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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, November 4, 2013

A Daedra's Best Friend

This Daedric quest features only one moral dilemma, so for the sake of brevity, I’ll cut straight to it: 

I had been wary of dealing with Clavicus ViIe from the beginning, and refused to make any sort of deal with him for fear of being Tamriel’s next Faust.  When the time came to make a choice, I chose to spare Barbas.  He had been loyal to his master despite Vile’s dreadful behavior, and he had proven to be a faithful and brave companion during our brief adventure. There was no way I was going to turn on him now.  Even though Barbas was himself a Daedra, he seemed to be a decent sort, even if his best friend was a particularly nasty Daedric Prince.  Furthermore, it seemed that doing the opposite of what Vile wanted would be the safest course of action, so I reunited Barbas and his master, relinquished the Rueful Axe, and obtained Vile’s Masque.

His master's voice?
It wasn’t until later that I realized a potential error in my thinking.  The Rueful Axe is not a terribly powerful weapon, especially as Daedric artifacts go, but Vile seemed very glad to have it back; he declared that he could “have a lot of fun” with it.  Along the same lines, had he not also admitted that he was less powerful without Barbas?  In granting the dog’s request, had I inadvertently restored a dangerous Daedric Prince to full power and returned one of his favorite weapons to boot?

I’ve mentioned Kant in this blog before, and I think that a Kantian moral lens might be instructive here.  My intention was to perform a favor for a being in need: Barbas.  According to my reading of Kant, the fact that Barbas’s friend is the Elder Scrolls version of Mephistopheles should not enter into my decision, nor should the possibility that reuniting the two might have damaging consequences for someone else down the line.  Still, I feel as though I have once again been manipulated by the Daedra.


  1. Do remember though that Barbas was Vile's conscience. While reuniting those two may have made Vile more powerful than before, doing so has also served to make him less actively malevolent. A daedric prince is a hard thing to kill, and such a thing isn't possible at any point in Skyrim anyway, so pacifying them is often the best we can do.

    Glad to see this blog back.

  2. Thanks! I see your point, but it just seemed to me that Vile was more limited, and therefore less dangerous, without Barbas.

    1. Actually, I believe, though I'm not 100% positive, that his eagerness to give you the axe and have you kill Barbas, is because he gains all his power back without having the conscience of Barbas. So the best outcome for the mortal world is to give Vile the axe. I realize the Dragonborn can't necessarily know that, but Vile's untrustworthy and cutesy tone is enough for me to go against his obvious wishes.

  3. Doggies are cute (well, I actually don't consider dogs to be particularly cute, but their model in Skyrim certainly is), and that's why I instinctively shuddered away from killing Barbas or from not fulfilling his request.

    I wonder whether I would have the same reaction if Barbas took the form of a Scamp, as he does in Morrowind. Cuteness plays an important role in such moments (although Barbas does appear to prefer his canine form to other ones).

    1. Good question, and I would add the humor angle as well. Barbas is one of the few truly funny characters in Skyrim, which goes a long way to getting on my good side.