I find religion extremely engaging. I’ve taken courses on religion, I used to be religious, I love to talk about religion… I now find myself working at a university with student groups representing religions from all over the world. I’ve interviewed them for papers and I have a stack of books at home on various religions so that I can understand them and where they’re coming from.
I also love video games. A few years ago Dragon Age: Origins came out and I immediately bought it for the PS3. This was the first game I’ve ever played that had created such an interesting and fictional religion that really felt weighty. It felt real.
In a nutshell, the Maker created the entire world. He took a wife named Andraste, who is seen as the Prophetess. She had a mortal husband who was jealous that the Maker took her as a bride and this husband then betrayed her and she was burned at the stake. The Maker turned away from humanity. In an effort to please him, humanity has created what is called the Chantry, which is essentially a church or temple. They spread the Chant of Light and they believe it they can spread this Chant across all four corners of the world, the Maker will return his gaze to them.
The story is interesting but the game developers have managed to create the sense that this religion is truly permeating all corners of the world. As you exchange quips with the bartender, he’ll mention that his wife is at the Chantry. If you’re in a town and looking for some side quests, head to the Chantry and see if there are any jobs that the locals need done. You can ask the Sisters or Mothers for blessings.
I have seen games where there is a religious belief that is seen as a plague which is covering the world, but this is the first game that I’ve ever played that allows you to embrace the religion if you choose.
In Dragon Age: Origins, there were several storylines which allowed you to make moral choices that involved the Chantry. You could have a party member which was a Sister and you could talk to her about her journey and she would chime in with her thoughts when you’d do something morally gray. At one key point in the story, you find the Ashes of Andraste, which can cure any wound. There is a cult which wants you to pour dragon blood into the ashes and corrupt them. Or, you can just take a pinch and leave it. If you choose to pour the blood in, your Sister companion flips out and attacks you, as well as several temple guardians.
There were other moments in Dragon Age: Origins that let you make moral choices regarding religion and what was seen as right by the Chantry. You could help evangelize to the dwarves (those heathens) and set up a Chantry in their underground city. This really set the stage for what would go down in Dragon Age 2.
In Dragon Age 2, there are some different conflicts but religion is much more at the forefront. There will be some spoilers, so if you haven’t played Dragon Age 2 (and care about this kind of stuff), avert your eyes.
The world of Dragon Age 2 is a much smaller one. You are confined to one city, as opposed to adventuring across an entire continent. Therefore, the problems are much smaller, but you feel the effect more. The city of Kirkwall is being torn in two. The debate between mages (or wizards) and the templars (righteous warriors of the Chantry) is becoming heated. Eventually, you’ll have to choose a side. Should dangerous wizards roam free, even though they attract demons seeking power? Or should these religious warriors essentially prison and quarantine these wizards for their own good?
You have the option to have a companion in Dragon Age 2 that is a little more on the religious side, named Sebastian. He goes to the Chantry often and is the process of healing after his family has been killed. You can befriend him, but he doesn’t quite get along with any mages that might be traveling with you. He does offer unique insight though and I feel a lot of love went into writing his dialogue, since it’s a perspective not often shown in a positive light in such a dark fantasy storyline.
Throughout the course of the game, you spend a good deal of time witnessing mages do horrible things because of the demons that are attracted to them AND you see a lot of hypocrisy and horrible actions of behalf of religious fantatics. BUT the actual Chantry also recognizes how evil some of these fanatics can be, so it offers that third viewpoint which is (again) uncommon. You see the tyrannical fanatic and how far she will go to destroy mages, but the actual Sisters (and Mother) of the Chantry don’t condone her behavior.
I think this teaches a valid point which is important for who is likely the target demographic for this game (young men). There will be fanatics but don’t debase the religion for that. There have been terrorists associated with many religions but I don’t believe those are the individuals that you should base your opinion on. Many religions are those of love and acceptance and serve as a vital place for people who need that.
Now, I have to shake my head at Dragon Age 2. It did something spectacular until the final moments of the game. I don’t know why they made this decision, but regardless of what choices you’ve made, you have to fight both the tyrannical leader of the templars AND the leader of the mages. If I choose to side with the mages, their leader still resorts to “blood magic” and essentially becomes a demon, and you must battle him. Even if I side with the templars and want to wipe out the mages, the templar leader STILL loses it and you have to fight her. So, regardless of choice, both endings are essentially the same.
There was the possibility here for drastically different outcomes, including both extremes and this neutral viewpoint which is often lacking. In the end, both parties become crazy and villainized. There isn’t really the option to either go fanatic OR to rebel against the system. It kind of forced down this middle road with no sort of payoff for all the choices you’ve made throughout the game.
It teased you. They’ve created an elaborate and stunning religion that you could have embraced but then it yanks that choice away. It teased you with the ability to choose to be a genocidal maniac, but it forced you not to be.
I think that until the final moments, Dragon Age 2 did something really unique and offered you a variety of ways to engage with a religion that felt like it was weaved throughout the entire culture. But then in a swift moment, it cleared everything away and forced you into situations that felt like they should have been avoided in-game.
Maybe it was so that Dragon Age 3 could have a solid starting point and didn’t have to account for various endings. Maybe they didn’t want to open the ending up to controversary (I could see the game receiving negative criticism if it possibly allowed for blatant religious genocide). Either way, I felt like more could have been done to truly make this game have an impactful ending that really created dialogue and opportunity for younger players to see the benefits of choosing a peaceful route instead of “everyone is crazy, kill them all.”
But I do still commend the Dragon Age team for creating such an engaging religion as the backstory for their world, I just hope that future installements allow a little more interaction and choice.