Courtesy BioWare
Son? You’re never going to be king unless you sack up.

Due to the fickle nature of aging hard drives, I’m playing Dragon Age: Origins again, in an attempt to reconstruct the history lost before firing up Dragon Age II. I know I can choose from one of the pre-determined backgrounds BioWare included in their new fantasy role-playing game, but one of the things I’ve always liked about BioWare’s games is the ways in which the things we as players do matter to future titles. That, and their well-written, well-rounded characters.

In an age where graphical hardware is pushed to its limits and gaming action is kept as repetable and generic as possible to maximize repeat success and profit, it’s heartening to see games that take their subjects and characters seriously, as a nuanced narrative rather than a brainless distraction. Games like Dragon Age also free characters from rails, allowing the player to modify the storylines of those around them as well as their own with means outside of violence.

I’m not saying that a game like Call of Duty can’t have well-written, well-rounded characters. It’s just been my experience that allowing the player a measure of freedom in their interaction with the characters around them creates more opportunities for those characters to develop. Character growth can be difficult to depict in video games, outside of numerical stat increases, and when it’s done well it can be inspiring for those looking to grow characters in more traditional means of telling stories.

Most works with which we toil as storytellers have a cast of characters in support of the protagonist. Assuming these characters have at least a passing resemblance to human beings, they should be affected by the events that take place in the story. They should be shocked, shaken, disturbed and disgusted by things. They should celebrate with each other when goals are achieved, and mourn when loved ones are lost. I think it’s vitally important that these things, mentioned even in passing, will help make the story in question more palpable for the audience, drawing them in deeper and delivering a more fulfilling experience.

I griped previously about the length of Dragon Age: Origins and yet here I am playing it again, end to end, with nary a complaint. It’s partially because I’m something of a completionist with this stuff, and partially because I feel I know the characters well and want to spend time with them. Even so, I’ve learned more about them this time around, and I’m curious how some of their interactions play out amongst each other. By letting the characters have breathing room, and including a variety of reactions and suggestions instead of leaving them entirely blank, BioWare deepens what could have been a somewhat generic MMO-styled RPG into a truly memorable storytelling experience.

I hear Dragon Age II is different in some regards. As long as the characters are good, I’ll be willing to forgive some stylistic changes.