BioWare RPG Dragon Age: Inquisition uses tarot cards to symbolise, among other things, each party member. These change depending on choices, story progress, etc., and are full of symbolism up the wahoo.
But what does the symbolism mean? Or, in this case, as we turn out attention to flamboyant mage Dorian Pavus, “What the fuck is up with that snake?” These are questions we hope to answer in… oh, look, the title’s up there already, guess this intro was needless.
The cards, all together
Card #1: Before his personal quest
Ask yourself what we know of Dorian at this time; this, after all, is his introductory shot. At this point, he is essentially “the good Tevinter mage”. We don’t know too much about his… poor family relations, but we do know that. So it shouldn’t surprise you that this image’s colouring is, essentially, white. Not just his clothes, but the very lines in the background. So, yes, there’s some positive connotations — Dorian is a good-hearted heroic character, all in all — and this is further highlighted none-too-subtly by the radiant yellow halo thing bursting from his head.
But, consider the lore here, as a true… er, “fan” does (such as one writing an analysis of tarot cards). Did you know, Tevinter’s colour scheme is mainly black? So, of course, Dorian is dressed in white. He is, after all, the pariah. That Tevinter is black and Dorian is white, those specific colours, also point to his “reformer” nature. There still exists a subtle hint of black here, in Dorian’s staff. It will become much more prominent in the next card.
While looking at the white, however you may also have noticed the body of a serpent… we’ll be further looking at that in the next card as well.
It may not have escaped your notice that Dorian is mage. It’s especially useful to know this at a glance when choosing your party, of course. Various elements go to showing his more mystical nature. There’s the staff (well, obviously), and also a book. His robe covers all of the screen and his body. Later on, you’ll see Dorian browsing through a library: the book also hints, in addition to his er “mageyness”, towards his interest in culture. Note the colour: this is a fairly light, bright card.
Someone else can tell me what the infinity symbol is doing there.
Card #2: Post-quest
Do you want to know how many times I’ve heard people go “Did I bugger up his personal quest? The creepy snake!” Good news! No, you didn’t bugger up his personal quest. Congrats! This card does show, however, you have learnt more of Dorian, and also things to do with the horse I’ll mention.
See, I mentioned a serpent before, didn’t I? Snakes have a poor reputation, and that snake is not the most well-behaved. Black, poisonous-looking, but wrapped almost entirely around the card? Black is Tevinter, and so is the snake, a core part of Dorian’s personality. Dorian is Tevinter, not just in birthplace. He is not a snake, of course, but nonetheless he loves his homeland. It’s why he doesn’t just abandon it and never mention it again. This is underlined by the surrounding black/dark-grey of his surroundings (you may also notice Dorian is now wearing some black and his book has changed colour), though his reformer nature is also reinforced with a more subtle halo around his head this time. The snake looks like it’s about to bite his head off, so this is perhaps not the most flattering depiction of Tevinter.
The white and black here heavily contrast with each other, going to show more about “pariah” and “reformer”, blahblahblah. However, in this contrast, you may note something: if you really wanted to show Dorian as completely divorced from the black you’d put him in pink or something. So, yes, Dorian’s white colours are still tied to Tevinter, even being the opposite shade.
Aside from the snake and the colours, the most noticeable thing here is that horse. In context, this comes up after finishing Dorian’s quest, settling his family issues — no matter what choice you may, reconciliation or storming out or whatever. Dorian stands tall, he strides… or rather, sits tall. On a horse. You get the picture (it’s to the right, likely up a bit on most screens). It also relates somewhat into his independent nature (“I don’t want to be in your debt, I don’t want to be anyone’s debt”, so on).
Card #3: Romance
It should surprise no one that this is a fairly sensual image, being that it’s the romance image. We have the hand of the Inquisitor stroking his naked body. The hand is often symbolic of the Inquisitor, partly due to the Anchor but also partly because regardless of what you did in character creation, BioWare can be fairly sure you have a hand. Hanging off the hand, I believe, is the birthright to House Pavus, which serves as a symbol of the romance.
While the black snake remains as well as a small touch of black/white contrast, this is overall a far more soothing image. In this case, the snake is outright wrapped around his body, which would further highlight the whole “Tevinter is a part of me” thing, but compared to Card #2 is it pacified — along with the white lilac**, which is a natural soothing image, being gently offered and laid bare to the Inquisitor. Specifically, the camera angle* is bearing it to you, the audience, making it a bit more personal, but ultimately you are being the Inquisitor. Regardless, back to the soothiness: the background here is light red, and the card is illustrated not with harsh lines but smudged semi-realism.
*This is pretty much the wrong term for art, but I studied Film and in my head I refer to things as… things, so sod it. You know what I mean.
**[AMMENDMENT: As pointed out by “HK” in the comments, this is probably an orchid, not a lilac. Sadly, I cannot tell flowers apart for the life of me.]
If you read all that, I am proud, and admire your skills of comprehension. Dorian’s character design has perhaps more to it than the fabulous mustache, and the features of that design are heavy players in these cards. I’ve mentioned “white” a lot, though there’s a lot of light-grey in his actual self. Practically speaking, this is mostly the same effect, but the tarot cards are more symbolic as opposed to more grounded clothing.
Sadly, I am no expert on some of the more “abstract” elements of art. You may think this a barrier to analysing highly abstract art, but I’ve never let my lack of knowledge prevent my dreams — and I do know some things here. Plus, hey, didn’t see anyone else making one. They probably are, but I didn’t see them.
And why, yes, I am an overly-wordy nerd. It has served me well in life.