[Guest Post] Understanding Fandom’s View of Imperialism Through Fire Emblem Three Houses

I got my friend Odawel to talk about one of the big things they learned from the Fire Emblem fandom and how it speaks to the way that white people in fandom can miss big bad issues in plots on their way to stanning certain characters!

When I say I’m a diehard Fire Emblem fan, I mean it. I’ve played almost every single one, most of them upwards of twenty full playthroughs, and I could probably recite the entirety of Path of Radiance to someone line by line if I was pushed. 

That’s why when I heard about the combat changes for Fire Emblem Three Houses, I held off. I wasn’t sure I wanted to play something that altered the core game mechanics, but then one of my white friends told me, “Hey, I played it, and it’s definitely different, but it’s still a Fire Emblem game. And let me tell you. You’re going to love Dimitri.”

Now this friend and I had been friends for years so I trusted her judgment and I played Fire Emblem Three Houses. I was also ready to absolutely love Dimitri and Dedue. Everything I had seen in fandom so far was pretty promising. I did still have my guard up though, because as a diehard Fire Emblem fan…I’m very aware of where Fire Emblem writers can fall flat. 

Really flat. 

Then came Dedue’s paralogue level (a required level if you want him to actually survive to the end of the game). And then came my realization that Dimitri’s character arc is nothing like what I was told. 

In conversations I have had with white friends, some of them now firmly former friends, and with other people in fandom, I became painfully aware that white people’s view of what constitutes a genocide is drastically at odds with what a lot of other people view as genocide. Especially those of us who have gone through it ourselves or are continuing to go through it. 

Every issue I ever raised with Dimitri’s actions were met with explanations about how that wasn’t actually violence, and he had good intentions, and I just must have misinterpreted the dialogue! 

The point of this article is not to tell you that if you like Dimitri you’re a bad person, or if you like the Blue Lions house, you might as well just go find a conservative freedom rally next weekend. 

Like with all fandom discussions I have, nuance is the goal. What I want to point out is the deep flaw in imperialist cultures that has led so many people to believe that acts of genocide are not in fact genocide. That genocide is a thing in America’s past, not its present. I’m going to demonstrate that through fandom’s misunderstanding of what exactly happens in Dedue’s paralogue. 

Dedue is a character who comes from the land of Duscur. His people are Indigenous and they were massacred after the assassination of Dimitri’s father was wrongfully pinned on his people. Dimitri saved Dedue from being murdered as a child as others were. Dedue became his vassal while still a child and has a deep, unwavering, and in my opinion misplaced, loyalty to Dimitri as a result. 

At the time of the game, Dedue’s people have started a rebellion. Their lands have been stolen in the aftermath of the genocide and the surviving warriors decide to engage with the white, Church-supported nobles in the area in a fight for their land back. 

Dimitri and Dedue implore you, the main character, to come with them to stop the conflict and aid Dedue’s people. Here is where we run into our first of many issues with Dimitri’s characterization of the conflict and Dedue’s people. 

Dimitri states that “If the Kingdom’s army and the rebel forces of Duscur collide, there is no doubt that the rebel forces will be annihilated. I’m afraid…that’s the best case scenario. It could also turn into complete and bloody chaos for both sides”. 

And this is where I’m going to take a brief moment to be petty because I’m sorry, I understand that Dimitri looks like a young Donald Trump, but I didn’t expect to read the post-Charlottesville speech he gave in 2019 in a video game. 

This dialogue is entirely glossed over when fandom talks about how Dimitri is one of the only characters in the game that’s dedicated to stopping racism. 

Fandom, like the rest of western society, sees these conflicts as an issue of ‘both sides are at fault’. 

But they aren’t. 

To add onto that, Dimitri’s perspective is that it would in fact be worse if the people massacring an ethnic group died in the conflict. It’s just not the take of someone who cares all that much about the Indigenous people he claims to care for.

Indigenous people of Turtle Island do not violently fight back that often these days. 

Our efforts are peaceful. We protest pipelines, put our bodies on the line to protect the water, and when we are met with violent dog attacks and then thrown in dog cages as the Water Protectors at DAPL were, the media talks about violence on both sides. The framing of clashes between us and the cops and private mercenaries are never framed as what they are – violent state enforcement of the violation of land treaties. 

It is always framed as both sides being at fault. 

Dedue then informs us that we must stop another massacre of his people from happening, but that we must also not obstruct the white, Church-supported nobles from massacring the Duscur people. This is literally impossible. You cannot stop a genocide by refusing to obstruct those committing the genocide. 

The solution in the game is of course to fight the Duscur army ourselves to drive them off before the nobles murder them. The whole level is framed as protecting the nobles by driving Duscur off, violently, but you are told that this is somehow for the benefit of Duscur. 

I am not a nice person. When I see my own people argue that they love the government that oppresses us, that they love the religion violently put upon our parents and grandparents under the threat of death, I have a word I use and it’s not nice. 

I have sympathy, however, for our elders who have gone through violence that they were told was for their own good. I understand that when they ask us to pray using a Bible, that it is not weakness. It is what naturally happens when you are taken from your home and placed with the people who want to kill your people and they then do their best to beat your Indigenous identity out of you. 

This too, is a part of this level that fandom does not understand. 

They see Dedue join with Dimitri, they see him argue with his own people in the aftermath and tell them that they fought them for their own good, and fandom says it’s proof that Dimitri did the right thing. Dedue approves of his actions, so it must be okay. They don’t understand that’s part of the genocide. One of the most effective tools of genocide is to convince members of the group you’re trying to destroy that the violence they face is for their own good. That if their people would just stop being violent, savage, demons, no one would have to kill them. 

The level ends with some of the most heartbreaking dialogue in the game. Dedue’s people ask why Dedue tried to save them, to which Dedue says he does not want to abide by the needless death of his people. He follows up however with the statement that he will only allow them to live if they do not fight against Dimitri. He tells his people that Dimitri will rule over them fairly, which his people naturally find difficult to believe considering his solution to the conflict was to fight the Duscur people a little more nicely than his counterparts. Dedue does not waver from his defense of Dimitri nor his loyalty to him in this moment. 

In return, when Dedue is sacrificed to save Dimitri later on in the game, the Duscur people find him and nurse him back to health anyways. 

Because at the end of the day, we take care of and protect our own when colonizers throw us away as a sacrificial lamb. This is one of the few parts about Indigenous people and conflict the game got right.

Depending on how you pair Dedue in the end, the postgame has a variety of different fates for the Duscur people. One ending that many in fandom love to talk about is how if Dedue ends up with Mercedes, the two of them open up a Church-run boarding school for all the orphaned Duscur children. I am not joking. The game writers and fandom alike would have Indigenous fans believe that a Church-run boarding school for Indigenous children is absolutely a good thing. 

The blurb states that this school is opened to revive Duscur history, and yet Dedue has canonically rejected that history and his people in favor of Dimitri and Mercedes. He states that Duscur is gone, despite his people still being alive. 

This reveals yet another thing white fans struggle to understand. With Dedue rejecting his people, and in repeated conversations with Mercedes, referring to them as dead and ruined when they are still alive and well, he is allying himself not with his people but with his oppressors. He is teaching Duscur children about themselves not through the lens of his people, who he took the children from, but through the lens of the colonizers. This was the source of the conflict during his paralogue to begin with. He saw himself not as a part of his people.

This is, of course, the same church that seeks to bring its teachings through violence to several countries, and also has decided to meet defiance of their teachings with murder and execution. 

This exposes several large flaws in how white people view genocide.

The first is the assumption that white people have inherently good intentions always. The second is that any action in self-defense, whether it’s an entirely peaceful protest, a riot, civil disobedience, or an uprising, is always more violent than the original violence inflicted. These two truths serve as the foundation through which most white fans, but really fans from any imperialist country where they are the privileged force, will understand media. It is why my white friend will play the same level I did and think that I would really love the white character that’s defending genocide.  


4 thoughts on “[Guest Post] Understanding Fandom’s View of Imperialism Through Fire Emblem Three Houses

  1. hi, i really loved this post. i’m just at the end of playing fire emblem three houses and i’ve been continually struck by the ways that the fandom relate to the structures of power that are present in the game. there are many themes of conquest and imperialism that conflict with each other. especially shown through the stories of cyril, petra, shamir, dedue, and claude in different routes. i also think it is interesting that the nabateans were the victims of genocide, and the use of their stolen bones, hearts and blood as weapons by their oppressors reminds me of colonial theft of indigenous remains. i hadn’t considered dedue’s paralogue as deeply though, so thank you for your thoughts.
    though i often can’t help but root for particular characters if they’re written in an emotionally compelling way, i know their decisions are ultimately limited by their context where the presence of power, privilege and oppression is a given. even for edelgard, who may want to dismantle crests and the nobility but relies on those very things to gain power and override the sovereignty of other people. in some ways, the game is about people reinforcing the very structures of society that cause them suffering, whether that be dedue submitting to dimitri, dorothea trying to marry nobles despite hating them, petra fighting for the empire when she’s a political prisoner, edelgard allying with those who slither in the dark, or rhea creating a church based on rewritten history and false ideology to protect herself, seteth and flayn — ideology weaponised by twsitd to get closer to their aim of killing the nabateans thru edelgard. there’s definitely no pure or righteous path in this game, they all illuminate the assumptions and moral compromises people make in the face of conquest and war, often sacrificing what and who is considered to be expendable.

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  2. Full disclosure, I am not a FE fan and I haven’t played any of the games, but I just wanted to say I’m grateful for articles like these that shine some truth into racist-colonial storylines in media, especially when the fandom at large is so good at ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist. I’m reminded of when every time a white person had recommended a piece of media to me saying I’ll enjoy it, I immediately braced myself, wondering if what you’re describing is what I’m going to encounter. If it wasn’t for articles like these, I’d experience that disappointment and be blindsided again and again. Media that attempts to redeem racists and colonizers is one of the things that are LEAST warned for, possibly because the people playing/watching them are too ashamed to admit that they like such media, and therefore pretend it doesn’t exist – and then we run into situations like these. I wish people at least had the good sense to call it what it is so at the very least we can make an informed decision before playing. If I ever play this game, I’m glad I’ll enter with this knowledge and know what to expect. So, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve encountered stuff similar to this in other games, notably the Dragon Age franchise, and I really appreciate this thoughtful post. issues surrounding colonialism and imperialism could be interesting to explore in video games, but it would need to be written and designed by indigenous people (and maybe the people who would be best able to handle the subject would rather, y’know, spend their time and energy on something else). Thank you for taking the time to write this, and thanks to Stitch too for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A lot of people have found themselves supporting Dimitri, and I don’t really understand why, because most of the positive things they ascribe to him apply to Edelgard, and most of the negative things they ascribe to her apply to him. Considering Edelgard to be a sympathetic character goes a long way to understanding how the messaging of Three Houses could be considered positive, and alarmingly, a lot of people are unwilling to do that.

    Liked by 1 person

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