Speculative ASMR

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Image from YouTube channel AsmrArtistsRead

Speculative settings are known to enchant and exhilarate. Whether you’re flying through space and time, or surrounded by magicians and dragons, speculative works create an overpowering sense of adrenaline and excitement. What proves fascinating is the way in which these worlds and characters are also capable of lulling the audience into a peaceful, sometimes trance-like state; and all with the help of a little science.

Many people mention feeling a tingling, goosebump-like sensation when they’re asked to describe a state of relaxation or calm. Frequently this feeling arises from seemingly insignificant things: whispering barely above a murmur, the sound of water droplets, or thunder. Over the past decade or so, science has come to classify this sensation as autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR. A person can enter a euphoric state upon hearing sounds or seeing things that stimulate a tingling sensation, which starts at the scalp and moves down throughout the body.

For insomniacs or anxious people like myself, there is a large and growing ASMR community on YouTube. Users called ASMRtists make videos where they do anything from playing with crinkly tissue paper and tapping on various surfaces to roleplays and personal attention/positive affirmation videos that engage the viewer. While most videos are rather mundane, using everyday objects or referring to regular scenarios such as a trip to the spa, some users have decided to get creative and refer to the speculative realm for help.

One of the first ASMR videos I’ve ever watched was a simple whispering video by a user called Whisper Crystal, in which she layered the reading of Tolkien’s elvish poetry, in Elvish and in English, with music from the movie. Though the video has since, sadly, had its settings changed to private, I still remember the way in which the breathy pronunciation and laments for the evening star made me feel safe and lulled me to sleep, once again sobbing at the unfortunate twist of fate of not having been born an elf.

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Image from YouTube channel Heather Feather ASMR

These videos have only gotten more popular over the years. There are those like Heather Feather’s “It’s Dangerous to Go Alone!” roleplay, in which the viewer feels like a character in the beginning of a video game. The viewer is presented with a variety of weapons from well-known games like the dagger of time from The Prince of Persia. These videos play with pop culture and incorporate existing details or languages, like one read in Valyrian, a language from Game of Thrones.

One channel in particular has become a personal favourite of mine, a channel by the user ASMR Rooms. Each of her YouTube videos is called a “room” because of the way in which it incorporates sounds that one would hear at a specific location. One can listen to the low humming and tinkering of the dwarves of Erebor, or the sounds of the waterfalls of Rivendell with the gentle singing of the elves. Many of her videos focus on the world of Harry Potter, capturing locations such as the Three Broomsticks. The best by far are the four videos dedicated to each of the four houses, among which Hufflepuff is the best. Situated near the Hogwarts kitchens, the Hufflepuff common room is sunny and breezy, with the sound of birds chirping and a pleasant spring breeze blowing through the windows, while the occasional chatter of students or the shadow of a stranger pass by.

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Image from YouTube channel ASMR rooms

Though the sounds used in these videos are simple, and similar to what one might hear on a regular basis, they are successful in stimulating the imagination by creating a sense of setting and atmosphere. It becomes easy to choose your appropriate House video and imagine oneself as a student in Hogwarts, sitting and studying for your O.W.L.s or simply taking a nap between classes. While other videos can include speculative characters or props, they focus much more on calming the viewer down—though some, like the few roleplays of Nurse Joy, are worthwhile to watch/listen to because of their cuteness.

One of the greatest pains for an avid reader is being unable to slip into the pages of the book and exist in whatever world one is reading about. While movies are capable of bringing these stories and characters to life, they do so in a way that makes one want to run headfirst into battle or do something reckless, like ride a dragon. ASMR videos offer a different side to these beloved characters and places, letting them become something each person visualizes and understands differently in a vivid, sensory fashion. It becomes much easier to make the experience personal and enjoyable, a “mundane day” in a fantastical world.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

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Impractical Immortality: Do You Really Want to Live Forever?

holy grail
Image from moviepilot.com

Well, do you? Really?

The idea of immortality, in one form or another, comes up frequently in speculative fiction: elves, Timelords, divine beings, cursed humans, and undying monsters are all easy to find between pages and on screens. Immortality is often a flexible concept, ranging from gods that are all-powerful and cannot die but can—with the right spell, artifact or leverage with another rival god—be subdued, to creatures that can be slain but never fall prey to disease or the ravages of time. The latter includes Tolkien’s eternally beautiful elves and the sometimes benevolent—but usually malicious—Immortals of author Tamara Pierce’s fantasy kingdom Tortal.

Freedom from mortality may sound appealing to some of us, but as a wise wizard once said, “Humans do have a knack for choosing precisely those things which are worst for them.” Immortality is easily one of the worst things that heroes and villains have ever sought after.

For starters—there’s a catch. Always. Immortality comes at a price.

Sometimes the magic that makes you immortal also makes you susceptible to other, unfriendly forms of magic, or you find yourself unable to leave the cloister that the Sangrael is housed in, lest you lose all that you’ve gained. Maybe you get eternal life, but not eternal youth with it. I’m sure the Greek goddess Iris’ lover, who was granted the former but not the latter, would have much to say on the subject.

It is also likely that your immortality is dependent on you having your magic McGuffin on or near your person at all times, meaning that you’re at a disadvantage in life. Your magic ring or medal will be stolen, I promise you. It’s only a matter of time. In this case, the price of immortality is a life of looking over your shoulder, guarding your prize because your eternal life depends on it.

In other cases, the cost of immortality is too hideous to contemplate. Aloysius Crumrin, the aged warlock in the Courtney Crumrin comic series, is offered eternal life by an old flame—in the form of vampirism. He turns immortal life down but does accept her last elixir vitae; the potion lets him live a little longer despite his wasting illness. “Do I want to know what’s in it?” he asks the vampire. “No,” is her firm reply, and seeing as she herself keeps living by draining the life of others, it’s for the best that Aloysius doesn’t question her further.

And of course you’ll be lonely. How could you not be? You’ll outlive everyone you love.

In Ella Enchanted, the fairy godmother, Mandy, tells her goddaughter Ella that the Faeries tend to earn the ire of even their dearest human companions: “We’re immortal. That gets them mad…. [your mother] wouldn’t speak to me for a year when her father died.” The benefit of living to see a whole family line grow is somewhat tempered by knowing that you will have to bury them all.

Similarly, Skysong, the baby dragon who is born in Tortal away from other dragons and is raised by human mages, will outlive her guardian and all the mortal animals who become her friends.

And speaking of being lonely, it must be said that Captain America—who managed to survive a crash landing in the Arctic and being frozen there back during World War II—is starting to look very lonely, having outlived most of his comrades. He is stuck existing in a world that he doesn’t really belong to.

Even if you do your best to fit in the world you find yourself in, you won’t. Yuta, the protagonist of a manga series called Mermaid Saga, tries to live like a normal man after gaining immortality. But his wife can hardly fail to notice that, though she grows old over the years, he remains the young man she married. “I’m afraid of you,” she tells him. And who could blame her?

Finally, just what are you going to do with all that time?

Bowerick Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged devotes himself to insulting everyone, forever. If that sounds lame, consider that living forever will leave you running out of hobbies soon enough. You will run out of places to see and things to do because you will simply have too much time on your hands. If you have no plan, you’re doomed.

All that can truly occupy the immortal is watching history being made. This is a dubious prospect; ask the elves of Middle Earth. They never fail to seem jaded about the decisions made over the years, or the doings of the mortals around them. Elvenkind has simply seen too much to fully trust any other race; they remember too much.

Watching eras pass is bad enough, but living through them is much worse. Yuta lives through feudal wars, famine, the bombings of World War II, and murderous multigenerational feuds among those he befriends. Madame Xanadu loses her young lover in the witch-burning fervour of the Spanish Inquisition. And Wolverine seems to do nothing but get caught up in somebody’s war. For every triumph of humanity there are a dozen failures. History is a harsh place to live.

Take the Fame lyric “I’m gonna  live forever” literally and what you have is masochistic madness.

In the genres that ask “what if…?” any exploration of immortality yields fascinating answers. The concept of immortality and the presence of immortal characters in fiction forces us to take a long look at the way we live our lives. An immortal traveler who has seen far too much once said that “A longer life isn’t always a better one.”

What happens if you do away with mortality, a fundamental part of our humanity ? Nothing that we would ever really want.

-contributed by Miranda Whittaker

Sandman : Handful of Dust

sandman shushes me
Image from empireonline.com

 

When a young Neil Gaiman first approached Vertigo comics about The Sandman, he was pitching a simple revival of the 70s series of the same name by Joe Simon and Jack “The King” Kirby. But DC editor Karen Berger insisted that while they keep the name, Gaiman should create a new character.

And thank goodness he did, for otherwise the world would have been robbed of something beautiful. Running from 1989 to 1996, for a total 75 issues collected in 10 volumes, The Sandman managed to create its very own expansive self-contained mythology.

The original artists Mike Dringenberg and Sam Kieth fashioned the title character after Gaiman himself. The Sandman, also known as Morpheus or Dream, and by many other names, carries with him an aura of inhumanity. While early issues exist in the DC comic universe with appearances by The Martian Manhunter and John Constantine (hellblazer), the creators quickly realized that Sandman should be a world unto itself, and so that is what it became. Sandman used several different types of stories to keep itself going and to keep it feeling new and alien all the way through to its final issue, but over its run, three types of stories were prevalent.

The Sandman was able to hold on to many overlapping threads throughout its near decade-long run, with characters who appeared in early issues later returning to have their stories told in elaborate detail. This worked well for the first main kind of story that was used. While several volumes are focused on the Sandman himself, there are also a number of stories in which the title character only appears in a minor capacity, and sometimes he fails to appear at all, instead being merely alluded to or referenced by the other characters. These stories were all set in the present and centered on ordinary people who are pulled into problems or adventures that they don’t understand, becoming involved with magic and monsters.

But even when Dream himself didn’t appear, Gaiman never lost focus on what the series was about. Even in these more domestic stories, the focus is on these ordinary people’s dreams, and the effect that dreams can have on the waking world. Whether it be the story of a young woman named Barbie who becomes trapped in her own dreaming, or of a girl named Rose who finds herself with mysterious powers, the underlying idea behind the story is always clear—what is important are the dreams that these characters have, and how these dreams provide a glimpse into the effect that Dream has on the world he inhabits .

The next kind of story that Gaiman used most often involves the various preexisting mythologies that the world has to offer. In The Sandman, the deities from various cultures and mythologies coexist. This allows Dream to engage with different stories from various mythologies, and allows Gaiman to teach the reader about histories and mythologies that they might not have been exposed to otherwise.

The Sandman also includes Biblical figures such as Cain and Able, who in the series exist as servants to Dream in his mystical realm. Cain is doomed to always kill his brother and Able is doomed to be endlessly resurrected. The devil himself is a key figure in several volumes, with Dream actually visiting hell to sort out his conflicts with the infamous fallen angel Lucifer. One such conflict is when Lucifer decides to retire and leaves Dream in charge of hell, leading to all sorts of problems .

Dream also has stories with characters cut from Egyptian mythology, such as the cat god Bast, and characters from Norse mythology, such as Thor, Odin, and Loki, with the latter two becoming important figures in The Sandman’s later volumes. The three Fates from ancient Greek mythology also figure, and in the end they become Dream’s most important foes.

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Image from wikimedia.org

But the third—and probably my personal favorite—kind of narrative that The Sandman employs is historical: the blending of the Sandman’s unique and eerie magic with historical figures and events. This is used to showcase the Kings of Rome and Marco Polo, and, most notably, is used when Morpheus visits the dreams of William Shakespeare, helping to inspire some of the famous playwright’s most beloved works. In issue 19, collected in the third volume Dream Country, Shakespeare’s company puts on A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Morpheus, with actual Fairy Folk sneaking into production. This issue is the only comic book to ever win the World Fantasy Award.My favorite example of this blending of history and fantasy will always be from Volume 6, Fables and Reflections, in which Dream inspires the broken and suicidal Joshua Abraham Norton in the year of 1859 to become the self-proclaimed Emperor of America, a real historical figure who solved social disputes in the city of San Francisco.

The Sandman is an intelligent, unnerving saga that follows an inhuman, monstrous magical figure. It traces his deeds and misdeeds throughout history with his siblings Destiny, Despair, Desire, Destruction, Delirium, and Death. The Sandman is a unique and beautiful series, and should always be remembered both as one of Gaiman’s crowning achievements and as one of the greatest creations of the comic book medium.

-contributed by Ben Ghan

Peter Pan: The Boy Who Grew Up

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Illustration by Dorothy Anne Manuel.

I think I speak for all of us when I say that we all struggle to find our footing in the world during the transition from childhood to adulthood. Growing up to become an adult is a difficult and arduous journey that forces us to decide whether to hold on to our childhood self or to let it go. Most often, we are forced to stuff the child into the deepest recesses  of our brain, where we hope to forget them so that we can move on with our adulthood.

Now I know I’ve painted a dark picture, but the truth seldom shines in the light. However, there is one question that is worth asking: why are we forced to suppress our childhood self? Why are we forced to grow up only to fulfill societal expectations that may not suit all of us?

The answer can be found in one powerful tale that tells the story of a boy who chose not to grow up: Peter Pan. We’ve all read or heard of this story by Scottish novelist J. M. Barrie, but few of us may have thought about the overarching statement that Barrie is trying to make about the many reasons for and against growing up and what ‘growth’ really means. I’ll present just one theory that looks at the other side of the story: the side that explores why Peter left, and what that may potentially reveal about ourselves.

Barrie writes that Peter left his parents as an infant, because he heard them talking about his impending transition into a man and couldn’t bear going through with it. We are led to believe that he left because he didn’t want to grow up. But what if he left because he specifically did not want to grow into his parents and society’s definition of a man?

If we closely examine Peter’s adventures in Neverland, we can see that he does grow—he grows up psychically  but not physically. He leads a group of lost boys, fights Captain Hook, and saves people. Granted, all of these tasks are not seen as typical adult responsibilities, but that is only so in the eyes of society. Peter became what he believed he wanted to be. He became a man on his own terms. Even though it seems he never grows up, he displays strength, courage, care, and love. He even has a friendship with Tinker Bell, proving that he can be in relationship. Peter retains all the qualities a grown man has without ever giving up on the child in himself.

From the perspective of our society, we would declare Peter a child. Why? Because he doesn’t have a paying job. Because he doesn’t have a family. Because he is uneducated. Because he’s irresponsible. But again, all these limitations are only set by our society. Now, I am not saying that we should overthrow the system, but I think we should acknowledge that sometimes we don’t want to be the responsible, mature adults society tells us we have to be. Sometimes we just want to be ourselves, stripped bare from the expectations and responsibilities of our society.

Peter’s journey is not just one of a boy to a man, but also one of finding who we are when we are not society’s usual nine-to-five  working citizen with a nuclear family, a post-secondary degree, and relationship issues. His journey is about finding out what we can be when we are not any of these things.

Peter Pan says more than what it initially appears to say. Society presents us with many images  of middle-class working conditions, minimum wages, brick houses, and a family, and leaves out the possibility of individual growth. I realize that somehow or the other we all have to conform to society’s ideals of a grown adult in order to survive, but that does not mean that we must forsake who we want to be as an individual. That does not mean that we have to forsake our childhood self in order to make room for our adult self. And it does not mean that we are all just working-class  students with nothing more to offer.

Peter left because there was no room for him to grow in his society, and we, too, must occasionally seek out a reprieve from our collective identity as working adults with familial and financial responsibilities in order to discover that we can be who we want to be, independent of society’s demands and conditions. So take a trip to a nearby park or mountain, hike, go camping, go to the playground, go bungee jumping, write a book, or make music—do what makes you happy, regardless of what society dictates. After all, Peter found his Neverland, and it’s time we find ours.

Ever since we began to understand the world, we became aware that there is already a plan for our future determined by our parents and by society. Growing up might be touted by them as a sacred process, but it’s tainted with their expectations of what a grown adult is and should be. We are taught that we need a degree and that we need a job so that we can nurture a family and die peacefully knowing that we lived the right life. But there is no semblance of who we are when we don’t want to do these things, when all we want is to revert back to being kids again. That’s what Peter’s tale is all about: how we can grow to be responsible and mature without ever having to forget or erase our childhood innocence and wonder.

 -contributed by Rashida Abbas

Falling Into The Abaddon

Art by Koren Shadmi
Art by Koren Shadmi

Webcomics are still a relatively small market, but with such gems as xkcd and Cyanide & Happiness, they will likely continue to gain traction in the future. One hidden gem is the vastly underrated bi-weekly webcomic The Abaddon by Israeli cartoonist Koren Shadmi. The Abaddon, which began in January 2011 and finished in April 2013 after two volumes, was partially funded on Kickstarter and is essentially a comic book adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist play No Exit set in an apartment in Brooklyn.

The comic is about a head-bandaged man named Ter who finds himself trapped in a bizarre apartment with an equally bizarre group of roommates. He quickly discovers that his new home is a strange prison with a complex, mysterious puzzle that needs to be solved in order for him to escape. Over time, Ter also realizes that he has forgotten crucial parts of his identity and that uncovering his obscure past is the key to unlocking the puzzle of the apartment.

It is the coded, subtle way in which Shadmi unravels this puzzle that makes The Abaddon such a thrilling piece of speculative fiction. Shadmi’s distinctive artwork, drawn in pencil and then scanned and further developed in Photoshop, is the first clue within the puzzle: each of the characters is distinct—from Bet’s curves to Shel’s plump figure—yet they are all aglow with a pastiness that blends into the milky dreariness of the apartment.

Ter finds various symbols in his quest for escape, namely a journal that belonged to a roommate named Ral who had managed to escape the apartment. As the days go by, Ter discovers that everything that happens to him is recorded within the journal, and he sets out to relive those experiences and retrace them in order to find loopholes he can use to escape the apartment.

Ter also finds flies. He notices a picture of one printed on the back pocket of Bet’s pants, and a stamping of one on a piece of chocolate is later found stuck in the fur of Shel’s cat. Ter interprets them as a sign that there was a way out of the apartment, which Shadmi uses to effectively twist the plot within the story. He does this repeatedly in order to demonstrate the hopelessness of Ter’s situation. Ter is overcome with panic and anxiety attacks numerous times out of his frustration over his inability to escape from the apartment.

What Ter fails to pick up on are his own surroundings. The apartment contains mysterious pink gunk flowing through its pipes. Though it is never explicitly stated, the liquid is revealed to be representative of hell and blood. This recalls No Exit, which was in fact about a group of people trapped in a room that is quickly revealed to be hell. This blood and gore is investigated and expanded upon by Shadmi throughout the comic as Ter is forced to remember his own traumatized past and the demons he’s unwittingly left behind in order to escape the everlasting labyrinth of The Abaddon.

-contributed by By: Diandra Ismiranti

Imagine Magic! In Defense of Fantasy Literature

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”

― Dr. Seuss

Illustration by Dorothy Anne Manuel
Illustration by Dorothy Anne Manuel

Fantasy has been a part of the literary tradition since literature began.

In fact, the case could be made that fantasy was the first literature of ancient culture. From Jewish folklore thousands of years old to the Greek epics of Homer such as the Odyssey and Roman tales like Virgil’s Aeneid, the first stories of literature were about the fantastical. They were about magic, and monsters, and mad heroes going on impossible journeys.

These stories are taught in schools and are respected as great classics. So when did some people begin to lose respect for the fantastic? At what point did people decide to relegate fantasy to the fringes of literature under the classification “genre fiction”?

Today the fantastical dominates both the big and small screens. Fantasy is everywhere, and is more wildly popular than ever before since today’s special effects are finally able to capture the magic we have yearned to see for so long.

But what about on the page? See, the thing that makes the written word arguably the greatest mode of storytelling we have is that there has never been a special effects budget, or necessary run time, or props. When something fantastical is described in the pages of a book, the only possible limit is what you can imagine. That is what sets literature apart from all other modes of storytelling: the reader is an active participant in the experience of telling the story.

More than any other kind of writing, fantasy forces us to push the limits of our imagination. Unlike other genres, fantasy requires us to imagine things for which we have no real reference. If you ask anybody what a dragon looks like, they can tell you—they will describe to you exactly what they think it looks like. If you ask someone what it would feel like to fly, or to turn into an animal, or to do magic, they can tell you.

But there is no frame of reference for these things—nobody (or at least none of you muggles) has actually seen a dragon. And yet in a way we can do it. Fantasy makes us imagine things that are impossible or nonexistent. It opens up entirely new worlds for our minds to explore.

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Illustration by Dorothy Anne Manuel and Kristine Buerano

 

Fantasy, as Dr. Seuss says, is an important part of life. It can lend us perspectives that other forms of literature cannot, trapped as they are by the conventional laws of the universe. Fantasy can shrug off those conventions and follow its own story through to the limits of its own potential without having to concern itself with what is real or possible.

As well as providing an escape, fantasy allows us to be captured in truly human stories. Even in situations so far removed from anything we ourselves could face, we can still connect with and be moved by characters in fantasy worlds. Fantasy can be a perfect outlet for exploring the human condition and connection. It strips away all the unexciting necessities of everyday life and replaces them with (way better) tasks such as homework from Hogwarts or learning to ride a dragon.

Fantasy can still be about human connection by letting us learn from our protagonists while rooting for their quests and friendships. We cry when things go wrong for them and we cheer when things go right. Fantasy also lends itself to creating incredible antagonists, evil creatures whose terrifying powers and plans can surpass the realm of possibility.

Fantasy also allows for social commentary and allegory. Fantasy can tackle problems of the real world—problems of race or social class—and present them in a more accessible fashion to younger or less educated readers. By doing so, fantasy opens them up to new ideas, which they can see reflected in everyday life.

Everybody has fantasies. Deep down, some tiny part of us wants there to be something bigger going on, some magical happenings behind-the-scenes, or some impossible monster lurking in the woods. We want to imagine that our reality is somehow bigger than it is.

It has nothing to do with belief or what we know to be true. Sometimes we all want to imagine magic.

And that is what makes fantasy such a vital part of literature and life. It brings out our imagination.

So why do we seem suddenly embarrassed by this?

Let’s put magic back on our reading lists!

-contributed by Ben Ghan

A Love Letter To Dragon Age: Inquisition

emily's inquizzie final
Illustration by Lorna Antoniazzi

2014 was a good year for dragons— and dragon-themed games.

Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third instalment of Bioware’s well-received Dragon Age series, made a name for itself in the stomping ground of video game fanatics and fantasy lovers alike last November. Fuelled by teasers that had been coming out since early March, the game took off quickly and unrepentantly swept the market of its competitors. Dragon Age: Inquisition, these authors are happy to say, won Game of the Year from a number of notable video game publications. And for a good reason.

Inquisition is a visually stunning game with fun gameplay, challenging and varied combat, and huge open areas to explore for hours on end. The settings, history, creatures, and characters (both NPCs and PCs alike) all combine to create the beautiful, tragic, and enchanting world of Thedas. Expect to invest many hours in this game, as it is a tour de force of speculative fiction.

This game has been routinely praised for its gorgeous, humongous open world areas. They are not only wonderful to look at—favourites of ours include the Emerald Graves and The Western Approach—but they also have substance. Each area has a rich history spanning multiple centuries. For someone interested in the elves of Thedas, this game has particularly juicy information. Even simple farming towns, such as Crestwood, have their own charm and backstory. Each setting is far from the generic Medieval Castle #63 and Battlefield #145 that too often appear in fantasy. The regions are diverse, rich, and endlessly entertaining to explore.

This wouldn’t be a Dragon Age review without mentioning a hugely important aspect of the series: dragons. And, oh, they are beautiful. Each of the ten unique dragons in this game have varying levels, designs, and modes of attack, with only one thing in common: they are all damn hard to kill. They are hands down the most challenging combat in the game, and if you’re anything less than level 19—maybe 18 if you’re feeling lucky and have ample healing potions—you will get roasted. Or electrified. Or frozen. The dragons are completely inconsequential to the main quest, but don’t miss out on seeing these beautiful beasts, and definitely don’t miss out on taking Iron Bull with you (you’ll thank us later).

And now for characters. They, without a doubt, are the highlight of the game. Bioware is known for creating interesting and diverse characters game after game, and Inquisition is no exception. Each and every one of the companions and advisors has interesting and unique reasons for joining the Inquisition, and their quests make up for anything lacking in the main quest plot. There are old favourites, like the awkward prince charming-esque Cullen and the storytelling dwarf Varric, as well as new favourites, such as the charming pyjama-wearing elf Solas and the louder-than-life qunari Iron Bull. There are women of colour characters, such as the adorable Josephine and the ambitious Vivienne, and a fantastic transgender man, Krem, of Iron Bull’s mercenary group The Chargers (who will also capture your heart). The romances range from fun and flirty, to heartbreaking, to downright naughty. Getting to know these characters, through friendship, romance, or rivalry, has absolutely been the best experience of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

And just as the NPCs are wonderfully diverse and unique, so are the PCs. They are the most varied and customizable characters presented in any Bioware game thus far. Players can choose between four races, two genders (with room in between, as previously gender-exclusive customization such as makeup, hair, and, now, Adam’s apples, are open to any character), four voices, and endless facial features customization. But this is just one aspect of how to personalize your character—the options for how your PC responds to any given circumstance or conversation are also diverse, and can have substantial impact on the game’s storyline thereafter.

We thought we’d talk about our own personal experiences with the game to explain this a bit better. One of the writers of this piece, Emily, has dedicated over 300 hours to this game and has six characters so far. They are all vastly different, not only in terms of how they look and who they romance, but also their personalities, preferences, and opinions.

inquizzie - lorna
Illustration by Lorna Antoniazzi

Emily: Each time I’ve played the game I’ve had an almost completely different experience. For someone who loves creating their own characters with elaborate backstories and complex personalities, there is endless potential here. There is also the potential to fall madly in love with the character you have created, as I have (very egotistically) done. Mina Lavellan is a tiny, sweet, open-minded, loving, and very sad elven mage who just wants to Do The Right Thing™.

There’s definitely the option to be a kind creator and make a happy, powerful character who is totally cool with being in charge of everything. I decided to take the road less traveled and create a character who always looks like she’s crying and leads by doing what her friends tell her to do.

I also have characters who are more the Daenerys Targaryen-type who just wants to get this End of the World thing out of the way to continue having a good time. But the character I fell in love with is my sad elf. I love Inquisition, and while part of the reason for that is the settings, history, dragons, and characters, it is mostly because I was given the chance to create my own character and I sadistically created the saddest and most ill-equipped leader in the history of Thedas, who still somehow manages to save the world with a little help from her friends.

The second writer (and illustrator) of this piece, Lorna, is new to the Dragon Age world, having clocked only 50+ hours in this one game.

Lorna: Consider this post and aforementioned illustrations a personalized love song from Emily and I—the drawn characters are, after all, representations of our own PCs. The art of Inquisition, which first attracted me to the game, is stunning and deserves more credit and space than this post will allow, but I’ll try. Each companion in Dragon Age: Inquisition comes with their own artfully rendered tarot card symbolizing his or her history, personality, and possible futures—and often it is only in retrospect that you will be able to glean all of the symbolism and meaning each one possesses. Not only that, but often types of characters or creatures will also feature stylized cards (though not tarot ones) that are equally wonderful to look at. If you have a strong appreciation for aesthetics, this game is for you. It was for me.

Dragon Age: Inquisition deserves all of its 10/10s, and 5/5s, and 8/10s (looking at you, Eurogamer). It is a masterful combination of setting, character, aesthetics, and interesting political plot, and I happily foresee another play through in my future.

Well done, Bioware.

-contributed by Emily Maggiacomo and Lorna Antoniazzi