REFLECTING REALITY TO HELP BUILD SOCIAL SKILLS, EMPATHY, AND RESILIENCE
In addition to mirroring real life so as to resonate with more players, the relationship mechanics in the Dragon Age series also task players with utilizing real-life social skills, empathy, and inclusion to deepen NPC relationships. In Origins, both Leliana and Alistair are happy to chat about nearly any available topic, to the point that most positive dialogue options garner their approval. On the other hand, also in Origins, the stoic Qunari Sten does not respond well to personal questions or optimism that he perceives as naïve; if the player wants to earn Sten’s friendship, they must slowly chip away at Sten’s emotional defenses with consistent displays of competence, strategy, and intelligence. Players must decode different types of social cues, from laughter to sarcasm to silence, to understand how an NPC feels about them and about a given subject. Starting in Origins, each party member in the series, whether romanceable or not, requires certain types of dialogue selections and in-game actions in order for a player to earn their approval.
The relationship system in Inquisition tackles some more challenging topics related to diversity and inclusion compared to the previous two installments, showcasing a more transparent commitment to furthering empathy and social justice through the game’s narrative. In Inquisition, NPC Dorian’s side quest revolves around his father’s disapproval of his sexuality, so if a player hopes to deepen their friendship or romance with Dorian, they must select dialogue options that demonstrate understanding and tolerance. Also, in an article he wrote about Gaider’s contributions to Dorian’s character, IGN journalist Luke Karmali could not help but note that Dorian is “an exquisitely well-written character” (Karmali, 2015). In the same article, according to Gaider, developers must be wary of including hastily added diverse characters merely to “tick a box,” but notes that “[w]hat constitutes a gay stereotype is a difficult subject.” Drawing from good-faith research and lived experience, such as Gaider’s, can help steer diverse characters in games towards complex actualization and away from being reduced to disappointing one-dimensional stereotypes.
Finally, while scientific studies have found, time and again, that there is no link between video games and violence (Anderson, 2019), some studies have also found that roleplaying games can potentially improve players’ ability to manage adversity in real life. Regarding the element of roleplaying games that tasks players with embracing different roles, some researchers have found that this persona-switching can actually improve real-life coping skills: “Many players switch among these avatars, forcing themselves to fluidly adjust to unique social and emotional goals. Game playing may promote the ability to flexibly and efficiently reappraise emotional experiences, teaching players the benefits of dealing with frustration and anxiety in adaptive ways” (Granic et al., 2014). By confronting players with difficult situations—both via combat and dialogue—and allowing them to save and replay those situations if they misstep, the Dragon Age series provides a safe testing ground for relatable, real-life challenges.