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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I think honestly that a writer should be able to do whatever they feel like with their story. The problem is that people are so irrationally terrified of causing offense. I don’t think we should baby an audience and try to decide what they should and shouldn’t be allowed to experience. If you offend someone…big deal. They’ll get over it.

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I’d (respectfully :wink: ) wonder about your choice of words/order …

“The problem is caused by terrifying people irrationally taking offense”

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When we were talking earlier in the other thread about escapism and the desire to read content outside that of often difficult aspects of life numerous people or groups struggle with, it made me think why high fantasy and science fiction tends to be the two most prolific genres in interactive fiction, but also supernatural romance more recently:

High Fantasy tends to be the most popular by quite a way, probably because of interactive fiction’s roots in role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, but also because you can include basically anything there and it’s perfect for escapism. You often have races like dwarves and elves that double for other groups (to varied effect) letting writers have the option of using them to say things about our society, but otherwise it’s easy for escapism. And then space based science fiction is the next most popular where you can have aliens instead of elves and dwarves, but can do much the same (Star Trek managed this for some time).

But with us confronting our own society more these days I see that supernatural romance has become more popular - we have us confronting aspects of ourselves through vampires and werewolves and other aspects that are different, but within a contemporary society like high school or something. So I find it interesting that certain genres cater better to escapism vs confrontation.

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Relating to class struggles and socioeconomic discrimination, I sometimes feel like this has become somewhat of a taboo topic?

Obviously an author is free to include as much or as little of these themes as they want to or the story calls for, but I’m wondering if some authors don’t include it in their games because they are afraid to? I’m not making any statements here, I just found the way people reacted to this topic on an earlier thread curious, and I wonder why.

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It’s pretty much never come up before as far as I know so I am as fairly confused as you. The earlier thread issues were more down to comparing it to more consistent content like ensuring gender and sexuality options I think. Like you said it’s the choice of the writers how much to include and the reader to elect whether to check it out.

In my country, all books or games focus on the socio-economic situation are really bad writing, and pandering from both sides of the spectrum many have terrible presumptions about race and migrants.

It is so much that here most people don’t want to hear about even it.

the mere idea of a Cog about it sounds like a really bad idea. I don’t want to play a game focus on how hard is not to have money I passed for that in real live…

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Plus Mara likes being a fabulous yet poisonous noble in her escapism. :wink:

Although most “adventurers” and protagonists do start out that way (or most often lower middle class in more modern settings), they typically don’t tend to stay way as the story progresses.

Ironically I think the games where this is felt most severely are the games where the protagonist suddenly finds out they are the secret heir of a/the ruler or just someone very wealthy and get thrown from the bottom to the top all at once, which does and should create a culture shock and I don’t think the story should completely paper that over because that tends to feel very unrealistic.

On the other hand in the settings where the mc gradually climbs the ladder through their own efforts it is much less of a big deal, although if the author wants to put a slight emphasis on it they can always choose to let the mc retain some of their old habits, which is realistic.
For example, in real life my preference for bar soap tended to get the occasional chuckle and raised eyebrow out of some of my guests who have never been poor or even lower middle class…well before Corona at least.
Those minor, optional touches could help give some verisimilitude to social climber mc and make the world feel more real, but I’d say they are not critical to have in a good story either and if you just want to make a wish fulfilment story where you only want to emphasise all the cool things the mc can do with their new position, that’s fine too as far as escapism goes.

That said realistically extreme wealth and status differences do tend to cause some friction, in relationships and otherwise, but nothing a good story shouldn’t be able to overcome.

For example, if my Keeper mc ever adopts kids with Altair (who is mega-wealthy) it would likely be a minor point of hurt that Altair is the one paying for the kids extensive security details/measures while it is my mc’s keeper status that actually creates the most danger to them. Again nothing that a good relationship cannot overcome but it would still be a minor sting to my mc’s pride that his own resources are too meager to protect the kids from dangers he’s the primary cause of.

Fair enough, really in most stories more money/higher status just tends to mean my mc’s spend it on fancier clothes and jewellery and conversely the lack of money tends to mean looking like a bum while adventuring with well-dressed higher status characters which tends to be something most of my mc’s do not enjoy.

The thing that tends to cause the biggest issues for me and some of my mc’s are those situations where more money/higher status means expectations of straight or forced marriage (which is sadly still quite common in the many worlds based on anything related to the British empire), which would be the most common reason for most of my mc’s to reject it or not seek it, as fancy clothes don’t mean that much if they’d still be miserable all the time.

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Yeah, however, I love write dystopias and read games Based on racial and ethnic groups problems. But money and socioeconomic status is not something that i am attracted. As I said real politicals has destroyed that for me

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The question is how does one divorce racial/ethnic problems from money? Most racial discrimination, outside of the worst extremes, takes much of its harm in socioeconomic discrimination: discrimination in employment, segregation into lower-income areas, exclusion from schools/wealthier areas etc.

For instance the start in the US where you can really trace the separation in wealth between the average white American family with the average African-American family is the GI Bill, where white veterans got free college but African-Americans were denied it, were red-lined to prevent them from purchasing homes, and were often all together denied low-interest, low-money down FHA loans that causes the explosion in American home ownership (which is the source of most Americans families inter generational wealth). Even I as a low-income white person (growing up) could recognize how much better I had it then most of my African-American or Hispanic peers. When I went to community college, the student body was about 30% Hispanic. In law school, it was about 2-3% Hispanic.

Now there is much racism not directly connected with money i.e. bullying, name-calling, social exclusion but wherever that is found, you will generally find the above, too.

Most means of resolving these problems also have to happen along socioeconomic means: reparations, affirmative action, etc.

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To be clear I’m not necessarily speaking about a hypothetical game of which these issues are a core of the narrative. No, class and status will be a reality in almost all concievable worldbuilding scenarios except those akin to a star trek kind of world where this has been overcome. Naturally the author can choose to omit touching on these subjects, I’m not policing anybodys creative vision, let’s make that very clear! But I feel there are many places where the discussion of this topic is more than justified, and to ignore them feels quite dishonest.

And I’m not saying the author should put a considerable effort into this, or any effort at all for that matter. It’s just a fact of reality that social class will have an effect on a person, and there is a lot of room left to explore this dynamic in a way that is fluid and natural.

I’m not calling anybody out, I have just noticed a certain kind of tendency to omit or downplay (in the narrative) these issues, and I am genuinely very curious as to why.

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