While I would normally leave the analysis and exploration of video games as art to someone as talented and proven as Max Derrat (you need to check him out over on YouTube), I find myself quite eager to delve into one particular game, thanks to a sequence of dialogue that shows up early on in the game. Plenty of other games-focused content creators have covered this particular title, but I now will be throwing my own hat into that ring, if only to demonstrate a broader point regarding my latest academic passion project, the exploration of mythology.
The game in question is EA’s “Dragon Age: Inquisition”, the third title in the bestselling Dragon Age franchise of role-playing video games. Over the course of three games, a host of DLCs, and a variety of comics, web comics, and novelizations to fill in worldbuilding and historical lore, the people responsible for Dragon Age have brought to life the world of Thedas in a way that few other teams in the video game space have managed. I may have my issues with EA as a games company, but on the Dragon Age front, I can’t fault them for putting the time in to build something vast and immersive.
The dialogue scene I am referring to is an optional bit of back-and-forth between the player, still new in their role as the ‘Herald of Andraste’, and the Inquisition’s sort of head of PR, Josephine Montilyet. Whilst players are still using the township of Haven as their movement’s sort of unofficial headquarters encampment, they can have a conversation with Josephine regarding the player’s faith background. Depending upon which race the player choses to play as at the outset of character creation, various options will be presented for responding to the question, with a few that have no relation to the player’s race. All players, regardless of race, class or sex chosen to play as, have the option of revealing that, yes, they too are Andrastian adherents.
This option being present for all player character types has more to it than the mere mechanistic fluidity of immersing the player into the world of Thedas; it actually goes toward demonstrating a point that Josephine herself makes during the conversation. She makes note of the fact that few things throughout the realms of Thedas can serve as a point of commonality among otherwise vastly disparate cultures and nations, crossing the boundaries of nation, bloodline, trade, and even language. No matter the everyday practices of merchant sailors of Rivain, and their cultural disdain and rivalry with the mercenary outfits of Ferelden or Orlais, if two persons on either side of the conflict should overhear one another reciting the Chant of Light, a sense of understanding and easing of overt tensions can be detected, thanks to their shared faith.
For a more in-game example, what other factor beyond involvement with the Inquisition would tie together two polar opposite personalities such as Commander Cullen and Leliana? He is a noble, straightforward swordsman, a tactical warrior leader of soldiers; she is a subtle, manipulative spymaster who can send a single sniper archer into a densely packed city to kill a single person to achieve the same result as his battalion of marching men. If not for their shared Andrastian faith, these two characters might never be in the same orbit as one another.
So, what does all of this video game lore and mythos have to do with other mythologies and folk tales? What does it have to do with real world history and the practice of sharing cultural tales of ethics, morality and entertainment? In a single word, ‘unification’.
The relative strength and utility of any mythology seems to stem from its ability not only to survive the rigors of time, but to maintain applicability of its lessons, teachings and connections. For instance, there are very few genuine adherents of Norse pantheism remaining in the world today, though there does seem to be a kind of New Age resurgence in the practice of some rituals and customs among modern folk (at least, from a cursory glance through my Facebook friends’ timelines). Now, do any modern practitioners go charging into melee combat with perceived enemies in their day-to-day lives, howling that they dedicate their combative efforts to the name of Odin Allfather? I don’t think so, though, it should be acknowledged that with the existence of Florida Man, all things are possible…
To what can we ascribe the endurance of this pantheism? Is it simply the fantastical nature of those old myths and tales and their entertainment value? Do we see the values of the Vikings carried on in modern peoples? Certainly we still prize the hardiness of those Scandinavian warrior-sailors and explorers, possibly subconsciously assigning some of the thanks for their successes to their adherence to the pantheon.
It also doesn’t hurt that talented storytellers like Neil Gaiman find fertile ground to plant their own narrative seeds within in these mythologies. The long-running television show ‘Supernatural’ also did pretty good work with the expansion and reimagining of numerous folk tales and myths, as did ‘Grimm’, though the latter never seemed to maintain the cohesion and audience of the former. Shame, really.
Moving into territory that some among my readers will possibly see as my most blasphemous angle on the concept of unification in mythos, we come to the globally acknowledged and followed Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Now, before I get started, don’t worry about this piece suddenly turning into an endorsement for any given religion; I have about as much interest in putting myself in that line of fire as a seven-year-old might have in hearing all about the internal workings of the House Ways and Means Committee.
These long-standing faiths might not, at first blush, seem to have a lot in common, especially when one takes a long look at modern fierce adherents. If you stood a Hassidic Jew from Brooklyn next to an Alabama tent preaching Evangelical, next to a traditional Imam from Saudi Arabia, you’re not likely going to see a ton of outward physical similarities. They will likely be speaking different languages, using different currencies for trade, and treating with members of their geographic community who are not fellow adherents in vastly different ways.
Yet, at their roots, they all share a common unifying factor- they are all followers of an Abrahamic faith. To use another example, there are english-speaking Christians in America who, though they share no spoken or written words with their fellow Christians born and raised in Japan, can nevertheless recognize symbols and/or rituals or traditions shared between them. A church means the same thing to both of these persons, regardless of what other factors or traits may make them so widely different from one another. The Judeo-Christian mythos unifies them in ways nothing else seems able to.
Surely there are examples of this kind of unification that I’ve missed entirely, but I don’t want to drag on for too much longer before bringing this entry in the series to a close. The power of mythology and stories cannot be overstated, however, especially as regards the phenomenon of unification. Of all the things that a person could take away from the lore of old, its ability to bring people together surely stands as one of the most powerful.
And that, friends and neighbors, is precisely why we should never relinquish the gift of mythology. Until next time, take care of yourselves, and as always, keep reading.