In fantasy worlds, historical accuracy is a lie
The mythical realms of Dragon Age grow beautifully with the telling, including their representation of Earthly minorities. Even so, something’s missing…
I’d like to welcome you to Thedas, a fantastical place lots of us have lived in since BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins launched in 2009. The borders of this lush fantasy world have sprawled ever outward through the release of Dragon Age II, and welcomed ever more players. With the most recent game, Dragon Age: Inquisition we can end up a leader, whether we’re a human, an elf or a dwarf.
But though almost anything’s possible within Dragon Age‘s beloved world of Thedas, something feels off. Although Dragon Age is a fantasy roleplaying game, Thedas is overlaid with a faux-European sociopolitical landscape — and that means there are few people of color among its citizenry. Why do the sinister old arguments of “historical accuracy” still apply to this fantasy world?
Elves, magic, dragons, shapeshifting and ancient powers of world destruction are somehow totally believable, but the idea that brown people might exist is somehow not. My colleague MedievalPOC‘s blog uses art, history and other resources to regularly debunk the broad but rarely-questioned misconception that only white people were around in medieval times. So if we know brown folks definitely existed in actual Medieval Europe, why are they absent from a made-up fantasy world only loosely inspired by Medieval Europe? Where are the brown folks in Dragon Age‘s Thedas?
Let’s have a look at the history of representation in my favorite game series.