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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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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dragonborn: Main Quest

As it was with Dawnguard, so it was with Dragonborn.  While I really enjoyed the main questline, I encountered very few moral dilemmas to speak of.  This is not to say, however, that this DLC lacked a moral dimension; some of the side quests presented tough ethical quandaries, and the titular questline itself invited a kind of meditation on the moral dangers that accompany the title of Dovahkiin.

In a previous post, I noted that the “bosses” of each title’s main questline represents a kind of Nietzschean nightmare – a superior being who uses his power to enslave others.  Miraak’s iteration of this antagonist type is particularly compelling because he embodies the shadow self of the player’s Dovahkiin (regardless of the player’s actual alignment – more on that later).  Whereas Alduin and Harkon represent species who are more or less “other” (dragon and ancient vampire, respectively), Miraak is the dark mirror of the protagonist; he is what the PC might become.

This unique connection between Miraak and the Dovahkiin is foreshadowed in the words of the Greybeards:

...young, Padawan?
The player is here admonished to not allow the attendant power of one’s Dragonborn status to become a stumbling block.  While the Greybeards certainly intend this warning to be an inducement to follow their own, aloof (read: neutral) path, the moral agent who plays a “good” character is going to hear this as a version of Uncle Ben’s “power and responsibility” speech, and the one who plays an “evil” character is probably going to ignore the hoary warning and do as he pleases.

Once Miraak is introduced, however, the Greybeards’ caveat takes on new life. Miraak acts as an object lesson: a Dragonborn who sought to use his Thu’um solely for the increase of his own power, was punished for it before, and will be punished for it again.  Even for an “evil” character, Miraak provides a cautionary tale; in his bid for ultimate power, he was out-maneuvered by Hermaeus Mora, so a self-serving Dovahkiin might see Miraak not only as a rival but also as warning against relying too much on the promises of Daedric Princes.  For a “good” Dovahkiin, however, the picture is a bit more disturbing.

As I have said before, Lothar is not a paladin, but I have attempted to keep him in the good sector of the alignment chart.  While I have certainly missed the mark on occasion, I feel as though I have mostly kept him on the Aragorn side of the equation.  One area I have struggled with, as regular readers might note, is the Daedric quest.  More often than not, I allowed Lothar to do some dark things at the behest of a Daedra in order to obtain powerful artifacts.  At the core of my logic in most of these cases was that Skyrim (and all of Tamriel, for that matter) would be better off if I controlled these items; not only would I use them to vanquish evil, but the items themselves would be far less likely to fall into the wrong hands.  Even beyond the Daedric quests, I sometimes rationalized Lothar’s more treacherous and brutal actions in the name of bringing peace and justice to Skyrim.  What is it, therefore, that separates Lothar from Miraak? 

The obvious answer, of course, is “noble intentions,” but is that enough to maintain the wall between hero and villain?  In both literature and history, we are often presented with despots who originally wanted to free their people, leaders who turned their loyal followers into slaves, and crusaders who unwittingly devolved into thugs. 

Is the Dovahkiin’s final showdown with a version of himself?  Perhaps this is the reason we are not permitted to peer under Miraak’s mask – we would find only a mirror. 

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