So the developer is god, the story appeals to the faith of the player in the game itself, when Bioware’s writers cribbed off history they did so with a deeper appreciation for the place of religious institutions within the societies it mimics.
At the end of Part Three I claimed that the most important story mechanic was the player’s control over the Inquisition, over control of the institution into which people are able to place their badly beaten faith. The game says this at times directly (there’s a line from Mother Giselle that “an army needs more than an enemy, it needs a cause”) and at other times with thinly veiled metaphors. The cut scene in which the formation of the Inquisition is announced to the world involves Commander Cullen nailing the proclamation onto the door of Haven’s Chantry in a way that is reminiscent of the popular image of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenburg (and the popular image of the beginning of the Reformation).
While the Inquisition is initially declared to be a heretical organisation by the surviving Chantry hierarchy, it becomes more or less an institution of change and reform. While the game certainly provides the ‘evil’ option of “doing it for the [personal] power” the Inquisition still tends to provide a net positive to the world’s major institutions by simple involvement in the various conflicts going on. Following in the footsteps of other Bioware RPGs you’re given the opportunity of making decisions big and small, but almost all of the big decisions in DA:I have world shaking consequences because they effect one or more of the major institutions of Thedas. Do you choose to side with the Templars or the Circle of Magi? Whichever one you decide would have far reaching implications for the people of the land. If you choose the Templars, do you disband the centuries old organisation (removing a trusted constant from the continent) or do they become partners in an alliance? If you choose the Circle are they heavily indebted allies or prisoners (continuing the cycle of leashing magic users). Do you choose to allow the Grey Wardens the chance to atone and rebuild, or banish them from southern Thedas? Who will sit on the Orlesian throne? Who will sit beside/behind the Orlesian throne? Who will the Inquisition support as the new Divine? Cassandra the reformer, or perhaps the far more traditional Viviene?
Our decisions have (as far as the game itself tells us) long-reaching consequences for the lands and people of the Dragon Age world, how we make those decisions depends on how we interpret our characters personality and where their faith lies. My Inquisitor found herself willing to forgive the Templars who had been fooled by a demon doppelganger, but banished the Grey Wardens who had so willingly started using blood magic. She supported Empress Celene in the Orlesian Civil War but installed the elf Briala at the Empress’ right. And she honestly gave no shits about who would become the new Divine of the human Chantry, but was glad for her friend when Cassandra was named (in the epilogue).
So, why does it all matter? Because it allows for better understanding of the past, present and future by providing a reasonably understandable point of reference for people to understand. I’ve already mentioned my belief that video games provide a valuable resource for teaching today’s youth some important ideas and concepts (some educators are already doing exactly that). This falls under the same principle.
Let me use the Crusades as an example. Ask most folk for the causes of the Crusades and they’d probably respond with some combination of religious fanaticism and using religious fanaticism as an excuse for conquest. Recent arguments I’ve heard though was that it was the delayed response to centuries of Muslim conquest all the way up through Spain to the gates of Christian Europe. The release of many decades of anger after watching what had been the Christian Middle East and North Africa conquered by the heathens who were stronger and more advanced, and the feeling of impotence that would have come from being unable to halt Islam’s advance. It was a response by the faithful questioning why God was allowing the unfaithful to inherent the earth and deciding that it must have been because they had to work for it. Now when a lot of scholars talk about the roots of modern Islamic terrorism they say some very similar things, that it is a response by the weak and disempowered faithful who have spent the past four centuries watching the ascent of the Christian West, who have then proceeded to conquer, divide, puppet and generally mistreat the Muslim world which a few hundred years ago dominated the world. And if someone who’d played DA:I asked me explain the situation using a literary example, I’d talk about how easy it was for the Elder One to recruit from the disenfranchised citizens of Tevinter surrounded by decaying symbols of their own lost glory, worn down by centuries of conflict with the technologically advanced Qunari and bad blood with the rest of the continent (and their former possessions), reasonably sure that they’d understand what I’m talking about.
When discussing something as emotionally subjective as faith, being able to understand through experience is key. By appealing to the player’s faith in the game like Bioware does in DA:I, it allows the player to empathise with the character’s crises of faith better, and understand the emotional responses by those characters towards the institutions that held their faith. Understand the emotional responses to our treatment of those institutions. The faith of the player in the game, regardless of how they are playing, is both challenged and reinforced. As I said, it provides a point of reference that reflects the real world. It allows us to better empathise with people around the world and the issues that arise from their faith, treat them with the respect they deserve instead of dismissing them outright for placing that faith in something we disagree with.
Understanding all the issues and views involved in a problem is the first step in solving it. I don’t expect playing Dragon Age: Inquisition will fix the world, but anything that adds positively to the cultural zeitgeist helps. But, shit, I’m an optimist.
Alright folks, I’m gonna end it there. Thanks for reading. I’ll find something else to talk about.