Sometimes we have to make the hard choices

Review: Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age: Origins is the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate.”

I have no idea what that sentence means.  I never played Baldur’s Gate.  And if I didn’t get sick (I don’t know if it was swine flu, but it knocked me on my butt for a week) in early December, 2009, I wouldn’t have played Dragon Age: Origins. But there I was, looking for something more creative to do than watch television, and I didn’t have any new books on hand to read.  My son, Galen, suggested, “Why don’t you download Dragon Age? It has logic puzzles and is driven by characters and story-line.  It isn’t just a ‘shoot and loot’ game.  I have it on my old laptop.  You can borrow it.”

That’s how I got hooked on the game.  Even more so when I found out that Estel, one of my archery/SCA friends, was also playing the game.

The aspect which hooked me is that, during game play, one must make a series of ethical decisions that are not always cut and dried. In spite of my best intentions, people still suffered because of the choices I made.  There are all these unintended consequences that are not apparent at the time.  What does this remind you of?  Real life, perhaps?

The game is a reminder that we live in an ethically grey universe, that not all evil comes from external daemons. Even the arch-badguy really did have the best interests of the kingdom in mind when he betrayed the king.   There is a scenario in the game where you have to decide what to do with a human who is dealing in elven child slavery.  You don’t have the resources to eradicate his organization.  And you know that if you simply put a stop to his current operation, he’ll be back as soon as you leave the city.  And the local gendarmes don’t care about elven children.  But there may be a way to profit politically from the situation.  How do you deal with it? Indeed, the world of featherless bipeds in this game-universe is rife with racial tension between humans, elves and dwarves, and your character must successfully navigate this social minefield.

Your character will accomplish this through a series of dialogue vignettes, where you must choose a response from a list.  The response that you REALLY want to give isn’t always listed, but that’s part of the storyline, and the responses will vary from cowardly to insane, with a few reasonable ones in the middle.  You learn quickly that picking a single style of response is not always situationally correct.  Sometimes you have to be deferential, sometimes a badass.  Diplomacy comes in all flavors.

Then there is the possibility of romance with some of the AI characters, including same-sex romances.  There isn’t any total nudity (although, one would think they could have found nicer under-things) and the sex acts are implied.  Regardless, the game strongly deserves its Mature rating.  There is some foreplay dialogue that caused me to flush.  (Something about licking poles in winter.  You had to be there.)

I am loathe to call this product a game.  It’s more like an interactive epic movie, with voice acting done by huge names in science fiction and fantasy:  Kate Mulgrew, Tim Russ, Tim Curry, Claudia Black and Steve Valentine.   It’s certainly far more engaging than television, and can be more interesting than a book as the plot can go in many different directions, depending on your choices.  You may even have to make the Ultimate Sacrifice in order to win the game.

The SCA: Luddites or Rocket Scientists?

The Kingdom of the West enthroned its newest King and Queen during the weekend of August 23rd and 24th at an annual event called Purgatorio. Somebody told me that the event got its name from the temperatures that normally prevail in Hollister, CA this time of year. However, the weather this year was mild, never climbing higher than about 80° F. Besides, though it’s been since high school that I last read the book, I don’t recall Dante describing the place as particularly warm.

One hopes that it is not an inauspicious omen for the reign of King Uther and Queen Kara when it started with a technological failure. The propane fueled torches ran out of magical burn juice, and when the sun set during their investiture, people resorted to reading proclamations by the light of pocket-torches.


Yes, you read that correctly: Propane fueled torches.

But doesn’t the SCA strive to re-create the Middle Ages? Don’t the people in the SCA disdain modern technology?

To the first question, I think it’s more accurate to say that the SCA strives to re-invent the Middle Ages. “The Middle Ages as it should have been” is their motto, and it should have included anti-biotics, gender and racial equality, zippers, eye-glasses and, evidently, propane.

To the second question, keep in mind that when the weekend was over, a very large percentage of Scadians went home to high tech jobs. Engineers, college professors, software designers, and yes, rocket scientists. Scadians tend to be among the most technologically savvy people I know. If I told you what I do for a living you’d plotz, so we won’t go there.

There is no doubt in the mind of any Scadian that it’s a game. In fact, it’s called “playing” in the argot. If you go to a typical SCA event, you’ll find signs of high tech everywhere, from REI tents to water that doesn’t have to be boiled before you can drink it. But where else are you going to find such a large group of people who still know handcrafts? People who not only sew their own clothes, but weave the fabric. Make their own candles and the sconces to hold them. The quality of which is much higher than the cheap plastic crap most people buy at Target.

Yes, fighting with a sword is an archaic and rather useless skill in the age of automatic weapons and fighter jets, but tell the truth — wouldn’t you really like to try it out?  Don’t tell me you haven’t day dreamed about swinging the sword like Errol Flynn. And does the age of the automobile really make horse racing obsolete?

Yes, for the most part, high-tech is a good thing. But sometimes it’s fun to turn it off.

Trovu la Ringon Perditan (Find the Lost Ring)

Until a few months ago, I was completely unaware that there existed Alternate Reality Games (ARGs).  These aren’t virtual reality games like World of Warcraft where all your actions are guided through an avatar.  In an Alternate Reality Game, the player plays herself, and behaves as if the events specified in the game actually happened.

Here’s a better description of Alternate Reality Games:

Perhaps some of you know that I’m an enthusiastic Esperantist.  This statement will generate one of two responses from most people I meet:

1. What’s an Esperantist?

2. Why the hell do you speak a dead language?  What’s wrong with English as a lingua franca?

My response to the first question is bound to be longwinded and pedantic, so it’s best that I simply refer you to the appropriate Wikipedia entries.  But the rest of this blog entry will probably obviate the answer, so hang in there.

My response to the second question is to assume that you’re one of those ugly Americans who have been bamboozled into thinking that everybody else in the universe really does understand English provided that you speak it slow and loud enough.  After all, if English was good enough for the Prophet Amos and the Apostle Paul, then it’s good enough for you, right?  Far be it from me to disabuse you of your delusion.  Feel free to think of me as a naive altruist, then go away.

In early April, another esperantist pointed me to an ARG called Trovu la Ringon Perditan. (Find the Lost Ring.) I started exploring the game and quickly decided that I could easily lose myself in it, and I already obsess on far too many things, so I put it aside.

The game uses Esperanto as it was intended, a universal bridge language between cultures.  Apocryphal stories suggest that this game is responsible for many people starting online Esperanto classes, so I have a duty to support it.

Then other acquaintances started sending me links to the game.

You know what it’s like when you’re sitting in your office and somebody walks in and says, “Hey!  Pelita brought doughnuts! Get ’em while they’re still warm!”

And you think to yourself, “I’ll be good.  No doughnuts for me.  I am strong.  I can resist.”  So you tell the person “Thank you!” and go back to work.

Then another person informs you of the doughnuts.  But you remain steadfast.  Doughnuts are evil! You’ll have to bicycle for days in order to burn off all those calories!

Then somebody brings you a doughnut and puts it on your desk.