Dragon Age: Inquisition Saved My Life

Dragon Age: Inquisition Saved My Life
I get by with a little help from my friends. (Screenshot: BioWare)

Yesterday was Dragon Age: Inquisition’s sixth anniversary. To mark the occasion, instead of opining on Dragon Age 4 or loading up the game for another playthrough (which I’ll probably still do anyway), I sent a tweet to a couple of my friends marking our sixth(ish) friendship-iversary. I say “ish” because we all met some indeterminate time shortly after Inquisition launched — yelling, screaming, and crying about our favourite characters and the wealth of feelings they inspired in us was the reason we all met in the first place. I love the Dragon Age series, and Inquisition in particular is responsible for inspiring my personal renaissance, without which I would not be here — in every sense of that phrase you can imagine.

[Note: Content warning for self-harm/suicide ideation]

I was in a dark place six years ago, struggling financially and emotionally. I felt listless, staring down the long tunnel of my life wondering “Is this all I have to look forward to?” I had an unfulfilling job that paid just enough to barely survive, and an unfulfilling relationship that emotionally paid about the same. I went to work and cried at my desk for eight hours, then came home and stared at my computer screen until it was time to go to bed and start the whole thing all over again. Even video games no longer held any significance to me; nothing could entice me to play, not even my old time wasting standards like World of Warcraft.

Though I didn’t know it then, that was as close as I’ve been to hurting myself. For a multitude of reasons, Black people don’t like to talk frankly about mental illness or depression. We’re told to “just pray” or asked “what you got to be depressed about?” And medication? “That’s for white people.” I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my parents about it because I knew those were the answers I’d get, and I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my partner at the time because he was responsible for a lot of my bad feelings. I’d never had a therapist, didn’t know how to find one, and I didn’t know anybody I could talk to to find one. I was completely lost and miserable and knew of no way to save myself.

Then I saw on Steam that a new Dragon Age game had come out. I remember loving Dragon Age: Origins, and I’d had similar positive experiences with BioWare’s other RPG series Mass Effect. I avoided Dragon Age 2, warned away by the bad reception it got from the community (I’ve since come around to the game) but I was willing to try DA:I if for nothing else than I needed something to do before my mental state caused me to do something irrevocably drastic.

To start, Inquisition is a beautiful game. The jump from DA2’s Lycium engine to DA:I’s Frostbite feels like an improvement in graphics quality by several orders of magnitude. I remember looking at the menu screen of characters walking through the snow towards what ended up being certain doom, thinking “Oh wow this is so pretty.” It was the first time in a long while that I could remember feeling anything that wasn’t numbing dread.

Dragon Age: Inquisition picks up four years after the events of Dragon Age 2. Mages and Templars have been fighting all over Thedas, bringing destruction and ruin to the land. To put an end to the fighting, a peace summit known as the Conclave is arranged between the two factions by the Dragon Age equivalent of the Pope. Your character is at that meeting. Things go badly, the meeting place explodes, and in the explosion you’re given a mysterious power that allows you to seal destructive magical rifts that have suddenly appeared all over the world. Because of this power, you’re seen as the Herald of Dragon Age’s lady version of Jesus — Andraste — and made the Inquisitor. You’re now the head of the newly formed Inquisition, responsible for healing the rifts in the world and the rifts between the various warring factions of Thedas.

I loved how Inquisition’s story sucked me in immediately. Origins and DA2 take a while to develop and present the stakes, but from the opening cutscene of Inquisition, you know what it is you have to do. Your goal is clear and immediate. By making me the Inquisitor tasked with saving the world, Inquisition gave me a purpose when I personally had none.

Combat didn’t frustrate me the way Origins’ did. I know some fans didn’t like how Inquisition did away with the Dungeons and Dragons-like combat of Origins and DA2 in favour of a more actiony playstyle, but I loved it. I played a bow rogue, firing arrows while backflipping all over the battlefield. Didn’t make a damn bit of sense, but it was cool as hell.

Like many players, I too got lost in the expansive opening zone of the Hinterlands, but rather than hate it, I appreciated the vast landscape filled with things to uncover. I love everything about stars and celestial bodies, so I really enjoyed the Astrarium puzzles that had you draw constellations by connecting its stars. (My life for a mobile game of nothing but those puzzles!) It was like the game was made for me. I finally had something to look forward to.

But more than combat or puzzles, the characters of Dragon Age: Inquisition were the true appeal, the element of the game that literally saved my life. I cannot convey how deeply I loved all of those characters (yes, even Solas). They were all written so well, so full of life that they jumped from my hard drive and into my heart, where they will remain until my last day. They made me laugh, they made me feel safe, they loved me. I know it sounds odd to ascribe those actions to people who do not exist. I vividly remember putting a picture of the Inquisition up in my cubicle that said “I get by with a little help from my friends.” It was a reminder for when things got so bad at work that I thought I’d walk out, make the 20 minute drive to Lake Eerie, and throw myself in.

The picture when it was in my cubicle. I still have it and I still use it as a reminder. (Photo: Ash Parrish / Kotaku) The picture when it was in my cubicle. I still have it and I still use it as a reminder. (Photo: Ash Parrish / Kotaku)

Dorian with his acerbic wit and well-manicured moustache, the Iron Bull with a heart as big as his horns. Beautiful, Black as hell Vivienne with the way she entered a room, walking with the poise of Naomi Campell and the self-assured power of a woman who knows she could destroy you with an uttered word or a fire spell. And my chosen love interest Cullen, who, through millions of words of fanfiction I both read and wrote, taught me how I wanted to be loved.

It was the fanfiction that led me to my friends. We all read and loved each other’s work, leaving comments that slowly turned to daily conversations on Tumblr. We’ve been friends ever since, our friendship lasting even as all three of us grew beyond the DA: I fandom. I’ve met their families, stayed in their homes, and seriously discussed how we’re going to buy property by the sea sometime in our dotage.

Dragon Age: Inquisition fanfiction also got me writing again, helping me rediscover how much I loved it. I remember once spending an entire eight hour day at work (sorry, not sorry, former boss lady) writing one story start to finish. It’s still one of my best, and it made me think “This is the one thing I’m good at that makes me happy. Why am I wasting my time here, when I could be doing this for real and getting paid?”

My eternal faves. (Image: BioWare / Kotaku) My eternal faves. (Image: BioWare / Kotaku)

So I did. I got my first paid video game writing job despite not having a single professional clip to my name by submitting my DA: I fanfiction (not the porn-y ones, of course). And after six years of setbacks, happy accidents, a divorce, personal improvements, and being at the right place at the right time, I landed here.

In the accounting of my life, there is a clear line between Dragon Age: Inquisition and my current happiness. Directly and indirectly, the game guided me to make choices about my career, friends, and relationships that improved my life. There’s a tag we have at Kotaku for this story type — “last gen heroes.” It’s meant for an exceptional game that defines a specific console generation. But when I call Dragon Age: Inquisition my last-gen hero, I mean that in every sense of the word.

If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support or someone to talk to, contact the Lifeline Australia hotline at 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service at 1300 65 94 67 or the Kids Helpline (for ages 5-25) at 1800 55 1800.

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