Back to Where It Began

Replaying on my XBOne means screenshots! Finally!

In many ways, my life started over in the spring of 2011.

I was three years out of an emotionally abusive relationship that left me questioning my worth, abilities, talents… everything. I was two years out from finishing my MFA, and the two years of that program, while amazing, were intensive and overwhelming and left me feeling burned out creatively. I was one year out from having purchased my XBox 360, and starting to rediscover my love of gaming. And it was that spring I was loaned a copy of BioWare’s Mass Effect.

Mass Effect engaged me in a way Halo and Left4Dead had not. While I loved the world and character of Halo, and quickly learned what it was to be in fandom again, the storytelling, characters, and world of Mass Effect engaged me completely. That particular semester, I had an end of day study hall duty that happened to be comprised mostly of gamers. We had great discussions about gaming, and at one point, a student, knowing my love of fantasy, suggested I’d like Dragon Age, since it had a lot of the same elements as Mass Effect. So I borrowed it. And it was just medieval Mass Effect.

Except… NOPE. It was so much more.

Alistair, Fianna, Morrigan, and Cat the Dog

In very little time I was fully immersed in the Blight-stricken land of Ferelden, and terms such as “The Maker”, “Ostagar”, “Orzammar”, “Circle of Magi”, “Andraste”, and “Tevinter” (eventually the most important of those!) became familiar. I fell into the plight of Ferelden and got to know Fianna Cousland, my Grey Warden, better than any character I’d ever worked with before. Her romance with Alistair (the first time I ever played) happened slowly, but also suddenly. It came unexpectedly, as did the relationships she forged with her companions. I was shocked when Zevran betrayed her in a back alley later in the game because I didn’t understand approval ratings. I struggled through the endlessness that was the Fade because I didn’t yet understand BioWare’s penchant for puzzles. I slogged through the Deep Roads because I didn’t yet know how much BioWare loves tormenting us (it’s okay, BioWare, I still love you).

I initially told Morrigan no way in the void was she going to sleep with Alistair. And then watched Riordan fall from Fort Drakon and realized Alistair or Fianna would have to kill the Archdemon, and reset to an earlier save.

In subsequent playthroughs I learned more about the mechanics and how to spec characters and build rapport so my team stuck with me. But a funny thing happened. I’d been so burned out creatively, but Dragon Age woke something up in me. These realized characters in this amazing world with its deep lore fascinated me so much, that I wanted to write about them. I hadn’t wanted to write in years, and, having received my MFA, figured if I did ever write again, it would have to be serious original fiction.

Fuck that. I wrote my first Dragon Age fic, “Beautiful Prison”, in June of 2011. It was a short bit about Alistair waiting to be recruited by Duncan. He tells your Warden the story in conversation, but I wanted to see the scene through his eyes, feel the tension in his mind.

Writing that piece felt like waking up to a new world. Possibly coming out of Uthenera, to use another DA word from their Dalish Elvehn culture. The words didn’t stop flowing. I needed an outlet and found a Facebook group dedicated to Alistair. I started finding friends to talk about DA with. I started crafting Dragon Age-themed things: from painting canvas shoes, to a fun little alphabet scrapbook, to my first ever cosplay, for PAX East 2012, where I got to meet the Dragon Age creative team. I met my best friend, who invited me to play D&D with her family and some friends.

So dragon. Much age. Wow.

A lot of people may scoff at the idea that a video game could change my life, especially when I was already in my thirties when I stumbled up on it. But through Dragon Age I branched out. I found a new friend group. Luna (BFF) invited me to her group’s annual Christmas party, where I met extended friends who weren’t in our D&D campaign. It felt nice to branch out and be creative. It felt nice to be social in different ways (though I totally loved my cats and my apartment, and did really enjoy going out with my work friends). But at that party, in walked my husband.

He wasn’t my husband then. Of course. Bard was one of the first to arrive after me. He was tall with dark hair and wide brown eyes and an adorable smile. We hit it off immediately and spent the next week chatting on Facebook. By March we were dating. By that July, 2012, we were engaged. By July 2013, we were married. In that time I kept writing, producing DA fanfic and articles for a DA fan site. I kept learning new cosplay skills and developing new D&D characters. Luna and I hung out a lot, and how cool was it that I got to move down the street from my best friend?

Much has happened in those intervening years: several PAX Easts are in the book, I have a sprawling Dragon Age headcanon with a huge series of fanfiction following my Inquisitor (Inqusition’s 2014 release changed even more!). I live down the street from Luna, and have made more friends through DA. I’ve tapered off my cosplaying some, but retain the skills I learned through sewing for it. Oh, I have a kid! In 2015 Bard and I welcomed our Smol Human. He started kindergarten this month.

And I’m still writing. In 2018 I got the confidence to try writing original again, taking inspiration from Dragon Age, Skyrim, and other games. I’m working on my series and loving it. Though I don’t always have a lot of time to work on it, I’m not overwhelmed or feeling disappointed or burned out by it. I’m creating again, I’m working with fantastic authors, and I feel alive in a way I didn’t before picking up Dragon Age: Origins in 2011.

I feel ya, Fianna. 2020’s been like that.

Earlier this month, BioWare released a teaser trailer confirming work on DA4 and the fandom went wild. It’s been six years since Inquisition, and to finally have more news (than just Solas’s voiceover with a graphic) sent us into an uproar. With that, I decided it was high time I booted up Origins once again and revisited Ferelden. Bard asked me if I’d play a different character and make different choices this time.

I see the appeal. But I wanted that feeling of coming home, of the Blight bringing people together, of waking up after a long sleep and coming to life again. I wanted to go back to where it started. Back not just to Origins, but the origin of where the last nearly 10 years have brought me, and that means playing Fianna’s story.

It felt good.

Like coming home.

Published by

J. R. Rainville

J. R. Rainville is a writer, gamer, and caffeine enthusiast. She's currently working on her original fantasy novel series.

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