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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, November 16, 2013

Bend Will

During The Fallen, I learned the shout that calls Odahviing, thus allowing me to summon that particular dragon as an ally in battle.  Although the original exchange between the Dovahkiin and Odahviing involves a certain degree of trickery, the Call Dragon shout does not actually subvert the will of the dragon.  Odahviing responds to the call first out of curiosity and hubris, and after Dragonslayer he responds out of respect for the power of the Dovahkiin's superior Thu'um.  In other words, Odahviing's response to Call Dragon is (from a role-playing perspective) voluntary.  
 The Dragonborn DLC adds a wrinkle to the Call Dragon shout with the introduction of the Bend Will shout.  Using Bend Will allows me to force any dragon, hostile or otherwise, not only to fight alongside me, but also to allow me to ride it as my temporary steed.

The use of this shout evokes a minor ethical question: is it morally acceptable to compel an enemy to fight on your side? On the surface, the question might seem frivolous; after all, if killing a dragon is acceptable, why wouldn't bending its will be as well?  This question, however, pits the value of autonomy against the value of life.  In a warrior culture such as Skyrim's, is it more honorable to kill an enemy than to rob him of his will?   Additionally, is it acceptable to force a dragon, even a hostile one, to let you ride him like a horsey?

As it relates to The Fallen, the question is moot; one cannot defeat Alduin without Odahviing's help.  After this quest, however, the question becomes more active because the Dragonborn can use the same shout at will to summon Odahviing, then use Bend Will to ride him.  Odahviing, it seems, volunteers to fight alongside me, but must be forced to act as a steed; one is the act of an ally, the other is that of chattel. Odahviing's ride to Skuldafn is a one-time offer born of his desire to be rid of Alduin, not an open-ended invitation.

Furthermore, the end of the Main Quest reveals that not all of the dragons share Alduin's views; once Alduin is defeated, Paarthurnax promises to teach the pacifist Way of the Voice to all of the dragons he can convince, and in fact, at the Throat of the World, dragons can be seen celebrating the World-Eater's fall.  Therefore, compelling Odahviing or any other non-hostile dragon to fight for me or give me a ride seems unjust.

For Lothar, I decided that the most appropriate route would be to avoid using Bend Will unless absolutely necessary.  As for what constitutes necessity, I offer the following checklist:
  • I will not use Bend Will on Odahviing.
  • I will not use Bend Will on a dragon that is not attacking me or any other "good" NPC.  In other words, I won't interfere if a dragon is battling a giant, a bandit gang, or a cluster of mudcrabs.
  • I will not use Bend Will if a dragon attacks only me while I'm outside of a populated area. In that case, I will simply fight.
  • I will use Bend Will if a dragon attacks a populated area.  I will use Bend Will, mount the dragon, then fly to a remote location.  If, after I release the dragon, he simply flies off, then so be it.  If he continues to be hostile, then I will fight him.
This arrangement allows me to use Bend Will as a means to save lives, rather than a way to dominate my enemy.  After all, riding dragons as steeds was the trademark of Miraak -- not someone I really want to emulate.


  1. Hey Todd, how much of skyrim do you have left?

    1. On the the first playthrough (Lothar), not much. I plan to write one more post about it (sort of a summary/reflection piece), then move to the second playthrough.

    2. This aspect of Bend Will always bothered me for similar reasons until I finished a recent run through the Main Quest and had a talk with Paarthurnax. The wrinkle that came from this is as follows: all dragons are born with a will to Power and dominance... even the ones that the Divines thought it would be funny to stick into human/elvish/furry bodies. To human morality, this seems alien, and savage, but to a dragon....

      To a dragon, dominance, the bending of wills is a way of life. When shouting FIRE at your opponent is considered "deadly verbal debate", you find yourself reflecting on the culture a bit more. So when you use Bend Will on a dragon, you're telling him "Hey! Do as I say!" Does it change the nature of the act? By modern, mortal standards, you're mind-whammying the beastie into submission, which is creepy-creepy. From a draconic viewpoint, though, you are asserting your Thu'um and your dominance. At the point you use Bend Will on Odahviing, I've always seen it as more of a ritualized thing. You don't need to prove anything to him, but you go through the motions of being a dovah because that is what the dovah do.

      Note that I am not finding fault with your self-imposed conditions. Those are good guidelines for a Lawful Good-ish style character. But I suspect that the dragons don't see use of the Thu'um, or even Bend Will as a violation. Either your Thu'um is strong and your rein supreme, or it is not strong enough and you are subordinate.

      By similar regard (SPOILERS), Dragonrend, made by oppressed humans. Used against Alduin, the great dragon expresses shock, horror and loathing at what's been done because it doesn't fit into the dragons' perception. I may be slipping away from the morality slant we're going for, but the infliction of the concept of mortality to an immortal mind kinda qualifies as mind rape. To me, it's much more of a sticking point than Bend Will.

    3. Wow, James, that is a very insightful analysis! I do like the idea of Bend Will as an assertion of power that dragons would find normal among their own kind, but Dragonrend as a perversion -- like forcing a vegan to eat meat.

    4. Indeed. But I really don´t consider Dragonrend pervert, because it´s natural outcome of human defense mechanism evolution. The other thing is, if veganism itself isn´t a pervertion... (no offense intended)

    5. Personally, I don't find Dragonrend to be any more morally screwy than stabbing, hacking or enspelling mortal enemies, or doing other things to hinder them and make things easier when fighting them. But from a Dragon's point of view - at least judging from Alduin's reaction - the thought of a mortal forcing understanding of 'mortality' on them would be a shocking, revolting and horrid practice.

      ...of course, that comes as a consequence of dragons doing what they do.

    6. Yeah, that really underlies a great deal of my decisions in this game. Even if you think using Dragonrend is wrong, you have to admit that it probably wouldn't exist were it not for Alduin's attempt to enslave mortals. When a victim of unrelenting violence responds with something even more terrible than the original attack, the aggressor has to shoulder at least some of the responsibility for the victim's transgression.