Please read this first.

Welcome! This blog is devoted to considerations of morality in the The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim by Bethesda. Rather than a fansite, review, or walkthrough, it is a serious attempt to examine the game through a moral lens. Please note that the purpose of this blog is to discuss morality within the context of the game, not to determine whether playing the game is immoral in and of itself; the latter type of "discussion" tends toward tedium and inhibits, rather than promotes, a meaningful conversation.

If you have not visited this blog before, it might be helpful to read the posts labeled "Orientation," most of which are the first few entries in the blog archive (see right). These posts include a short introduction to this project, a content-specific author bio, and a few other pieces that explain key concepts relevant to this study. These posts are of particular use to those readers less familiar with Skyrim (or video games in general).


If you have visited this blog before, thanks and welcome back!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Story So Far

My interest in TES V: Skyrim began when I caught the live-action trailer:

It had a been a while since a video game commanded my attention (Minecraft), but Skyrim promised the kind of in-game storytelling that I love, in a fantasy setting reminiscent of the AD&D campaigns of my youth.  My long-suffering and ever-generous wife bought me the Xbox version for Christmas, and I have been playing consistently since then.

In a previous post, I established the importance of plot and backstory in my approach to gaming.  The conventions of fiction are important enough to me that I will "fill in the blanks" if a game does not provide a rich enough storyline.  When playing Street Fighter II, for example, I amused myself by inventing a plot arc for each character that not only explained his or her ending but also how each battle leads up to that ending: Blanka's search for his mother takes him from Brazil to the Soviet Union, where he is captured and must fight his way out of the gulag in order to find the next clue, and so on.  From the trailer alone, I could tell that Skyrim offered the fictional elements that make playing a game worthwhile for me.

As in TES titles, the PC starts out as a prisoner, which places the character in the position of an anonymous outsider.  As Skyrim begins, you wake up on a cart, being transported to your execution.  Through conversation with the other “passengers,” you learn that with civil war looming, the Empire is taking no chances with strangers crossing the border into Skyrim.  In fact, the gagged figure to your left is none other than Ulfric Stormcloak himself, who killed High King Torygg then escaped from Solitude, the seat of power in Skyrim’s Haafingar Hold.  Also in the cart is another Stormcloak rebel and a common thief; the fact that all of you face the death penalty throws into high relief the draconian nature of Imperial justice, and sets up the first major choice point in the game.  As you are led off the cart, Nord Legionnaire Hadvar asks you for your name; it is at this point that you create your character.  Given that fact that you will soon discover that your PC is none other than the long-anticipated Dragonborn (“Dovahkiin” in dragon tongue) – a mortal with the soul of a dragon – it is noteworthy that this messianic figure could be a mortal of any race or gender; it also means that the game leaves the Dragonborn's backstory as open as it does the race, gender, and name.

Given my penchant for storytelling in games, it should come as no surprise that character creation took me quite a while.  As I often do, I created an avatar that depicts an idealized version of myself, this time inserted into the TES context. I made him a Nord because I wanted my PC to face internal conflict with regard to the civil war.  I named him Lothar Ironfoot, which reflects a hodgepodge of influences.  "Lothar" is a Germanic name meaning "famous warrior," but it is also an homage to one of my favorite Saturday Night Live sketches, Lothar of the Hill People.  "Ironfoot" is a surname that uses the Nord kenning-like patronym tradition (Battle-Born, Snow-Shod, Stonearm, etc.) to suggest a wanderer, which fits the PC's opening "crime."  Lothar's backstory is that his parents were both Nords in the Imperial Legion who died in the Battle of the Red Ring when he was a young boy (which makes him about 30 when the game starts).  After the death of his parents, he was raised by an old Imperial blacksmith, a friend of his parents (I retconned this part after meeting Alvor and deciding to level up in Smithing first).  When his surrogate father passed away, Lothar, now a teenager with no family and no further ties to Cyrodiil, began to make his way in the world as an wanderer, doing odd jobs here and there.  Eventually, he decided to "return" to his parents' homeland, which leads to the conditions and the start of the game.

I was a good way into to Skyrim before I decided to conduct a coherent study of moral agency in the game, so most of the posts will discuss quests I have already completed.  At this writing, Lothar has reached level 44, and my style of play has favored the Warrior skill type, with my work in the Mage skill set focusing on Destruction and Enchanting, and my work in the Thief set empasizing Sneak and Alchemy.  I am a little more than halfway done with the main questline, but I recently completed the Companions questline, and have begun the Imperial Legion, Bards College, College of Winterhold, and Thieves Guild questlines, going back to each occasionally.

Although this study is not meant to be a "novelization" of my gameplay (a surprisingly popular form of fan fiction), there are some narrative elements extant in my treatment of moral agency in the game.  I have organized the relevant quests in a rough chronological order, so a kind of plot might well develop, but this effect is mostly unintentional.  Therefore, I will begin my account with the quest entitled Unbound.

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