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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).


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

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Thieves' Guild (A Chance Arrangement)

For the moral agent, the Thieves’ Guild questline provides a veritable minefield of ethical problems.  I almost did not join the Guild for precisely that reason, but as I revealed in a previous post, I thought that joining was necessary for completing the main quest and that the Dragonborn should tie together as many factions as possible; while I was mistaken about the first point, I still stand firmly by the second.

Joining the Thieves’ Guild involved going to Riften – a town so rife with corruption that the first guard I met tried (unsuccessfully) to shake me down before I even passed the gates.  Once inside, I met a proud warrior name Mjoll the Lioness who lamented the dissolute influence of the Guild on the town, and vowed to bring the thieves to justice.  Eventually, I asked the right person the right question, and learned where I could find Brynjolf -- a friendly, high-ranking thief who could lead me to Esbern (the former Blade who would help me defeat Alduin) and who could provide the information I needed in order to solve the mystery of the Stones of Barenziah I kept finding all across Skyrim.   Brynjolf’s help, however, came at a price: I needed to help him frame a Dunmer merchant named Brand-Shei who had been making trouble for the Guild – the same Dunmer merchant whom I had helped with a personal matter just the other day.

The task was designed to not only eliminate a potential threat, but also to test my Sneak, Lockpicking, and Pickpocket skills.  While Brynjolf distracted the shoppers in the marketplace, I was to break into a jeweler’s strong box, steal a necklace, then plant the necklace on Brand-Shei – all in broad daylight.  When I completed the task, the town guard arrested Brand-Shei and Brynjolf gave me the information I needed, and then invited me to join the Guild.

The moral ramifications here are obvious.  I committed a crime and sent an innocent man – one whom I had befriended earlier – to jail. What follows is a list of rationalizations:
  1. I (mistakenly) believed that I needed to join the Guild in order to complete the main quest.
  2. I (mistakenly) believed that I needed to complete the crime successfully in order to join the Guild.
  3. I figured that Brand-Shei would eventually be found innocent or simply allowed to serve a short sentence and be released.  I was wrong, but this appears to be a bug; he is scripted to leave the jail after 10 days, but he has not left to date (several in-game weeks later).
  4. I figured that, if the above turned about to be incorrect, I could break him out of jail.  Wrong again; even when I open the door, he won’t leave.
Sorry, dude.
All four rationalizations are troubling. The first is a purely utilitarian argument: sacrificing one man’s freedom for the greater good.  The second points to a desire to please that trumps conscience: assuming that Brynjolf would reject me if I didn’t succeed.  The third softens the first: Brand-Shei would only suffer a minor inconvenience relative to the greater good.  The fourth suggests that I would be willing to break another law in order to “undo” a previous crime.  The most galling aspect of the whole affair is that all four rationalizations were based on faulty information.  I other words, if I had paid attention better, I could have avoided the Guild entirely, and if I had chosen to fail Brynjolf’s task (as I had already done in several Daedric quests), I could have joined the Guild without framing poor old Brand-Shei.

Not surprisingly, the next few quests further complicated matters.

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