So what happened? In the end?
Life goes on. There isn't an ending, not yet and not for a good long while. I'm still here. The hard stuff didn't get easier every day, but it trended easier. I took my life back in bits and pieces, working my way back into all the places that made my breath catch in my throat. I fought all sorts of evil shit as Elia. If I could do that, I could walk past his office. If I could do that, I could flirt with people, and go to concerts alone. I could block him on every form of social media possible and have HR send him a nice message to go kick rocks instead of lurking around my building.
When we play games, it is us making the choice. As much of a railroad as the game is or is not, by booting up and making the choice to play you choose to act on and in that world. As Elia, I chose again and again. When everything in my real life brain was screaming panic, DA2 calmly laid down the tracks to rational decision making. It asked me in simple, easy terms, what matters to you? And it gave me as much time as I needed to decide.
I'm not talking about the in-game moral decisions, choosing whether to side with the templars or the mages, agreeing with this or that politician. I'm talking about the real decisions. Are you shitty to your mage girlfriend after a mage kills your mother? Do you yell at your friends when they do shitty things, or do you listen and try to understand why they did it? Do you let them fight with each other, or would you get in between so they wouldn't be at each other's throats?
Elia cared about her friends, and wouldn't let anyone fuck with them. She'd fight hard to keep the peace. She was snarky at times, but stopped short of being mean. Unless she had something really clever to say. She cared about her freedom. She tried not to lash out if she could help it. She believed her friends were doing their best, and forgave them again and again. She was tough. Brave. Stood up straight. She didn't give up, even when it was stubborn or overly optimistic. As Elia, I played as hard as I could for a happy ending, right up until the very end.
And as I played, I realized that those were the things I wanted to be true about me. I could be brave and open and trusting. Even in the city where the bad things happened, I could keep living, just trying every day to make things better.
Eventually it got easier. It became second nature. There were fewer nightmares, fewer panic attacks, less crying in public. I made a bunch of new friends and got closer with some of the old ones, for a while. I knew the fundamental aspects of my personality in a vacuum, distilled down into easy choices.
But maybe you don't like that answer. Maybe you really need an ending here, something with a bow on it. How did you get over it, Anna? What's the ending? If you really need to wrap it up nicely then there are some options. I got a boyfriend and we had an okay relationship for a while. That can be one answer. The guy who raped me quit and moved to New York - there's a good one. Eventually I moved from Madison to Singapore, which is pretty much as far as you can get without leaving the planet.
The bad things don't go away. It's hard. It's hard every day. I think about it every day. As I write this it's 19 September 2020, which means we're rapidly nearing the fifth anniversary of when that bad stuff kicked off.
And there were bad things in the middle. Arguably some worse stuff, where I was in a worse place. But there were always friends, small kindnesses.
I didn't pick up DA2 during that time. I didn't have a computer that would play it, never quite had time. But I thought about it often. It became a scaffolding for all the rough times, a template for what I cared most about. It was a testament that even if I tried hard and absolutely fucked everything up, the people in my life would mostly forgive me. Maybe even love me. Maybe even need me.
I could hope, and hope, and hope. If the ending wasn't good, the hope could be enough. I got to choose. Again and again.
Dragon Age 2 is a game about you.