A discussion of Caillois’ four categories of design applied to Bioware’s Dragon Age

Since its creation, mankind has used the concept of play as a way to break from reality, placing the player in a new world with its own unique rules and boundaries. This element of play and games appeal to a large range of people, for there are a large range of games to play. Caillois divides play into four main categories of design; Agon, Alea, Ilinx and Mimicry, which can all vary on a range from Paidia to Ludus. As human beings evolve, so too do the mediums through which we play, one of the most popular today being videogames. Inclusion of all four design categories, ranging from paidia to ludus, serves to better appeal to the player, accommodating to a range of preferences. Taking Dragon Age (Bioware, 2009 – 2014) series as an example, it can be seen that all four categories, in both paidia and ludus forms, are present within the series.

With a first person role-playing game such as Dragon Age, in which the player must fight through an army of monsters to reach the final boss, agon is one of the primary driving forces of the game. Throughout the game, players are competing against the predetermined combat sequences of the enemies, for which players must draw on their own skills of strategy and logic to win (Caillois 2001). This fighting is a ludus form of agon due to the strict rules set upon the player which include limited health, as well as the character’s level and abilities. With the release of the latest game in the series, Dragon Age Inquisition (2014), a more social form of agon play was made available to players: multiplayer. This allows players to enter an area as a team to fight a group of enemies, which requires players to apply their strategic skill as a team in order to win.

The category of design concerned with chance, alea, would be one of the least present in the Dragon Age franchise, but not absent. During battle throughout all three games of the series, victory relies mainly on the strategic skill of the player and little is left to chance, except for the occurrence of critical hits. The likelihood of a critical hit is dependent on a percentage chance that is attached to every weapon and can be increased by items such as rings and runes, making it a ludus form of alea (Caillois 2001). A more paidia form of alea came into play with the latest game of the series, Inquisition, in the form of looting and item dropping. Bioware has claimed that, even though higher level chests will give more powerful items, items looted from bodies and chests throughout the game are completely randomized, making searching for the best materials and schematics all the more complicated.

As the type of game, role-playing, suggests, when playing any game of the Dragon Age series the player adopts a role, be it the Warden, Hawke or the Inquisitor. This concept of mimicry is what makes this series so encapsulating, letting the player create their own character with their own personality in which to lose themselves. This ludus form of mimicry is further enhanced by choices present to players and their character throughout the game, the outcomes of which have the ability to change the course of the plot and the Dragon Age universe. On a smaller scale, the series also employs small acts of paidia mimicry, an example being a quest in Dragon Age: Origins (2009), Rescue the Queen, during which a Warden must disguise themselves as a guard to infiltrate the Arl of Denerim’s Estate and rescue the Queen. These acts of mimicry engage the player and enable them to form affinities to their character and the world in which they exist.

The idea of vertigo rarely comes to mind in regards to a videogame, but Bioware have created such a visually encapsulating world in their Dragon Age series, that the design category of ilinx does come into play. Paidia forms of ilinx are far more present in the most recent instalment, Inquisition, than any other game in the franchise with the introduction of mounts and the ability to jump. Unlike Origins or Dragon Age 2 (2011), Inquisition enables the player to select a steed at their base of operations which they can then mount anywhere in any open area of the map. Though virtual, the first person point of view of gameplay makes riding and controlling the mount feel extremely close to riding in real life. The added feature of jumping also adds a sense of vertigo to the game, for a jump or slip off a cliff causes the players character to fall until they come to a flat, walkable surface. Bioware further mimics real life by adding a damage penalty relative to how far the player has fallen, dissuading the player from reckless or risky jumps.

Videogames are the future of play and as the market grows, so too does the demand for more interactive, immersive games. By creating games which offer a combination of all four of Caillois’ categories of design, videogame developers are able to appeal to a large range of players in the market. Bioware achieves this with the Dragon Age series, a range of primarily agon games that employ use of mimicry, alea and ilinx in the form of quests, gameplay and combat sequences. By doing so the franchise offers players a unique gaming experience that will stay with them long after the game is over.

 

References

Caillois, R 2001, ‘The Definition of Play and The Classification of Games’, Man, Play and Games, University of Illinois Press, Illinois, pp. 3-37. Bioware, 2009,

Dragon Age: Origins, computer and console game: PC, X-Box 360, PlayStation 3, London, Electronic Arts Inc. Bioware, 2011,

Dragon Age 2, computer and console game: PC, X-Box 360, PlayStation 3, London, Electronic Arts Inc. Bioware, 2014,

Dragon Age: Inquisition, computer and console game: PC, X-Box 360, X-Box One, PlayStation 3, Playstation 4, London, Electronic Arts Inc.

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