Meet the actual therapist using Dragon Age to teach relationship skills

Dragon Age: Origins - Morrigan holds up her hands in exasperation
(Image credit: BioWare)

The Dragon Age fandom is notoriously full of armchair psychologists. We love to shamelessly pick apart and project onto our faves—admittedly with mixed accuracy. But listening to Dragon Age: Origins get dissected by an actual practicing therapist makes even conversations with the most capricious party members sound like they finally have the subtitles for human interaction turned on.

I first caught wind of Dr. Mick in a TikTok clip of a notorious conversation with Origins party member Sten. Your Qunari warrior companion approaches you at camp in what feels like an aggressive confrontation, quickfiring back-to-back questions about your plan for stopping the Archdemon and the blight of zombified darkspawn. "Guess who's anxious?" Dr. Mick declares, before going on to explain how Sten is expressing his anxieties by looking to his de facto leader for clarity. Instead of going on the defensive, Dr. Mick chooses what had always seemed to me a way-too-blunt response: "I'm not here to impress you." He's rewarded with an unimaginable +6 approval from Sten.

What the hell? That is the best possible result of that conversation. I checked.

Context is king

Human development PhD and licensed marriage & family therapist Dr. Ryan Earl goes by Dr. Mick on Twitch. He started out livestreaming Destiny 2 hoping to be a resource for other streamers who often accidentally wind up playing amateur therapists to their viewers. When the Mass Effect Legendary Edition launched in 2021, Dr. Mick planned to livestream what would be his 10th playthrough. "And I was like 'you know what? I'll try to analyze it," he tells me. He set out to make realistic decisions, not as a typical RPG player, but based on his years of clinical and life experience.

And boy did BioWare fans enjoy seeing a professional dissect their favorite characters. "Mass Effect was where my TikTok really blew up," Dr. Mick says. He's since analyzed his playthroughs of Grand Theft Auto 5, Red Dead Redemption 2, The Last of Us, and more, eventually returning to BioWare to try Dragon Age: Origins, which he remembered so little of from his single 2009 playthrough that he was able to have unprepared reactions, unlike with Mass Effect.

(Image credit: BioWare)

People who are quiet and give one word answers tend to make us anxious... Sten is one of the better characters to allow those things to be talked about. He represents a threat for a lot of people.

Dr. Mick

"Dragon Age probably has the best content for me to dissect of all the games I've played so far," he says, noting that its genuine reactions to your decisions force a player to pay attention to context rather than leaning on morality or tone indicators.

There's comfort in the way that BioWare's later games, and other RPGs, allow you to consistently come off as kind or sarcastic in an à la carte menu of conversational intent. But Origins' dialogue choices are fully written out in text with only context as your guide. It can be nearly as inscrutable as managing actual human relationships. Seriously, what the hell does Sten want me to say?


♬ original sound - DrMick

"People who are quiet and give one word answers tend to make us anxious and the reason for that is because they open themselves up for us to project onto them," Dr. Mick tells me, a person who struggled enough with Sten that I looked up approval guides for his conversations. Faced with all those sudden questions as a teenager first playing Origins, I immediately got defensive because meeting Sten's very direct style with more of the same felt way too much like confrontation. But a Grey Warden who deflects only frustrates Sten more and that's when conflict happens.

"What's going to bring more intimacy with Sten is for you to understand the template that he's working off of interactionally. And those are things that you only learn through observation and listening as opposed to focusing too much on your own needs in the interaction," Dr. Mick explains. "Sten is one of the better characters to allow those things to be talked about. He represents a threat for a lot of people." It's me. I'm people.

Sten isn't the only teachable moment by far. Dr. Mick has been churning out clip-sized lessons on communication and relationships with Origins' full cast of characters as lecture props.

He used the story of an apprentice hunter who was rejected by a woman as a lesson to the Good Guys of the world that even genuine affection and earnest intentions do not entitle you to have your feelings reciprocated by a romantic interest. He paused at Morrigan needling Alistair over ceding leadership to the player character to reassure people that there's a strength in recognizing that you prefer being a follower and team contributor to taking positions of leadership (It's me. I'm still people). And he uses Morrigan's preemptive belittling of her own opinions to explain the concepts of projection and how not to assume that others share an equally dismal opinion of you as your own self-esteem.


♬ original sound - DrMick

The analysis even turns inward when Dr. Mick catches himself boosting his own ego early in the game by informing a templar that he is in fact a Grey Warden, despite knowing that the order have been falsely declared traitors complicit in the king's death.

"Holy shit, that was a huge misfire on my part. I let my ego get the best of me there. This guy is in a position of power. I wanted to legitimize myself in front of him and I put myself at risk in doing so," Dr. Mick laments, punctuated with a very self-aware "Ooof!" Fortunately it's a misstep without serious consequences, but he takes the lesson to navigate his friendships with party members while never losing sight of the greater context.

It's all intensely reflective and personal while still being a fun playthrough to watch. While he's making decisions you already agree with, that is.

Consequences are also king

"My theme is: The run is the run. I always accept the consequences of the decisions I make in the game because that's how real life works," Dr. Mick says. "There are hundreds of playthroughs on YouTube where people choose the right path at every possible thing and do every quest. I'm not interested in doing that."

That comes to a head particularly in critical plot moments, because it turns out that being a well-adjusted Grey Warden with boundaries and patience will actually net you quite a body count.

When exploring the mage tower overrun with maleficarum and demons, Dr. Mick spent a solid 15 minutes talking through the psychology of a conversation with (then) Templar Cullen who'd been trapped after witnessing a hell of a lot of blood magic mindfuckery. It's a classic Dragon Age mages-versus-templars moment.

After what he's seen, Cullen isn't willing to hear you consider half measures at the mage tower. (Image credit: BioWare)

"If you want to be a better communicator and decision-maker in interpersonal relationships, you need to make sure you connect with the context of the person you're talking to," Dr. Mick said during that livestream, explaining his choice to validate Cullen's concern that there may yet be blood mages at large in the tower. He admitted to Cullen that he might have to kill everyone in the harrowing chamber above, not knowing that his mage party member Wynne would not appreciate the nuance of that statement.

"And then Wynne's like 'oh hell no I'm gonna attack you' and I had to kill her in self defense! I love how it was not clear that was going to happen," said Dr. Mick, "and then you literally lose a companion with a whole bunch of quests and story in that one moment."

Videogames in some ways teach bad boundaries. They teach people to triangulate themselves in issues and get involved in stuff they shouldn't get involved in.

Dr. Mick

"I had people get pissed… in my YouTube comments and say 'I'm out. I'm done watching this because of that,'" he says. But Dr. Mick is committed to the life lesson that you can only make decisions with the information you've got. On that basis he also killed Arl Eamon's definitely possessed son Connor instead of running to the mage tower seeking unclear solutions. At the end of the game, he didn't accept Morrigan's dark ritual or twist Alistair's arm into it either, and allowed then-king Alistair to sacrifice himself by killing the Archdemon.

"What drives me crazy about videogames is… people use hindsight to make 'better' decisions," said Dr. Mick.

I know I'm not the only one out here guilty of save-scumming bad choices or making hasty promises to Wynne because I'm sure a BioWare RPG is going to give me a good guy escape hatch at some point. Dr. Mick says that using hindsight or making decisions at that meta level would take away from the analysis and the conversations he's able to offer his viewers.

This is Alistair's emotionally evasive face. He wears it often. (Image credit: BioWare)

"Videogames in some ways teach bad boundaries. They teach people to triangulate themselves in issues and get involved in stuff they shouldn't get involved in," he says, explaining the concept of triangulation as two individuals experiencing anxiety or emotional intensity bringing in a third party to disperse that tension. "The entire basis of a roleplaying game is that you get triangulated into everybody's business. You would never do quest lines if you de-triangulated yourself all the time. I think it's important to know that's happening in videogames because that's not really how you should operate in real life."

I asked Dr. Mick for his professional opinion on which Origins character has their shit most together. "Who ever has all of their shit together, really?" he laughs. "I mean all of us are a mess in some way or another." This is a surprisingly reassuring thing to hear a therapist say. He mentions Shale initially, a slightly niche DLC party member choice, but also brings up Leliana's growth and willingness to confront her religious beliefs as an individual in contrast with the Chantry as an organization.

By the time the credits roll, Dr. Mick has a world state not far off from what I once labeled "everything is awful" in my Dragon Age Keep. Not the ending I'd ever have angled for intentionally, but a more genuine one, probably, and that was the whole point.

Dr. Mick has since played the Dragon Age: Awakening expansion and intends to play through the rest of the series. And I really need you all to be on your best spoiler-free behavior, because damn do I want to see what he makes of the emotional disaster cast of Dragon Age 2.

Lauren Morton
Associate Editor

Lauren started writing for PC Gamer as a freelancer in 2017 while chasing the Dark Souls fashion police and accepted her role as Associate Editor in 2021, now serving as the self-appointed chief cozy games enjoyer. She originally started her career in game development and is still fascinated by how games tick in the modding and speedrunning scenes. She likes long books, longer RPGs, has strong feelings about farmlife sims, and can't stop playing co-op crafting games.