Oppression and Selective Information in Dragon Age II

TW: Discussion of Persecution, Religion, Terrorism

The following contains massive spoilers about the endgame and overarching narrative of Dragon Age II. Please do not read if you have any intention of playing the Dragon Age series.

The plot of Dragon Age II is fundamentally a story about security, freedom and oppression. It exists in a fantasy world where magical talent is treated as a curse rather than a boon, as it attracts demons from an astral plane called the Fade. Demons seek to possess people in the physical world, and seek out mages, whose powers are also linked to the Fade. Upon discovery of their talent, magic-users are sent to live in remote towers under order of a Catholicism analogue called the Chantry, which employs an order of knights called Templars to ensure their captivity. Some captive mages resort to using blood magic, a forbidden art involving pacts with demons, in order to fight for their freedom, killing swaths of innocents in the process.

Dragon Age II specifically revolves around the city of Kirkwall, where the blood magic-obsessed Templar commander Meredith treats mages even more poorly. Her paranoia is fueled by the frequent acts of rebellion by blood mages throughout the city. The player is told frequently by mages and their sympathizers that mages in the city are experiencing severe persecution. Yet this abusive behavior is only shown in two optional quests, and abuses of magic are seen throughout both the main story and optional missions. Furthermore, the player never actually visits the building wherein the mages are said to experience daily mistreatment. This creates a dilemma for the player, where the direct evidence the player’s avatar experiences and the information provided through dialogs and external material are directly in opposition.

By the end of the game, the two sides clash after the destruction of the city’s cathedral by a possessed mage. Meredith declares the Rite of Annulment, calling for the killing of every mage in the city. The mages rebel, many of them using blood magic and leading to the near-destruction of the city. The player must ultimately decide which side to support without having directly experienced the persecution of the rebels. I believe this lack of information to be a conscious choice on behalf of the developer to make both options more valid for the player. By selectively allowing the audiences glimpses of that side of the narrative, it makes siding with the Templars appear to be a more valid option for the protagonist to choose. Personally, I believe that this hiding of information is ineffective, as everybody I’ve talked to who has played the game supported the mages in their first play through. From what I can tell, the choice exists more to provide an illusion of choice and additional content for repeated play. It is a shame that the developers were unable to create an ending that included a truly divisive decision.

Replies are welcome, especially from those who have completed the game.

0 thoughts on “Oppression and Selective Information in Dragon Age II

  1. I think a part of what makes a lot of people choose to side with the mages (as in my circles, I’ve noticed the same trends, with a few exceptions) is a two fold cause.

    Part of it, I think, is involved in the audience of Dragon Age 2. I can’t speak to the gaming circles you travel, but for me, we are largely of groups who are, in real life, experienced in oppression in some way, either first-hand or second-hand. To me, choosing to side with the Templars felt like siding with the oppressors not just in the game, but in real life, and I had a hard time doing it for that playthrough.

    Another part is that even though Hawke never directly experiences the terror that the Templars have caused, they do see the effects. The possessed mage (I’m assuming we’re avoiding names for the sake of spoilers) mentions several times the experiences they had in the Circle (I can’t recall the exact phrasing, but it was along the lines of “the most common death I’d seen was by their own hand”). If you played the expansion pack from the first game, you know that character already, and you know more of his story.

    To me, that’s a lot like the concept of what allyship is meant to be. Listening to the stories of the oppressed and standing for them when they cannot (as Hawke is, at that point of the story, in a position of power).

    The story was a very interesting one, especially if you take it from the perspective of social justice, and I wish it had gotten more time to add in nuance, maybe more evidence of both sides instead of having characters outright tell you things.

    I agree 100% on your last point though: the ending’s decision is not near decisive enough. As a moral choice, the options were not explicit enough; the only plot line that had the Templars as victims was, again, optional and easily missed while the mages as victims was everywhere.

    I also had a sort of quiet wonder during my last playthrough that, perhaps, it was an intentional decision on the parts of the devs to not ever give Hawke definitive evidence on either side; throughout the story, they are wandering about and opportunities occur around them. Unlike the game’s predecessor or sequel, the main character isn’t going for being a hero. They’re just trying to keep their family safe and stuff keeps going wrong; they got dragged in.

    Sorry for the unexpectedly long reply and rambling. Really great post!

Leave a Reply