The team behind Dragon 4ge Day have been posing the question, “What does Dragon Age mean to you?” It was a slightly intimidating process, trying to sift through my monumental attachment to this particular fandom and I decided it was probably best addressed here, where I can ramble to my heart’s content. Perhaps grab a cup of tea and a cookie (or three)…
I have always been the sort of person who becomes hyper-focused on particular interests. Every few years, my attention will wander and something else will become my primary focus, but I don’t tend to fall out of love with my interests very easily. Despite my earlier fixations, most of which continue to bubble away in the background, I still wasn’t prepared for the way Dragon Age was going to settle down in the middle of my life and make itself at home.
Living with chronic illness, it’s always been helpful to have a mental escape hatch; a distraction for bad days when the pain and fatigue are relentless and my brain just needs a break from reality. Fantasy worlds, whether existing fandoms or only from my own imagination, have always been my distraction of choice, inspiring fan art, fiction and music when I have the energy, or providing as a little as half an hour out of my own head with a book, movie or game when I don’t.
It was during a particularly long period of sickness absence from work that I discovered Dragon Age. After a re-reading of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, I stumbled across reviews of the recently released Game of Thrones RPG and got curious about it. I was put off by the set player characters, so have never actually played it, but Dragon Age: Origins appeared as a related suggestion, and the demo character creator caught my attention. The Digital Deluxe edition was marked down to a couple of pounds on Origins, so I decided that even if it only kept me entertained for a couple of hours and I never picked it up again, I wasn’t wasting much money.
By the end of the tutorial, I was hooked by the writing, the characters and the expansive lore, so almost as soon as I got to Ostagar, I bought all the DLC and DA2. I had this really strong sensation of “this game is going to change your life” but I couldn’t have imagined for a second just how significant those changes would be.
At the time, I was struggling to cope with increasing symptoms of my physical disability and had been recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. My therapist caught on fairly quickly that something had grabbed my interest and made the most of my enthusiasm. She encouraged me to create fan fiction and art, and we drew on characters and plot points to help me discuss topics I struggled to talk about. I still use a lot of the tools we built around Dragon Age in my coping plans.
When Dragon Age: Inquisition finally came out, I fell for a coat and wanted one of my own. I had created costumes before, mostly for living history, and I couldn’t believe how long it had taken me to consider mixing my interest in costuming and heritage crafts with my love of Thedas. Cosplay was something I’d come across and been interested in, but I felt that I was too old, the wrong body shape and that I would be hindered by my need for splints, supports and the wheelchair. They seemed like pretty stout and genuine barriers at the time, especially the disability angle, but the coat… I wanted that coat!
Gradually, a whole cosplay project developed and I found a lot of support – and made a lot of amazing friends – in the Dragon Age cosplay community. I took my still-unfinished costume to MCM Birmingham in November 2015 and although I missed the BioWare meet, I was firmly bitten by the bug. The following spring, I got to meet some of my online friends in person for the first time.
In autumn 2015, I heard about a group of fans trying to organise an unofficial Dragon Age convention, that was taking place surprisingly close to home, and I was immediately on board. The following summer, despite being a little bit apprehensive about what we’d signed up for, we attended The Calling’s debut event and had an amazing weekend.
Only a few weeks later, we traveled to Warwick Castle for a video shoot with The Eighty-Sixth Floor Music, organised by the fabulous @opal.ink.cosplay and @mrjaycosplay (Instagram).
After my increasing symptoms cost me my job last year, the games, the fandom and the friends I’d made because of it were incredibly important places I could turn to when I needed a brief escape or support. Having fandom events to look forward to, even if it was only one day every three or four months, kept me motivated in my creative projects. In June 2017, we went back to The Calling and I won my first cosplay competition with my design for Lindiranae of the Emerald Knights.
Since then, I’ve kept busy with cosplay projects, fan art, music and fiction, and Thedas has been an almost ceaseless source of inspiration. Earlier this year, we converted our rarely occupied spare bedroom into my Undercroft, which gave me the opportunity to organise my growing collection and begin a larger piece of artwork that I’ve been wanting to start for years.
For 2018, instead of the convention, The Calling crew pulled together a three-day LARP event (the write up for which is slowly coming together!). It was a fantastic experience, thanks to the efforts of the team and monsters and the atmosphere created by the other players.
Seven years ago, if someone had told me that a video game would not only change my life but lead to such huge changes in the way I think about myself, I probably would have laughed myself into a dislocation or two. The idea that I’d ever expect to get more from my interests than solitary consumption was equally ridiculous, but it’s the social side of the Dragon Age fandom that has made the most surprising changes possible.
Every time I go to an event, I get to meet more fans and build more friendships because of Dragon Age. I’ve been able to support my fellow fan artists, buy some of the beautiful work they produce, and share my obsession. I know that some pockets of the online DA community have a reputation for toxicity, but I can say with my hand on my heart that I’ve never experienced anything but love, support and, when I’ve needed a kick in the pants, the occasional benign bullying of people who genuinely care about me despite never having met me in person.
Thank you, Dragon Age Community, for being so damn awesome.