This past winter, I finally finished playing the Dragon Age series for the first time. Something rumbled inside me to write about the experience—the incoherent, stress-inducing, incredible experience—and so I’ve put together a list of how to become addicted to the famous BioWare series, from the first game, through the DLC, to the current hanging-on-to-every-BioWare-announcement-ever moments. Here, I’ve charted seven steps as to how to become addicted to Dragon Age, no matter who you are.

Spoilers for the Dragon Age series for anyone who, like me, waited ten years before starting this franchise. Major, major Inquisition and Trespasser spoilers.

1. First, have everyone tell you, approximately 358490387 times, that you need to play this series.

October 2018: I’m sitting in my first fiction MFA workshop. It’s my week for workshop, and I’ve presented a story that involves my latest preoccupation: blood magic. From around the table, one of my classmates, DC, leans forward. “Have you played Dragon Age?” By this point, I know DC only tangentially: she’s in my program, we’re both first years, and I know she writes fantasy, like me. We’ve hung out in groups, mostly playing board games, but not one-on-one.

I sigh, but not out of annoyance. “You’re not the first person to tell me I should play it.” Over the years, friends outside and within Sidequest have consistently pointed to my interests, pointed to Dragon Age, and throw up their hands.

“It deals with blood magic,” DC says. “You should play.”

2. It doesn’t matter how many times you are told you should play the series. Someone should physically sit you down and force you to begin.

Fast-forward to May 2019: I’m sitting on the couch in DC’s apartment. We’re in the middle of finals week of our second semester in our MFA. DC is closer to being done with the year than I am, but I am not ready to finish my seminar paper. I lament about not having played any games recently, or maybe something about my thesis. DC’s husband moseys over, hands me an Xbox controller. I shrug.

He turns on the console and pops in the Origins disk. Until now, besides the “you should play it” whenever it came up, we’d talked little about Dragon Age. Mostly, DC and I have spent our days together complaining about classes, playing Imperial Assault with our respective spouses, and doing art on Sundays. By now, I’d spent enough time with her and her husband to accept the controller handed to me without asking more questions. It was Dragon Age time, finally. I had made sure to avoid spoilers, so I came into the game fresh-faced and theoretically prepared to face what was ahead of me.

3. Ready yourself. I could list out what you need to ready yourself for, but that would spoil the experience. Just try to steel yourself for the unknown.

Friends, I did not do that. I was not ready.

First of all, I spent an hour in character creation and then accidentally back-screened so had to remake my character again. (So ready yourself to not do that, I guess.) Second of all, I was minding my own business helping my friend and his lover and then said friend BETRAYED ME after I RISKED MY NECK and was a blood mage all along, which made me salty even though I, too, later became a blood mage! Third of all, the only person I wanted to romance right away was Morrigan, and then, to my horror, I found out she was straight (and I was a female Warden). And then all the Grey Wardens died! Leaving me, a newbie, to lead the only other Ferelden Grey Warden, who at least has six months of experience on me! And then, get this, I meet this Chantry lady who keeps singing at me and then thinks we’re in a relationship when, by this point, I’m trying to woo my fellow Grey Warden???

What would it have looked like if I had readied myself? Probably not much different. Maybe I would have emotionally been prepared for the commitment ahead of me, that I would latch onto this game almost beyond any of my other obsessions. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so shocked when everything about it utterly consumed me from those first few hours. I hadn’t expected to fall in love with not only the story, the characters, the plot, but the world, the lore, the details the artists that made this game added. And I truly mean artists: from the codex to the visual details, from the story arcs to the gifts you can give your companions to make them like you, Dragon Age: Origins is a work of art. So maybe I could have prepared myself for all the emotions that came with the gameplay, but I wouldn’t have changed anything else about what I did.

Which leads me to my next point…

4. Put aside a lot of time, because once you get started, you’re not going to want to put the controller/keyboard down.

Perhaps it will come as no surprise that I clocked in 20 hours of gameplay that weekend alone, 40 by the end of finals week. I woke up in the morning, drove over to DC’s, and sat my butt on the couch. And this continued to happen until 120 hours had passed and I had made Anora queen, watched my man get another woman pregnant to save our lives, met a guy who likes cats nearly as much as I do IRL, and lived happily ever after with Alistair. (Until I had to save the world again from a talking darkspawn and—unbeknownst to me until another game had started and 40 or so hours had passed there—met the true love of my life in his early years, when he’s still a flirty playboy and before he turns into an abomination. Said man—Anders, folks, it’s Anders—is the aforementioned cat guy.) Maybe one day someone will recount what happened during my first Landsmeet, or how DC really gunned hard for me to romance Zevran, or my face the first time Alistair and I had sex (THE UNDIES). I mean, how do you report back on 120 hours that changed your life?

A still frame of Cassandra from Dragon Age, a light-skinned brunette with a pixie cut, wearing armor with the Seekers' eye on her chest and a shield on her back. Dragon Age: Inquisition, BioWare, Electronic Arts, 2014

Cassandra is disappointed in me, even though she’s not even in the first game.

And I mean changed my life. I thought I had it bad for Mystic Messenger and Persona 5 and Undertale (and, I mean, I still do), but that was before I experienced Dragon Age. My gaming history is long but also extremely limited; I had never played another BioWare game or anything like it. Nothing where my decisions had such major impacts on the gameplay and narrative. Nothing where I got to create these deep, important relationships with characters who felt so real, so alive. Dragon Age is chaos where other games are structure, player control where others give you a straight story.

Experiencing the expansiveness of Thedas sent me reeling; not even Breath of the Wild, one of the best games I’ve ever played, matches the details in Dragon Age. The depths of the character arcs had me in awe. I couldn’t believe I had played so many hours and experienced only a fraction of the content within. It was like a book series I needed to dive into, find everything about, read all the fanfiction, see all the fan art, all centered around characters with whom I fell in love. My Warden made deals with demons, did blood magic, and still had a moral compass that pointed into the heart of Ferelden. My Warden. Me.

Addendum to 4: Don’t look up anything while you’re playing. And I mean anything. No fanfiction especially. Do you know how much I almost had spoiled for me because of fanfics? It’s unbearable to go through the entire series without looking at fan or official anything, but you’ll get so much spoiled by accident that it’s not even funny. Have someone else look up a walkthrough if you get stuck or if you want to check a decision. DC was my live-in walkthrough, so I had that covered. It’s necessary.

5. As soon as you beat Dragon Age: Origins and realize you can never go back to a pre-Dragon Age life, pick your controller/keyboard back up.

Eager to hear what happened next, I immediately started Dragon Age 2. I was warned the game was rushed, that most people didn’t like it, that the DLC was canceled because of Felicia Day (whose acting I don’t like; also, this is absolutely not true and just a rumor, thanks DC and spouse), that things were different. Also that I couldn’t have the blood mark if I wasn’t doing the base face of Marian Hawke. I was sufficiently warned.

Addendum to 5: Don’t read any “hot takes” on DA2, including what I wrote above. Form your own opinions. Because, like me, you may want to write an essay likely titled “Why Dragon Age 2 is My Favorite Dragon Age” or “X Reasons Why Dragon Age 2 is Actually a Great Game. No, Seriously. I’m Not Kidding! Award-Winning Fantasist N.K. Jemisin Agrees with Me! Give it a Chance!! IT’S SO GOOD I CANNOT!!”

On a gameplay level, I loved the friendship/rivalry change, how streamlined armor was, how I could visit friends in their own spaces, how the side missions frequently braided into the main story. I loved the quiet moments with friends and running around Kirkwall like I owned the place. I knew, within a few hours, that DA2 was likely going to be my favorite of the three, despite its divisiveness amongst DA fans.

No really, I got my first video game tattoo for it.

6. Get ready for Inquisition to fuck. shit. up.

I spent the last bit of my summer starting Inquisition. It took a bit of adjusting. For one thing, I could now jump! A jumping Inquisitor! Or Herald of Andraste, if you prefer; my Levellan was not a fan. For another, I suddenly had so much more of the world to explore. (DC had to beg me to give up on the Hinterlands.) I died a ton of times early on and triggered a dragon by accident when I was still a wee baby Levellan but I had a badass skeletal horse (at the detriment of losing companion conversation, which was spotty anyway)! Still, once I got into the swing of the game, I was drawn back into the expansive lore and world, rushing headlong in love with yet another Dragon Age.

My DAI experience involved me screaming “WHERE WERE YOU DURING THE BLIGHT?!” at Blackwall (I have very unkind things to say about him), lamenting that Cassandra is somehow straight (I DON’T BELIEVE IT and neither does JY Neon Yang!), and beaming whenever Cullen would deign to give me a kiss (WHY DO YOU WALK AWAY AFTER ONE KISS THO). I loved sneaking around during Wicked Eyes, Wicked Hearts; loved breaking into haunted houses and piecing together the mystery there; loved stabbing people with my lightsa—magical sword; loved taking down dragons like no tomorrow (you’re welcome, Bull). The War Table. My advisors. The richness expanded into so much of Thedas that I thought I knew but really didn’t. Also, a talking bear; that was dope.

With the semester running up to punch me in the face, I only finished Inquisition, finally, this past winter break. My world shook. Even though I swooned when Cullen proposed and laughed when I learned Varric, of all people, became the viscount of Kirkwall, there was so much more. Gasping as Flemeth’s true nature was revealed and she was promptly consumed. Dropping my controller as Solas revealed his identity. As he decided he’ll destroy the world because I didn’t romance him. Falling over when I disbanded the Inquisition and shoved a knife into the Tevinter Imperium. And then, 117 hours after I started it, Inquisition was done.

A map of the Tevinter Imperium with a knife sticking out of it. Dragon Age Inquisition, BioWare, EA, 2014.

CHILLS!

7. Try to figure out what you’re going to do with your life from here on out.

Over 300 hours of gameplay, and a major chapter in my life has either been exploded open or slammed shut.

I’m following so many DA meme accounts on Instagram (send me your faves!). I’ve started diving into the art books. There’s a Fenris comic that’s just been released. DC is running a tabletop DA campaign, where I’m playing an elven Kirkwall mage; I roped my husband into joining and all I want to do is run around Thedas, cackling. I am in deep, and there is nothing more I want than to pick the controller back up and start again. Walk through Ferelden, trying to convince people the Grey Wardens aren’t bad. Strut through Kirkwall, knowing my power. Fall through Skyhold, knowing no one would dare tell the Inquisitor to stop jumping off walls. I created three powerful women of color, two of whom were elves, all of whom were mages, who rocked Thedas as they owned their power and created the best possible world they could.

And I want to do it all over again.

There’s so much more left for me to explore, and I can’t help but wonder whether this will be the only way I’ll get through until more DA4 news. What am I supposed to do with myself in the meantime? How do I continue on?

“Well,” DC says, anytime I bring this up, “welcome to the rest of us.”