Video Games and Me: A Personal Gaming/DA:O Retrospective

Adorable_Al

Video games have pretty much always been a part of my life. My father was a computer programmer and we have had a computer in my house for as long as I can remember. I started out playing some of those “edutainment” games, learning as few DOS commands as necessary to start them up. I have hazy memories of time spent with the Sesame Street characters of Letter-Go-Round, which was originally published before I was even born.

At some point in early grade school my brother and I got a Super Nintendo for Christmas, and I promptly forgot all that DOS knowledge I’d acquired. While my parents said it was for us to share (always a great idea with kids who don’t particularly get along, amirite?), even then I knew it was really for my brother. And sometimes for my parents. I remember them staying up until all hours of the night with their friends and family playing Hal’s Hole in One Golf. It puzzled me then and puzzles me now, but man, they loved that game.

But how could the systems and games we had be for me? All the characters you controlled in the games we had on that SNES, and the many more to come, were men: Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong & Diddy Kong, Link, Mega Man, Cloud, Banjo, and even Kirby, who manages to be male even while existing as an anthropomorphized balloon thing. Girls were in the games as objects to be rescued, to scream and be pretty prizes. Perhaps you could occasionally play them as side characters, and sometimes they even showed up as bad ass NPCs in their own right, but they were never the player character in my experience.

At the time it didn’t bother me much; I didn’t even think about it. I still sighed over the romances and hoped my character would get the girl. Even being of the opposite sex to the character I controlled, I felt I had a strong connection to many of the stories, especially once I discovered the Final Fantasy series, and the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Now I know that games featuring women characters were out there, even then, but they certainly weren’t part of the library of games my brother picked out and I occasionally picked up. But even if I’d had one of those few games with a female protagonist, would I have even known? Samus Aran has existed since 1986 but honestly, I didn’t know the character was supposed to be woman until I was in college. I could go into a whole separate debate over whether that is good or bad, or about how the character’s appearance has been increasingly sexualized over time. I’ve never played a Metroid game, but a quick Google search & accompanying images shows me that the series in general is a topic I could get riled up over. (Check out the Wikipedia article on “Metroid (Video Game)” and see what I mean. It’s “lauded for being one of the first video games to feature a female protagonist, though the player must complete the game in under five hours for this to be revealed, with the game’s instruction manual even using ‘he’ to refer to the protagonist.” I…have feelings about that.)

I don’t think I played a single game with a female protagonist until after I was married. But the day I found out there were games where I could star as a kick-ass lady, have my romance and consummate it too, turned the way I choose games on its head. Discovering Dragon Age: Origins was a profound experience. I won’t say it changed my life (although it might have), but I will say it changed my life as a gamer. It’s the one that turned me from being a casual and embarrassed gamer to an enthusiast. It’s why I’m now out here on the internet letting my gaming-geek flag fly and why I now have a day job working on software. This may not seem like much, but all through high school and most of college I tried my damnedest to keep many of my perceived “nerdy” interests secret from my friends and peers. I’m a gaming convert, and I’ve found converts tend to be the most missionary about their passions.

Aside from my new predilection for games where I can play as a lady, another quirk I have is I generally don’t replay games. (Well, aside from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I played the shit out of that game. I think I beat it at least three times and started it without finishing it many other times as well. Anybody else remember making Link roll around so you can try to peek up his tunic? No? Oh. I’m pretty sure he was my first video game crush, and I guess I was somewhat of a perv even then.)  Anyway, when I decided to play DA:O for the second time (mostly because of Kaylan’s play diaries and Jenn’s decision to replay it too), I surprised myself. I never thought I’d be able to enjoy a game when I already knew the storyline.

I’m also surprised at how different it feels to play it now, after years of other computer games and Bioware games specifically. Suddenly the maps that seemed incomprehensibly large during my first playthrough seem infantile and tiny. Using WASD to control my character is a breeze, and I no longer shriek and slam the spacebar to pause the game every time I hear a monster noise in the Kokari Wilds.

But Alistair is just as great as I remembered him. Dare I say he’s even better? I’m less starry-eyed and simply impressed by his very existence, so now I recognize that he may very well be a dumb oaf, and he has a bit of an underbite, but he’s also easy-going, funny, and devoted. He’s so innocent and pure, I want to squeeze him basically at all times. Now being able to see and accept the flaws make his character more enjoyable instead of less because I can see how carefully the writers crafted him.

Alistair <3
But maybe not in this image. Here he looks possessed.

Of course, for all the good things about playing a game another time, there are also bad parts: the annoying things, or those flaws you didn’t notice the first time while the shiny-eyed naivete kept you feeling excited and forgiving the whole time. Like the fact that the whole game is basically one big dungeon. Ugh. I really dislike dungeon crawling. Also the hands on the character models are huge and freakish.

I also learned this time ‘round that I hate being a rogue. Hate, hate, hate it. I’m always a magic user, or a mage/warrior combo if possible (I’m looking at you, Vanguard Shep). But this time I thought it’d be nice to try a different origin story, and I wanted to be able to marry Alistair and be his queen. If you’re not a mage, and you want to have Alistair in the party, you need to be the only remaining class…and that meant being a stabby-stabby dual-wielding rogue for me. I also made the mistake of picking the cranky voice so I now I have a skill set and fighting style I don’t like, as well as a character who yells about getting a ladder all the time because she wants you off her back. Well, it’s certainly a change!

I’m playing on easy mode this time, because I want to breeze through the game and just focus on wooing Alistair again. But now I realize this game was hardcore in a way the newer Bioware games are not. I can hardly believe how many times I’ve died already, and I mention again I’m using easy difficulty! I thought this setting would mean a straightforward jaunt of me cackling “Ha! Ha! Ha! Look how overpowered I am! These enemies fall before my blade like…something that’s easy to cut with a blade! Ha! Ha! Ha!”

persistent gore
I’d forgotten how ridiculous the persistent gore was, too.

I don’t know how I got through it the first time on normal. Although in retrospect I do remember being thoroughly pissed at the number of times I died at the hands of the zombie hordes of Redcliffe, and I completed the Deep Roads part last so all I remember of it is an annoying slog through one long, interminable wave of darkspawn. I was stubborn young thing at the time and didn’t want to change my difficulty level no matter how many times the loading text suggested it. Of course, I changed my tune when I replayed the ending of the game a half dozen times in a failed attempt to keep Alistair from sacrificing himself. Then, the cheat for kill-all-enemies was a close companion. (I think I need to Google that again if I want to get through this game in a reasonable length of time.)

I’m about a quarter of the way through my second playthrough of Dragon Age: Origins, and overall it’s been an enjoyable experience. I’ve discovered that the second time through there are different things to notice and enjoy, aside from just curiosity at what the next plot twist will be. I also realized I mostly ignored the flaws the first time while I was wondering what witty banter my party would engage in next. I seem to have less tolerance for playing it at length now; no 5-hour play binges for me this time around. I hope I’ll finish it (unlike my latest Skyrim adventures) and see myself crowned queen. But I just belatedly realized that if I want to keep both Alistair and myself alive, I will have to make the terrible, terrible decision to foist him upon Morrigan. Maker save us all.

 

Jen R. wants to know why the Fade sloth demon boss has so many forms, whyyyyyyy?!?!?

7 thoughts on “Video Games and Me: A Personal Gaming/DA:O Retrospective”

    1. hahahahahahaha, guess where I’m at in my Origins replay!

      …middle of the Deep Roads, still. Just. couldn’t. deal. with Branka’s booby trap section and abandoned it “temporarily” months and months ago. Jenns in the Deep Roads, trapped forever, unmotivated to move on, lol

      1. BUT, I took over a sword and shield warrior Justin had played up to Skyhold in DAI and am loving the fuck out of her. Who’d’ve thought I’d like warrioring??

        1. Sword & shield is totally the only other class I think I’d like to play. But I always want to romance warrior dudes it seems, and keep them near me always (aka in my party). I am a jealous, controlling lover in games. I would never have told Alistair to sleep with Morrigan!! (I think.)

  1. Um, either I’m writing articles in my sleep under a different name, or there’s something in the air right now, because I also just started my own (third) DA:O playthrough with a female noble rogue with the intention of romancing Alistair and being queeeen. Origins was my reintroduction to games after a long absence, and Alistair and being a female warden were a large part of that. Have done the Dalish, Circle, Redcliffe, and Temple of Sacred Ashes quests (with a walkthrough for the floor plate puzzle, because haha fuck that shit). Now I’m about to head to Orzammar and I’m losing my will to keep going, though. Must…get to…Landsmeet…

    In my case, I’ve been modding the CRAP out of the game for this go-round. Combat retweak mod, dog-as-permanent-companion mod, pretty hair and armor mods. I think I’ve permanently screwed up the balance of the game as a result – I’m playing on Hard, mostly because it’s become ridiculously easy 90% of the time, but then the remaining 10% is impossible. Oh, and, *cough cough*, if you haven’t deflowered Alistair yet, I’m going to recommend this mod, which makes the romance scene actually sweet and sexy rather than hilariously horrifying:
    http://www.nexusmods.com/dragonage/mods/1420/?

    1. That’s the worst part! I never even got far enough along in this play through to get to the sexy times. And now you tell me about this mod to make it less cringe-inducing. I’m almost tempted to try again. Almost. 😉

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