I like big boats and I cannot lie - Tactical Ninja
Aug. 4th, 2012
12:39 pm - I like big boats and I cannot lie
Last night I stayed up till 2am finishing my game. The last week while Dr Wheel's been away my usual routines have all been placed aside and I've let myself be lazy - something I almost never do because I fear complacency so much and know that life is much better if you work at it. This week though, I've avoided being my usual disciplined, motivated self, allowed myself to be a slob, and while I was sick I didn't even have to go to work or the gym or training. I've done no study, eaten absolute crap food, and spent something like 45 hours playing video games, including several day/night sessions.
The other thing I've allowed myself to do that I don't normally is give in to obsession. Warning: I am about to indulge that obsession some more. After this, I go back to Getting On With It. This morning I went for a run, and after this post I'll be writing an essay. But for now, it's about Dragon Age.
Warning to Happy: spoilery as fuck and you should probably avoid reading this if you don't want hints at the outcome.
I've been playing video games since about 1983. There was a long break in there where I was trying to be someone who I wasn't, where computers weren't a part of my life, but as they say, once a gamer always a gamer, and as soon as I became digitally-enabled again in the late 90s I picked up where I left off. Even minesweeper was a late-night obsession for a while.
I won't list all the games I've played. I've missed a few classics and played a few obscure ones. I never really got into console gaming, it's always been PC and I feel like a klutz when I try to play on console which puts me off. Anyway, I've lost count of how many games I've played. It's a lot, but the ones I've become obsessed with are far fewer. They span several genres: puzzle, strategy, MMORPG.. in fact the only genres in which I can't think of a game I've become obsessed with are FPS and sims. I've played some pretty determinedly (hello SOTMC I'm looking at you) but that's different from obsession.
I've talked before about being OCD. The obsessive part of OCD as described in the literature is about intrusive thoughts that interfere with your day-to-day life. Usually, it's described as negative or unwanted thoughts that you can't get rid of. While I consider myself to be relatively healthy mentally and my OCD has always tended more to compulsion, I can certainly detect obsessive tendencies in my nature - I tend to become obsessed with things and devote far more of my brainspace to them than is strictly healthy, and it's a tendency I keep under pretty tight rein most of the time. I think it'd be pretty easy for me to allow obsession to wreak havoc in my life and have been known to go without eating or sleeping in the past while obsessed with something. Which isn't the healthiest way to deal with it. Mostly I am able to use obsession as a reward - do this disciplined, life-enhancing thing first (ritual), finish with the right thought (hey check out my discipline I am a good person), then indulge the obsession as a reward. Because if it's all discipline, eventually you run out of steam and then it's all obsession. Video games, IMO, are a pretty healthy thing to channel obsession into.
This week has been about indulgence, and relaxing of that discipline, and so the obsession has been allowed to creep in, and I've been unashamedly wallowing in it. And I have to say, I don't think I've ever played a game that's pushed my obsession buttons the way Dragon Age 2 has. I looked back at my posts about DA:O and while I did find it engaging, it didn't eat my head like this one has. And it isn't just about the romances - in fact it's not even about the romances.
I haven't played the Fenris romance to the end yet, or the DLC, but I have played Anders to the end and, well - there's nothing much after the initial scene to let you know you're even involved with him, except how your relationship affects your decisions relating to him. It's all a bit meh really.
But holy fuck the overall characterisation blew me away. I actually cared about the characters. I remember at the end of DA:O being vaguely disappointed when I couldn't be queen with Alistair and going "Fuck that noise" to his suggestion I be a mistress to his marriage of convenience. But in this, it actually wrenched my gut when Anders pulled his stunt, and it did that because I cared about him. Not in "LOL sexing mah companions" kind of way, but those words "Anders, what have you done?" I felt them inside.
I saw it coming - it's pretty hard not to when you catch him giving away the embroidered pillow that's his most cherished possession, and he goes all cold and distant and starts wearing black. It's pretty clear he thinks he's going to die. But having avoided spoilers, finding out what he was up to? My heart dropped through the floor. I played the final scenes and the boss fight with this heavy feeling in my stomach, like my world had actually been rocked. This part, where you decide his fate?
I cried. And thought about it for a really long time before deciding to let him stay and try to redeem himself. I did this mostly because I wanted to play the romance to the end, and I did choose the fugitive life with him because that's what the mage I played would do. He was honest from the start about what life with him would be like and she said she's stick with him and she did. Personally, I probably wouldn't - but the fact that I had to think about it is what sets this game apart. Be Alistair's mistress? 2 seconds thinking before giving him the boot. Run off with a terrorist who hasn't even kissed me since we shagged the first time? Agonising.
I don't think this is because Anders is a good romance, but what he is, is a complete character. I spoke before about the two romance options being broken men and frankly, apart from the titillation of the romancing, I still think they're a bit meh (without having finished the Fenris arc). But the whole Anders character development is so brilliantly done, and fits so well with the integral storyline and cultural world building, that it involved me emotionally. I liked Anders - he's hard not to like. I believed in what he was doing, I supported his actions on behalf of the mages in this world where they are oppressed for who they are. I identified with his passion for a cause and willingness to speak his mind in the face of societal disapproval. I sympathised with his battle to retain control of his mind. So when he did what he did, it was like a knife in the gut. I can totally see why he did it, I respect his reasons and his willingness to stand up, to risk everything for what he believes in. And he did it without resorting to blood magic. But he started a war, this person I had come to love and respect, and he lied to me to do it. And he was sitting there in front of me going "I am ready to die for this" and it was up to me to decide whether he would. OMG. I can't stop thinking about it.
And the fact that I am even thinking about this stuff, never mind obsessing about it, says a lot for the writers of Dragon Age 2.
It has a lot of faults. I didn't like the recycling of areas, and it was really weird that I was running around shooting fireballs in broad daylight in a city where mages are essentially banned, without anyone seeming to notice. The romances were disappointing.
But the storyline, the way the world is built to create a reflective culture that produces conflicts I can identify with and care about, the way this combined with detailed and complete character development for all of the main characters, sucked me right in. I like RPGs, I like to be immersed in a story, but this game took that to a whole new level for me, and turned what could have been just another hacknslash with hot elf-sex into something I will be thinking about for a long time to come.
My one prediction for DA3: Hell but doesn't the Seeker look like Morrigan?
tl;dr I didn't play it for a long time after release because lots of people were disappointed in it. All I can say is I think those people were looking for different things in a game from what I look for. Characterisation/immersion/culture-build
Scoff all you like.
PS part of me (luckily I think part of me I can control) really wants to use the DA2 world and the storyline of the game as the basis for an exploration of criminological theory, because it has all the ingredients to do it.