Discrimination and Escapism in Interactive Fiction

I’m not sure why you’re approaching this with the idea that I am saying Dragon Age should scrap a major part of its story, but okay. I’m not even sure where I said no stories should ever address discrimination or oppression.
Many aspects of the story was and at least all the way up to Inquisition still is influenced by real incidents going on in today’s world, so please do not accuse me of “mental gymnastics” in finding and making comparisons. Fiction, including Dragon Age does not exist in a vacuum. I have no intentions of speaking down to you, so do not do the same to me.

But back to the main subject, I do enjoy reading stories that deal with this subject. I just prefer they do so with grace and respect. The same series did so pretty well with the elves. The first Mass Effect has done the same with how humans are treated by other races. My original comment was about how trying to make a simple “super people are oppressed but there’s valid reasons why” story is dangerous for actual minorities.


Here’s my two cents that nobody asked for.

I don’t think mages/superbeings/mutants = oppressed minorities IRL is the greatest metaphor for the reasons stated in the analysis that @idonotlikeusernames posted. In fact, in Dragon Age: Inquisition we can see has Vivienne fits all of those points made in the analysis to a T, so there’s that to consider.

I would argue that the whole Mages vs. Templars trope shares quite a lot in common with the debate surrounding the USA’s Patriot Act and the question it begs: should a government prioritize the security and safety of its citizens at the cost of their freedoms or should a government prioritize their freedom at the cost of their safety and security?

The discrimination obviously comes into this argument when you have a government proposing “the Muslim ban” or any equivalent and then trying to enforce said laws.

I found this analysis, so have at it: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Generally speaking, I wouldn’t think minority individuals/groups have the real world equivalent of “the right to shoot lightning at fools” as Anders so charmingly phrases it in DA: Awakening.


Pretty much in every product like that we can find comparisons to our reality, that’s not what I was contesting. Perhaps not clearly enough, but “mental gymnastics” where refering to an argument that “people who are part of an oppresive system (…) have their value systems justified or explained in a way that makes it a bit more sympathetic” by this particular story (as that is what “example” implies) and how much would those people need to ignore for it to happen. In other words - it doesn’t make sense for me to derive this type of reinforcement from it.

The conflict within the game made sense to me on it’s own - I do not rule out that there might have been some social commentary implemented by the authors that makes your example valid one, but if so I’m not aware of it and that’s not what I have taken from the story when playing through it, which is why I rejected this notion.

I wasn’t trying to speak down, but explain why I disagree with the example for your argument, which brings me to your follow-up on it:

The idea of scraping this part of the story is from my perspetive a logical consequence of your point above - if something is “dangerous to actual minorities”, wouldn’t you agree there would (and should) be pushback against publicising it? I am not convinced that it’s an inherent “danger” of those stories, and for above stated reasons I cannot accept your example. Hope that clearls it up enough :wink:

I actually wasn’t aware of the analysis you linked, but I do see a good deal of merit in it. Two cents well spent.

In the end, I think that using discrimination in the story MUST be used to fight discrimination. Let the player handle it like he want, but in the end, a racist, sexist character (even if he is the mc) must be proving wrong. But I think, and it’s the harder path, that you have meke it coherent. Some people will be racist but aren’t cruel or anything (like “oh, he is black, poor thing”, it’s stupid but not cruel). But other people are real asshole, and you have to make them “good”, real jerks. No half mesure.

What I like in theses forums, especially like this one, is that there is nobody to call you a SJW. Like it’s a bad thing to protest against discrimination.


The reason I cited Dragon Age is because I feel that it is a prime example on why discriminatory allegories don’t work–there are totally justifiable reasons for the templars to want to lock away mages, as you said. My whole point is not that neo-nazis or something are going to look at this and say “See? I’M RIGHT!” My point has been that discriminatory allegories where there is a totally valid and justifiable reason to discriminate against a group fail, because instead of having a message that discrimination is wrong, it has a message that sometimes, it’s justified. It’s an Accidental Aesop, not an intentional message by the author or anything like that.

In Dragon Age 2, the main villain of the game, Meredith has cracked down and abused the mages of her circle. We are told through nearly the whole narrative that she’s being pretty terrible to them. But in the gameplay, and in side-quests, we see that yeah, blood magic and demon possession is actually a super serious, dangerous, and common problem. And then with what Anders does, we see that she was completely reasonable to be so paranoid and concerned. The narrative tells us that, if you wanted to avoid what happens at the end of the game, Meredith was right to preemptively imprison a whole group of people.The mage-templar conflict in Dragon Age 2 is, in effect, completely fucked in its discriminatory metaphor.


Perhaps in your opinion! I think that the Dragon Age series does a good job of portraying the struggle between people who prioritize safety at the expense of basic human rights, and people who prioritize other people at the potential expense of safety. My wording has given away my position—I do not believe it is ever fair or in anyone’s best interest to imprison children because “one day they might hurt someone”. Couple this with the fact that the games are very heavy-handed in the belief that Templars are morally corrupt—for example, there have been many canon instances of them using their authority to rape, torture, and kill mages, even apprentices/children.

I don’t like to compare fantasy oppression to real-world oppression, because it’s never 1:1 and often ends up disrespecting minorities who face said oppression. But that being said, depictions of oppression and discrimination in fiction will always attract the people who it resonates with and can relate to the struggle. Which is where a lot of the passionate debate about series like Dragon Age comes from.

Side note, it’s also important to remember that Kirkwall is a very special example, which the games have hinted at extensively through lore.

That’s an opinion! I believe, conversely, that what happened at the end of the game was a result of Meredith’s imprisonment and overall terrible treatment of the mages in Kirkwall. Many of them turned to blood magic as a means of escape, or to gain power to protect themselves. First Enchanter Orsino turned to blood magic because it was his job to protect all the mages in his care, and he was backed into a corner where he was facing a genocide he had no power to stop. Anders, who was already mentally unstable to begin with, spent ten years as a peaceful revolutionist; his act of terrorism/revolution was also a last resort that he felt driven to, due to his frustration and mental instability. It’s honestly a vicious circle.

To tie this whole example back to game development (especially for choice-based RPGS and interactive fiction): sometimes you’ll try things that end up not working. Kirkwall was an extreme example of blood magic and oppression, yes. And the devs have admitted that not including more mages who didn’t fall victim to demons was one of their biggest mistakes. There have also been interviews citing that the real reason for Orsino’s face-heel turn was because there was pressure from the producers to add another boss fight for the game’s finale. Which is a good example of the struggle of balancing storytelling with gameplay.

I cannot speak for the devs on this, but it’s my opinion that the templars are made out to have “good points” is because the player is given an option to side with them in every game. If you’re encouraging roleplaying (which choice-based games are), you always want to give a player reasons as to why they may prefer to make one choice over another. And, in my opinion, a story that doesn’t have this kind of nuance is a bad story.

(Also, the Templar Order in Dragon Age is a PRIME example of the Knight Templar trope. I highly recommend anyone who’s interested read more about that if it’s unfamiliar to you because it’s literally the embodiment of good intentions leading people to becoming tyrannical sociopaths and using their “morals” to justify their horrific actions. Both Dragon Age and Assassin’s Creed aren’t subtle with their use of the trope.)

Based on how this conversation is going, we might need to change the title to “Discrimination and Escapism in Fictional Media” lol. Although technically RPGs are interactive… just not fiction-y in the terms of written fiction.

Which is a good indicator that we should return to the topic of the thread.