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!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The World of Skyrim: Overview

Like many fantasy action-adventure RPGs, The Elder Scrolls (TES) series takes place  in a “swords-and-sorcery” setting that borrows heavily from the Lord of the Rings saga. At the risk of giving both Tolkien and Bethesda short shrift, I offer the following chart as a summary of the correlation among the one real and the two fictional universes:

Physical Universe
Eurasian Continent
Middle Earth/Midgard/Endor

Tamriel, like Middle Earth, is a land that physically resembles the Eurasian continent – complete with green forests, imposing mountain ranges, foreboding wastelands, and so own.  The standard laws of physics apply as closely as each game’s graphics engine can handle, and the natural elements are close approximations of their real-world counterparts – gold comes from ore that must be mined, bears might be found wandering in the woods, cabbages can be pulled from the ground to make soup.  In most aspects, Tamriel (like Middle Earth) operates very much like Eurasia during the Iron and Middle Ages.

A map of Tolkien's Middle Earth featuring important scenes from the saga
A map of Bethesda's Tamriel, featuring the settings of several TES games
The immense popularity of The Elder Scrolls over the past eighteen years and the internal complexity of the games’ storylines (five main titles and twelve subsidiary titles) have generated an extensive back story for the entire series, patched together by the combined efforts of the games’ designers and fans.  Most of the action in all of the titles in the series takes place on the continent of Tamriel, although other geographical and mythological locations are part of the copious lore of the games. After Arena, which allows the player to tour all of Tamriel, the subsequent titles tend to limit themselves to one nation or another. Skyrim, the focal point of this study, is located in the northernmost part of the Tamriel landmass.  Its topography, climate, and native population is most reminiscent of Iron Age Scandinavia, and its predominate culture is a barely-fictionalized version of the Viking civilization (e.g. the Norse Valhalla becomes the Nordic Sovngarde), but with much greater overlap with other Tamrielic cultures.

The most obvious difference between our world and that of LOTR/TES is the presence of magic.  Although every culture, story, and game that includes magic has its own set of rules and motifs, magic itself is a nearly universal concept and does not require a lengthy explanation.  Some of the more detailed issues that arise from the use of magic in the TES universe, such as the presence of magical creatures and divine entities, are addressed in other parts of this study.

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