Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fenris is NOT going to like this.

OMG I know what's going to happen.

I knew already that this would happen, but now I know how.  Hi, Cassandra!  How's it going?

I mean, I pieced together the intentional hints and the spoiled bits.  And it's big.  I knew that Champion Jenny will end the game as "the most powerful person in Thedas," which, I'm assuming means more than personal prowess.  I knew that the Chantry will hunt Jenny to either get her help or defeat her.  I had started to think that the game would end with Jenny at the helm of an army, either of mages or templars, but only one of those made sense.  If Jenny helps the mages overthrow the Chantry at Kirkwall, then she would end up leading a bunch of pissed-off mages.  But if Jenny helps the Chantry defeat the mages, then that's almost the status quo.  And if she's supporting the Chantry, why would Cassandra be so intent on finding her?

Here's why:  The templars secede from the Chantry. 

Jenny will win her battle at Kirkwall, but no matter who she sides with, this is war.  Two armies, spread all across Thedas, both of them with more power than any country, each with no allegiances except to themselves, and no purpose besides the destruction of the other.  (Reviews did mention the word "cliffhanger" several times.)

No wonder Cassandra looks so angry in the prologue.  Her Chantry has lost control.

I want to run home and watch the introduction again.

I didn't notice until someone else mentioned it, but there are hardly any
dwarfs without beards.  That's significant, I think.

Oh Varric.  I didn't like the narration when I first started playing, but now I can hear a person talking, and not just a default narrator, and it makes a difference.

The internet is full of people criticizing DA2 for poor character development.  Party members are seen as cardboard cutouts chosen from a small pool of stereotypes, burdened further by badly written dialog and substandard voice acting.  I am tempted to dismiss the charges out of hand because every game has these same criticisms aimed at it.  But, even knowing that some of the complaints are obviously of the "can't please everybody," type, I still want to rush to defend my people.  After all, I've spent quite a lot of time talking about my party members.  (Y'know how I was trying to figure out the perfect 'ship for Merrill?  Cassie has a great explanation of why it should be Varric.)

But part of me wonders how much of the nuance I see in these characters is there because I want it to be?  Are the party members set up to be blank Mary Sues, the framework for me to build my own story? 

And if they are, is that bad?

I believe that all forms of expression consist of two parts, including art forms that are consumed "passively."  There is a sender and a receiver, and what is communicated is a unique combination of the two.  When I write these words, no two people will receive the exact same meaning from them.  Often, the art of communication involves lessening, as much as possible, the contribution of the receiver, so that the same message sent to many people creates the same understanding.  This is a skill that one can strive for, but will never perfect.

But not everyone wants to diminish the role of the receiver.  Many creators celebrate the differences in interpretation that arise when different people experience their work.  Their work often depends on that variation.  Video games, in particular, are consumed in a call-and-response fashion, and in many games, the player is actively shaping the game being consumed.  When I play Dragon Age, or most other RPGs, I am encouraged to create a custom avatar to inhabit, one that will give me a personal experience of the game.  Jenny always has fair skin, and almost always dark hair.  When I see screen captures of other people's games, I am struck by the sense of wrongness in other player's versions of Hawke and Shepard. 

If I am creating personalities for Jenny's companions, analyzing small details and extrapolating larger stories from them, is that another way of personalizing my avatar?  By personalizing the people she associates with?  

If the characters in DA2 are underdeveloped and one-dimensional—and I'm not sure I agree that they are—is that a flaw or a feature?

Speaking of personalized responses and the way we project ourselves onto the world around us: when I think about the relationships between speaker and listener, I think about all of the time I spent arguing with my mother.  I remember how I learned, at a young age, that anything I said had to navigate a long and twisted path on its way to my mother's ears, and that once the words were out of my mouth, I had no power to help direct them along the way. 

Whenever I see someone questioned or criticized for talking about themselves, for making things personal, I find myself at a loss.  How can I do anything else?  It seems like hubris of the highest degree to think that I'm not, always, talking about myself.  Everything I see and feel and believe is filtered through everything I have seen or felt or believed before.  I live in the first person, everyone does.  I can write an "impartial narrator."  I can make pronouncements as if on high, as if my truth were all truths.  But it would be a sham. 

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