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‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’ and Empathy

| Monday, April 20, 2015

dragon-age-graphic-WEBKeri O'Mara | The Observer

Bioware’s “Dragon Age: Inquisition,” the third installment in the “Dragon Age” series, won multiple Game of the Year awards at the end of 2014. But did the game deserve such praise?

Ask any gamer their opinion on the matter, and you probably will not find a consensus on whether these accolades should have gone to “Inquisition.” And I, one humble gamer, cannot give you a definitive answer on that matter. Instead, I will provide insight into unique traits of “Inquisition” I find not only particularly remarkable for a video game but meaningful even to those who have never held a controller in their hands.

Over the last decade, video games have been on the receiving end of much criticism due to their supposed glorification of violence and murder. While there may be some foundation for these claims, not all video games sow seeds of hatred or condition its players for violence. “Inquisition,” for example, does quite the opposite.

Bioware has set itself apart by emphasizing in its games not guts and gore but heart and soul. Though “Inquisition” certainly contains its fair share of violence, whether fighting Venatori mages, Red Templars or pride demons, the game contains the elements of compassion and care one expects from the studio.

As the only survivor of a devastating attack on peace talks between warring mages and Templars at a sacred temple, you fell from the sky with a glowing green mark on your hand. This mark is the crux of the game’s plot — it allows you to close rifts in the sky that grant dangerous demons passage into the world. On your way through the game, closing rifts and eventually becoming the leader of a movement, called the Inquisition, to restore order and find those responsible for the attack on the temple, you encounter incredible characters and difficult decisions.

“Inquisition’s” plot leads players to understand a new and foreign world along with its many cultures, countries, races, divisions and disputes. While coming to appreciate the gravity of matters in the land of Thedas, players are actually being taught lessons pertinent to life outside of the game.

There are countless profound aspects of the game I could mention, but one particularly thought-provoking case is that of the mages. Mages are individuals who have a special connection to another realm, called the Fade, which gives them magical abilities but also makes them especially susceptible to possession by demons. In “Inquisition,” the player encounters many questions on the topic and must search for his or her own individual answers.

For example, what is the role of magic in the world? Should mages be kept in confinement for the protection of all? Does the world need to be protected from mages in such a way? Can the general population be safe if mages are free? The game’s major quests show the player the complexity at the heart of the matter and allow the player to come to his or her own nuanced opinion. Though this situation may seem unique to a world with magic and mages, the scenario is analogous to many we face in our world. The issue of the mages leads players to investigate how they respond to those who are different or how they respond to those society fears. It gives players the opportunity to grapple with and see both sides of a complicated social issue.

This is just one of the many opportunities players have to engage with social issues not unlike those we face in our lives. Players must judge criminals and determine what they deem appropriate punishments, choose what type of leader and what type of rule they feel is best for a country and make the final call in situations where a companion’s life hangs in the balance. With the companion characters especially, “Inquisition” also effectively humanizes people with vastly different upbringings, races and beliefs by giving each character a rich personal history that sheds light onto the logic behind their choices.

In these ways, “Inquisition” succeeds not simply in endearing you to its world and characters but in endearing you to our world as well. When the characters share secret struggles and surprise me with their thoughts, I am reminded that every person I encounter holds their own struggles within. When asked to judge and sentence a murderer, I am led to reexamine my thoughts on justice in our American system. I could not help reevaluating my actions in real life after completing quests in this virtual one, and that is certainly a feat worthy of praise.

As a video game, “Inquisition” not only entertains but enriches players by getting them to ruminate on deep problems and care for characters while also having a heck of a lot of fun. That might not merit Game of the Year on all its own, but without a doubt, it is an incredible accomplishment for any game.

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About Gabriela Leskur

Gabriela Leskur is Viewpoint Editor for The Observer. She is majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and Anthropology. She works as a Marketing and Journalism Intern for the Notre Dame Alumni Association and sings in the Notre Dame Folk Choir in the spare time that normal people would spend sleeping or relaxing.

Contact Gabriela