Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dragon Age 1's Morrigan: Why I Don't Like Her

Well, I've played the game a few times over, seen everything there is to see, examined the merits and flaws of each of the characters pretty thoroughly, and discussed it all with a few people whose opinions and tastes are trustworthy. And the verdict is in: Morrigan is my least favorite part of Dragon Age Origins.

There are quite a few small aspects about her that don't exactly ingratiate her character to me, of course. Her general attitude is one. She's kind of a bitch. While she treats the main character pretty decently, more or less, she's unceasingly cold and hostile to everyone else in the party, while they, aside from Alistair,* continue to attempt to be civil to her. While other characters in the game may criticize each other in a light-hearted way or with a constructive purpose in mind, Morrigan's jabs and insults are ever done spitefully. So she's not exactly the most likable person to begin with.

Still, annoying personalities I can get over, if there's a decent character beneath. I mean, look at Final Fantasy 10's Tidus--you all know I really like his character, but I'll be the first to admit that he can be really annoying at times. I've also always been a fan of Chrono Trigger's Magus, and he's not exactly friendly to the rest of the party, either.

The true problem for me with Morrigan is that her inner character is rather shallow, and far less likable than her bitchy exterior. Fundamentally, Morrigan believes in looking out for number 1, that connections to other people are meaningless farces, that religious belief is foolish, and that the mages who follow the Chantry's laws and allow themselves to be regulated are weak. Now, these are all things that I disagree with myself. But what makes her such a lousy character compared to all the rest of the cast, and what makes me really dislike her, is how she holds and expresses these beliefs.

Morrigan is a raging, senseless hypocrite who cannot extract her head from her ass. She criticizes the mages who live under the shackles that society places on them, even though she has grown up free because her adoptive witch mother, Flemeth, kept her relatively safe and almost totally secluded from the society that would have imprisoned her. She has absolutely no experience of the difficulties a mage faces when they try to escape, and she doesn't care. Even when confronted with the fact that she could have been brought up in this imprisonment and been the same as any other mage, she dismisses the argument without really addressing it, rather than even consider that the situations of other mages and herself could have been reversed. She scorns others for not fighting for the freedom she enjoys when she herself has had little role in attaining and keeping that freedom.

This is more or less how it goes every time Morrigan comes across something she doesn't approve of. She criticizes the people and society of the world around her unflinchingly, while having never had to experience it--by her own admission she knows more or less nothing of civilization, since Flemeth raised her alone in a swamp her whole life.

But it's more than just ignorance bordering on hypocrisy, here. There's also just complete and utter hypocrisy, too. One of her big things is to criticize the followers of the Chant of Light, the major quasi-Christian-esque religion of this world, for being unthinking followers to laws and beliefs that they're told. The problem here is that, again, by her own admission, most everything she knows of the world (which is, again, not very much) is what Flemeth has taught her. Nearly every opinion she has and holds is formed before she's properly out in the world to experience that which she holds the opinion on. Of all the characters in the game, she's the one whose beliefs have been determined the most by what she's been told, and she also ends up being the character whose views are the most unchangeable. Sten can learn to accept outsiders and embrace at least a precious few aspects of other cultures. Alistair comes to accept his place in the world and has his preconceived hopes about family's acceptance challenged. Oghren comes to recognize that it truly is himself and not circumstance that brings him to his lowly states. Zevran, Shale, Wynne, Leliana, they're all at least open to views other than their own. But Morrigan? On almost every point, the woman who criticizes the Chantry's followers for their blind, unquestioning obedience to the moral codes given to them absolutely refuses to entertain the possibility that what she's been told could be untrue.**

Now I'll give you the fact that Morrigan is not 100% a loathsome hypocrite. She CAN come to appreciate the friendship and/or love that the main character offers her (if the main character is a good fellow/fellowess and gives her gifts and does her a huge favor), and she doesn't deny that she values it. And that much IS fairly touching, I'll give you that. Although it does seem to be a thing so private that only she and the main character can ever know it; in all other ways and situations, Morrigan continues to scorn human connections as worthless. But I'll still admit, that's a highlight to her, and one moment where she does learn that her preconceptions are wrong.

Nonetheless, this one occasion of her appreciating someone going to extreme lengths for her for the sake of friendship does not change her overall character, and that is one of an ignorant, venomous hypocrite. While this may put me at odds with the general gaming community, which seems totally enamored by her,*** I seriously dislike Morrigan, and consider her the low point of the game's cast.

* And she gives Alistair plenty of reason to dislike her, at that.

** And while it's really neither here nor there, I'd like to point out that her religious criticisms never graduate past the most rudimentary level. Morrigan isn't bringing up any more insightful arguments about the fallacies of faith and organized religion than those you would expect to hear from a teenager testing the waters of religious rebellion.

*** Which I think is largely because she spouts those empty but "edgy" anti-faith arguments here and there, and is a goth chick that shows a lot of skin--proof that Bioware can shamelessly exploit an audience just as well as SquareEnix!


  1. I was somewhat indifferent on Morrigan throughout, though you make some good points here. I did however enjoy having her and Alistair in my party together on my first time through. Their skillsets complimented one another well and their banter was great. I still remember her line about how they added a dog to the party and Alister's still the dumbest member, or something along those lines. :)

  2. True, I cannot deny that her banter with Alistair is hilarious. But then, almost all the banter in that game is great.

    1. I am mostly indifferent to Morrigan, so I can accept most of your points about her. However, what kind of arguements against faith would you have expected her to make? I didn´t remember her dialogue very well anymore, so I looked up her banter with Leliana to see some of her comments on it, and to be frank, while being nothing Special, they are certainly not inherently stupid. Regardless of her own beliefs, she does point out that she refuses faith on the grounds that there is no evidence for it, going for a more materialistic worldview (She does not explicitly state it like this, but this meaning can be inferred from her wording). It is no criticism on an academic level, but to call it as nonsensical as a rebellious zeenager seems to be rather inaccurate. Then again, I do not remember most of her dialogue anymore, so I might be mistaken in criticizing this judgement of yours.

    2. There are many valid arguments to be had against forms of monotheistic worship similar to Christianity, to be sure, but none of what Morrigan says goes beyond the surface-level thoughts you could observe within a war in a Youtube video's comments section. And what makes such meager persuasive offerings ridiculous is that in Dragon Age 1, there IS quite a bit of evidence that the faith in the Maker has at least some touch on reality, in the Darkspawn and Andraste.

      Darkspawn: The faith in the Maker provides an explanation for the origins of the Darkspawn, which are, obviously, real, hard truths of the world. Now, this is, of course, only circumstantial evidence--just because the faith explains their existence, that doesn't mean that's the correct explanation. BUT, and this is the important part, there is no alternative explanation, at least not at the time of DA1. The Darkspawn do not give any evidence of being a natural part of the world of Thedas--their behavior, reproduction, and various physiologies are dissimilar to any other creature in the world, and utilize unknown processes that do not relate in any concrete way to the laws of magic that Thedas follows. None of that is HARD evidence, of course, as they still could be naturally created and just a complete aberration to all other pieces of nature in the world--it does happen--but that possibility has no more evidence to support it than the origin story they're given by the faith in the Maker. Thus while they're not hard evidence of the faith's accuracy, at the same time, the Darkspawn's existence nonetheless is significant, unexplained, and unnatural enough that to completely dismiss the faith that gives the only known explanation for them even when no other possibility has been advanced is illogical. You can't criticize the faith for not having evidence and act like your opinion is superior when you yourself don't have evidence, either!

      (Continued Below)

    3. Andraste: How much of the stuff going on in the temple that holds Andraste's ashes is holy and how much could be explained as just due to all the lyrium in the mountain is hard to say, but considering the level of detail that the specters within give on the life of Andraste, the fact that her ashes do exist (there's really no reason to doubt that they are hers, given the context), and the fact that they have the exact kind of miraculous healing properties that one would expect of the remains of a Jesus-figure (which would be a pretty big coincidence if that power just happened to be from lyrium-radiation or whatever)...there might be non-faith explanations for all of these things, but they're certainly not the simplest and most rational ones. Morrigan doesn't have to believe in the Maker because of all of this, but to dismiss others who do just as completely as before is the very level of ignorance and close-minded, dogmatic childishness that she accuses believers of.

      And I have to point out, again, that much of Morrigan's rhetoric is completely hypocritical. She's accusing other people, such as Leliana, of ignorance and foolishly following the words of others without question, yet Morrigan's own views on the matter were formed in almost complete isolation from the world and influenced strongly by what her mother has told her. She is, in fact, holding onto what she has been told by someone else as irrefutable law, and she's doing it while having essentially no experience with the actual world--and yet she mocks Leliana, the woman who has seen multiple nations' societies and came to embrace the faith by her own choice and conclusions, of being the ignorant, unquestioning one!

      A rebellious teenager tends to be more interested in the act of rebelling than in the cause they champion itself, and that's how Morrigan acts, because she ignores whatever doesn't fit with the view she wants to have and obnoxiously denounces others as blind sheep even though she herself has the least experience and questions what she has been told even less than the dogmatic Sten and a LOT less than Leliana (who, I'll remind you, has come to some conclusions about her faith that are not the accepted ones of the religion--if anyone in the party does not blindly follow, it's Leliana). Even if it turned out that the faith in the Maker WAS a bunch of hogwash, it would be no victor for Morrigan, for her reasons for holding that belief were hypocritical, ignorant ones which she never challenged.

  3. I agree. I mean, I liked her at first. I found her to be funny, but I got tired of her attitude pretty fast. I think it was after I got Zevran. I preferred Zevran's attitude to Morrigan's. I kept her at camp so I got her to warm up to me really quick. When she was being nice, or coming on to me, I found it kind of creepy. I still slept with her to get the achievement though, and I did feel bad when I broke it off. I just don't get what the appeal is.