Baldur's Gate 3 Is A Huge Deal
Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of the most important games of all time. And it’s not even out yet. While other games scamper to push out a product to meet the demands of their uncaring, non-gamer corporate overlords, Larian Studios remains boldly free and independent of any of the two or three companies which are buying up all the world’s media. By the way congress, get off your bums and start making these companies pay taxes so we can cancel student debt. Whoa there, slow down, that’s another article. Before I start a protest march, let me finish telling you about why the biggest Dungeons and Dragons video game is a water mark of a sea change in this here American culture.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a high fantasy RPG set in the world of the official Dungeons and Dragons IP owned by Wizards of the Coast, who publishes both D&D and (my favorite game) Magic: The Gathering. Baldur’s Gate 3 was released in early access on Steam during some of the darkest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, October 6th 2020. With horrible news and an uncertain election looming over us all, this ray of hope shone through the clouds of awfulness and illuminated something pure and good: a game being made with quality in mind. The game’s first act has been playable since then, though it’s gone through some major updates and expansions. It’s been developing luxuriously, growing steadily through patches and fixes. Gestating like a baby dragon, growing in a gilded egg. Fetal wings and delicate membranes nurtured by community feedback and integrity.
The fact that Larian Studios, a Belgian gaming publisher, remains free from a massive corporation is a good sign. The studio has stated they’re not looking to sell out and they can still work independently with Wizards of the Coast (who is owned by Hasbro). This kind of collaboration between studios and IP sharing is good news for gamers. Does the fact that they are based in Belgium, a country with practical labor laws that actually protect workers have anything to do with Larian’s continued independence? Yes. In Belgium, the work week is legally 38 hours with workers being compensated for any overages. And if you’re a freelancer and you get sick? There are “substitute entrepreneurs” who will take over your work stream so you’re not losing clients. Congress if you’re still reading, add this to the docket mmmmkay? Workers, read this article about why we should take paid Gamer’s Leave.
While Larian’s ability to develop the game at their own pace means that despite the game being out since 2020, there is still no official release date for the finished product. (Though it’s looking like 2023.) When the game does come out, it’s going to be polished, playable, and the best adaptation of the world’s most famous tabletop role playing game ever.
But there’s a larger cultural reason why this game matters so much. It’s the future we’ve always dreamed of, and nerds are king. We’re the mainstream now. We’ve come a long way from the Satanic Panic surrounding the early days of Dungeons and Dragons. The most anticipated media is all IP which has traditionally been considered “nerd stuff”. Whether it’s the newest Marvel release or the upcoming Lord of the Rings series from Amazon, its nerds all the way down baby. Who knows, when Grampy Biden leaves the oval, maybe we’ll even have a gamer president. (AOC streams on Twitch so there’s hope.)
D&D is now a household name, not some fringe after school activity. With Critical Role’s animated The Legend of Vox Machina on Amazon and other D&D shows like Dimension 20 and NADDPOD and Drawtectives amassing millions of views, there’s no doubt it’s a mainstream success. These shows center around the emergent narratives inherent to D&D. The result is stories more unpredictable, and more real, than reality television. Still waiting on that D&D movie though…
Why are we so attracted to these kinds of stories? And in a high fantasy setting particularly? Well, because dragons are cool as hell obviously. And less obviously, because the game allows us to walk a clear moral path. Baldur’s Gate 3 lays out that path even more neatly. We get to be righteous. Despite how people demanding to speak with a manager over their slightly cold pasta act, we so rarely get a chance to be truly righteous in our day to day lives. In D&D we get to be wholly right. There is evil in the world and we must defeat it. We actually do have this choice in every election cycle… but that involves research and effort and nuanced decision making. We definitely can combat policies which are destroying the planet and crushing the common worker. Oh there I go again, convincing you to vote.
But while elections involve some compromise and listening, in Baldur’s Gate 3, you can just use your sword. We can all be paragons of good. The tentacle faced Mind Flayers with their collars popped high who are trying to eat your brain are bad guys. And you and your party of halflings and elves are good guys. That kind of moral clarity feels so precious in this crazy mixed up world. Baldur’s Gate 3 lets us experience what it’s like to live in a world that requires minimal effort (well, battles can be challenging but we’re still sitting down while we do them) and maximum goodness. Even if you choose to side with the baddies occasionally or abandon a group of innocents, you still know what moral side of the good/bad divide your choice falls on.
Games like Disco Elysium and Cyberpunk 2077 and Red Dead Redemption 2 feel groundbreaking in that they are so morally nuanced, they feel a little more like real life quandaries. But isn’t it nice to turn off that particular decision making part of our brains and just do some good? Follow the path that the gods (devs) have laid out for us and save some souls?