–there is no justice in what he does. Not everyone in the vicinity gets to die so you can feel like you’ve avenged the wrongs of an entire civilization.

*cough* So, um. Enjoying the book. Is all I meant to point out when I started this post. Aren’t we all just thrilled that we live in an age where I can continue the crashing-through-the-ramble-brambles on the bus, via an LTE connection…



  1. sbrodbeck · February 1, 2015

    It’s interesting, reading that sentence from the art book, because I was just thinking a few weeks ago how you spend most of your times in Inquisition saving groups that have gone to pieces as a result of their biggest weaknesses being targeted. The mages are hit through their fear and isolation; the templars through their blind loyalty; the wardens through the belief that any action justifies stopping a blight; the Orlesian Nobles through their prideful disdain towards any non-Orlesians, etc. etc. It’s like a laundry list of hubristic downfalls.

    • metaphlame · February 2, 2015

      What would you say is Ferelden’s weakness? I can say what they’ve resembled to me but I worry my view is too clouded. I’ve always been vaguely uncomfortable with the idea of things being “for Ferelden” (though I may not have gotten around to admitting this to myself until I looked at the Bioware PAXSouth sale and realized that no, despite the ridiculously awesome prices, I did not want to carry on in anything bearing the Ferelden sigil), more because we are given excuses for Ferelden’s shortcomings that sound, sometimes, too much like the excuses Americans are given for our own shortcomings. “It wasn’t all our fault; this one guy–Loghain–led us astray.” “It’s okay that we possess some blind hate; we’re justified; we were taken over in the past and we’ve only just regained our freedom; we’re allowed to hate based on that.” Freedom this, freedom that–maybe it’s just the uneasily familiar beat of that drum that puts me on edge, when we are put in a position to feel pride in anything Ferelden.

      I remember liking, in FFXII, the change from character-driven feels to an attempt at nation- or culture-driven feels. It wasn’t just that we were supposed to be “for” Ashe; we were supposed to be all “yeah! Dalmasca, wooo!” in the way we were supposed to be “for” Rohan when Theoden rides before them and gives them his speech and they charge. But nation-driven feels usually, correctly, feel disingenuous. In DA:O it felt like we were indeed being asked to feel along with Ferelden for its toils (and don’t quote me on that; I haven’t replayed it fully, especially the second half, so I might be really really wrong there). But in the books, we are much more privy to the internal struggles of the people who, by the time DA:O rolls along, have already been deified as national heroes. And I know this is nothing new–of course the people behind great historical events are never so sure or suave or untroubled as they are in the stories told about them generations later. But even with the [charmingly distracting] cheekiness we see later mirrored in his son, Maric’s portrayal–for that matter Loghain’s, and Rowan’s, and anyone else who survives–allows for deeper questioning of that grand nationalist narrative than we get, later on. If you only play the games I don’t know that–other than directly through Loghain’s character, who comes across as much more opaquely bad in DA:O than he does in the books (so far! haven’t finished Stolen Throne yet! could be wrong!)–you are brought to question Ferelden’s nationalism as you are that of Orlais or Tevinter or even, I suppose through the comics, Rivain.

      So for me, Ferelden’s weakness seems to be its too-easy appeal, the brash pride with which it carries on in the world, so sure of itself as a force for good. “Those Orlesians are petty and backstabbing; we’re _real_ mean here, who say what they mean and mean what they say.” That sort of thing. It rings very Fox News-y to me. But again, I worry my perceptions are hopelessly skewed. What about you?

      • sbrodbeck · February 3, 2015

        It’s hard for me to form an opinion on Ferelden’s weakness, as I’ve only played the video games, and Ferelden is pretty ancillary to DA2 and DAI. Based purely on the video games, I’m tempted to say that Ferelden’s weakness is being too disorganized and slow-moving to solve its own problems (e.g. The Blight, the refugee crisis proceeding from the same, the Mage/Templar war going on in its borders, its own nobility being kicked out of Redcliffe by Tevinters), but then, that seems to be part of the standard “Make everyone incompetent so the player can fix things” trope. Though one could at least imagine that the Orlesians could have resolved their own civil war without help if Corypheus wasn’t pulling strings in secret.

      • metaphlame · February 3, 2015

        There is that, I suppose. Though I suspect Masked Empire, which I haven’t read yet, might inform more on that front too.

      • metaphlame · February 9, 2015

        I should clarify, because I expect my response was mailed out before I changed it, that it’s not that this critique should not be done. When people are harmed by the way something is done or made or said, yeah. Let it be fixed. But as necessary as it also may be, turning the stethoscope of graduate-level punditry on mechanics and storycraft in a manner that always, always finds it lacking, is terribly frustrating to me. Because it never ends. And critique isn’t all about finding fault. Close readings can reveal hidden gems. But so rarely do people use their powers for good like that. “People already like it, it’s time we take it down academically!” isn’t a valid response. Because people are already engaged, and always will be engaged, in taking things down. Via the high road or the low. And constantly pointing out the narrative failures, the mechanical misfires, of art objects whilst neglecting to shine a light on what goes right (because something DOES tend to be going right, somewhere) was one of my deepest disappointments with institutions whose self-appointed quest for knowledge seemed, over the centuries, to have devolved instead into a quest for…I don’t know. Importance? Self-preservation in the face of a world that can increasingly sate it’s need for negativity elsewhere than the ivory tower?

        In short, I am too close to this, and grow weary of the tendency, however earned through schooling, to label things and call the labels fruitful. Annnnnnd I am too close to this. Did I mention that?

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