One of the worst things someone can say to me when I’m on holiday is to ask me where I’m from.
A droplet of sweat falls from my brow. A quiver of anxiety wracks my body.
I’m from Wales, I think, They’re just gonna ask where in England that is…
Ignoring my instinct, I’ll probably tell them that I’m from Wales in the United Kingdom.
Silence falls. I stare them dead in the eye. Time slows down, and though the only thing I can hear is the thumping of my heart in my ears I can read their lips: “Where in England is that?”
Wales is a lovely, yet tiny and a considerably underrepresented country. It has given the world a wide array of poetry, music and literature (to name just some of the things we’re good at) yet I always feel as if it’s easier to just say I’m British than I’m Welsh, and this shouldn’t be the case.
In this Lyte Byte I’m going to look at Welsh representation in gaming to see how video games have done at representing Wales.
Firstly, this post was inspired by a post I read at Dragon Gaming that goes into the topic a little more in depth than I will be in this specific post.
I’m going to be looking at a specific character that is voice acted by a Welsh person, and trying to explore the implications and positives from her place in the game; that character is the Elven mage Merrill from Dragon Age 2.
Merrill is voiced by the Welsh actress Eve Myles, more widely known for her role as Gwen Cooper on the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood.
For those who haven’t played the game and a SPOILER ALERT for those who don’t want to know, I’ll just quickly summarise Merril and her story on Dragon Age 2. Merrill is the First (apprentice) to the Sabrae Clan’s Keeper (think resident mage). Merrill dabbles with forbidden blood magic in an attempt to understand the mysterious Eluvian (spooky Elven mirror) that stole a clan member and friend (from Dragon Age: Origins). Her clan disapproves of her obsessing over the Eluvian (among other things) and Merrill leaves the clan to help Hawke (protagonist of Dragon Age 2). Merrill learns this magic from the demon Audacity whilst her clan is camped at the base of Sundermount which later becomes contained within the Keeper after she discovers that the demon would’ve possessed Merrill upon restoration of the Eluvian – using the mirror as a source to overpower her. From this Hawke and Merrill are forced to slay the Keeper, and potentially the entire clan depending on how Hawke handles the situation.
To start, I liked the inclusion of Eve Myles as Merrill. The decisions by Bioware to shift the Elves to have a mixture of Celtic accents is a welcome and reassuring one in Welsh visibility in the media. Eve Myles does an incredible job with Merrill taking her from plucky, knowledge hungry Merrill of the start of the game to hardened, traumatised Merrill of the epilogue that leaves with little mention of her future plans. Furthermore, I think that this display of Eve’s voice acting talent might lend herself to future characters which I’m hopeful for and anticipate.
Perhaps this is just a personal irk with the way Merrill’s character was written but I found that Merrill comes across as quite selfish in her pursuit for knowledge, passing off her experimentation with dangerous magic as being for the better of her clan. The association of this sort of character with the distinct Welsh accent could create a selfish or disillusioned personality trope for Welsh people. You could compare this to the way that typically well-spoken English men come across as antagonistic from the evil British gentleman trope commonly recycled in the mainstream media.
Secondly, with Bioware’s decision to have Celtic accents adopted by Dalish Elves and thus associated with characteristics of the Dalish (wild, free) Elves being distrustful, stuck in their past, and at times vicious could be a nod to, for example, the Welsh people being very proud of their heritage to the point of cling to their language by teaching the language to all students up to the age of 15 and 16. These parallels can be further drawn with features of Dalish culture being found in ancient Celtic culture, such as a Druid being the source of knowledge much like a Keeper is for the Dalish, arguably. The Dalish people seem like a hyperbole of the stereotypes that can sometimes be made for people from the Celtic nations – a negative hyperbole, potentially.
Whilst this representation is important for the visibility of Welsh people, it can be argued that it does reinforce negative impressions and stereotypes. This isn’t true for all representations of Welsh people, however, and this is just an (in my opinion) particularly negative portrayal of the Welsh.
What do you think? Are you from a culture or country that often finds itself under or misrepresented in video gaming or just mainstream media in general? Do you think I’m entitled to feel a little miffed at the clumsy representation of Welsh people in Dragon Age 2 or am I being a little over the top here? Let me know in the comments!