How Dragon Age 2 Taught Me To Face My Dragon: Depression

Last June, Io9 featured an “In Defense Of” article on Dragon Age 2 which highlighted the strengths the game had, despite less-than-shiny reviews originally received from critics and players alike. James Whitebrook’s article reminded me of the deep fondness I had for DA2 and inspired me to share my story on how being the Champion of Kirkwall got me through one of most difficult years of my life.

In the past, I’d dealt with depression off and on. But it was physically rooted— caused mainly by the fatigue of developing fibromyalgia at a young age. I knew that and was always stubborn not to let it get the best of me. Video games played a huge part in helping distract and relax.

Last year, the ground felt like it crumbled into a fiery abyss and was peed on for good measure. The breakup of a long-term relationship left family and friends in the crossfire. Nasty stuff. But this isn’t Dear Abby or Dr. Nerdlove.

At the time I was emotionally crippled and found myself utterly unmotivated. It was the first time I’d met serious depression and it was terrifying. Despite going to a counselor and having good support from loved ones, I still found it hard to do things that brought me joy—like gaming. Every game held painful memories. I was angry at myself for letting depression debilitate me. But having nothing to really spark my interest, I just drifted for a while until one day a co-worker mentioned Origin had Dragon Age 2 on sale for $5. Fantasy games were always my favorite, and I enjoyed the combat style of the first game. What did I have to lose except a few bucks? It turned out to be the best purchase I ever made. Here are some of DA2’s elements that helped me through my struggle.

The Comfort of Familiarity
Ironically, the chief complaint about Dragon Age 2—the repeated dungeons and areas—ended up being the game’s strength for me. Something too routine or familiar, can be tedious to most—quite understandably. Repetition can become boring. But to the anxious or busy-minded, it can be soothing.

The surroundings weren’t too big, they weren’t too complicated; and the more familiar I got with my them, the less I had to stress. It was oddly comforting not having to worry about a new area regularly. I felt in control of my surroundings. Feeling in control, even in something as seeming trivial as a video game, makes a world of difference. And for the first time in a long while, I found myself relaxing.

Characters That Feel Like Friends

Dragon Age: Origins certainly had its fair share of colorful and funny characters—but you only got to know them during a single crisis. DA2 offered a company who you get to know and grow with over the span of ten years. The relationships felt realistic. As I relearned to how to be socially healthy after a period of seclusion, I was surprised how much it taught me. Not just about how to open up. It reminded me of the wonderful and colorful people I had in my life. As the Hawke family faced tragedies in-game, they taught the lesson that you don’t have to go through life alone. We aren’t meant to struggle alone.

Characters with Flaws

This was a tough lesson, but I was glad to have been gently reminded of it through a video game rather than reality. People let you down. People hurt people. All people. We’re flawed. It makes for great drama but it’s always hard to face in real life. But sometimes, games offer cautionary tales to bear in mind. Nowhere was this better learned than in the Romance Story line. It seems laughable to me now, but this area impacted me the most. First, by helping me not be as callous and venomously vehement against anything romantic. Second, in easing myself in the possibility of dating again in real life. Finally, by reminding me that there is no such thing as a perfect relationship. In-game, Fenris is afraid of commitment and trust after being hurt in the past. Anders poisoned his relationship by not trusting Hawke enough to share the burden of his baggage—and we all know that mistake blew up in everyone’s face.

Because Everyone Goes Through Crap

Sure, the stories themselves are pretty extreme and far-fetched—because fantasy.
But at the core of it all, there are relatable themes. You’ve lost everything; how do you rebuild? A loved one died, and you don’t think anyone could take their place. Your family or friends reject you because of your beliefs. You’ve made terrible mistakes in the past; how do you move on? What if you struggle about caring for someone after they stabbed you in the back?
People have high points; people have low points…and sometimes the ratio seems to unfairly favor one over the other. Yet there is no one on the planet who hasn’t experienced some kind of hurt or loss.

The ending of the game was highly criticized for its hopelessness. Whoever you side with, things get messy and there is no diplomatic or middle ground. At first this bugged me. It infuriated me. I’m a Chaotic-Good type of gal. If there is a means of preventing disaster, I take it. But at the end there wasn’t that middle ground.
This element of the story ultimately helped me come to terms with what I had experienced. Sometimes there is no middle ground. Sometimes people are stubborn and stupid. It’s either one party or the other and it’s not without consequence—but that doesn’t mean it is your fault. Sometimes all you can do is try to survive and help as many as you can along the way.

I’m fighting an ongoing battle—not so much because of the events of last year, but because The Dragon of Depression leaves internal scars. But I learned to face the beast. I learned to survive. I learned I don’t have to go it alone. And neither do you.

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