Dragon Age: Prelude
I finished Dragon Age: Origins last night. I’d told somebody that I would finish it by Sunday, but playing it on Hard led me to waste about eight hours on reloads. I also knew that I wouldn’t have the time to play through it ever again, so I spent a lot of time reloading saves to see what happened on both sides of every decision point. I thought about writing a proper review of the game for Sleeper Hit; instead, I’ll again share an anecdote about the analysis of multilinear RPGs.
Sipping Victory Prima Pilsner at a miserable, empty bar in Savannah, Kirk Battle and I discussed how to best write about something like a BioWare game. We were talking about Mass Effect, which he’d been afraid to touch (later he wrote this). A breakdown of basic mechanics and storytelling techniques, the staples of consumer reviewing, don’t do justice to a branching game. You could cull together a bunch of links to what other people said about their play experiences, but what the hell does that mean to you and those reading? “Ah yes, so many insights in such a small space.” You might even say the word “interesting” aloud; and, as J. Murray says, “‘interesting’ means ‘fuck you.'” You could take the extra time to play through the thing in every way possible, but then you’d simply have a chart to show for your work. Charts, wonderful for showing how something complex has been put together, don’t do any work toward explaining why a BioWare game is compelling. Why?
Because it’s your first playthrough that matters–the choices, friends, and enemies you make in that one pure ludic experience. You don’t need to see what else was possible; it’s the potential for missed opportunity that matters. You play through it again not to see what else happens (nothing ever surprises you or changes much), but because you’re chasing that dragon.
My answer to the question Kirk posed is, admittedly, overtly academic: construct a thesis, cut a chunk out of the game, and make it make sense to you. A while ago I briefly spoke with Michael Abbott about academics and our proclivity toward traditional thesis structures. Maybe it hurt my ability to write a compelling, regularly-updated blog? I’ve certainly failed at maintaining this quiet corner of the web. That said, there were a few months where I was calling it in on keeping up with Michael’s writing: too many games I didn’t want to play, too many disagreements on games we’d both played, too many generalities and what I’d call “NPR style” thoughtful commentary. I read it all, but I didn’t put the extra work into replying or thinking further.
Recently he wrote an extended suite of articles about why Uncharted 2 matters, and it snapped me back into caring. He had a point to prove, and that’s what he did. The only disagreement I might have with the endeavor is that I can’t believe he didn’t save it for proper academic publishing. I suppose the web is changing academia quickly, and I’m too busy learning the ropes to think about the future (I save all my good ideas for papers).
This was meant to be the opening paragraph to a counterpoint article, a reply to the design skewer Michael wrote today about Dragon Age. Instead it became something ungainly and far too general for my own tastes. I hope you didn’t read it. Tomorrow I’m going to post an article about DA:O. Take a look at Michael’s complaints, noting the tension between a desire for realism and the inhuman absurdity created by the bones of old and dead design necessities. Did anything about Dragon Age strike you as particularly true, despite its faults? I’m going to write about something that made sense to me. It’s going to spoilerific.