The Death of Faith: Dragon Age Origins- The Chantry

Dragon Age Origins premiered to relatively positive reviews. It was originally promoted as a gritty low fantasy setting that does not shy away at tackling real, and often relevant issues to gamers.

The end result of Dragon Age however was “…sorely lacking in the things that make a truly great role-playing game, or any game for that matter: vision, inspiration, soul.” 

The last word of that sentence is what I want to focous upon, the soul, particularly religious NPCs lack it. The entirety of the first game has a very negative aspect towards faith which is represented in the form of an ancient, byzantine religious institution known as the Chantry which chains the mages, helped or at the very least sanctioned the brutal conquest of Fereldan in Thedas history and finally, in game suppresses any sort of pluralism that is naturally intrinsic to the land of Ferelden.

The Chantry mothers in game are often depicted as hard headed old women who are only concerned in maintaining human superiority (if playing the Elven or Dwarven origin stories) and, the Templars are portrayed as either uncompromising figures of authority (a la Gregoir) or unprepared for their duties who shirk their duties (Cullen).

In fact when the Chantry Mothers have a chance to confront the evils of their world they often shy away from it. The City Elf origin story has the Chantry Mother weakly protest against the kidnapping of the brides by Vaughn for his own crude purposes. She takes no other action, she is a sign of the Chantry’s utter apathy to the abuse the elves suffer from their human overlords.

Of course video games have had a very complicated relationship with religion as a whole, for the most part gaming identity has been inherently hostile to religious thought in video games. Greg Perreault of Missouri University published a study concluding that video games tend to “problematize religion“.

Dragon Age is no different in this regard though it does it differently. The Chantry is often looked upon as a crumbling institution whose primary strength is derived not from its religious literature or its catechism, rather it is from a legion of heavily armoured (and armed) ‘zealots’ whose strength derives from a substance that erodes their entire being. A closely kept secret that can only be known when it is far too late (or in the case of the player character Alistair, telling you).

The entire notion of the Chantry having a positive impact is often denigrated to great effect, the most pious character in your party if Leliana; a woman whose mind is addled by dreams or an Orelesian bard looking for some way to redeem herself for her past faults. Wynne a more sympathetic figure has a more abstract view of the Chant, viewing it as more or less a parable of humanity, its initial rise and, subsequent downfall.

There are positive elements in the game no doubt, but overall the impact that religion has had on the in game setting has a net negative.