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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).

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Dawnguard



Dawnguard is undoubtedly one of my favorite questlines.  The plot smacks of Greek drama, the main characters are poignant and well-written (Serana in particular), and the surprises are truly shocking (Snow Elves!).  That said, I have a hard time writing about it from a moral perspective because the only major decision point in the game (Dawnguard or Volkihar?) involves a choice I had made much earlier in the game, and the more in-depth treatment of vampires in the DLC offers nothing that would cause me to change my mind.

My outlook on vampires was formed initially by my experiences during Laid to Rest and solidified by way of comparison during the Companions questline.   In short, whereas NPC werewolves are depicted as loyal, honorable, and in control of their condition, vampires come off as manipulative, self-centered, and unable to help themselves.  While the player may certainly attempt to run a restrained and responsible vampire, joining the Volkihar would be a bridge too far for Lothar’s moral profile.  Keeping human cattle and blotting out the sun are not really my wheelhouse.

To extend the contrast between lycanthropy and vampirism further, consider the relevant Daedric Princes – Hircine and Molag Bal, respectively.  While neither of them are model citizens, the latter seems less evil than the former.  Hircine presents as a single-minded purist who cares only for the hunt and little for the collateral damage it may cause.  Like the natural order, he may be ruthless and destructive, but is rarely malicious unless personally offended.  We hear reports of werewolf attacks, but we never actually see the Companions doing anything dishonorable.  Molag Bal, on the other hand, delights in the rape, subjugation, and torture of others.  He is malice personified, and his progeny (for the most part) seem to follow suit.

In other words, there was no way I was going to join the vampires.  Still, I think the Dawnguard faction had potential for some moral dilemmas that Bethesda never invested in.  Isran in particular struck me as a character who might ask me to cross some lines.  He reeks of zealotry, so I can easily envision him giving me an order to, say, torture a captive vampire.

You...you guys see the torture stuff, right...guys?
Alternately, what if the Dawnguard discovers a nest of vampires that are behaving themselves -- restricting their feeding to spouses, followers, and other non-thrall volunteers, for example.  Should we wipe them out?  The ex-Vigilant of Stendarr (a faction that always creeped me out a little) would likely say yes, but what if the Dragonborn was given the option of saying no and possibly standing up to Isran?  I would then have to think more carefully about my cooperation with the Dawnguard..  Precedent for this kind of objective exists in the game, and casting a shadow on the faction one has joined makes for good role-playing.  I realize that Dawnguard is DLC, and therefore not expected to be as robust as the main game, but I still think Bethesda missed a opportunity for moral complexity in an otherwise excellent questline.

The only other potential moral dilemma concerns the Soul Cairn -- a setting which partially answers some of the questions I asked in an earlier article.  I will reconsider the morality of soul gems in the next post.

4 comments:

  1. I enjoyed the Dawnguard questline, and I loved Serana. As a follower, she complains a lot - she hates the sun, she doesn't like the rain and she gets really sarcastic about the snow. She doesn't like being outdoors, she doesn't like going into caves. It's really hard to please her.

    But it turns out, a mildly unpleasant personality is way better than no personality at all, which is what all the other followers have... I wish she were marriable, but on reflection that would probably be quite anticlimactic.

    Ahem. As I was saying...

    I think there are a couple of moral choices that you're overlooking. First, there are (at least) two creatures in the Soul Cairn - the horse Arvak (sp?), and the dragon Durnheviir - who want nothing more than the occasional break from the monotony to return to Tamriel briefly, and you have the power to grant them that. So should you?

    To me Arvak seems a no-brainer - but he's also, when you get right down to it, a horse, so the moral good of getting him out on day release is - no disrespect intended to horses, but it's not the same as jailbreaking a human. Durnheviir is more ambiguous - he's a dragon, and a necromancer, and he arguably deserves more than most to be stuck exactly where he is. What do you think?

    The other, more interesting choice concerns Serana's mother. Once Harkon is dead, you have the option to return to the Soul Cairn and tell Valerica it's safe to return. Should you?

    I thought hard about this one. On the one hand, she's a vampire and a necromancer - and in general I pretty much bar helping either of these groups. On the other hand, she helped me, and she genuinely cares for Serana - and Serana seems to care for her.

    So here, again, my 'personal loyalty' ideal starts to nag at me. By the end of the quest I think Serana has earned a favour, and this is something I can give her.

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    1. I was not aware of the option to return to the Soul Cairn to speak with Valerica. I will probably go back and do that -- I agree that Serana deserves such a favor.

      As for Durnheviir, I feel as though summoning him is more of a furlough than a jailbreak. He has to return to the Soul Cairn each time -- in some ways, summoning him risks being even crueler than leaving him alone.

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  2. For me I was very much a daedric artifact user. Adorning myself in the armor of daedra acquired through treachery (a corrupted soul gem to put harkon in to create a vampire slaying weapon, meridias blade, ebony mail and the mask of a Faustian daedra) The only was not being a devoted servant of Molag Bal as a vampire. You are the evil influence of the dawnguard.

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    1. I'm not sure I follow you here. Are you talking about being the "dark side" of the Dawnguard?

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