Spoilers for Dragon Age 2.
I had it all planned out. My first Hawke was going to be of male sex, based off of my main alt in most games, Aeazel, and be a mage. I even had planned out who Zel Hawke was going to bring along as companions. As a gay man, I wanted to bring along the two male companions whom I could romance, so that was automatically Fenris and Anders. Isabela reminded me of my mother’s sarcasm and unabashed joy of sex. There we go.
It didn’t really end up that way, though. By the time I was running around Kirkwall, earning coin for an expedition into the Deep Roads, I found the arguments my brother and I kept getting into rather endearing. Well, not endearing. Intriguing? I overuse that word–it’s become as meaningless as interesting or stuff.
Here is where I’ll delve a little into my personal life to lay the groundwork for this discussion. My mother’s favorite example of how different my brother and I are that when we were both three (I’m the elder, and we’re four years apart), she put puzzles in front of us. I grasped the concept and started attempting to put the puzzle together. My brother chewed on the pieces.
Growing up, I was the son who was known for his scholastic achievements both academically and in extracurriculars. My brother’s interest was not in school, and while he made an effort to live in my grade point shadow for a time, he eventually just rebelled against that concept entirely.
We’ve had our fights.
Carver’s being alive is contingent on you playing as a mage. If you play as either a warrior or rogue, he will be killed by the ogre, and Bethany will live. As a mage, it means that your family makeup was such that Bethany and you were both apostate mages, and he was born without that talent (or curse, as some may see it–being able to throw fireballs does not seem like a curse to me, demon possession chance or no). He was both living in the shadow of not being a mage, as was your father, and also having his family life constantly dictated by hiding because of said magic. While your mother loves him, her noble lineage and background has estranged me in both playthroughs so far, especially anchored as I have been by my siblings’ behaviors which indicate that is not our own identity.
He hates the life into which he has been thrust. He wishes to rebel against it.
So my party instead became Anders, Isabela, and Carver. My interest in Anders, and in not condemning mages (hey, that’s me!), meant rivalry points with Carver stacked up fairly quickly. Still, despite the fact that my mother worried about us both being lost if we went into the Deep Roads together, I respected his ability, if not his personality. He was both my little brother in game, and the little brother I have in real life.
In other words, whether or not they intended it as they did, my roleplaying Hawke hit the nerve of an older brother who recognizes the shadow he has cast, and how that makes life difficult for the younger brother seeking approval from not just parents and peers, but the world at large. I could see how much that meant when I gave Carver the letter that told him how his namesake was a Templar our father deeply respected. It was an admission of pride in his son, regardless of who he might grow to become.
The end of the first chapter in the game can go three different ways as regards Carver. If you don’t take him with you on the expedition, he goes and becomes a Templar. If you do, and don’t have Anders with you, he is infected by the darkspawn taint, and will die. If Anders is there, he knows of a wandering Grey Warden troupe that can go through the Joining ritual to save him.
If Carver dies, it was trying to prove himself just as capable as his elder sibling. You have to go on the expedition, as your ability is the one specifically recognized by Varric. He bristles at your mother’s suggestion that he stay behind. The message he receives again and again is that he shouldn’t go on the trip, because it’s not his place.
The other two paths are ones that remove him for your game for most intents and purposes. As a Templar, he is pushed to the point of opposing your very being–a free mage. As a Grey Warden, he must undergo their Joining and training, and becomes involved in their politics. Both speak to carving out his own name, and making his own place in the world. He had tried at Ostagar, under King Cailan’s orders, but found failure.
When my Hawke found Carver again while searching for Nathaniel Howe in the Deep Roads, Carver explicitly states he finds himself once more in my shadow. While I’d normally kept my responses to him sarcastic (and my Hawke had a semi-permanent sarcastic tone due to the response stacking system the game uses), I suddenly found myself being kind to him. He was my little brother, and he didn’t hate mages, he hated being in the shadow of his elder brother, who was renowned for being a mage.
It was both personal to Hawke, and not personal to mages. Or so it read.
Meeting him again during the Qunari invasion of Kirkwall, I told him about what happened to our mother, and I did so again with kindness. He was the only family I had left whom I respected. Neither Bethany nor my father played much a role in my time in the game beyond being a story to which I had no connection. My mother was a well-meaning woman whom I found cloying and demanding at best, and who was killed. My uncle was someone I loathed and could not respect.
Carver had both been a battle companion, and was someone who had interacted more heavily with both myself and the other people with whom I traveled who became my extended family. His role in my group had been a tank–my protector. It influenced how I saw him: despite my quibbles with him, he was someone on whom I could rely.
When he finally showed up in the game’s denouement, I put aside the better tanks I had crafted out of Aveline (whose sword and board style was more fit for tanking) and Fenris (whose Lyrium ghost ability gave him extra bonuses in defense and crits), just to have my brother by my side. My brother who had earned his own armor, and his own place in life, but still wanted to fight by my side. He still wanted to protect the enemies from attacking me.
Carver is my brother.