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, February 23, 2013

Thieves’ Guild (Taking Care of Business)

After my impressive display of thieving skills in the marketplace, Brynjolf invited me to the Ragged Flagon, the Guild’s hangout underneath the city.  There, he finally gave me all of the information I was looking for; he directed me to where Esbern was hiding and he introduced me to Vex, the Guild member who knew about the Stones of Berenziah.  Eager to advance my progress in the main quest, I spoke to Vex quickly, then set about finding Esbern deep in the Ratways under Riften.  I will detail that adventure in another post.  For now, it is enough to note the delay itself; as I pointed out earlier, my ambivalence led me to postpone the next quest in the Thieves’ Guild line until I finally concluded that leading this third crucial faction was necessary.
In order to become I full-fledged member of the Guild, I would have to complete several jobs, the first of which was to collect three debts from local business owners.  Brynjolf made it clear that he preferred non-violent methods (my first hint that there was more to the Guild than crime), but that I was free to do whatever was necessary.   

The biggest hurdle for me here was the nature of the debts.  If the Guild was shaking down local shopkeepers for protection money, then I really couldn’t justify collecting the “debts.”  If, on the other hand, these were voluntary loans (albeit to a loan shark), I could probably manage to collect the money in a morally palatable way.  Unfortunately, the game provides little clarification on this issue.  Like most of the citizens of Riften, all three business owners seem a little on the shady side.  On the other hand, their complaints about the Guild could be read as an indicator of extortion.  I decided to give Brynjolf the benefit of the doubt.

The first debt I collected came from Keevara, the Argonian innkeeper.  In my pre-Guild procrastination, I had helped her boyfriend, Talen-Jei, assemble an engagement ring, so I felt bad about having to lean on her.  Still, Keevara is not a very pleasant woman, and I had a sure-fire, non-violent method to get the money.  Talen-Jei had told me how worried she was about her family, who lived on a farm just beyond the Morrowind border.  As soon as I mentioned them to her, she handed over the money right away.  I suppose that what I did was technically a threat, but I never went beyond implying that I knew of her family’s whereabouts nor did I have any intention of doing anything to these people, so I think I remained in the grey on this one.  She fulfilled her obligation without anyone being harmed in any way.  I must admit, however, that Talen-Jei’s habit of alternately thanking me for helping me with the ring, then berating me for what I did to Keevara is rather distressing.

The second debt was easier on my conscience.  Bersi Honey-Hand, the owner of the Pawned Prawn, caved as soon as I destroyed his prized Dwemer urn.  I have a much higher tolerance for destruction of property than I do for other kinds of violence; things are merely things and can be replaced, and if this thing was so important, I would think that Bersi would have stopped me well before I destroyed it.  I threatened to break it, then I hit it several times, thus giving him every opportunity to pay up before I shattered it.  

The final debt was easier still.  Haelga, owner of Haelga’s Bunkhouse, is pretty clearly a madam and/or a prostitute, and, as I found out by talking to some of the girls in her employ (including her niece!), not a very nice one at that.  Threatening to drop her statue of Dibella down a well was all it took to get her to cough up the money.  Given Haelga's profession and disposition, I had no qualms about collecting from her.

In case you missed the "pretty clearly a madam and/or a prostitute" part.
Without a doubt, my behavior in this quest was the most "grey" it has been so far in this playthrough.  While I had certainly done some questionable and even some bad things, this quest presented a very murky picture for me.  Unlike previous quests in which I had to decide whether or whom to kill, this quest asked whether I would commit nonviolent acts of a potentially criminal nature against people with whom I had no real quarrel.  Were it not for my desire to join the Thieves' Guild, I doubt that I would have engaged in these actions.  While I could dismiss Riften as a "wretched hive of scum and villainy" (with apologies to Star Wars fans everywhere), I feared that I might have to commit more serious crimes in places that I actually loved, such as Whiterun.

Not surprisingly, the next few quests pushed my boundaries a little further.


  1. Upon re-reading this post, I realized that I failed to address the "brawl" option here. When dealing with Keevara, I considered brawling with her in order to settle the debt; as I suggested in a previous post, in a harsh environment such as Skyrim, a fistfight becomes more of a negotiating strategy than an act of violence. Still, I decided that the best option was the nonviolent one, even if it involved implied threats of violence. If I'm being honest, I'm still not sure if that was the more morally defensible choice.

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