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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!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Main Quest: Finale

Special thanks to Kurt Kuhlmann for pointing out some factual errors in an earlier version of this post!

After Paarthurnax, the Main Quest provides very few opportunities for moral agency.  Capturing Odahviing, travelling to Skuldafn, visiting Sovngarde, and defeating Alduin are all dramatic and engaging quests, but they present no significant moral quandaries.  There are, however, some events that bear further examination.

The latter part of the Main Quest reveals that not all of the dragons share Alduin's views. During The Fallen, I learned the shout that summons Odahviing, thus providing me another opportunity to converse with a dragon.  Odahviing is an active ally of Alduin, but when we captured him, he agreed to help me track down the World-Eater in exchange for his own freedom.  Because of his dialogue, Odahviing comes off as an opportunist who betrays Alduin not on principle, but on the likelihood that the Dovahkiin will defeat him:

Once Alduin is defeated, Odahviing pledges to aid the Dragonborn whenever he calls; he is not, however, another Paarthurnax, who promises to teach the pacifist Way of the Voice to all of the dragons he can convince.

He might actually succeed, as Paarthurnax and Odahviing are not the only non-hostile dragons in the game.  Until Skuldafn, I had never encountered a non-NPC dragon that did not attack the moment it detected me (or anyone else for that matter).  At Skuldafn, however, I ran into a dragon who, despite being perched directly above the portal to Sovngarde and witnessing my defeat of his comrades, did not attack.  He watched me closely, but made no aggressive moves at all.  Given my experience with Paarthurnax and Odahviing, I decided to hold back, and it began to dawn on me that all of the dragons (not just the named ones) might be morally complex creatures who are as apt to choose "the high road" as their mortal counterparts.  Perhaps this moral range explains why, at the Throat of the World, dragons can be seen celebrating the World-Eater's fall. 

As it turns out, the complicated moral tableau presented at the portal to Sovngarde was reflected on the other side as well.  While the scenes inside the Hall of Valor are interesting from a cultural perspective (of course Nords brawl in Heaven!), the encounters before I met Tsun were the most enlightening:

  • Kodlak: It was satisfying to see Kodlak in his beloved Sovngarde.  Even though he had assured me that the purification was successful, I was happy to see the results for myself.

  • Torygg: The High King's dialogue suggests that the popular story that Ulfric "shouted him to pieces" is closer to the truth than Ulfric's account, but I'm not sure if this is an important distinction.

  • Ulfric: This was by far the most substantial encounter in Sovngarde.  First, it appears that Ulfric's ascent to the Nord Paradise has erased any animosity he might harbor for the man who killed him in battle.  Second, Ulfric expresses a profound and sincere regret for his part in Skyrim's strife.  He stops short of saying that he was wrong, but his sadness is undeniable.  I suspect that, if he had the opportunity to  do it all again, he would probably try harder to convince Torygg of the need for secession, rather than kill him.  This conversation confirmed both my decision to support the Empire and my respect for Jarl Ulfric.

As for the final battle with Alduin, there is little of moral significance to examine, with the possible exception of the emphasis on unified effort.  In order to defeat the World-Eater, I had to join forces with the heroes of old -- perhaps an object lesson on the necessity of community.  Now that I think about it, that may be the best moral for a war-torn Skyrim after all.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, there's the strong likelihood that there are other complex and strong personalities among the dragons, despite many of them simply serving as antagonists to our own protagonist.

    I think Ulfric would have run into the same issue had the High King sided with him, since the Empire would have opposed them in any event; I think he feels the weight of Alduin's real danger to Nirn since he sees it for himself.

    Ulfric and Torygg may both remember what happened differently (which is an issue with recollections). I don't think either one is trying to be disingenuous to the main character.

    That neither side in the civil war is villainous is one of the great things about Skyrim; they even fleshed out the animosity held by the Forsworn against the Jarl of Markarth and the existing institution controlling the Hold.