The Friends and Fate I Chose Thanks to ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’

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by Sherry Toh |

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I never planned on writing about video games for my column. But after three columns about four games by two different studios and counting, I thought it’d be fun to tell the origin story of how gaming became a big part of my life and disability advocacy. So, hit pause on whatever you’re doing (except reading this column) and let me take you on a journey.

It’s the fault of one of my best friends, Brianna Albers, really. By July 2019, Brie and I had known each other for eight months. We had ceased the slightly awkward dance strangers do, and in its place had slipped the familiarity that allows friends to casually lament about our lives to each other.

We got to the topic of gaming. SMA leaves no part of a patient’s life untouched, and that hobby wasn’t exempt. As the muscles and mobility in our arms and hands deteriorated, the collection of games accessible to us decreased over time. There were simulation games and games styled like interactive graphic novels that required only a mouse, like “The Sims” series and “Oxenfree,” but the vast majority of games required the use of a physical keyboard — an apparatus we could no longer use without struggle or assistance.

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Brie then offhandedly mentioned there were games by Canadian game studio BioWare that she could play with just a mouse, as the games were compatible with the onscreen keyboard. There was her favorite, “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” and the “Dragon Age” series.

Since Brie and I were chatting in the summer, the time of year when gaming sales are as constant as the heat, I decided I could afford to try the “Dragon Age” series. I was always more into fantasy than sci-fi. The third entry in the series, “Dragon Age: Inquisition,” was the first I tried; it was the most recent and therefore the most technically refined and pleasing to the eye, and the most highly recommended by people I knew who had played the series.

I loved video games before, but to paraphrase my favorite “Dragon Age” character, Solas, the enigmatic elven mage who’s revealed to be an ancient god of rebellion: It changed … everything.

It was love upon my first completion of the game. The ability to play an action role-playing game (RPG) again was thrilling. Unencumbered by the barrier that made so many games a struggle or outright inaccessible to me, I didn’t get frustrated at how to stop my character from dying for the dozenth time in a row or resign myself to my sweaty palms and body’s fatigue, calling it a day 15 minutes in. Instead, I could simply explore the world and its characters and appreciate the medium that presented its story.

“Dragon Age: Inquisition” is a tapestry of layered writing. I affectionately describe it as a Greek tragedy masquerading as a hero’s epic. Like any good tragedy, it’s about hope, faith, secrets, found family, and the power of choice in a world where we’re often choiceless. The story’s effectiveness is bolstered by the unique medium of an RPG, where you’re constantly making choices that affect your relationships with the characters and the world.

I found myself going back to “Dragon Age: Inquisition” while I was writing my column series about “Mass Effect,” another RPG series by BioWare. Looking back at the first time I played the former, I could see the paths that led me to write about the latter branching out like the choice system used in RPGs. More than that, I could see how it deepened my fascination with fiction and accessibility in game design, and brought me to another of my best friends, Hannah (who I mentioned in my column about Taylor Swift’s album “Fearless.”)

I could see my friends’ choices leading them to cross paths with me, too. If Brie hadn’t introduced herself on my Facebook post, I wouldn’t be a columnist for SMA News Today and I wouldn’t have played the “Dragon Age” games. If Hannah hadn’t left her thoughts on my Tumblr post about Solas’ romance arc, I wouldn’t have found her, and I don’t think I would’ve gotten through the spread of my chronic neuropathy in the recent months.

And then there’s the community of BioWare fans I’m a moderator for on a Discord server, where we’ve kept each other company throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the wait for news about the fourth “Dragon Age” game.

At its heart, this is what I believe gaming is about: building community and making choices that better the lives of others.

There’s a scene in “Dragon Age: Inquisition” in which Solas comes back from mourning his friend. If you’re playing as Lavellan, a female elf, you can choose a line to comfort him. Her words are gentle yet vital: “You don’t have to be alone.”

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Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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