As I was playing another round of Dragon Age Origins I came across a helpful young Tranquil lad in Ostagar. A magey lad who was kind enough to explain to me what tranquility and enchantments are all about. One line in particular was striking: “Enchantment provides the circle its wealth. Certainly, we would not get by on charity.” It was this one line that opened my eyes, made me realise the horrible truth of humankind. You see, this is a microcosm of magic in the Dragon Age universe: absolute despised, but something people will tolerate if they can make da moneyz.
Magic in the Dragon Age video game series is heavily deconstructed and this little detail is a strong and very realistically realistic example. Because a few magisters drunk on blood and magic did some naughty things a few centuries ago a religion spawned that labelled them ‘excessively dangerous’. Best locked up, the key thrown away. Until they are needed of course. Sometimes in the form of fireballs thrown at Darkspawn, but often in a way far more valuable, more necessary, more subtle: money.
A Literal Golden Cage
The circles are presented as institutes of learning, golden (and often not so golden) cages where the mages can learn to control their power and get classes together from that one senile mage who’d rather spend his days reading books in the library. All throughout the games this is the part that is questioned and heavily discussed. The mages are oppressed and should be released! Mages are dangerous and should be locked up!
But a big part that is ignored is that mages are actually necessary for Thedasian economy. Because as the tranquil mage so helpfully states: on charity they do not survive. They survive by selling enchanted items, those fluffy effects that add a little spice to your swordplay and turns metal armour into a veritable walking, not talking portable tanks, ready for immediate deployment. Magic is a force in this world and something so small as everlasting hatred isn’t going to get in the way of using it to make a little money.
But magic is illegal! Worry not, dear smuggler, there are plenty of legalised ways to skirt the rules and use magic anyway in order to get one up on your lifelong rival. There is a thing called lyrium, which is essentially titan blood (according to the ever reliable spirity companion Cole) that creates magical effects you can use to your heart’s content provided you don’t get brain damage from its use. This blood is turned by the dwarves, and helpful lobotomised mages with a surprising amount of inflection in their voice, into a thing called a rune. A piece of rock with magical properties. Typical of the dwarves to use the lifeblood of an ancient deity-like being and make a rock, but they are not the only ones to use it. It’s also used by the topside world to turn every mundane item into an artifact of unbelievable power.
You Get Some Magic and You Get Some Magic! Everyone Gets Some Magic!
Yet why is the concept of enchantment not hated? It’s essentially magic in wearable form, a magical button you add to your mace to not only smash in your enemy’s skull, but also burn the remains into a smouldering pile of charred flesh and bones. If the people of Thedas are instantly turned off by magic, how are the circles getting so many customers that they can not only make a profit buying and processing the very expensive lyrium, but also make a profit so large that they can essentially feed, clothe and home a whole bunch of squishy fireballs in human bottles? Because enchantment is, in a twist of irony, the true power of the Circle of Magi.
Because every time a mage decides to use magic to get his way it ends rather badly for the mage. The head on a spike kind of badly. But the templars and the chantry turn a blind eye to mages using their magical magicness to sell items to nobles and knights all over Thedas. Enchantment is actually a form of equaliser, because with it everyone can use fire and lightning to kill each other instead of just a select few. And that’s what equality is all about. 😀
Digging Beneath the Shiny Surface
Because you see, what this says is that people don’t hate magic. They’re jealous of mages. They hate that only a select few people are walking, talking nukes. The real issue here is greed, a lust for power, which magic makes easier to acquire. The problem is that not many people are sane enough to accept the responsibility that comes with getting a blue bar instead of a yellow bar in this game. After all, as so many blood mages like Merrill like to repeat: magic isn’t the problem. It’s how you use it.
And if you use it as something to make moneyz it turns out not that many people mind. And that adds to the overarching theme of the game series in the most ironic of ways. The main theme is corruption. Another important theme is power: power corrupts. Magic is a form of power. But the overt form of magical power, dem fireballs, gets the mage killed, while silently being the helpful chap making sparkly weapons actually gets you all the power. Because the smart mage will use his magical gift to acquire another form of corrupting power: wealth. Something so powerful that merchants and priests are going to find a way to tolerate magic in order to make a quick sovereign. It adds to that dark and dirty realism this video game series loves to explore: money is what legitimises the mages. Their ability to stimulate the economy and make money for the people holding their chains. Not magic. Not some philosophical notion of mercy and love from the Chantry. And that irony is why I love this.
That, and I love overanalysing sentences because it makes me feel so smart. Now excuse while I go join the Lucrosian faction and make some money!
- The Reason I’ve Sunk 1000 Hours into This Game Series – Discussing the Themes of Dragon Age
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- Sore Is the Ass That Sits the Iron Throne – What “Fire & Blood” Says About Leadership
Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the video games “Dragon Age: inquisition” and “Dragon Age: Origins.” We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. “Dragon Age: Origins” and “Dragon Age: Origins” were created by Bioware.