Dragon Age: Origins has many of Gee’s 36 Learning Principles. Like most video games, it fulfills the “Psychosocial Moratorium” principle, allowing the players to take risks with lowered real-world consequences. If the player dies during battle, you automatically switch to control over a different party member. After the battle, you respawn and occasionally require some sort of healing. If both the player and their entire party dies, the game will simply reload at the last save point. The only real-world consequence for the player is the loss of time. This principle is the one of the greatest things video games offer players. By dying you can learn from your failures and improve your gameplay. While dying in games is not necessarily fun, it means there is something challenging for you to deal with, and understanding how to overcome that obstacle is what helps you learn.
When these obstacles are overcome there are usually points gained. The points go towards leveling up your character to unlock new skills and talents. This goes along with the “Achievement” principle. The Xbox game takes this principle one step further by actually giving out “awards” known as “achievements”. In Dragon Age: Origins the first achievement gained is simply by going through the opening origin storyline. In my play-through, I acquired the achievement for completing the “Dalish Elf origin story” and received 10 points for doing so. The points are relatively meaningless. They are mainly used as a way to track the players progress in the game. To some people, gaining all these achievements can be a powerful motivator. The achievement principle is clearly shown with these rewards and maps the learning of the player.
Another principle the game employs well for those who really divest themselves personally into the game, is the “Committed Learning” principle. I personally experienced this principle during the origin story of the game. My character, the Dalish elf, had to leave her clan to cleanse herself of an illness and become Grey Warden. It was made fairly clear that by leaving, the chances of seeing the clan again were very slim, meaning my character would be leaving behind all of her friends and family. As I placed myself in the character’s shoes, I spent a lot of time wandering around the village I began to consider my home, and spent a lot of time talking with other clan members to solidify the relationships that meant so much to my character, and therefore me. By talking with the other characters I began to build my own virtual identity based on what they told me about my history. Dragon Age: Origins allows the player to create and build the character’s personality and background in relation to how much the player explores and commits themselves to the task. For example, I met an elderly woman in my village who apparently raised me. Depending on the questions I asked her, I learned more about my past and who my parents were. Because I was too excited about following the main quest line I left my village without investigating further. I could have chosen not to talk with her at all, or ask different questions. However, because I extended my curious nature through my character, I learned many new things and ultimately was more engaged with the game.
After I left my clan, I found myself wishing I had spent more time there discovering more about myself, er…my character. I found myself thinking about this virtual identity as my own, and I tried to incorporate as much of my real-world identity into the characteristics of this artificial elf. This is known as the “Identity” principle. When given the option to respond to an in-game character, I found myself thinking about what I would say if I found myself in that situation. I also wondered what this elf I was playing might say, because of what I had learned about her background. Then I wondered, background aside, how I wanted my character to be portrayed in this game and what kind of personality they would have. Thinking about all the different identities provided excellent insight into who I am. The game was making me think of different choices and how they might reflect on my character or the world around me, as well as how those might occur in the real world without me even realizing it.
The game also offers excellent in-game tutorials for practicing and learning the techniques of the game. In each origin story section, the player is given a task along with a miniature quest. This fulfills the “Practice” principle. The game made sure the tutorial learning process was not boring, and the player is required to spend an adequate amount of time fulfilling the quest. My Dalish elf was encouraged to go investigate a cave filled with ancient relics and possible treasure. I was given vague directions to follow through the forest. This taught me to use the map in the upper corner of the screen. While I was navigating along this path, some wolves attacked me. Before they reached me, a window popped up showing which buttons to press on my controller to attack the wild beasts (which is also an example of the “Explicit Information On-Demand and Just-in-Time” principle). After the wolves died, their bodies began to glitter and glow. Again, a window appears identifying the object and instructing me how to view the object inventory. Once I reached the cave, there were spiders to fight, as well as piles to loot. The game is able to give the player repetitive practice, without making it seem boring or monotonous.
As a role-playing game, Dragon Age: Origins clearly uses the “Multiple Routes” principle. While the progress of your character essentially leads towards one conclusion, there are many ways to get there. This mostly occurs with character interactions. You can add multiple characters to your party, and deciding which characters to follow you changes aspects of the game. For example, when I reached the castle of Arl Eamon, the warden Alistair was in my party. Before we entered the main town, he stopped me and informed me he was the bastard son of the King, next in line for the throne. This was important news for me and caused me to view him and his skills differently. However, when I watched my friend play, he did not have Alistair in his party and therefore did not receive the information of the warden prince. Not knowing this information changed the way he played. While he ultimately completed the same tasks, he took different character routes to achieve the end result.
There are also side-quests involved with the “Multiple-Routes” principle. As these side-quests are optional, they are not imperative to the game. However, you may discover something new, or unique that can change the game and improve your character. These multiple-routes help you learn and improve critical thinking skills. It teaches you to rely on what you know, like the strength of the characters and who you want to bring with you, but allows you to explore alternatives. No matter who you bring in your party, the game does a decent job at making sure every character is still engaging.
Overall, Dragon Age: Origins is a fully engaging game with over 120 hours of game time. Intertwined with its story is an intriguing system which actually makes you think about parallels in your life, how you can integrate your personality into your character, as well as critically think about the choices you make. It is certainly a subtle way to learn, but learning nonetheless.