Hi, we need to have a frank discussion about how of all of the special companion gifts in Dragon Age: Origins, Oghren’s are the only ones which explicitly reinforce his substance abuse.
We need to have a frank discussion about how the devs already had an opportunity to write substance abuse and ptsd arcs in the past, his being one of them, and instead they used alcoholism as a joke for literally the entire game.
We need to talk about Oghren’s ptsd. We need to talk about his dialogue (seriously if you read one thing from this please just read his dialogue) and how most players won’t even see these lines because they can’t get past the horrible juxtaposition of his drunkenness and bad pick up lines which honestly cross some boundaries in Awakening with his true depth of character. Oghren himself is self-aware of this. He literally says it in the dialogue I have included, if you act surprised that he would want to have a deep conversation with you.
"Oh no. Don’t fall apart on me now, Oghren."
"Aye, Oghren’s got to fart and swear and talk about nugs and asses, right? Doesn’t mean I don’t think about something deeper sometimes. But whatever you like."
I myself had two alcoholic grandfathers, one of whom drank after coming home from war. I also had to watch my closest friend in the world lose her father to the drink slowly over a course of twenty years. He died two months ago from complications due to alcoholism. My mother’s father died before I was born due to it. I am sure that this is a sentiment shared by many of my friends and followers.
I am sure that ptsd is a sentiment that I share with many of my friends and followers.
So why is it that we have such an opportunity to explore this beautiful redemption arc for a truly forlorn man who had given up all hope on himself (something he tells you during the battle of Denerim before your fight with the Archdemon, if your approval is high enough with him) and it is fucking squandered in incredibly problematic and shitty ways?
I am so frustrated by Oghren’s in canon treatment because I feel that there was so much potential for something great, and indeed there are these glimpses of incredible insight, but it’s really ruined for a lot of people. Especially once you start talking about his problematic behaviour in Awakening—and more than that, what the player character can do to encourage it.
I love what Oghren could have been, and I fully accept that in game he is not good and a lot of people do not like him and they have plenty of justifiable reasons for that. And it makes me really angry, because I feel like a lot of the bullshit surrounding this character is writer bias entirely. I mean it just IS bad writing.
It makes no sense that the warden would give this companion gifts that would harm him, especially once they were as close as family, compared to the deeply thoughtful gifts the other companions get? And don’t even try to make the arguments to me that because the booze you supply him is “rare” it counts as thoughtful. No one else’s gifts in the game are enabling of substance abuse. It’s just inexcusable insensitive crap to be honest.
When I write Oghren in my stories I disregard a lot of that shit straight out, or I re-write a lot of it. I refuse to write stories in which I will have characters enable the same harmful behaviour I had to live through in my real life. That’s not fantasy, that’s your real world bias being carried over into what you wrote. And the fact that people thought his drunkenness was funny in the first place says a lot more about them than it ever could about Oghren, I think.
And here’s the thing.
If you pay attention to what he says about it, he’s sad. He’s not just sad, either. He’s aware of how pathetic it seems, and he hates himself for it. Truly. The realest part of Oghren is his self loathing, and it cuts me to the core. To read those lines I included and to only take away from them that Oghren is some funny physical humour trope would be I think a gross disservice to him. And the worst way you could ever interact with his character in my opinion is to enable the things that make him hate himself, and to laugh at him for it.
Now, I’m not trying to minimize his problematic elements. Far from it. I fully admit them, and that they are enough to dissuade people from interacting with his character entirely. I accept that. I don’t blame anyone for being too put off to want to deal with this. It’s a subject that is close to mine and many other people’s real lives in a way that’s uncomfortable enough as is without things like his party “banter” with Sigrun to throw into the mix.
But I can’t give up on Oghren. I have a weak spot for redemption arcs, and I personally try to find ways to do his character a little more justice in my own stories. I can’t give up on him, because he has already given up on himself, long before the Warden ever meets him.