The Importance of the City Elf in Dragon Age: Origins

The 2009 Bioware game, Dragon Age: Origins allowed you to choose from 6 different origin stories to play through as you created your character. While all of them are important in their own right, there's something about the Elvish origin story -- specifically the City Elf origin -- that says more about race than any other video game has before (and after) it.

There won't be any big spoilers or game-heavy talk in this card, I'll only be talking about the origin and the elves and how that applies to the world that exists outside of the game.

In the world of Thedas (which is where the Dragon Age games take place), elves are looked at as the lower class and they're often times marginalized by the humans throughout the game. Throughout the narrative of the game, you'll usually only experience this from a second-hand perspective. Maybe you have an elf travelling with you and someone will comment on his attendance.

The reason the City Elf origin story is so important is because it forces the player to deal with this prejudice and subjugation first hand.

The meat of the City Elf origin story has you rescue your betrothed from a couple of humans who entered the Alienage -- an Alienage is a small, quartered off area of the city where elves have to live, as ordered by the humans -- and kidnapped them. And even though you succeed in saving your future wife, it becomes clear that the life for those in the Alienage isn't going to improve.

In the same sequence, it starts with humans that are nasty to you because you are an elf and ends with a human helping you because he knows what will happen to you if he doesn't. Bioware shows us that there are people who are racist and people who aren't. They put you in the shoes of someone who is under surveillance because of their race.

In a few short hours, Bioware explains how the world works in relation to elves. And there's something really interesting about unpacking this sequence further.

Let's say someone new picks the controller up and wants to play Dragon Age: Origins. Let's also say that this person is not a person of color. By that we can assume this person hasn't had a first-hand experience where they felt discriminated against because of their race.

Then they choose the City Elf origin story. They're forced into a situation where they're at the bottom of the social ladder and there isn't real way for them to climb up. When given the option to kill the person that kidnapped your husband/wife, they'll most likely choose that option even though it will still result in the same outcome. And this prejudice and racism will exist for the elf-player throughout the course of the game.

I'm unsure if this was intentional, but Bioware allowed people of privilege to experience a life that has close to no privilege. Even though the game takes place in a fantasy world and the races aren't real-world races, the game is still coded in a way that will make the player think about the world outside of their own experience.

There are very few games that allow their players to experience an extremely different life. And Bioware's Dragon Age: Origins is important because it's one of the few that does. If you haven't played the game, you should try to view a Let's Play or read about the City Elf origin and the way elves are treated overall.

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