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!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dovahkiin Leadership Models: The Servant Leader

In a previous post, I examined the role of the Dovahkiin as a potentially unifying force in the rapidly-splintering Empire.  In it, I argue that, in giving the Dovahkiin the opportunity to lead multiple factions simultaneously, the game invites the player to see the PC as a new kind of leader-- one who can tie all of the political and cultural threads of the Empire together in order to prepare for the inevitable second war with the Aldmeri Dominion. There is, however, another aspect to the Dovahkiin's leadership potential -- the role of the servant. 

One common complaint of Skyrim players is that, even after becoming the leader of all of the major factions within Skyrim, ending the Civil War, collecting all of the Daedric artifacts, touring Sovngarde and Apocrypha, and saving the world from Alduin, Harkon, and Miraak, the Dragonborn is still being asked to "collect nirnroot" or "convince so-and-so to stop bothering what's-his-name about his gambling debt."  These pedestrian tasks are below the dignity of the Vanquisher of the World-Eater, they argue, and demonstrate a flaw in the game's AI.  I disagree.

A recurring theme in the game is the corrupting nature of power.  All three "bosses" succumb to it, and the PC is warned several times not to fall prey to it.  I therefore posit that the "fetch quests" that irritate high-level players are best viewed through the lens of Robert Greenleaf's concept of "servant leadership," as outlined in his 1970 essay "The Servant as Leader":

The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature."
The Dovahkiin is invited to be a servant leader each time an NPC ignores the enchanted dragonscale armor and simply asks the PC to find her lost necklace.  These quests act as a kind of check to the Dovahkiin's ego in much the same way as Neloth's sharp tongue or the town guard's "No lollygaggin'."  Far from a design flaw, I would call this arrangement an opportunity for reflection on the PC's motives and goals.

One of your goals should not be "impress Neloth."


  1. I think that people are approaching it from the point of view of the NPC's - it makes sense for someone like Neloth to be motivated partially by "knock that Dragonborn fellow/gal down a notch" desire, but not for Random Person from the Street.

    I don't think it's that bad in the game, though - some of these Random People are actually aristocrats, and whether they are lazy jerks like Jarl Siddgeir of Falkreath, or polite despite sadistic tendencies (Ingun Black-Briar, who sends you to collect nirnroot) they probably expect people not to be offended by their requests. And I guess people who are really desperate about debts can view contacting the Dragonborn as their last chance.

    1. I hadn't considered the desperation angle. "Help us, Dovah-Wan-Kenobi. You're our only hope."