VIDEO GAMES ABOUT DRAGONS
Sometimes students in our online video game design course ask us really specific questions about indie games. Recently, we were asked to provide a list of games that used dragons as characters within the game.
Dragons as a phenomenon have been a constant and one of the most prevalent, if not the most “mainstream” mythological beings throughout history, as any variant of human civilization, regardless of its geological location or at what era throughout history, the people inhabiting that timespan and that geological location have some sort of mythos about dragons, one way or the other.
CULTURAL DIFFERENCES IN THE PERCEPTION OF THE DRAGON MYTHOS
Albeit the variants in which the dragons themselves are perceived and presented by different human civilizations with and the mythos behind both their grace and terror varies drastically, no culture throughout human history has existed without a variant of a dragon in its mythos, regardless if it’s the standard Western perception of the dragon, the Eastern Asian perception, any variants of wyrms, dragon hydras or even sea dwelling dragons (ex. Lox Ness Monster) and many, many more.
ENVELOPING PRESENCE AS A FORM OF A COLLECTIVE THOUGHT THROUGHOUT ALL OF HUMANITY AND ITS FASCINATION WITH THESE MAJESTIC YET MONSTEROUS BEINGS
Regardless, even though the dragon mythos varies from fire breathing dragons and other superpowers to wise and eldritch ageless monsters with unparalleled intellect, having the ability to not only communicate and talk but even meddle into the affair of the mortals for their personal gain or even simple entertainment to the very basic variant of a flying reptilian beast who operates on a very primitive level, seeking nothing more than food who terrorizes villages by eating their livestock, dragons are ever-present.
If we disregard on the differences of the perception and the attitude towards the mythos, one thing is certain: they are all prevalent and probably never lost their validity neither in the past for further mythological development nor their creative value for modern fantasy based interpretations on that same ancient ethnic folklore.
MODERN USE OF DRAGONS IN THE ENTERTAINMENT MEDIA AS A FORM OF A TROPE
As the dragon mythos and all its variants developed throughout history, so did the fantasy stories derived from the old ages, closely followed by books as a medium platform and last but not least, modern media such as movies, audiobooks, and videogames.
With the cosmopolitanization of the modern world as we know it today, (a.k.a “It’s a small world we live in”), all of the different interpretations and perceptions of the dragon mythos finally had the chance to merge into a single conglomerate of limitless lore, free at our fingertips to use it, interpret it, bend it and most importantly, innovate on it to not only further develop it, but to create new ideas and fictional scenarios in which our personal undertaking of the dragon mythos for our personal needs to either develop a dragon based fantasy world or consume the previously mentioned art form, the lore behind the dragon mythos has never been closer to achieving true artistic apotheosis, regardless of which media is used to both present it and in retrospect, consume it.
USE OF THE DRAGON MYTHOS IN MODERN VIDEOGAMES
Besides from a few book classics from the last two centuries and some proper movie adaptations on older tales, the lore behind the dragon mythos has mostly been overshadowed by the “generic Holywood dragon trope”, that either “preys” on the eastern dragon mythos or the newly and rather shallow western interpretation of it.
As such, many videogames as the most modern form of entertainment, both in interactivity and in their ability to function as a syncretic art form, a.k.a in their ability to incorporate visual appeal, musical enticement, a fervorous combat system to battle the eldritch monsters or perhaps even a quality narrative if the game designer decided that he or she would like to portray dragons less alike “big flying carnivorous reptilians” (with rather extreme prejudice towards farmers and their sheep, hehe), and more alike ageless eldritch beings with unparalleled wisdom and unmatched intellect, either way the possibilities are endless.
How the dragon is depicted usually depends heavily on the genre of the game.
If it’s a hack and slash game, the dragon is going to be the “gold hoarding trope” type of dragon, while if the game is a fast-paced first-person RPG, the dragon is going to have some mystical or even outwardly abilities, but manageable via your “counter magical or supernatural powers”.
If the designer aimed towards a heavy RPG experience, dragons are going to be being of such intellect and wisdom that they’ve secluded themselves away from the fledgling mortals and their short lifespans, trying not to meddle with the trouble seekers, and your eventual encounter in such a game would usually be the main plot, not actually able to simply “beat up” the dragon with halberds and swords, but indulge into a long activity of subterfuge in order to learn either its secrets, its weaknesses or even its purpose.
Games are truly wonderful in their ability to mend a multitude different artistic aspects to present you the best (interactive!) fantasy setting possible, and as such, which are some of the best videogames about dragons, available in the present day?
1. NEVERWINTER NIGHTS;
As an isometric top-down party-based RPG from an earlier age of the legacy of videogames, Neverwinter Nights is a game that strongly prides itself on its impeccable RPG elements and strong connection to the DnD tabletop game. While dragons aren’t the “canon” main antagonist of the game, they’re ultimately the ones that drive the story.
As an RPG focused game, dragons are presented as much more than mindless beasts, but rather as an ageless beast from an age eons ago, now mostly living a secluded life, rather segregated from the “insignificant quarrels” of the mortals, usually staying in underground lairs or lush enchanted forest gardens, depending on their bloodline.
They’re highly intuitive and extremely perceptive with an unparalleled wit, intellect, and eons old wisdom that even if not inherent to their specific bloodline, such a life of quasi-immortality is bound to give you quality life lessons, simply because you’ve had enough time to experience different situations, and if you’re still here, not only did you manage to survive them but it usually means that you learned something from that experience.
For an example, while Golden Dragons are pure good and the representatives of order, as such, they’ll talk only with characters in the game that have a “good alignment”, regardless if it’s lawful/neutral or chaotic.
All characters that are good in their “alignment chart of moral compass” will get the blessings of the Golden Dragons, usually residing in lush enchanted forests but will mock lawful characters for being naïve, will joke neutral characters about being too lethargic and will warn chaotic ones to not let their zeal overtake them.
Red Dragons for an example are somewhat of an Anathema to the Golden ones, but not in the most literal sense. They are the representatives of chaos and while not inherently evil, anyone’s who is lawful will be scrutinized by their naivety while neutral characters will be thoroughly insulted with a narrative that I can only describe as the “Vanguard of the Kind’s English” for lacking with a firm and opinionated stance on things.
As representatives of chaos, however, even though not inherently evil as I mentioned, they have no issue in doing evil deeds as long as they cause more chaos or thwart the plans of mortals, simply for their amusement.
They enjoy feeble followers in the sorts of kobolds and goblins and will ferociously attack anyone that dares challenge their authority (a fight I’d recommend you’d not take).
On the other side, there are the “White Dragons”, mostly known “Wyrms” rather than dragons, allegedly adhering that they’re dragons that are very young, haven’t fully developed into a dragon and as such, their scales are colorless as their bloodline is yet not taken effect.
They’re tremendously egocentric and somewhat ignorant for a powerful eldritch being, mostly due to constantly being mocked by other dragons or possibly even bullied out of territory, hiding places or even robbed of treasures and loot, even if the “bully” doesn’t need it, the point is simply to humiliate the fledgling “wyrm” dragon.
Albeit still incredibly powerful, both physically and mentally with a huge size, massive strength and unsurpassed intellect, their behavior relates to the behavior of mortals due to their lack of life experience, in retrospect lack of wisdom and wits.
Their strength is inherently their “Achilles foot”, as their strength is their hubris;
Due to their desire to be acknowledged as a powerful entity in the world, they constantly surround themselves with servants to please and entertain them, going as far as blatant “bootlicking”.
With enough subterfuge and a well build character with high enough charisma, intellect, and wisdom, the downfall of these “White Wyrms” is albeit nothing less than spectacular, but possible.
Last but not least, we have the Black Dragons which are pure evil, technically physically and mentally most intimidating of all the dragons who live a secluded life, instantly scorching anyone that dares enter their domain, as they prefer to be left alone to their jaded foretold fate that’s been going on for Eons.
They may eventually work with evil mortals, only to help them spread more chaos, death, and pestilence, and simply backstab them whenever they’re no longer needed.
This level of depth to the narrative and personification of the dragon mythos is one of my favorite variants and I felt that it would be wasteful if I didn’t include Neverwinter Nights as one of the prime examples of Dragons done right, if the RPG aspect is the main appeal (and selling point) of your game.
2. THE BLUE-EYES WHITE DRAGON (YUGIOH)
The infamous Blue-Eyed White Dragon from the older TCG’s (trading card games), at the time when Yugioh and Magic: The Gathering were the dominant card games on the market, this dragon definitely made a name for itself.
While the modern TCG / CG (card games) such as Hearthstone and Gwent, the Witcher 3 inspired CG have perhaps in a way much more polished and an abundance of influential dragons, they also presented these dragons in an era that was oversaturated with dragon lore and presentation,
Yugioh, even though still active and with more than a dozen expansions which massively added to the available card pool, the vanilla Blue-Eyed White Dragon is one of the most powerful, famous and iconic dragons in the game and perhaps even not only in the game but at the time as well where properly designed and presented dragons was a niche thing.
3. HEROES OF MIGHT AND MAGIC V
While the 5th installment in the franchise and not the cult classic which is the HoMM III (the 3rd installment), HoMM V is ultimately the better game, simply due the fact that it’s more refined with the gameplay changes and the upgraded graphical fidelity which technology allowed due the given tine in which the game was developed.
However, the reason as to why I’m putting in on the list is because to me it would be absolutely silly to create a list of games which present and accent dragons the most, perhaps even as their selling point without including the game in which the whole lore is based on dragons.
In HoMM V, the pantheon of dragons, all of the different ones representing different aspects of life is the ultimate governing theological body in the game, and many in-game characters which dabble in scholarship have noted that “We are but pawns in the games of the dragons”.
While the deity pantheon of dragons is somewhat outworldly and exists in a dimension parallel to our own, they occasionally whisper, contact people in their dreams or even present themselves as temporary avatars to convey their message to their followers.
Albeit infinitely wise, the game presents the dragons as rather power hungry and in constant conflict with each other, every single one trying to get more followers for their cause, thus becoming more powerful and influential.
If their subjects are faithful and have served them well, they may even gain them access to young dragons, avatars of the patriarch or the matriarch dragon that are but a shadow of their full power but are usually still the most powerful creatures in every faction.
Every faction worships a different dragon depending on their ideology and their moral compass, the more their ideology accords to the dragons’, the more gifts and appreciation the deity dragons show to them.
However, as malicious as I’ve presented them, the dragon pantheon simply plays a game with the mortals and their petty desires for power and influence, but ultimately the dragon pantheon is the main force that opposes the demons and their Sovereign, constantly referred as the children of Urgash, who must never be allowed to freely walk the earth of Ashan, lest they bring the “End-Days”.
4. TES V: SKYRIM;
Last but not least, I’d like to mention the latest installment of the Elder Scrolls franchise, Skyrim.
Skyrim is a game which albeit dumbbells down the lore-wise importance of the dragons when compared to its previous installments, it’s really cut and dry in which presents you with an ultimate villain, the “Scourge of Life” and the “Ultimate Destroyer”, Alduin.
In TES V: Skyrim, you get to play as a nameless adventurer who very soon learns that he or she is the last Dragonborn, a humanoid with the blood of a dragon in his or her veins and the ability to speak the language of dragons, which presents itself as dragon shouts, containing immense magical ability and proving more deadly than any other magical spell or magic infused artifact in the whole fantastical universe.
As the Dragonborn, you’re an incarnation of the bloodline of legendary dragon slayers which reside in the Ether and reincarnate in a humanoid being once every eon or so, when the mortals would need a champion to prevent Alduin from undoing the work of all the other dragons.
While there are many deities such as the Daedra, the Aedra and the Dragon pantheon, Alduin the Destroyer is (physically) the most powerful being in existence and threatens to unravel the strings of fate with his barbaric and destructive ways.
While not really intelligent nor wise, his destructive power is immense and threatens the balance of the world simply with his existence.
As the Dragonborn, you’ll eventually learn about your powers, train with elders that also speak the language of the gods, ever learning and increasing your power until you are finally to beat Alduin himself after dispatching countless of his minions, bringing stability to the world and a revived chance for prosperity…for now.
As yourself, Alduin himself is a perpetual and due to the way time functions in the game, it’s without a doubt that there will be a time in the future when Alduin will come back to threaten the world, but so will the spirit of a Dragonborn, placed within a mere mortal to yet again combat this perpetual battle between the finalization of the End Days or their delay and the chance to prosper and advance.