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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).

PLEASE NOTE: HERE BE SPOILERS!

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

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Taste of Death

The third Daedric quest I performed, entitled The Taste of Death, proved to be the most disturbing quest I have undertaken so far.  Part of my discomfort comes from the focus of the quest itself -- cannibalism -- but also from a new kind of behavior that I have begun to exhibit when dealing with Daedric cultists.

The quest began when I agreed to clear out Markarth's Hall of the Dead at the request of Brother Verulus, a Priest of Arkay; apparently, some of the bodies had been partially eaten, which offends both the Divine and the loved ones of the deceased.  I suspected draugr when I entered, so I was surprised when this happened:
Nope.
Eola went on to explain that her little group of cannabalistic Namira (Daedric Prince of rot and decay) worshippers had been forced to relocate form their usual feasting spot in Reachcliff Cave when the dead started biting back (draugr, most likely).  She agreed to leave the Markarth Hall of the Dead alone if I helped her retake Reachcliff.  I thought briefly about killing her, then a few possibilities occurred to me: 1.) I like ridding the world of draugr, and 2.) if there were more people like Eola, I wanted to know about it.

Clearing out the cave was challenging, but not unduly so.  The interesting part happened after I defeated the boss draugr.  Eola thanked me, then told me that, for my initiation into the coven, I would be required to bring a fresh kill back to the cave -- Brother Verulus, specifically.  There were, of course, two obvious problems with that idea: 1.) I did not plan to become a cannibal anytime soon, and even if I did, 2.) I was not going to murder someone in order to do it.  As strange as this may sound, it was not the prospect of eating human flesh that troubled me most; after all, what is Christian Communion other than an image of cannibalism?  It was the second part -- murder -- that tore it for me.  There was no way that I was going to trick a decent man, a man who had been nothing but good to me, a man who had trusted me with the cleansing of his Hall of the Dead, into being the main dish at a cannabal pot-luck.

Nevertheless, I decided to go along with Eola's plan; I wasn't going to let anything happen to Brother Verulus, but I wanted to see who else was in this coven.  As it turned out, this Cult of Namira comprised a veritable cross-section of Markarth society, including a shopkeeper, Lisbet, for whom I was in the middle of a minor miscellaneous quest: 
Lisbet's not getting her stupid statue back.
Verulus obediently came along with me, and when we entered the "dining hall," Eola used her magic-enhanced powers of persuasion to lead him to the sacrificial altar.  When the befuddled Verulus lay down, Eola offered me the chance to make the kill. 

Throughout most of this quest, I had been considering what I should do with these cannibals.  If they were simply eating the bodies of the dead, I'm not sure what I would have done; necrophagy alone is offensive, but does it warrant extermination?  In this case, however, there was no doubt that these cultists were willing to kill innocent people in order to satisfy their twisted hunger.  Therefore, at the moment I was to sacrifice Brother Verulus, I turned my weapons on the "diners" and killed every single one of them -- including Lisbet (I'm now stuck with the statuette I had agreed to retrieve for her).

Morally speaking, this was a thorny scenario. Because there was no "go to the authorities" option for this quest, my choices were to participate in the ritual, ignore the ritual and walk away, or kill everyone at the feast.  Clearly, I wasn't going to participate, but walking away would be almost as bad; how could I turn a blind eye to this outrage?  Killing the cultists was the option most in line with my moral outlook.  The nagging misgiving I have about my actions, however, arises from the manner in which dealt with the cannibals.  First, I purposely deceived Eola and her friends in order to kill them.  Second, I used Brother Verulus in order to gain the trust of the cult; although he lives through the experience, he is a changed man afterwards.  The question that follows: even in a game like this one, in which fights to the death are common, how dark will I get in order to maintain my sense of moral justice?

I should also point out that this was the first quest I purposely failed.  Had I killed Verulus and fed on him, I would have gained another Daedric artifact.  Not only did I lose out on a powerful item, I am also now unable to unlock the "Oblivion Walker" achievement.  Sometimes, playing with attention to moral agency has a gameplay price. 

35 comments:

  1. Totally agreed with you. I could not make this quest. It is completely disturbing and unnecessary. So I picked up the option to onslaught all of these wicked people. :P

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  2. When I killed them, I made sure to use my vampiric form. I figured they would appreciate the irony of being devoured.

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  3. This quest is horrible. I did the same as you. I figured I'd go along with it until they outed themselves. Then I slaughtered them all. No reward but my own satisfaction that they're all dead. Ugh. Daedra... They can be such a pain sometimes.

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    1. I have come to really resent the Daedra. Their quests, more than any other type, leave me feeling manipulated.

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    2. That's pretty much the idea. The Daedra - even the relatively "goodish" ones - are very much in the mold of seeing mortals as playing pieces. In this respect, it makes sense that if you follow their quests, they have you hopping through hoops, all the while chuckling. And at the end, they give you a little toy for being such a good doggy.

      On a personal note, I've just found this blog and I'm very fond of it so far.

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  4. Thanks for the write up, I've been playing my 1st ever run of Skyrim and this mission had me at odds as to what to do, it felt so very wrong to slay a good and innocent person, Oh morality!

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    1. I'm really not even comfortable with tricking Verulus, even though I ultimately saved him and killed the cannibals.

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  5. I feel exactly the way most people here have felt about this quest, and I really appreciate all the options & alternatives you all have found.

    I had planned on just toting verulus around with me for the rest of the game since I couldn't bear the idea of handing him over to the Cannibal Corps (even if he hadn't been amazingly useful as an unkillable priest, lol). So I was kind of freaked out when I went to return Lisbet's statue to her and walked in on the little surprise feast. 0_o
    I was reassured to find out that by choosing to fail the quest and offing some cannibals I could send Verulus back to Markarth, sadder but wiser. Good tradeoff, seems to me...
    ^_^

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    1. I admire your willingness to host a permanent follower in order to save him from being eaten!

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  6. Thanks for this blog. I'm on my second run through the game and going a completely different route. I took issue with some of the Daedric quests and Dark Brotherhood due to the murder themes. I "failed" the Namira quest like most on this thread because I could not bring myself to murder, cannibalize and join the disgusting coven just for a ring. The lack of morality could be loosely argued in the previous two installments since the daedric influence was all over Morrowind and Cyrodiil due to the blight and gates of Oblivion. For Skyrim I feel it's unfortunately gratuitous which is why, as stated previously, I've been "failing" at these types of quests. :-)

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    1. Sometimes I wish the Vigilants of Stendarr were a joinable faction. That way, the more egregious quests could not only be failed, but turned toward a more moral outcome.

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  7. Great blog. Stumbled upon it when i was searching to see what other people have done in this situation.. I'm in the hall of the dead now just meeting eola for the first time and she creeped me out badly.. i kind of want to just put an end to her right now but i think I'll go along with it for a while so i can take them all out later ;) I also have a blog.. only recently started it but if you have a minute I'd definitely appreciate you having a look :) I reviewed ac4 most recently but my first article talks about gaming and what it has meant to me throughout my life. I know some people see gaming as just a pass time or as something childish but gaming truly helped me through some very hard times in my life.. anyway I talk about things like that in it.. If it sounds interesting it's at www.mylifewithgaming.wordpress.com

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    1. Thanks, Mitchell. I had also thought about offing Eola right away, but when she mentioned that there were others, I wasn't about to let that go unexamined.

      I checked out your blog, and I really enjoyed your first post in particular. Your story is both moving and inspirational, and it speaks to the value of taking games seriously. I really hope that you write more posts like that first one.

      I've taken the liberty of linking your site on my blog roll. I do hope that's ok!

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  8. I just stumbled across this blog when looking for Skyrim picture references of all things, and it's really quite interesting to read. While this particular post is from forever ago, I felt like I should add my two cents on the whole Namira quest. Heck, maybe it will give you ideas for the 2nd playthrough.

    My wood elf character is... morally grey to say the least. She's a thief and will do basically anything for wealth and "unique" items, and she is willing kill anyone if she has a personal problem with them, but she wasn't quite evil enough to join the Brotherhood. Eating the priest, however... well, she really wanted that ring. He died. She felt a little guilt, but she has a very strong "past is in the past" mentality. It was my post-quest actions that I thought were fairly creative.

    Cannibalism in the Green Pact- which my elf doesn't follow but is very familiar with- can be defended because A) they're slain enemies, not killed for food and B) if anything, it's a sort of respect from the Bosmer point of view. Namira's cannibalism is the exact opposite, and my elf found it abhorrent. She played along, ate the priest, got the ring, told Eola she felt sick and left. Then I made a list. Lisbet and Banning will both give you sidequests. I befriend them, then put the Ebony Blade in their backs. The meat merchant dies in his room at the inn. Eola herself accompanies me on a little adventure to the shrine of Boethia, then she gets the Blade too. One final trip to the "dining hall" and both the mage cultists die before they realize what is happening. Namira's entire cult is eradicated, most in the name of other daedra. Now they know how poor Brother Verulus felt.

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    1. I really like both the irony of your solution and your incorporation of the Green Pact. I have to play an orthodox Bosmer, but your reply has made me really want to try it.

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    2. Don't you find it a bit hypocritical to take vengeance on other people for your own act of murder?

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    3. Don't you find it a bit hypocritical to take vengeance on other people for your own act of murder?

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  9. I brought Verulus to the table. I killed him, ate from him. I received the ring of Namira and got admitted to their little cult. Then I killed everyone else at the table (starting from Eola because she was the toughest of the lot) because cannibalism is bad. Ate the flesh of one or two of them to keep my regen and health up during the fight.

    Btw my character was a female Redguard thief. I didn't know of the Green pact Ravenfire13 spoke of at the time.

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  10. LOL I killed Eola immeadiately! I just said NOPE... you die!

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    1. If you don't mind, may I ask you to explain your rationale?

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  11. After a lot of thinking I ended up feasting. The things I'll do for an achievement. Plus I wanted that gold back. I'm an altmar anyway soooo

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  12. I play as a Werewolf.. so the line is even coleser.. the decion not so clear of what you truly are.. well i will kill them in my werewolf form and feast from there fleash, that would suit them well..

    what i wounderd.. do you feel a connection to gaming and real live? maybe a bit a realistic context.. If you played all the thiefs guild line and you go out after that.. would you have lesser hold back to steal? very nice Blog mate!

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  13. Right now I'm playing a savage character. He worships Hircine and Nameria. He's a Werewolf who has been consumed by his beast side. It makes things interesting. Plus the benefits for being a Werewolf and having Nameria's ring is nice. Though I could understand why some don't like this quest, me I didn't have a problem with it all even when not on this character. None of my characters have been morally good. They've all done whatever they wanted without regard of the lives of others around them. Try to kill a Vampire and Lydia gets in the way? I'll kill Lydia and then kill the Vampire.

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  14. I found it hilarious that the game actually gave me the option of becoming a cannibal, so I went along with it. It's a hilarious quest. Maybe not your cup of tea, oh well, that just means there's more for me.

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  15. I found it hilarious that the game actually gave me the option of becoming a cannibal, so I went along with it. It's a hilarious quest. Maybe not your cup of tea, oh well, that just means there's more for me.

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  17. You know I was disturbed by it as well... but if you are a werewolf then it's not really as twisted so I became a werewolf and chowed down... lol. Just some food for thought (pun intended).

    Oh yeah and when you think about it being a vampire it also a cannibalistic so maybe become one of the other eat the flesh and find a cure if you really want to get the ring.

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  18. I killed verulius and ate him love the ring of namira by the way its perfect for the archer im building it increased my stamina by 50 points and anytime i feast on human flesh it augments my health by a bit for every geast before it wears off and increases health regeneration as well

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  20. I had the good luck of doing this quest as a Khajiit. As a predator species, I had no qualms about eating human flesh, then tracking down and killing all of the cult members later on.

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  21. Dang! I had no idea about the green pact when I started as a wood elf. Guess I'm doomed to the Ooze.

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  22. You're Dragonborn. You have dragon blood running through your veins. Morality matters should not be so overrated in this game. Dragons are known to enslave, destroy and (I'm pretty sure) feast on people in Skyrim. And you have the same soul as them. Daedric Quests are supposed to remember you of that :P

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  23. I'm late to the party because I'm just now playing Skyrim (so many years late but life happened & I loved Oblivion). I hate this quest & stumbled on your blog while checking to see how I could put a stop to the cannibal coven, because that's disgusting. So many other boards have people okay with it. Makes me I'll. Then again, I don't play as vampires, and I was blindly forced to be a werewolf... who never transformed before cure.

    Thanks for letting me know I can deal with these guys. I hate the daedra quests on Skyrim. In oblivion, you choose to go to their shrine & accept a quest. On this game, you're mostly deceived into doing it by thinking you're helping someone. For example, I was doing the love quests for Mara in Markarth & the priest of Stendarr auto-pulled me into conversation. I'm like, why wouldn't I help this guy stop a daedra? Then I end up killing him. I refused Molag so then he turned the priest on me. Made me sick. Then (I loathe Hircine since Morrowind) after curing myself of Lycanthropy, I try to help a grieving father about his little girl only to be pulled in a quest for Hircine. Geezer.

    I don't know why developers think everyone wants to be bad, but considering what comments I see on other boards, maybe we're the minority. Thanks for giving me hope.

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