I’m in the early hours of my third Dragon Age: Inquisition playthrough, and when you really space out your replays of a game, it can drive home just how far you’ve come as a person because things don’t resonate with you the same way they did initially. I’m specifically talking about the storyline of Dorian Pavus, the pariah from the magic-driven land of Tevinter and my Dragon Age boyfriend, who I hope to see again in the next game. Whenever that comes out.
Dorian’s story is one about escaping the shackles of societal expectations. He comes from a long line of nobility in Tevinter and was expected to follow suit. In Tevinter, noble families are calculated and always using whatever means they can to get ahead in the country’s political hierarchy. This means arranged marriages are common among powerful families, not just for family names and notoriety, but also to ensure desired traits are passed on to their children; specifically a proclivity for magic. Dorian even tells you as the Inquisitor that his parents were part of an arranged marriage because magic is prominent in his mother’s family, and lo and behold, Dorian was born, and a mage of exceptional skill.
By being born in a place in the Dragon Age universe that’s home to one of the most rigid and demanding societies in a world already full of them, Dorian’s story touches on real world prejudices in ways that a lot of these games only create allegories for. Specifically homophobia, both from external forces like Dorian’s parents, and internal ones as he wrestles with being free of his old life and trying to adapt to one where he can freely love and be loved by a man.
It all began when Dorian refused to marry a woman his parents had chosen for him. As he tells the Inquisitor, any relationship between two men in Tevinter is about pleasure and nothing else. Even gay men are expected to marry women and bring about the next generation of magisters. As he says, Dorian loves his country, but believes it’s in desperate need of reform. You can imagine in a timeline where he wasn’t quite as strong-willed, he might have given into his family’s demand and lived his life as a gay man behind closed doors, but in refusing to do so, he became the outcast we know him as. But the issue didn’t stop there.
As we learn in his personal quest “Last Resort of Good Men,” Dorian’s father wanted to use a blood magic ritual that would “correct” his son, bringing in a magical equivalent of real world conversion therapy used to “cure” LGBTQ+ individuals. The practice has no basis in science and has been made illegal in some (but not all) of the United States, but given that Dragon Age is a magical universe, there’s no telling what this would have done to Dorian had his father been given the chance to attempt the ritual.
In the quest, Dorian’s dad attempts to reconcile, and based on player choice, the conversation may never actually get that far. But regardless of what happens between father and son, Dorian is still reckoning with the trauma of everything his father and the expectations of Tevinter put on him. Even after he is free of that part of his life.
The beginning of a romantic relationship with Dorian is about breaking down some of those barriers. In a romance quest called “The Magister’s Birthright,” the Inquisitor and Dorian attempt to retrieve a family amulet from a noble, who makes references to their relationship, which causes Dorian to lash out and say the Inquisitor is “not [his] friend.” A surprised and hurt glance from the Inquisitor follows, and then Dorian leaves saying he doesn’t want to talk about it. It echoes moments of internalized homophobia where people lash out at whoever’s near them, partners included, as they attempt to hide their identities and relationships. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of both societal expectations and toxic masculinity where people who are still struggling to accept themselves think that by expressing disgust or disdain at the notion, they will safely avoid any judgement.
Not long after, Mother Giselle, a devout member of the church, confronts Dorian and the Inquisitor about rumors of their relationship, his undue influence on you as a citizen of Tevinter, and whether or not the two of you are getting too close for the public’s comfort. It’s not directly tied to Dorian’s sexuality, but it is an example of how deep-seated prejudices follow this man and interfere with him just living and existing in this world.
As the relationship continues and both men fall into bed with one another, Dorian is braced for you to call things off, and if you don’t, he’s relieved and says he wasn’t expecting this to go this far. It’s a long road to get Dorian to understand that this is all real and that you’re not going anywhere, but by the time it’s over, he has finally found a safe place in the arms of another man where none of Tevinter’s expectations or his own internalized homophobia can find him.
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Since the release of The Last of Us: Part II, I’ve been thinking about how where queer people are in their own journeys of discovery can influence how we react to any portrayal of queer characters in media. That game has characters who deal with prejudice, both as a remnant of the old world, as well as new power structures in its post-apocalyptic one. But people are having different reactions to those stories, positive and negative, and because queer people are all coming from different lived experiences, each of those interpretations are valid.
When Dragon Age: Inquisition came out in 2014, I thought Dorian’s story was a bold and frank discussion of the forms homophobia can take, whether they be from our own family, the hushed whispers of strangers, or even from pangs of guilt or fear that come from within. I still believe that to be true, but when the game came out I was also two years removed from a relationship similar to Dorian’s and the uncomfortable truths it told gave me a sense of catharsis, and that it ended happily gave me hope that maybe not every relationship had to end the way mine did. But now I’m older, gayer, louder, and less likely to be in a relationship with someone who wouldn’t proudly stand by my side. So watching Dorian’s struggle feels harder for me than it used to, as it’s now a painful reminder of how many people aren’t at the same stage of self-acceptance or liberation that I am.
I don’t think that makes it an inherently damaging representation because it doesn’t resonate with me the same way. On the contrary, it makes me happy to know that others might find strength in it even if this story might not be for me in the same way it was back then.
But as I think about the possibilities of Dragon Age 4, I hope that Bioware takes this opportunity to show that there’s a life beyond all of this hate. Everything in Dragon Age: Inquisition’s final DLC “Trespasser” hints at the next game taking place in Tevinter, where Dorian said he’d be going back to in an attempt to be a trailblazing reformist for his homeland. We’ve checked in on him briefly in comics and novels, so it’s fair to expect Dorian to be a key player in whatever this next game turns out to be. Whether his relationship with the Inquisitor plays a factor in all of this is yet to be seen. But given that this man, who did what he could to escape the prejudice of his country, is about to be in the thick of its politics once more, I hope it does. I hope that, even if we don’t get to play as the Inquisitor again (as thematically inappropriate as that would be, considering the game is supposedly about their archnemesis), Dorian lives so comfortably in his own skin that the expectations of Tevinter roll off his back, and that he is able to see the end of whatever comes next with his lover by his side.
After all, what would make his story as revolutionary as it was six years ago more appropriately than happiness?