"Dragon Age Origins" (2009): How I Eventually Found Alistair Insufferable
Dragon Age: Origins is a classic role-playing game that came out in 2009 to a hearty round of applause. It was supposed to be the spiritual successor of Baldur's Gate, which was one reason I felt comfortable buying it: I was already half-convinced I would like it.
Alistair was the first character I ever romanced in Dragon Age, and perhaps for that reason alone, I'll always love him as a character. He is very well written and even realistic: a young guy who is soft-hearted, a victim of emotional abuse, and needs to do a lot of growing up.
Before I romanced Alistair, however, I hated him. I thought he was childish and annoying, and my Dalish elf bickered with him constantly -- especially after Redcliffe when he blew up on her for sacrificing Lady Isolde.
Then, my Dalish elf accidentally romanced Alistair, which allowed me to see a softer side to him. Hell, I even identified with Alistair. I think I was about the same age as his character when Origins came out. I was in my early twenties. I was unhappy, a victim of emotional abuse, I was sensitive, and I dealt with my problems by deflecting with humor.
In other words, I hadn't yet grown up. Had I been placed in a world like Dragon Age with so much responsibility on my shoulders like Alistair, I would have done the same thing: reacted with emotion, shied from actively leading or taking responsibility.
Even though I was a lesbian, I came to identify with Alistair because of our shared characteristics and personality traits, though most (male) fans hated him because he freely cried and wasn't afraid to have feelings.
I likewise identified with Morrigan.
What people (male gamers who hate Alistair, mostly) fail to realize about Morrigan is that she is pretty much the same as Alistair, just on the opposite extreme of the spectrum.
Morrigan and Alistair are both victims of emotional abuse. They have the same experiences of neglect but react in different ways. While Alistair is soft, sensitive, and uses humor to deal with the fact that he's been emotionally abused, Morrigan is hard, cold, and rejects love as a weakness.
Deep-down, however, Morrigan knows that love is everything. Romancing her as a male warden only makes it all the more apparent that she values and craves love just like anyone else. The Morrigan Restoration Patch, a mod that restores Morrigan's cut dialogue, makes it very clear how much she is struggling with admitting that she actually values love.
I identified with Morrigan because she was an unapologetic atheist who had lost all faith in love and the world and was, as a result, very cynical, lonely, and unhappy (some of her party banters* with Leliana make this clear).
So in essence, Morrigan was as childish and as wounded as Alistair, and I identified with them both because I was still very young and very wounded myself, and I had lost my faith in love, God, and the world.
*They are actually called "party banters" by the developers and the fandom.
Naturally, as I grew older and as my faith in the Source (God) and in love was restored, I came to view Morrigan and Alistair more and more as the pitiful children they actually are.
The thought of romancing either of them became less appealing. It used to be that they were the only characters I would seriously romance, as they were considered the "high tier" romances, having been given narrative favoritism.
Leliana's romance, however, was surprisingly much more mature. Unlike Morrigan, who completely lacks self-respect (and who is initially only there to get your "demon baby"), Leliana will not sleep with you until she is in love with you.
This isn't because Leliana is a "crazy Christian." It's because she has self-respect and is more emotionally intelligent and mature than Morrigan will ever be.
Sorry, but there's nothing intelligent and emotionally mature about casual sex.
Leliana is also a very strong person. She has actually endured more than Alistair and Morrigan combined, and yet she maintains her belief in love and a higher power. She goes on trying to be a good person and do the right thing, without anger or resentment against the world. She is kind to everyone and only harms others in self-defense. She doesn't have a selfish bone in her body.
Not to turn this into a "my imaginary girlfriend is da bestust!" rant, but Leliana is very strong, mature, and intelligent. She is the only mature romance in Origins. (I love Zevran, but he's self-destructive, which is hardly emotionally mature.)
I can't believe it took me ten years to finally appreciate Leliana and her romance, but there it is.
I suppose I had to be a mature adult to appreciate a mature romance. Ironic, considering that these sorts of video games are always targeted at young adults who don't typically understand what mature love is and what it looks like.
Doubly ironic is the fact that lesbian romances are often treated as immature phases in most fiction (coughTheWitcherBookscough), but the female Warden has the most mature romance with Leliana.
To further drive my point home, love is not conditional; it is unconditional.
Loving someone unconditionally doesn't mean you lie down and take their crap. It means you go on loving them no matter what, flaws and all. It means you aren't selfish. It means you won't abandon them in their hour of darkness.
On my most recent playthrough as the dwarven princess, I chose to conscript Loghain into the Grey Wardens. Because I had romanced Alistair on so many old playthroughs, I never did this before—even when I romanced some other character—because I liked Alistair and wanted him to stay around.
Now that I'm much older and more mature, I know that doing the right thing for Ferelden is more important than holding together my character's superficial relationships. And I say the Warden's relationship/friendship with Alistair is "superficial" because Alistair loves the Warden on the condition that they do what he wants at the landsmeet.
Even if you're romancing Alistair, sparing Loghain means he'll throw a huge tantrum and then stomp out. I'd heard about it over the years, but seeing it for myself really made it hit home how much of a child Alistair is and how correct Anora is to call him out on not being mature enough or worthy enough for the throne.
Alistair was willing to toss aside a valuable ally for the sake of revenge. He knows that only a warden can end the Blight, he knows that the wardens need all the recruits they can get, and yet, he's willing to risk the entire world to the coming darkness all for the sake of his hurt feelings.
I am in no way downplaying what happened at Ostagar, but if Loghain can be useful, the wardens should make use of him—not cast him aside.
There are a lot of legitimate reasons to leave a relationship—abuse, betrayal, neglect —but leaving someone because they refused to help you get petty revenge? Childish.
You could almost say the same thing about Morrigan, that her friendship with the Warden was superficial and conditional. After all, Morrigan only stays around on the condition that the Warden agrees to do the Dark Ritual. If the Warden refuses, Morrigan leaves.
But I don't think Morrigan left because she lied about being the Warden's friend. I think she left because she didn't want to stick around and watch her only friend/sister/lover senselessly die when she could have stopped it. It's completely different to what Alistair does in leaving the landsmeet, and it's even confirmed by Dragon Age: Inquisition when Morrigan speaks so highly of the Warden and speaks with great regret of her death.
The fact that Morrigan abandons you is nonetheless still pretty childish. Again, she and Alistair are pretty much the same: lonely, abused, emotional children.
From Alistair's perspective, however, the Warden has "betrayed" him by not killing the man who killed his friends. Alistair's romance—as well as his friendship—is superficial because it relies on the condition that the Warden always do exactly what he wants. If Alistair really loved the Warden, he would have sucked it up, become king, let Loghain become a Grey Warden, and gone on to help you defeat the Blight.
Alistair walked on my most recent playthrough because I forgot to harden him (mostly ignored him and didn't talk to him much). But even if you harden Alistair, he still turns his back on you and leaves the party.
The speech he gives at the landsmeet about how being a Grey Warden is an "honor" and not a "punishment" shows what a childish black and white mentality he has. He sees the Grey Wardens as romanticized heroes—not the conscripted criminals, thieves, murderers, and thugs they often are. Even Duncan was conscripted because he was a thief and a murderer!
Alistair is blinded by so many childish delusions; it shouldn't be shocking that he would walk out of the landsmeet.
In essence, now that I'm an adult, Alistair's goofy, selfish, childish ass and his sappy romance doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. Neither does Morrigan's romance, even though it is, arguably, the happiest one in the games—so typical that a male protagonist gets his happy ending, huh?
I recall being disappointed that Morrigan wasn't gay. I even went so far as to play with the Equal Love mod, so that she and my female Warden could have a possessed blood magic baby. But now, after coming to realize how emotionally immature both Morrigan and Alistair are, it's become incredibly easy to romance Leliana and Leliana alone every time.
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