BioWare Tackles Elf Racism In Dragon Age: Origins

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You can't have an ginormous fantasy epic without at least three different races — elf, human, dwarf, etc. — and you can't have elves and dwarfs without racism according to fantasy standard-setter J.R.R. Tolkien.

In typical BioWare fashion of reinventing the plot wheel, Dragon Age: Origins aims to redefine the fantasy genre; and it'll start by rearranging the racial tension between your standard fantasy stock types. Normally, say BioWare headmen Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, high fantasy like Tolkien's dictates that elves are creatures that "sashay through the countryside" – they're very pretty, very aloof and very, very elitist.

"So," said Muzyka, "here's an example of elves being different in Dragon Age: Elves were enslaved by the humans at one point in Dragon Age, so they hate humans, they despise them. Humans in turn have a lot of disrespect towards elves. [...] That's something that hasn't really been done before is introducing a lot of racial tension and back story and intrigue behind the scenes that's sort of totally optional, but it makes the world feel that much richer and real."


Certainly, BioWare is no stranger to racial tension — you couldn't expect the sheer number of alien species in Mass Effect's galaxy to all get along with each other, right? But this is the first I've heard where you get to make a conscious choice to be the oppressor — or even the oppressed.

"Your experience... is going to be very different depending if you choose to play an elf origin story or a human," said Muzyka.

In a way, it doesn't sound different than making the choice to have Shepard be a man or a woman. But there's a subtle difference to Dragon Age that you don't see in Mass Effect or even in close fantasy cousin The Witcher: Shepard was Shepard; Geralt was Geralt — the main character was somebody else. If BioWare has their way in Dragon Age, there won't be that layer of separation between player and character. You'll be the racist; you'll be the persecuted — depending on which race you play.

"We're defining a new type of fantasy genre," Muzyka explained. "That's one of our goals is to make this a landmark event in fantasy, defining something that hasn't been done before quite the way we're doing it — dark heroic fantasy."

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That might be interesting, if it weren't for the fact that Warcraft already popularized this back story of humans versus elves. Or, in other words, humans v elves is the "new" pop culture fantasy racial tension. That's a bit of a mouthful.

Something that I don't think has been done, on the other hand, is dwarves vs humans. In most fantasy that I can think of, they tend to get along at least fairly well. There's often a bit of racial tension between them, but definitely no arch-rival material.

If somebody wanted to really mix it up, you'd see humans alongside orcs/goblins fighting off dwarves alongside elves. That would pretty much be a complete reversal of Tolkien mythology. But, having said that, it seems like a bad idea to do something "just" to be different, especially if what is the norm is the norm because it's considered optimal and the most enjoyable.