Christian Iconography in Dragon Age Origins
Numerous reviews of Dragon Age Origins knocked the game for its generous use of blood. Not so much that the game has copious amounts of blood but rather the way that characters go about their business after battles while covered in it. I have to admit they do look rather silly having conversations with people without even bothering to wipe the blood off their faces and clothes but it doesn’t take too much away from an otherwise excellent game.
While DOA does not shy away from using blood on-screen whenever possible it seems, it also brilliantly uses symbolism in other areas. In fact, the player does not even need to enter the game to see how well icons foreshadow the horror that is to come. One need only look at the title screen to see how well developer BioWare has crafted Christian symbols into the mythology of Ferelden.
The dominant portion of this image is the sword in the foreground. This weapon is not just stuck in the ground, but it is embedded in someone’s chest. We can see blood runs halfway up the blade. Visible in the background is another sword. It appears both have been left on the battlefield. In the background we can see mountains and trees. Dark clouds move overhead. Darkness shrouds the entire image.
Any analysis of the symbols gets easier thanks to George Ferguson. In 1955 he wrote Signs & Symbols in Christian Art. This work is a masterpiece in Christian iconography. In it, Ferguson deftly places many items we see everyday into their proper connection with Christianity. Thanks to him, I can look into the overtly religious world of DOA and connect some of the dots to the Christian faith.
For example, Ferguson notes that clouds represent the unseen God. On DOA‘s title page, however, the clouds are a dark mixture of red and black. Black means death and the underworld but can also represent the prince of darkness, witchcraft, mourning, sickness, and negation. In contrast to black, red symbolizes blood as well as the emotions of love and hate. Red also stands for martyred saints. I said before that the scene is quite dark. Ferguson writes that in Christianity physical darkness represents spiritual darkness.
So before we even begin the game, Bioware presents the image of warfare and carnage, but not just on the physical level. The rolling dark clouds indicate a spiritual battle taking place in the heavens. In Dragon Age terms, the Maker and the arch-demons battle in the heavens while man and demon fight on earth. And the outcome seems to be in doubt.
Underneath the clouds we find rocks in the foreground and mountains in the distance. While shadows shroud the far-off mountain range, the rocks in the foreground appear brown. Now rocks symbolize the Lord while stones indicate firmness. However brown means spiritual death and degradation, a possible indication that evil prevails. A second indicator of the strength of evil in this game could be that the earth, meaning the Church/Chantry (which feeds man with spiritual faith and offers him shelter) is also covered in shadow.
Which brings me back to the pair of swords in the foreground. Aside from the obvious connection to the Word of God, swords can also represent numerous saints in Christian history. The number two stands for the two natures of Christ: human and divine while blood symbolizes life and the human soul as well as martyrs. Curiously, it appears that both swords are embedded in the same person. Furthermore, we cannot tell who that person is and if he was good or evil. Perhaps we were not meant to know.
The wonderful thing about all this analysis is that BioWare might now have known what was going on when they created this title page. Or perhaps they did. Whatever the case, I choose to read the page this way and it certainly helps me enjoy the game that much more.
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