Most mainstream games cater to those of us who want to feel powerful, with protagonists who are incredibly strong (but ever-so-slightly flawed) individuals who will inevitably save the day.
Dragon Age 2 is not most games.
Content warning: Spoilers for the Dragon Age series.
Like any BioWare game, it gives you some freedom of choice–you can be angry, sarcastic or polite. You can be a rogue, a warrior or a mage. You can turn your companions into close friends, lovers or rivals. But whether you play Marian Hawke or Garrett Hawke, you play a person who takes those choices and turns them into a complete mess. Yes, Hawke leads their merry band of misfits through adventure and war, but they don’t do a particularly good job of it.
Writing for Remeshed, game designer Cora Walker makes the argument that playing such a flawed hero can be a refreshing change of pace for anyone who has ever felt less than perfect in their own life, especially if you choose to play Marian. Female protagonists are rarely allowed to have any serious flaws at all, and Marian Hawke has them in spades.
She also can’t keep her friends from making all the horrible choices they make; she may be able to direct them, or help them do those things safely, but there’s a lot she can’t control. There are even some horrible things in the story that she is intimately responsible for. These are things that happen as a result of her lack of attention, or the depths of her love or hatred.
I propose that we’re still not comfortable with female characters that look at the fires popping up all around them and say, “This is fine.” If we examine the range of narratives and emotions that Hawke is allowed to experience, and think there’s something inherently ‘male’ about them, then I propose we need to reevaluate what stories we are allowing ourselves, as a storytelling culture, about women, and I believe Marian provides a wonderful roadmap for ways we may be able to expand that.
My takeaway, as a writer and a gamer, is this: let women have damage, let them make mistakes, and then let them trip, fall, and get back up again.
Hawke isn’t the only flawed part of the game, of course–Dragon Age 2 is known best for being rushed. Despite its many problems, though, it’s my favorite of the series. Like Walker, I found Hawke’s problems far more relatable than most video game protagonists.
Hawke’s return in Dragon Age: Inquisition helped cement that feeling. If my Hawke, that gloriously broken individual that he was, could be sought as a potential savior and treated as a returning hero even after everything he helped cause, then there must be plenty of hope for me with my relatively human flaws.