When BioWare released the first game in their Dragon Age franchise back on November of 2009, the world changed a little. Joy was brought to the masses, inclusion was gifted to gamers, lightness given to the dark, and happiness granted to all. But greater than all of that was the gift given to the more perceptive little mages, one that would continue to piqué their interests for years to come. You might know him as “….wait, there was a guy standing there?” To a group of fans whose numbers are modest, but passion glows bright as the sun rising over Lake Calenhad, he’s their precious boy Cullen – proud member of the Templar Order.
His role in the first game, Dragon Age: Origins, was pretty meager. Cullen served as one of the templars stationed at the Circle of Magi, a prison-like home for the mages of Fereldan. A small bit of investigation is all it takes to discover that Cullen is captivated by your female mage. But any relationship between Cullen and your darling would be forbidden.The game seems to hint at a quick and painful story about a Templar and his ward, the star-crossed lovers whose predetermined fate had to take precedence regardless of emotion. Despite this, it’s safe to assume that most fans – or Cullenites, as they’re called – didn’t have their Cullen-loving epiphany until Dragon Age 2. That’s when Cullen became Knight-Captain and an all-around badass.
“I knew an Amell once. She was a special woman…never met her like again.”
Sometime in 2012, a movement started. Cullenites started coming out of the woodwork to form groups on various social network platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, and BioWare’s own Social Network (BSN). As like-minded souls came together to discuss the character they love, the BSN became the pinnacle of activity. With organization and a real sense of community, they have managed to keep the conversation flowing with little interruption. When I decided that I wanted my first Fandom Friday to be about Cullen, I knew there was no better place to go.
What intrigued me the most was the fact that over 4,000 pages of Cullen discussion have taken place to date, yet the Cullenites of the BSN still have plenty to say. “We came for the Cullen, stayed for the company,” explains user R2s Muse. On any given day the conversation bounces between Dragon Age lore, Cullen-centric anything/everything, fried okra, any tweet made by voice actor Greg Ellis, and broad speculation. When asked how the Cullenite community connected so well that it could withstand the test of time, R2 explained, “Some of the community feeling was probably also fostered by the fact that the Cullen hate threads began not long after as well, early in 2012. Lots of generalizing and stereotyping about those who are Cullen fans, including of course strongly gendered stereotypes and attacks often seen in the video game world.”
They became comrades-in-arms. The attention has only grown since BioWare revealed Cullen to be a love interest. The announcement brought both new Cullenites and old opposition out of the closet and back into the limelight. Once Greg Ellis took to Twitter, sharing his musings and experiences behind the mic, the fandom exploded in what can only be described as a frenzy. “Once the game ships and the initial squee-fest dies down it’ll return to normal again,” says user LolaLei. One can only hope, especially since hate threads pop up far more often than the kinder messages posted by the hundreds in the Cullen Discussion Thread.
When it comes to jumping into the thread meant for pro-Cullen conversations, the naysayers aren’t shy at all. They join frequently but normally just want explanations. The question posed to the Cullenites the most is one that seems simple in intention, but is hard to nail down with a simple response:
What’s the deal with Cullen anyway?
“I think why he’s become popular with some fans is his basic humanity, and how he has struggled and grown over the last two games,” says R2. “He’s more human than the hero of the story. Fans can love him or hate him for the choices he makes (and doesn’t make), and many do. He has also evolved considerably over the course of two games, from naïve templar to tortured soul to reluctant dissident. Now he has experienced both extremes of the mage-templar system, and both sides have broken his trust, making him an interesting window for the player.”
Comparable to the good spring in a broken clock, Cullen becomes one of the very few great parts of a system that is ultimately broken. Despite torment, witnessing the brutal murders of his friends and companions, manipulation, blood magic, red lyrium, and unyielding tyrants, he stands firm in his beliefs. It would have been easy for the writers to turn him into a power-crazed nut job. Instead, they have shown every sign of taking this masterfully crafted character and letting him live out his full potential in Dragon Age: Inquisition.
“Plus,” R2 adds, “he’s also smokin’ hot.”
“But that’s not really enough to make a character compelling,” she continues, “and even amongst the Cullenites there is a dispersion of opinions on his looks…DA2 Cullen vs. Original Recipe, red hair vs. blond hair.” And mole or no mole, as that’s the one I seem to be constantly hung up over.
The biggest factor driving the Cullenites seems to be speculation…anticipation of what’s to come. They share concerns that Cullen will find himself the outsider in their party due to his strong moral standings, or hope that they’ll have more opportunities to find out exactly what those standings are. They want to see him find ways to apply his beliefs in their quests and tasks, but worry that these same beliefs will serve as a cop-out. Everyone seems eager to find out the more valuable details, such as Cullen’s personal history or even just his last name. Or is it first name? More than anything they worry that this character they have been invested in for years won’t turn out to be the one they anticipated at all. While there has always been a huge amount of trust in the writers by the Cullenite community (which certainly has increased as people such as lead writer David Gaider jumped to their defense), they know that their expectations have to be kept practical. It’s Dragon Age: Inquisiton that we’re waiting on, not Dragon Age: The Cullen Years.
As LolaLei explained, their goal is to “learn more about him beyond just a professional capacity and actually be an active part in his story arc as it unfolds, rather than just watching from the side lines.”
It sounds like the fan community as a whole has a lot to look forward to.
Dragon Age: Inquisition will be in stores on October 7, 2014.