A few years ago, Marty and I decided to buy ourselves an XBox 360 as a joint Christmas present. We were both casual gaming fans, and it seemed like time to step into the world of frighteningly-clever-next-generation consoles. Marty’s sister asked if she could buy us a game to go with it, and we worked it down to a couple of choices that we sort of liked the look of. I can’t for the life of me remember what the other game was, but one of them I vouched for because it had a dragon on the cover that appeared to be made of blood, and really, how could I resist a game like that?
The game was Dragon Age: Origins, and it was that game that Karen, Marty’s sister, ended up sending us for Christmas. I vividly remember loading it up on Christmas morning (Marty played it first) and thinking, “Wow, this looks complicated. I’ve going to have read maps and stuff.”
I was bamboozled at first. I’d never played a game this complex, and as I played, I seemed to uncover more and more layers to it – you had to be nice to your companion characters, otherwise they would get the arse with you and that could cause problems, except you had to be nice to them in different ways, because each one was a complex character with a back-story and secrets to discover. There were actual choices to be made that would affect the world of the game in ways you couldn’t predict, and you could make mistakes – more than once a choice backfired in a way that had me sulking for hours (and let’s be honest, loading up an earlier save and attempting to fiddle it).
Over time, I found myself getting up early to play the game before work. I found myself planning how I would play the game again on a second play-through. It ate up hours and hours of my life, and I adored it. Anyone who knows me reasonably well knows my mildly unhealthy relationship with Dragon Age. And, you know, it legitimately changed my life.*
Firstly, it changed how I felt about video games. I’ve always been a fan, but this was the first time I realised that a video game could be as immersive as a book, and that a video game could drag you through a whole range of emotions. I fell in love with all the NPCs, I was swept up in the epic storyline, and I got utterly lost in it. Secondly, and more importantly, it reignited my love for a certain sort of Fantasy. You know the sort. The type with dragons and elves and adventure and secrets hidden in the deep. I’ve always loved that particular type of Fantasy, but I’d drifted away from it, perhaps feeling like it was too po-faced for grown-up me. Dragon Age showed me I was wrong about that – traditional fantasy could be funny, traditional fantasy could be thrilling, and traditional fantasy could still surprise me.
And Dragon Age was really funny. The complexities of your companion characters meant that sometimes they got on with each other, and more often they didn’t, and there was a lot of snippy banter between them all. Dragon Age loved the genre, but it wasn’t afraid to have its little references and jokes that fans would pick up on (I still love the Superman meteor sequence, or how so many Star Trek actors turned up as voice actors) while at the same time smacking you in the face with a story that was as epic as any seven book fantasy series (I still get chills at the Battle of Ostagar).
Here’s the thing: if I hadn’t played Dragon Age, and fallen in love with Fantasy again, I probably wouldn’t have written The Copper Promise, and I might not have a book deal now. If I hadn’t picked out that particular video game because of the cool dragon on the front, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here now with a proof copy of my actual book on the sofa next to me, because Dragon Age taught me that Fantasy could be funny, sharp, and full of characters who felt real. I should have known this already, of course, but perhaps sometimes it takes a continually pissed-up dwarf with a nug fixation and a sardonic witch to really get the message across. I had been writing Fantasy books for a while, but I had always steered away from the sort with leather and dragons and mead, despite how much I loved them, because I didn’t feel like I could do anything interesting with it. Thanks to Dragon Age, I fell in love with the genre again and had a ridiculous amount of fun writing a book that eventually got picked up by a publisher. Partly because of Dragon Age, a dream of mine came true.
So, you know, thank you, Bioware. If you ever need help moving house or re-grouting the bathroom, then I reckon I owe you one.
(please enjoy video of drunken dwarf ranting)
*I know that some people are still a bit sniffy about video games, and that admitting that one informed my writing will cause some people to titter into their handkerchiefs, but I don’t see how this is any different from talking about how D&D brought you to the genre, or how the Fighting Fantasy books fed your love for adventure. Also, I suspect they just need to find the right video game. The big sillies.