Girl Talk: Alistair

by Jennifer Culp

So. I had planned to save further BioWare love for later in the year after hittin’ Garrus in March, but then my sister-in-law-to-be played Dragon Age: Origins for the first time (first of five times in rapid succession, to be accurate) which made ME want to play Dragon Age again, and, well, it was inevitable. We have to talk about Alistair. Oooh yeah, we are SO going to talk about Alistair.

But first! A note on Garrus: I made a point not to include spoilers in his post only because Mass Effect 3 had just been released. If I do not specifically state that I am avoiding spoilers, expect ’em. It’s hard to gossip without including the good stuff! Now get the hell out of here, Garrus; Alistair’s on his way.

Whether you play as a human, elf, dwarf, noble or broke, Dalish or mage, big hands or — wait, everybody in Dragon Age: Origins has big hands — you first meet Alistair in Ostagar prior to a giant battle with a bunch of darkspawn who are apparently being rallied by an Archdemon to destroy your country and everyone in it. And then, the world. As bad guys do, right? And what is Alistair doing during this trying time? Hassling some sassy mage who gave him attitude. Aaaah, you guys, as a lady who was introduced to this guy at a formative age, there is just something about smartasses. The “smart” has to outweigh the “ass” in the equation for maximum effectiveness, and Alistair’s healthy dose of self-deprecation doesn’t hurt. Despite Morrigan’s claims to the contrary, Alistair tends to be quick to grasp the important points of any given situation and sum it all up with a quip. As he points out, “You know, one good thing about the Blight is how it brings people together.” As it happened, many lady Wardens were happy to have the opportunity to, uh, come together with Alistair.

I cannot emphasize the connection between voice acting and video game crushes enough, and Steve Valentine (who I have not and will not peep on IMDb; I saw what Brandon Keener looks like by accident) did an amazing job with Alistair. But in this case, you guys, the writing. The WRITING! If anyone out there wants to hook up a reverse Cyrano de Bergerac situation that will likely work best in a survey-type situation in which the lady selects among a limited selection of questions and responses, hire David Gaider to come up with your dialogue. Alistair is believable, people! He is sarcastic and deflects questions about himself with humor. He has a somewhat inexperienced flirting technique that comes across as genuine and damned endearing. He is loyal and he is stubborn, but not to a fault! As a templar, he tends to be distrustful of apostate mages, but as he grew to know my mage character his views about Ferelden’s legal and religious structure evolved to reflect his understanding of those it impacts as people rather than abominations, or, uh, Morrigan. He has regrets and misgivings, and he is able to find humor in the situation at hand. Congratulations, David Gaider! You win the first ever unofficial Hairpin award for excellence in video game character writing.

Two things I particularly want to address: the virgin thing, and the king thing.

Alistair is a virgin before (if!) your lady Grey Warden deflowers him. He explains this in a rather adorable fashion that affirms my theory that ANY phrase can become sexual innuendo if said in the right tone. Have you ever licked a lamp post in winter? Or tried coming on to somebody with a similarly ridiculous phrase? You should; it’s fun! Anyhow, the fact that Alistair is a virgin pre-Origins Grey Warden lady is appealing for reasons other than some hackneyed ‘pretty princess girl gamers just want to be his special first time’ hypothesis. Not to discount that; it may be valid for some! For my part, I thought it was interesting that the topic came up at all. It makes sense in the course of Alistair’s background: he was turned over to a religious order at an early age, grew up to allllmost become a member of said order as a templar, and then joined a not-so-highly respected organization (the Grey Wardens) in which life expectancy is short and hook-up opportunities don’t exactly abound.

And then Ostagar happens, and over the course of slaughtering numerous opponents and having blood-spattered heart-to-hearts, he starts falling for a (rare! as he points out early on) lady Grey Warden, and … wait, he is forthcoming about his prior lack of romantic experience and lays out his expectations regarding the future of the relationship? The guy’s got Wade’s superior dragonbone-plated guts. Thinking about it, Morrigan’s probably a virgin, too. She lived in the wilds with her formidable mother … person? … until being sent along on your journey. When would she have had the chance to hit it? She may have done it in bear form or had a one-nighter with a Chasind man or something, but it’s pretty likely that Morrigan never got any before a Warden-dude came into the picture. And does she say anything about it? No. Because Morrigan is (sort of endearingly) a socially awkward person who thinks she knows everything about how people are and (less endearingly, and only if you are a dude) mainly just wants to have your demon baby to bring forth some new god-race or something.

But Alistair wants to pursue a meaningful relationship on his own terms, insofar as he can, and that means taking time with the sexin’. That in-and-of-itself is not necessarily sexy (or unappealing), but a dude saying flat-out — or if not quite flat-out, veiled in silly euphemisms — what he wants and needs is sexy. Communication! Communication. is. so. sexy. Fan me, everybody! (And don’t remind me about this in the future when I say some other character is sexy because they are mysterious and unknowable, thanks.)

In addition to the novelty of a romantically inexperienced male video game character being seduced by a kick-ass lady protagonist and fantastic dialogue that makes the player feel she’s having a satisfactory communicative experience that will lead to furthered intimacy, the whole delayed gratification thing just works for video games in a way that it doesn’t in real life. Doin’ it in real life is not just a prelude to the final battle. (…hopefully.) It is also not an achievement that you can only earn one time and then watch the same animation over and over if you keep doin’ it thereafter. In the state of gaming as-of-right-now, however, plotlines tend to be fairly Joseph Campbell adolescent hero’s quest-ish. THEREFORE, it feels more satisfying to have to “do” more tasks in order to finally get some. I have great affection for Zevran, but I’d be more psyched to love him up if there were increasing benefits, rather than seeing the same sex scene play out for hi-I-just-met-you-let’s-hook-up to the big ZOMG-only-you-forever-we’re-probably-going-to-die-tomorrow-and-I-want-to-spend-the-entire-rest-of-my-life-with-you-short-as-it-may-be deal, you know? Therefore, I appreciate that Alistair is all, “let’s not do it jussst yet; keep slaughtering darkspawn and werewolves and manipulating dwarven politics and we’ll have a lot more increasingly flirty dialogue with some heartfelt moments here and there and THEN we’ll do it!” In-game, anyway. If I were one of two existing Grey Wardens who could be killed any day and faced a nigh impossible task that I was unaware was scripted, I think I’d probably be a lot like Oghren in camp. What do you think? We’ll chat in the comments.

The king thing: surprise! Alistair is the king’s bastard and becomes heir to the throne when Cailan goes and gets himself ogre-smashed. You can make Alistair become the king or you can NOT make Alistair become the king. I never have, because I think Alistair would be a terrible king. He thinks he would be a terrible king! Morrigan thinks he would be a terrible king! In fact, pretty much everyone thinks he would be a terrible king. Female human nobles, don’t even start; you know you only made him king so you could be queen, and you intend on doing all the ruling yourself. Right?

You guys, I fully died a death and wrote angry things on the internet when I fired up Dragon Age: Awakening and Alistair turned up as the king and greeted my character as his piece on the side after I’d made Anora become the queen in Origins. Then I realized that my 360 had just wonked out and loaded from an early Origins save. Resaving the end of my Origins game turned Alistair back into a plain old Grey Warden and not king as I’d intended, and I was relieved. BUT STILL. Aside from noble human lady Wardens, did any of you feel that Alistair was the best choice to rule Ferelden? Or did you just loathe Anora and her shiny boob syndrome so much that she had to die? Did anybody let Loghain live, or actually genuinely like the idea of a second-rate Snape running Ferelden? The idea of Alistair as king becoming canon for the purpose of post-Origins properties bothers me. If so, how did my decisions in the game mean anything? And if so, is it canon that your Grey Warden died at the end of DA:O? Because…

WHAT THE EFF IS UP WITH THE MORRIGAN/ALISTAIR DEMON BABY? As an Alistair-lovin’ woman character, I talked my sexually inexperienced lover-dude into sleeping with a woman he hated on the eve of the final battle with the Archdemon instead of doing it with me so we that could both survive and rack up lots of therapy bills later after we kill the Archdemon! Does that mean nothing?! I thought about dying nobly and sharing my imaginary man with no one, but my will to survive was just too strong when it came down to it. And, uh, stronger than poor Alistair’s dignity and hatred of Morrigan, apparently. What WAS up with that? I want closure! I don’t want to imagine killing darkspawn in a Ferelden with no Alistair until the taint overwhelms my character!

Aaanyway, let’s sum up: Even with a (to my mind) somewhat unfortunate haircut, Alistair is handsome. He has a sexy voice. He says many hilarious and therefore attractive things with that voice. He offers straight lady characters the chance to experience one of the most engaging instances of relationship-building in video game history. There are many opportunities to kiss him in between fighting and politicking, AND you get watch a sex scene featuring him and your character slow-mo rolling around next to a fire in their underwear. What’s not to love? I could talk about Alistair forever, so let’s take it to the comments.

Other things to ponder: The other romance options! Are you more of a Leiliana-lover than an Alistair-admirer? Are you a Zevran fan, and if so, do you prefer to hook him up with one sex more than the other? Do you, like me, think Zevran sounds like Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots? Just how uncomfortable do you think Morrigan must be in her default, uh, “shirt”? The other characters provide plenty of contemplation fodder, too. Sten: love him and his cookies or want to punch him right in his “you can’t possibly be a woman because you’re a fighter” mouth? Oghren reminds me of a friend from college, and I can’t help but love him. What did you name your Mabari? (My favorite is Melkor.) Wynne is a nice lady, but she’s no Dr. Chakwas. Has there ever been a better companion character than Shale? No, no there has not. Just HOW COOL is Flemeth? It might be worth being possessed by your oddball Witch of the Wilds “mother” figure in order to turn into a dragon, honestly. Think about it. And shhhh, don’t tell Alistair, but does anyone wish Duncan had lived so they could get their romance on with him?

Previously: Sheik.

When exploring dungeons in real life, Jennifer Culp knows not to disturb glass phylacteries that contain dark shapes swirling around a slip of paper.