Dragon Age, Rape and Women’s Stories

So let’s start this off by saying that I will be lightly touching on the issue of rape. If that’s going to be difficult for you, please skip this piece of opinion since it is only mine and in the grand scheme of things, not that important. Second, if you feel the need to respond in an inflamitory way on the issue of rape as a result of this opinion piece, don’t bother. I’m sure you have better things to do with your time and I won’t be responding to anything clearly cruel, ignorant, or inflamitory because rape is a sensitive issue for many.

Clear? Good, moving on.

Bioware is not my favorite video game company. They’ve done some neat games, some stinkers and a few things here and there that  drove me up a wall. (Wait, so, I have sex with an NPC in Mass Effect, and suddenly they have nothing else to add to the story? Yeah, that’s awesome.) So as I heard more and more about Dragon Age I had both high hopes and low expectations at the same time. I’d heard a few things that left me hopeful. (Your character can be gay! Yippie!) But I wasn’t holding my breath for anything miraculious as I recognize social conscience in games tends to take a while.

That trepidation in mind, I started playing. I started playing a female elf from the city because I wanted to see the ‘elf as second class citizen’ story line for myself. Frankly, I’m glad I did. First, I get told that I’m getting married today. Neat! There’s a variety of responses to my coming wedding, I can be pissed, planning to escape, happy about it. All in all, I like to see family life being recognized in a video game even if I KNOW there’s no way this ‘dark fantasy’ video game is going to go along the ‘happily ever after’ ending.

I was not surprised when you get to the wedding and, low and behold, a bad guy shows up to break up the festivities. It’s a Braveheart kind of intruption. Son of a local human noble wants to come and grab some elf tail before the wedding. The villain is a little ‘mwah ha ha’ mustush twirling evil for my tastes, but this is a video game, so I let it go. I’m also not entirly sure why I can’t take this chump in a fight, but whatever.

So, now me and a few other elf lasses are taken back to the noble’s house, apparently to be raped within an inch of our lives, but I plan an escape. One of the women is slaughted outright, but I still manage to break out and start saving myself while my beloved male cousin and my betrothed are trying to save us from the outside in. Neat how that works out, heroics from the fellas as well as a little feminist liberation. I can dig it, and while I’m dealing with the threat of rape, it isn’t thrown in my face as much as I might fear. No ‘avoid being rape’ mini game or anything grotesgue like that. Further, my character is never really in direct danger of actually being raped, it’s a thing that might be happening off screen to the NPCs so that me, as a player, doesn’t have to face it directly. That would have been too much in a game like this, a line I don’t think Bioware would be willing to cross. (At least, I hope not.)

Now, my best friend does, apparently get raped, though it’s only indrectly suggested by dialouge and I do get to kill the dude who did it. What really blew me away when all was said and done about the story is the victim’s response to her asualt.

She is not destroyed. She is not left a quivering shell of herself with no personality left beyond ‘victim.’ She tells you that she’s chosen to keep the detail to herself, that she’s upset, but she’ll be okay and that she has support from her new husband. (My favored cousin, point of fact.) She’s facing it as a reality, but isn’t destroyed. That’s a strong message to be sending out. It isn’t dismissive of what happened to her, but it doesn’t ‘ruin her’ as comes up in stories with rape from time to time.

I’ve had some people ask me what a woman’s story is. In this case, I would say that this is a woman’s story, not just for my character but for her best friend as well. It’s heavy, when you reflect on the implications, but it becomes just a part of the character development instead of the whole and total motivation for everything she does. (She is an elf rouge off to save the world who was nearly raped, not just a rape victim. See the difference?)

Now clearly, this is just my opinion. I can see where other women, more sensitive to the subject might have a harder time, find it distasteful or wish they had been warned. I’d say Dragon Age did a good job of indicating that this was a very dark game, (maybe more so then it actually is, but that’s another review,) so I don’t feel as if it was out of place or inappropriate, which is really what I’m looking for when playing games with heavy content.

I’d love to hear what you think, play nice!

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  1. November 17, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    I think it was pretty well handled. While the subject of the violation could well have been utterly destroyed as sometimes happens in real life, to make the assumption that it is always a life ender and sole focus of all life thereafter is almost insulting to women survivors who DO recover.

    While I never want to insinuate that rape is anything less than heinous and in many ways a kind of murder in its own right…some people have survived and moved beyond it. Like any life event (this being a greater one) people handle it differently.

    Yes, some people are shattered forever. But to assume that ALL survivors of rape, or incest or other such events are summarily ruined and emotionally destroyed is not allowing that some survivors can be stronger/ weaker handle things better/ worse.

    Some survivors are exceptionally strong persons who take these events and while they never really “go away” they are put in a place where they are dealt with and moved on from.

    I think by portraying the event in a negative light (rightfully so) and having the character be able to set it aside for events that are world shaking shows an amazing amount of strength of character…something that I believe happens in real life as well. I like the idea of it remaining a horrible event, but respect greatly the character that can set it aside and be more than a victim or in the case of the NPC, accept that it is a reality, but is steadfast in surviving it…not being consumed by it.

    In many ways allowing the “Rape Victim” tag to define the character would equal a win for the antagonist and moving on signals a defeat to the antagonist on several levels.

  2. Tara
    November 25, 2009 at 5:42 am

    Interesting. I haven’t gotten a chance to play DragonAge yet, but we own it and I’d like to.

    Recently while LARPing, I was playing an NPC who was physically abused (but not raped) by her captors. She was rescued by her friends, but as soon as she was able, she picked up a sword and joined them in the fray–then killed the one NPC bad guy the brought back to camp (perhaps at risk of mild ‘monsterbation’).

    A few people later told me that they were (out of game) pleasantly surprised at this decision. While I don’t condone killing would-be abusers, fantasy worlds gives us the option to exact judgment and make a statement about the abusers’ wrongdoings.

    It’s a complicated issue. Sounds like DragonAge handled it well and I’d like to play it soon.

  3. Phil
    December 16, 2009 at 7:55 am

    I’ve played the game as a rogue elf. And I think it really depends on how the game is played. One of the most fascinating things about this game is that you never get the same exact story and game as anyone else who has played the game. A lot of what happens is based on the choices that you make. For example, at the end of the particular mission that you mentioned, you have a couple choices. You can kill the person responsible, or you can make an agreement with him to spare his life.

    That being said, I disagree with the original author, because I felt that the voice actor who played the female elf did a very convincing job. Although nothing is actually seen or depicted in the game, her dialogue was very disturbing and heartfelt. It is one of many moments in Dragon Age that really plays with your emotions. At no point, did I ever get the impression that she walked away out of the situation carefree. With closer observation, it is mentioned that she is injured to the point where it is questioned whether she can even walk out of the complex. Also, that particular character was known throughout the village as a person who was very strong-willed.

  1. November 20, 2009 at 12:31 pm

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