Dragon Age Analysis: Grey Morality

SPOILER WARNING FOR ALL THREE GAMES AND THE TRESPASSER DLC

Dragon Age: Origins: The Grey Wardens

As an organization, the Grey Wardens themselves are rife with grey morality (no pun intended). The main reason is that, despite offering a societally approved purpose to those who are outcasts otherwise, they are also bolstering their ranks by preying on marginalized groups through their desperation for survival or acceptance. For example, elven volunteers are particularly common in the Wardens because they accept everyone. Their only options otherwise in most regions are: 

  • To live in perpetual poverty in alienages and risk a violent death there anyway (with the threat of entire alienages being purged due to the actions of one elf or stories like those from the [tw: implied sexual assault] fugitive elves in Dragon Age 2)
  • Save up enough to move out of the alienage at the almost guaranteed risk of having your house burned down
  • Joining the Dalish, if even permitted to do so (as with half-elves, who have trouble joining, or elven mages, who pose a risk of drawing in demons)

Dragon Age 2: Hopeless Extremes

One of the common complaints about Dragon Age 2 is that the choices are typically bleak and don’t significantly change the outcome more often than not, but this is actually a strong part of the game’s narrative, realism, and atmospheric grey morality. 

In game design terms, the lasting theme of being between a rock and hard place is depicted in non-zero-sum situations over the course of the game. The main point of these situations is that there is no clear winner or loser. There’s a real chance that no one will win, per se, and the best case scenario might be very unlikely and still not ideal. The most probable outcome could just be losing less than you might have otherwise. Not all choices in this game are plainly wrong and show their awful results upfront, as opposed to selling Fenris back to his former master. Most aren’t that clear, and you won’t know the consequences until it’s too late.

Even in the choice to be a mage or warrior/thief, the player is unwittingly sentencing one of Hawke’s siblings to death. To keep the party balanced, becoming a mage will result in Bethany’s death and choosing a warrior/thief class will lead to Carver’s death. The beginning of the game was a tutorial in more ways than one, preparing the player for increasingly grim events with little to no warning accompanying the originating choice.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: Perception of the Inquisitor

There are more player choices in this game than I can shake a stick at, but I’m keeping with the theme of focusing on the world state above all else. Still, because of their number, we can’t avoid mentioning the decisions made by the Inquisitor throughout the game. In fact, that’s the backbone of what I’m highlighting here as the depiction of grey morality across Thedas. From the moment the Inquisitor catches the public eye, their societal perception exposes the personal interest behind every opinion about them.

As such, no one entity in this game can lay claim to pure moral goodness. Individual bias is always a factor there. First, everyone is furious and looking for someone to blame. The sole survivor of a nightmarish tragedy that killed so many others is a convenient outlet for that. But once it’s discovered that a feminine figure was seen in the rift behind them and word spreads of the Inquisitor stopping the Breach from growing, they’re labelled as the Herald of Andraste.

As soon as the Inquisitor could offer something to benefit the people, their reputation improved drastically. This kind of response is the key focal point of morality and even godhood in Dragon Age: Inquisition. The Inquisitor goes from universally hated to publicly beloved in one event, and with it, they’re granted the power to accept an almost divine standing among the people. But that reverence is not unconditional, even if it’s refused by the Inquisitor.

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