Leader of the Loyalist mages, First Enchanter of the Circle at Montissard, and the official mage of the Orlesian Imperial Court. Madame de Fer or Vivienne of Dragon Age Inquisition is a woman of great status and power.
Written by Bioware writer Mary Kirby and voiced by Game of Thrones actor Indira Varna, Dragon Age Inquisition brought Vivienne to life in the latest installment in the Dragon Age series. In the world of Dragon Age race describes the species of the various life forms that exist i.e human, elf, dwarf, or qunari, thus Vivienne isn’t “Black” as we define it in the real world but her character design, aesthetics, and story are very much based off a dark skinned black woman. Her full nose and lips, close shaved head, high cheek bones, and mannerism are reminiscent of Alek Wek and Naomi Campbell. Vivienne is clever, self-sufficient, ambitious, and eloquent with an opulent personality to match her ornate clothing. Long story short; she slays.
Being a mage in the world of Thedas (the world of Dragon Age) as we’ve seen from the previous games, is a life of ostracism and containment of the Chantry, the governing religious body. Mages are forced to live in Circles, institutions created as place for mages to live and learn to use their powers safely away from the general public. The first two Dragon Age games in the series showed life these mage towers as being more of a life sentence, with very few yet heavily monitored visitation to the outside. Mage are often kept from life outside the Circle and with no real agency or power to change their position.
This is not the case for Vivienne. She was taken to live in the Circle as a child. As mage and within the Circle she learned how to make the most of her situation and seize opportunities as the come. It was of her tenacity and wittiness that she was able to secure a position of First Enchanter, the leader of the Circle, she lived. She even turned a position with the Empress of Orlais that was previously no more than a court jester into one of real political power. She made herself indispensable to the goings on in Orlais, and looked amazing while doing it.
Vivienne’s narrative isn’t just a single story of a marginalized person succeeding in face of oppression, she is complex and well written. When you first meet Vivienne it is immediately clear that she is a woman with an agenda offering a strong sell of why she should be recruited. She is not an essential companion (meaning players have the option to recruit her or not) but she sells herself with such confidence that bringing her into the Inquisition would do nothing but improve the team. Vivienne is well versed in Orlesian politics, very well connected, and knowledgeable about the mage rebellion and the danger it possess to the common people. Though I disagreed with her more conservative belief that the Circle of Magi was a necessary institution, she is able to express her opinion on the subject with tact, and solid evidence and reason to back them.
Vivienne very much about her position and advancement in the power she welds yet if the player choose to befriend her, she begins to show more of her personality. All her poise and grace stems from her need to be completely perfect in order to gain what she wants as well as fear and insecurity from past experiences. Vivienne must constantly walk a thin line in order to maintain herself and what she wants most.mages are susceptible to possession by demons at almost anytime if they are not careful. The threat to her status come in part from other Humans as well. The political game of Orlais can cost someone their life even a slight screw up. Vivienne’s constant to be composed of the risk of sever lose speaks directly to the experience of black femmes. I so often compare Vivienne to Michelle Obama, in that they both had to be perfect to get and maintain the positions they have. Black femmes so often aren’t given space or opportunity to be vulnerable they must always be strong and perfect in order to have a chance to succeed.
Much of Vivienne’s story resembles a lot of black femme experiences, particularly how people reacted to her. A quick look at the Bioware forums about her will reveal blatant racist and misogynoirist statements, most of which about her aesthetics as a dark skinned black woman. But what I found most deplorable were the number of fan renderings of her as a white woman. One image that circulated on Tumblr before the game was released was a fan drawing of Vivienne as a white woman. Some even went as far as to animate images of Vivienne and the other characters of color as white.
In the animated image, Vivienne’s facial features are changed. Her nose thinner, lips smaller, cheekbones smaller, as well as lighter skin and eyes.The reasoning behind these changes were to make Vivienne more “lore accurate” to be Orlesain (a country based on France). That claim has no validity to the lore of Dragon Age because 1) skin tone has nothing to do with nationality in the game and 2) Vivienne was not born in Orlais to begin with, but other players agreed with the idea of her being white.
There were even talks of a mod being developed that who change her appearance in the game. The misogynoir doesn’t end at her appearance being attacked, within the game’s story, people who disagreed with her opinions would make decisions in the game to simply antagonise her. During her personal quest towards the end of the game has the option of giving Vivienne an incorrect ingredient for a potion for Vivienne’s lover. It is intend to relive his illness long enough for the one of them to speak before he passes on. If given the incorrect ingredient he dies immediately. Players said that they choose this option just out of spite for Vivienne. The hate toward Vivienne is very much wrapped within her aesthetically being a black woman. Her conservative views in the game are, disagreeable yes, but they justify the level of disrespect for her appearance of her appearance and well being.
In the time prior to DAI’s release Bioware’s blog revealed new information about new characters and teasers for what’s coming up in the game. Vivienne was released as a part of this series and I knew from the moment I saw her that she would be a main staple of my team. Vivienne is one of the most well written characters I’ve experienced in a video game. Her story is one political and personal advancement in the face high risks of failure and trauma. She is able to create the freedom and agency that most mages in Thedas can only dream of. Vivienne shines in a world (Thedas, the video game industry, and the real world) that constantly tells her not too. And she does it in the latest fashions with masks inlaid with opals.
Author: Kendall Bazemore
Editor: Han Angus