Dungeons and Video-Game Diplomacy

Heroes and role models come in all shapes and sizes. Whether they be family, friends, actors or athletes, there are many types of people that can serve as a source of personal inspiration. This is especially true in today’s world where media consumptions makes up the better part of a person’s time, and video games are more popularly becoming a means of entertainment. The worlds crafted by video game developers have evolved far beyond the simple block designs of the 1980s. Its beeps and boops now replaced with orchestrated music, and its stories and character development now more substantial than the simple damsel-in-distress story of “Save the Princess!”. In these narratives, we find characters who mirror traits, values, and occupations that could very well have a place in our real world; characters that often display heroic and inspiring traits that serve fuel for the creation of one’s ideal role model.

Canadian game developer BioWare, in particular, has made great strides in these areas of narrative and deep character development, and has shown incredible skill in crafting characters that echo a level of realism typically reserved for the likes of literature and fiction.

Enter the world of Thedas, a world filled with enough dark fantasy to fit more than a few novels. Much like any fantasy setting, destruction and evil are always at the world’s doorstep and it will take a chosen few to make sure that it can survive to see another day. Dragon Age: Inquisition puts the player in the ironclad boots of their own created character, the Inquistion, who becomes the head of the only group capable of saving the world from destruction. How the player goes about achieving victory over the evil that threatens to engulf the world is largely in her or his hands.

Notice the inclusion of diplomacy in the player’s arsenal. The Inquisition, being a group outside the realm of governments and nations, employs its very own ambassador, one Lady Josephine Cherette Montilyet. For the sake of brevity, we will stick with simply “Josephine” (apologies, Madam Ambassador). Josephine is a tactful and influential diplomat who knows that if the newly formed Inquisition is going to succeed at employing the aid of the other nations in Thedas, then political influence, negotiations, and non-violent methods will be key. Throughout the narrative, Josephine can offer the player solutions to problems that prevent the spillage of blood while also doubling their rewards in the form of international aid and alliances.

In an industry so commonly known for its action-oriented media, it’s important to note the inclusion of non-violent solutions through Josephine’s presence in the Inquisition. Never once does she pick up a weapon and fight alongside you, or suggest military action when a viable non-violent solution is easily applicable. Rather, Josephine’s main weapon is her keen mind and knowledge of the world. Personally, this is a refreshing change from the often-seen stereotype of the “bald space marine” characters that tend to make the covers of modern video games.

In addition to her negotiating skills, Lady Montilyet exhibits a strong character and will not hesitate to let the Inquisitor know her thoughts on any matter. In fact, without the good ambassador, the Inquisition would find itself without many of its key merchants, soldiers, and of course its resources and allies. In a world on the verge of collapse, BioWare has shown us that engagement through diplomacy is the key to problem solving before military might and action, refreshing from the Calls of Duty type of play where war is inevitable and part of life.

This is not BioWare’s first stint in touching upon diplomacy and non-violent solutions. The sci-fi game series Mass Effect also includes many of the same themes as Dragon Age with regards to diplomacy, although instead nations, entire species are negotiating and engaging with one another on a galactic scale. In place of nations and ambassadors, we have a galactic council that oversees interspecies cooperation and negotiation much like the United Nations on earth. Once again the overarching theme of Mass Effect, much like Dragon Age, is that cooperation across borders, and species in the case of Mass Effect, is essential if we are to see any sort of success against problems that affect us all.

On the surface, these fictional worlds appear to be heavily exaggerated and full fantasy and fiction at every turn; however, the fundamental problems of reaching across the aisle to cooperate with nations outside of your own are still very much present. In establishing characters like Josephine, Bioware is offering up a solution to this very real problem, a solution the real world could learn much from when dealing with problems on the international scale. Mutual cooperation and discussion are valuable tools when it comes to tackling problems like terrorism, poverty, and civil rights (just to name a few). What they have also done is created not just a strong character who represents tact and peace, but also a role model who, while not real, is also at the same time very much real.