You know how, throughout history, there are those characters that everyone seems to feel the same way about? As an example, on one hand, take a look at Disney’s Mulan: An incredibly strong, determined, brave warrior, and an overall great representation of exactly what amazing things women can do. On the other hand…What about Dolores Umbridge? Let’s be honest, all of us were cheering when the abusive wretch got dragged off into the forest by centaurs.
Whether it be in films, books, TV-shows, or another single-story medium, most characters (with some exceptions) bring out the same reactions in people because those characters were written in one script to make the viewer feel a certain way about them during the course of their story. Those characters only have one set sequence of events to show who they are. (I’m not saying these characters are flat, as many of the greatest characters of all time are extremely fleshed out and have huge backstories that span an entire series.) The problem, though, is that the viewer only sees what happens to them. If that character dies, there is nothing the viewer can do to prevent their death. If a character is romanced, we have no power over how that happened or who it happened with. Basically, we have no say in the matter.
Video games, however, do something pretty amazing. In a video game, especially in the more modern ones that are driven by the choices the player makes, we don’t just watch these characters. For the time we’re playing, we’re living in the same world as them, and many times our own opinion is brought into the discussion on whether their choices are morally right or wrong, and if they’re a character worth keeping at your side or if they’re not worthy of your trust at all. Your decisions completely change the world around you, and those choices not only impact who you are in the world, but who the characters around you become, what they do, what happens to them, and more. So, in short, if you and I play the same game in different ways, your best friend could be my worst enemy.
After realizing just how earth shattering these differences can be, I nicknamed this character-evolving phenomenon “The Morrigan Complex”.
Why that title, you ask? My best friend and I began discussing this topic more and more recently, and we both found out after describing our gameplay experiences of the Dragon Age series that the main characters in her game vs. my game were COMPLETELY different people. The characters who I trusted with my life were the ones that she described as being so weak that they dragged her down. On the flipside, the characters who she developed strong friendships with were the ones I thought were going to betray me in the end and I was just waiting for them to prove me right. Both of us were stunned to hear how things were on the other side and I couldn’t help but sit back in wonder, realizing that literally no other medium could ever do this to people.
The two characters who really drive this point home for us are Morrigan and Alistair in Dragon Age: Origins. If you have never played the game, Morrigan is a mage who lives by her own rules with an extremely famous and widely feared mother known as the “Witch of the Wilds”. Alistair is a warrior who is part of a huge alliance known as the “Grey Wardens” that you join at the beginning of the game. Those are pretty much the only similarities our characters had. After that, things just went insane.
SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers for the Dragon Age series follow this. If you do not want spoilers, skip down to the “SPOILER SAFE ZONE”.
My play through of Dragon Age: Origins had me more emotionally invested in it than I think I have ever been with a game in my life. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of playing into the obvious “romance options” that most decision-based games give you. In fact, I actively try to avoid them. Most of the time, the dialogue feels forced and there’s something about a character breaking from the story to suddenly be like, “You’re the protagonist and I LOVE YOU BECAUSE THAT IS HOW I WAS WRITTEN,” that takes me out of it. I’m just not interested.
Origins, however, was different. At first, I was not a huge fan of Alistair. He seemed cocky and mean, and if he existed in the world today, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see his sword and armor replaced by football gear and a brew. He definitely seemed like the fantasy version of a sports jock to me. However, at one point maybe thirty minutes to an hour into the game, I remember him making a joke that made me stop, look at him, and burst into laughter because it was exactly like my sense of humor. I took a breath, thought about it, and realized that hey, this guy wasn’t that bad after all. After a bit of joking back and forth, we basically became best bros, with the two of us warriors fighting in the front side by side. As the game went on, I got closer to him and eventually, it passed the point of us being friends. I did what I could to help him find his family and joked when he needed a second to lighten up and come back from a dark place. I had never experienced something this personal in a game before, but dammit, I was in love with this character. In the end of the game, without giving me any choice in the matter, he even sacrificed himself to save me.
Which made the storyline with Morrigan a little…tense. From the beginning, I never got the feeling that I could trust Morrigan. She would constantly insult Alistair and she would try to take things for herself with no regard for the rest of the party. She would refuse to give me information on old magics that she clearly knew about, kept secrets from the party that could have helped us, and she constantly questioned my decisions and insulted what I was fighting for. Eventually, when she finally opened up to me and expressed her fear of her mother and interest in recovering her book of magic, I decided to help, hoping it would allow me to see the true Morrigan and repair some of the damage in our relationship. However, the moment I retrieved the book for her, she would barely speak to me about what it really meant. She was constantly reading it, and the more she hinted at its secrets, the more it sounded like she wanted to use the same evil magic her mother was infamous for. Then, when she, towards the end of the game, came to me wanting to perform an ancient ritual from her mother’s texts, I turned her down and told her to get out of my sight. I was not going to make a deal with the devil and she had given me NO reasons to trust her. My “Alistair” was the warrior who loved me and saved my life and my “Morrigan” was the witch who tried to take everything away.
Allison played things a little differently. She made decisions that she thought would benefit the whole world, looking at problems from all sides without letting her emotions get in the way. Her priority was ending the blight, and she would stop at nothing to achieve that goal, even if it meant making some morally gray decisions. Her first opinion of Alistair was not much different from my own, seeing him as this cocky jock-like character. After the first major battle she tried to rally Alistair to push past his personal emotions in order to fight the blight. Alistair did not take too kindly to her methods and as a result, Alistair was weak in her game and she thought of him as extremely whiney, so she never took him into battle with her. When Allison took charge of the politics in choosing the future ruler(s) of Ferelden, she arranged for the current Queen, Anora, to marry Alistair (which he hesitantly agreed to) because she believed this would be the best course of action for the country. However, Anora had requested that Allison show leniency towards Loghain (Anora’s Father), who betrayed several people during the blight. Allison decided that killing him would be destroying a wealth of military knowledge that could aid in the final battle against the archdemon, so she decided to make him a grey warden. Alistair strongly opposed this idea and stormed off and became a drunkard.
Since Allison didn’t have this innate bond with Alistair it made her interactions with Morrigan vastly different. Allison immediately saw the potential in Morrigan to be a powerful ally that could help end the blight, because she brought a unique understanding of the blight and magic to the party. Since Allison’s only motivation was to end the blight, she quickly decided that she needed to earn Morrigan’s trust/friendship. Allison quickly gained Morrigan’s trust largely because the decisions she made in game were to help end the blight even if that meant choosing a morally gray option. During personal conversations with Morrigan she was always brutally honest with Morrigan and always called her out when she said something that was inappropriate/wrong. Morrigan eventually trusted her and after receiving the grimoire willingly discussed the contents with Allison. Prior to the final battle when Morrigan confided in her there was a ritual that could save her life, Allison agreed. Allison also agreed that the safest course of action to protect Morrigan from her mother was for her to disappear. Allison’s “Alistair” was the drunkard who wasn’t worth her time and her “Morrigan” was her best friend who used her powers to save her.
SPOILER SAFE ZONE
Allison and I are best friends with very similar personalities, yet when it came to this series, our decisions were so varied that our characters became completely different people. Hearing about her play through was like seeing into a parallel universe. So, why is “The Morrigan Complex” so important that I felt the need to write about it?
Because this is the power that games have. Video games, at their core, are an art form that is used to allow the player to directly impact what happens in a world based on how they interact with it. You didn’t dodge Bowser fast enough? Say hello to the Mario Brothers “Game Over” screen. You decided to harvest a few little sisters instead of saving them all in Bioshock? Congratulations, you have just become Satan incarnate. Your decisions, whether they are rooted in your emotional investment, skill, moral choices, or carefully planned strategy, are what influence what you see, and that makes games all the more beautiful. Your play through of a game and mine will never be exactly the same, and that is an achievement that should be celebrated. Games are designed specifically to put that power in your hands, so you can have a say in how your story will end. Those differences between our characters doesn’t make them any worse. In fact, even though I never got along with Morrigan, I still think she is a fantastically written character, especially now that I know how other people see her, too. Your best friend may be my worst enemy, and that’s completely okay. In the end, it’s not about who might be “evil” and who might be “good”. It’s about the fact that we, as players, actually have a say in the matter.
–Nerissa Hart, Marketing Admin Assistant for Wyvern Interactive
Image 1. Artist Unknown. Link Source: https://ifunny.co/tags/morrigan/1455809336
Image 2. Artist Unknown. Link Source: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/73/ea/06/73ea0660bca3a70017d1a028d547ad29
Image 3. Artist Unknown. Link Source: https://www.google.com/search?q=alistair+and+morrigan&biw=1366&bih=586&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj88eSHguTMAhULWz4KHSxMBs4Q_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=alistair+and+morrigan+art+toadstool&imgrc=tJSYnoqqGK2_DM%3A