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Why I Love Dragon Age, By Colleen Coover

“Dragon Age” #1 comes out today from IDW, a comics adaptation of the swords and sorcery role-playing video game that made news a while back for including same-sex liaisons among its possible romantic entanglements. And while we were initially intrigued at the idea of bringing the rich storytelling of the game into the world of comics, we were less than thrilled to discover that the comics adaptation was being written by noted homophobe Orson Scott Card. Because — really, IDW? You really think the best guy to write the comic about a game that is best known for being gay-friendly is the dude who got so mad about same-sex marriage that he advocated overthrowing the American government?

So basically, that’s it; we’ve decided to ignore the comic entirely. Seriously, forget it, we don’t care — we’re just going to read the Penny Arcade “Dragon Age” comic again and call it a day. Still, none of this changes the fact that “Dragon Age: Origins” is still an awesome game, and we’d rather talk about that instead. And since we don’t know anyone, anywhere who loves “Dragon Age” more than comics artist Colleen Coover — whose Marvel backups are one of our favorite things in the world — we asked the “Girl Comics” illustrator to say a few words about the game, and she actually agreed. Take it away, Colleen:

“Dragon Age: Origins” broke my heart.

ComicsAlliance editor Laura Hudson asked me to write this post because I nearly burst into tears at a party while trying to explain how crazy-excited I was about the storytelling in this video game. “Dragon Age” seemed, at first, to be a pretty basic, well-made fantasy adventure: you play as a male or female character with one of about six different background stories, tragedy strikes, battle to save the world must be waged blah blah blah.

But when I began to assemble my requisite team of misfits and set out to defeat the evil Archdemon, I found myself unraveling a story told in a complex web of choices and consequences. Each of the game’s quests had multiple difficult resolutions to choose from, ranging from tragic to immoral. My actions affected the attitudes of my band of adventurers. I could make them pleased or angry; I could persuade them to fall in love with my character or pursue sexual trysts with them. (And you know I totally did.)This, I began to realize, was Something! I was sucked into the narrative completely, because it was a story I was telling myself. Dozens of wrinkles in the overarching plot were the result of my own decisions. I was not merely walking my character through the events of the game; I was culpable. And when in the end I reached my ultimate goal to face the Archdemon, all those choices — all the little threads I had been responsible for — came together to win the day, beat the game, and break my heart.

I won’t say here what upset me so. It was one of I-don’t-know-how-many possible endings. But it was unexpected; it was not the outcome I had wanted; it left me watching the credits through tears of regret for the choices I had made and IT WAS AWESOME.

This is first-person storytelling to a degree I have never encountered before. I can’t think of it existing in any other medium. A great book or film can transport us, inspire us, make us feel any range of emotion. But no matter how intimate the writing or performance, we are uninvolved; the experience is vicarious. In “Dragon Age,” it is virtual. I did not feel empathy for my character, I just felt.

As a comic book creator, I think about storytelling pretty much all the time. The idea of a story built on so many branches — one that must be simple enough to remain a clear narrative while being flexible enough to allow for a multitude of variations — boggles my mind. I wonder if the writers and directors and voice actors, with their godlike knowledge of all the alternative plot turns, can even have the perspective to understand how compelling their own work is? It excites me to know that this game exists. It makes me envious of its architects, and glad that I am not one of them so that I may enjoy their creation. It makes me hope for more games that can make me feel joy, lust, outrage, guilt– and break my heart.

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