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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Hawke: AB 2019

Anime Boston 2019: Dragon Age

Though I’m late uploading these, it was a blast to meet up with other DA fans at AB 2019. LyricalVillain took photos and arrived as the Warden. Isabela was samspics118, Modern Hawke was rivafoss, Garrett Hawke was cat101495. and Fenris was mentalbravery.

The shirt I’m wearing as casual Hawke can be purchased on Redbubble and was designed by samspics118.

Dorian Pavus: Coping Study

Greetings!

Though I’m not finished with Inquisition, Dorian is easily one of my favorite characters and with this piece, I’d like to pull back the curtain and show the coping mechanisms behind the man.

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SPOILER ALERT

And now, on we go!

• • • • •

Quick summary for those who need the recap: Dorian Pavus is a human mage of the Atlus caste in Tevinter society. The Altus are considered to be descended from dreamers/magisters that could speak to the Old Gods when in the Fade, and they are exceedingly well regarded in the Tevinter Imperium.

This influences him growing up as it would anyone– both with the pressure to meet that ideal and also being considered great from birth, particularly because he’s from an affluent family as well.

He had a natural talent for magic, and of course, he’s Dorian… So he flourished under the envy, at least on the surface. After being expelled from a Circle at 9 years old for injuring a Magister’s son in a duel, he continued to rotate through mentors and Circles, each ending in a new fiasco.

It wasn’t until Alexius found Dorian and offered to take him as an apprentice that Dorian found the focus he needed to truly prosper. And that he did, earning merit and stations inside four years of study in the Minrathous Circle.

…then Felix, Alexius’ son and a dear friend of Dorian’s, got the darkspawn corruption and Alexius’ wife died in the same tragedy. Two years, Dorian poured into finding a cure for Felix. But a fight between Alexius and Dorian severed their ties and immediately, Dorian was off the path to greatness again.

Between reveling in excess and loudly rejecting every flaw in his homeland, Dorian faced only hardship and scandals from then on in Tevinter. His father tried to use blood magic to “cure” his homosexuality, keeping him hidden as he slid back into old habits after his fight with Alexius…

This is the state he’s in when he joins the Inquisition. An outcast in his own nation, his trust in his own family destroyed, and completely adrift. [Backstory recap source]

So what does this all mean for Dorian’s coping mechanisms? He’s known to be very sure of himself and prefers wit on nearly every occasion, and let’s see how he uses both his bravado and humor throughout his backstory, either successfully or not.

Consider his first expulsion from a Circle at 9 years old, which was caused because he injured another child in a duel. A Magister’s son, no less, and at this point you can already presume that Dorian had a difference of opinion with most of his countrymen while still absorbing the doctrine of holding life in alarmingly low regard.

Whatever their disagreement was, Dorian would not yield. Although I’m sure he wasn’t as adeptly cunning as a child, it’s a safe bet that he pushed buttons with the Magister’s son until it came to a duel… Which he would not back down from to the point of actually injuring a fellow child.

Now there is where you behold two sides to Dorian: his general belief in morality and his inevitable acceptance of certain parts of Tevinter culture.

If he backed down from the duel, it wouldn’t be mercy, but weakness. Because it was a Magister’s son, he was expelled from that Circle… But the damage was done. He’d harmed a child in what was likely an intellectual disagreement.

And intelligent as he was, he knew that he could’ve been the one hurt or worse had the Magister’s son sucked a little less. And if that had been the case, Dorian would probably still have been the one expelled because he’s not a Magister’s son.

Dorian was an intelligent, gifted child who knew something was wrong there but didn’t have the direction, the guidance to figure out how to change it– simply how not to be affected by it.

If he was bound to expelled from the Circle regardless, and he knew he was once that argument began, why not at least show the brat his place? This is where bravado and humor comes in, and where Dorian’s… unsavory… behavior continued.

Tevinter is inherently a place where you can trust no one once you reach a higher standing, which the Pavus family held.

But ambition only doesn’t work for Dorian. A man of heart, he is internally and externally destructive without connections and a greater purpose. Given his backstory, with family alone as he is before Alexius, he’s reckless and overly aggressive. With purpose alone as he is after Alexius but before the Inquisition, he’s reckless with no regard for himself.

In the Inquisition and the Inquisitor, he finds both. Of course, this doesn’t change who he is or how he faces the world. Even as he confesses friendship with the Inquisitor, he leans on humor to make it safely through his honesty.

Such honesty was a serious risk in Tevinter culture, and factoring in the betrayal of his father and Alexius – two people he trusted most – and he’s opening himself to that all over again by admitting out loud that someone is his friend in this context:

“Perhaps it’s odd to say, but… I think of you as a friend, Inquisitor. I have precious few friends. I didn’t think to find one here.”

When the Inquisitor goes to respond, Dorian cuts them off to say, “Don’t speak. I detest confessions, and I’d like to get this over with.” He’s half kidding, mostly serious, but honesty suits Dorian far more than ambition and more than he’d care to admit.

And he needs that humor to bond over his genuine friendship with the Inquisitor. Dismissing a serious matter as light reduces its weight on him and makes him feel less threatened by the rules of the culture he grew up in: one where you don’t trust anyone and seek only power.

He can confess to being close to someone and all the solace that provides as long as he has redirection and hospital humor to get him by. And it’s not the only instance where he used these tactics to cope, not by any stretch. It’s nearly constant.

For example, in the Templar timeline, Dorian appears to warn the Inquisition at Haven. His first line of dialogue is, “if someone would open this [the gate], I’d appreciate it”. When someone does, he’s on the verge of falling over and held up only by his staff.

After trying to stand and falling onto Cullen, using his help to stand, Dorian describes himself as “a mite exhausted” and says “don’t mind me”. These are all examples of how Dorian uses levity to draw attention away from the issues he’d rather be hidden. In that case at Haven, he was on a time crunch to put it lightly, but the mentality stands.

Of course, there are those who don’t understand his perspective and view it as arrogance at best, indifference at worst. But this is part of the beauty and complexity of Dorian, and while I could go on… That concludes this study. Perhaps another time, my friends!


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