Do You Read All the Codex Entries in Games?

This month I started a new playthrough of one of my favorite video games of all time, Dragon Age: Origins. But as seems to happen every year that I replay it, I forgot just how much reading there is to do while you play. Because it’s a role-playing game with all kinds of lore and history, it has loads of codex entries on everything from mabari war hounds to the history of the Circle of Magi.

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Codexing in Dragon Age: Origins 

And the thing is, I didn’t read all of them the first time I played the game, because each playthrough brings new entries. For instance, this year I’m playing the dwarf noble origin story for the first time (out of six different origin stories in the game), which means I have pages of information about dwarven politics, my character’s noble family, the dwarven caste system, the city of Orzammar, and how the dwarves revere exemplary ancestors almost as gods. I never needed to know all of this when I was playing a human mage or elven commoner, but now it’s relevant to my character who has grown up in this culture.

I know a lot of people play video games without ever reading  the codex entries. I’ll admit I used to skip or skim most of them, too. When you just finished battling monsters, it feels so unnatural to stop everything, open up your journal, and read. And it doesn’t help that even the most entertaining codex entries tend to read like history textbooks.

I always found it much more engaging to pick up information from in-game dialogue. All that fact-dropping can make the dialogue sound a little stilted, but it’s a more interactive learning experience. The auditory aspect helps me remember things, too — and there’s the added bonus that you can’t skim, so the information sticks better.

However, for most games that feature epic worldbuilding, there’s just too much information to drop into dialogue. That’s why I can’t see codex entries going away any time soon. And they shouldn’t. After all, reading them is always optional… so they’re really there for the fulfillment of major fans.

Slowing down and savoring all the little tidbits of information that make the fictional world I’m in feel so rich and realistic can be truly rewarding. It takes some patience — even for me, someone who loves to read and plays RPGs for their stories first and foremost — but I’ve come to love those codex entries a whole lot.

— Ashley

20 Comments Add yours

  1. LadyCroft3 says:

    Recently I have found myself reading more codex entries, especially for games I like a lot. I used to skip them all the time (ain’t nobody got time for all that reading) but what changed my mind about them was playing through the Mass Effect games over and over and still feeling like there was more to know. I decided to sit back and read them all as I played through the series the next time and wow did I learn a lot! I try to read them in all games now since if the developers took the time to put them there, I should probably take the time to at least skim them haha.

    1. Yes! I know what you mean. I think Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and the Witcher 2 were like some of the games that made me want to read more. I used to skip them all the time like you, but I just got so into those fictional worlds that I wanted to learn more. Still skim them sometimes, though. =)

  2. C. T. Murphy says:

    No, I don’t.

    I’m just not a fan. It isn’t so much that it feels unnatural. I mean, we all used to read the dialogue rather than have it voice acted to us. It’s that it feels out of place in the medium. Often these additional bits are incredibly lengthy, poorly presented (as in they are buried in menus), and rarely add anything to the experience.

    To me, delivering an epic story is about far more than the amount of filler ‘lore’ you can force someone to take in. It is about presenting a world that feels larger without necessarily saying how big, that has existed long beyond the scope of the game without telling you how long.

    It’s just not particularly epic to get an expositional history lesson every time something occurs. There’s a reason that the classic epics all begin IN THE MIDDLE of the fighting and rarely end with its conclusion. To me, an epic is a slice of a much larger picture that you can’t possibly take in entirely because the scope is so much larger than the parts you do experience.

    Codex-like elements are just a copout to make a story feel larger without actually doing that within the gameplay itself.

    1. Hmm that’s a good point, and I hadn’t thought of it like that before. Really every artist is limited by the medium in which he chooses to tell his story (or whatever). So if I write a book, I have to figure out how to present everything with the written word — it’s not going to be a game or a film, and I’m not going to have actors to speak my lines or an elaborate set to show off my fictional world, etc. Games could do the same and showcase what their medium can do, without resorting to filler “text” entries.

      But still, most of the games with lots of codex entries already feel so rich without them… It’s like they’re just extra goodies for diehard fans. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but your point has really got me thinking now… =)

      1. C. T. Murphy says:

        It’s a topic I’d love to research and explore more. Video games tend to be a lot less time-constrained than classic audiovisual mediums ala books, but they can also rely on audio and visual shorthand to explain a lot without going into the detail necessary in a book.

        I was really impressed recently with Bungie’s discussion of Destiny since they touched on having a sense of epic conflict reflected in their aesthetic and level design that gets you motivated to explore the zones without needed a heavy-handed expositional reason to do so.

        At the same time, it’s a bit narrow-minded to describe video games in terms that can be related to traditional mediums. They are, at least in my view, an entirely new thing. I think your reasoning for why Codex entries are valuable (as a bit of extra on topic of the already epic worlds for serious fans) is a good example of why adding purely expositional material to a primarily cinematic experience makes perfect sense in a video game.

  3. seangreen5 says:

    In any huge RPG, there are so many codex files that are amazing to read. Fallout for example has many written things in computers or Skyrim that has books everywhere throughout the world. To me, reading these codex’s adds a whole new layer to my game. I gain a new understanding of various aspects and sometimes more respect for some characters or events. I definitely read any codex’s that I find but I don’t usually go out of my way to find them unless I’m really interested in the game.

  4. In games like this I do. It feels like it adds to certain types of worlds like the ones in Bioware games, so I feel compelled to even if it slows down the pace more than I’d like at times. In other games, I just don’t care. I mean should I care about the file folder I just found on some desk in Killzone? I sure hope not because I’m never reading that. It just isn’t what I’m playing the game for. Really depends on the game/genre for me and how invested I am in the world/narrative.

    1. Yeah, it’s exactly the same for me. Actually some of the worst are the file folder types that you pick up. Even in Mass Effect there are those different logs you find on missions — I skim through those so fast, because combat is coming up! I don’t have time to read some report! I think those are just not very well-integrated into the games.

  5. It depends on how invested I get in a game. With Dragon Age, because I love that world and the storylines so much, I try to read as much as I can. I do choose and love games for their stories more than anything else, so naturally I like to read about them and learn as much as I can.

    Sometimes I forget to check the codex and I end up with 30+ entries which is entirely too much to read at one time. Then it sort of gets away from me and I just browse. Entries on items and enemies/creatures don’t tend to interest me as much as places and histories, though.

    1. Oh that is so true! I forget about codex entries (or I just don’t see them at all) until they’re piled up on me. And then it’s like I have to read a whole book! I’m like you in that I read a lot of the histories of different locations and cultures in these games, while I skip a lot of the enemy and creature ones. For me, it’s about understanding the world better. I don’t are AS much about strategy based on the entries for a certain enemy, etc. But it depends on the game.

  6. Codex entries can be really hard for me to get into. I remember trying to get into the codex in Mass Effect, but it just never pulled me in. I think it’s a problem of context, it seems really out of the way removing the sense of immersion. This is the reason why love the Elder Scrolls series and its books.

    In Elder Scrolls you don’t HAVE to read the books, but if you want to there’s a sense of context to it because they’re just a bookshelf away. If more of Bioware’s games tried a method like this I would probably read all of the content they have to offer, plus collecting books can make for it’s own adventure.

  7. cary says:

    I prefer to keep my reading and gaming separate, so I’ll ignore codex entries for the most part. But in some cases, I’ve found them useful. I did one extremely thorough playthrough of Mass Effect where I did and read absolutely everything I could — the slower play made things much more immersive and interesting, granted. In DA:O, I read through entries pertaining to my character’s history, but ignored the rest. (In my second DA:O playthough, I skipped nearly all of them.) After I finished Sleeping Dogs, I actually went back and read all of the journal entries I had collected, and I amazed at how much work the writers had put into individual backstories.

    Honestly, for some games I’d almost rather have a physical book of codex entries that I could refer to on my own time.

    1. That’s how I feel too, actually. Sometimes the codex entries feel like they should be in their own book for major fans to pick up. I even read Dragon Age and Mass Effect novels. But when I’m playing those games, it can be hard to slow down and read because that’s not where my head is at when I’m gaming!

      Every once in a while I get into a game and have a really thorough playthrough, like you did with Mass Effect, and it feels really rewarding to take the time to read the codex entries, talk to all the vendors and side characters, pick up extra quests, etc. But I have to be in the mood for that for several weeks straight to do it. =)

  8. Gary Smith says:

    I also ignore codex entries for the most part. Sometimes, like in the Assassin’s Creed games, I’ll read through them just because a lot of the stuff is based on history. I tried to read some in Mass Effect, and there was just way too many. I just wanted to play the game, not read about every little thing that has gone on or is going on.

    1. Yeah, some games do have too many. And those tend to be the games that are already really rich worlds, so I find I don’t typically NEED to read them all anyway. I pick and choose which ones interest me and then skip the rest. Or skim the rest, if I’m really trying to be good. =)

  9. simpleek says:

    When I fell in love with both Dragon Age and Mass Effect, I dove in and read all the codex entries. :) The world and characters were so fascinating to me that I had to know more about them. I think games like these or games you really love would be the only time I’ll stop and read the codex entries. If it’s any other game, I probably wouldn’t.

  10. I made a pretty good effort to read all the entries on my first play through Mass Effect, and it really helped that they actually read you the “important” ones, but after that I just glanced over the ones I thought were cool. I really should go back and take a look at those because they are pretty interesting. I just felt that taking the extra time to do all that reading slowed down the flow of the game, especially since there is always a sense of urgency in Mass Effect.

    1. I agree! Having played Mass Effect games numerous times, I KNOW I still haven’t read all the codex entries. I need to do a really methodical playthrough at some point and be a completionist about that… but you’re right that there is that sense of urgency in those games that makes me not want to slow down and read! I want to stay in the action. :)

  11. Sam Leung says:

    I have to confess… I’m absolutely ridiculous when it comes to reading codex entries. I’m some what of a completionist, although I’ve been weaning myself off the habit. So I find it difficult NOT to read absolutely every line of text in a game if I’m at least even vaguely interested in the world (as well as collecting every useless item). I do completely agree though, it can feel very unnatural and kind of tedious sometimes, not to mention time consuming!

    1. Mmmm yeah, I could see where if you’re a completionist, the reading of the codex entries is part of that! I’m definitely NOT a completionist with games and tend to pick and choose what looks fun to me in the moment. Codexing sometimes gets lost in the mix.

      Like you, I also get really into these worlds and love having lots of info about them! But codex entries feel like the wrong way to present the information much of the time.

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