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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!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Second Playthrough: The Backstory of Katnyss Evyrdene

After about a year of playing Skyrim as Lothar, I started to think about playing a character who would make different decisions than I had made the first time through.  I really have to credit my son with sparking my interest in an alternate moral system; his eloquent and passionate defense of his decision to join the Stormcloaks got me to wondering if I could create a moral agent who would choose differently from Lothar in most of the major dichotomies offered by the game.

This was no easy task.  Lothar’s decisions reflected, for better or worse, my own moral profile, but I had no interest in creating an amoral, sociopathic, or evil character for the second playthrough; my project, after all, was to examine moral agency within the game, so I needed a character who would not simply do the opposite of what Lothar did, but rather one who would see the opposite decision as morally superior. 

Since Lothar was a lot like me (northern European/Nord male in a predominantly northern European/Nord society), I thought it best to use a markedly different character build in order to run a markedly different moral profile.  I found inspiration in Katniss Everdeen, heroine of The Hunger Games – a character who, at least at the beginning of the story, cares only for her family and friends and little for the larger moral or political issues around her.  For Katniss, family is the greatest good, and anything that does not serve to protect and provide for the family is to be ignored if possible or destroyed if necessary.  In order to maintain the connection to my fictional model, I created a Dunmer female specializing in Archery and Fire magic (not going to lie – I’m patting myself on the back for drawing a link between Catching Fire and Ancestor’s Wrath) named Katnyss Evyrdene.

As I did with Lothar, I wrote a backstory for Katnyss that would help explain her moral profile.  The difference was that this time, I was reverse-engineering a profile that would lead to contrary choices in the most contentious quests.  In other words, I needed to write a backstory that was not only consistent with the lore, but would also lead Katnyss to see enlisting with the Stormcloaks, siding with the Alik’r, joining the Dark Brotherhood, and so on as the morally correct decisions.  What follows is the actual chart I created before starting the second playthrough:

Year (4E)
Red Mountain exodus
Solstheim granted to the Dunmer: Grandparents, former officials of House Sadras (minor house, mainly ashlander stock), become ebony miners
Refugees’ Rest: Grandparents move to Windhelm to become merchants
Parents born, live to adulthood  in Windhelm’s Grey Quarter; grandparents die natural deaths
Parents become Imperial scouts/spies because of loyalty to hospitable Nords and the High King, who is loyal to the Empire; sent to Hammerfell as “merchants” to monitor increased Thalmor activity
Katnyss/Prym born while parents are active in Hammerfell
Great War begins
Empire cedes Hammerfell, abandons the Evyrdenes, who stay on to assist the Redguards anyway
Parents killed by Thalmor before Treaty of Stros M’Kai
Katnyss and Prym taken in by friendly Alik’r Redguards, who decide that an Imperial orphanage might be better able to care for them than a group of nomadic warriors; sisters placed in Benrius Orphanage in Anvil (formerly Benrius Manor, a home of the Hero of Kvach)
Sisters subjected to repeated abuse at the Orphanage; Katnyss sneaks herself and Prym onto a boat in order to return to the Alik’r warriors, who are hard but honorable.  The Alik’r reluctantly accept them under very harsh conditions for Katnyss.
Katnyss decides to take Prym to Solstheim in order to better their fortunes and perhaps even return to Morrowind; caught by Imperials while crossing the border; Prym killed by Imperial soldier in the battle between Stormcloaks and the Imperial Legion

By taking advantage of Dunmer longevity, I was able to write a backstory for Katnyss that would create a hatred for the Empire as deep as her longing for family.  I also wanted her to be partial to the Redguards in general and the Alik’r in particular, and I wanted her to have respect for the Nords and their way of life, but not a sense of belonging with them.  Furthermore, I wanted her to have a claim to Solstheim, a fierce protectiveness toward orphans, and a disgust for those who prey on women.  Lastly, I wanted her to be able to do hard, even brutal things in order to do what needs to be done.  To be honest, I’m proud of the character I created and excited to watch her grapple with the game’s thornier dilemmas.

Her backstory set, I let Katnyss Evyrdene loose on Skyrim.


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  2. Interesting. I also made an alternate character and made their appearance very from myself to distance myself from their moral decisions. But it seems my moral compass is different from yours, as I'll explain later.

    To start off with, I've played the main game through twice using a character made to physically resemble myself, and made the exact same moral decisions both times. Daniel the brown-haired nord sided with the Stormcloaks, the Dawnguard, and joined the Dark Brotherhood. (I know; not morally-correct, but it's a fun questline.)

    To experience the other side of each story, I wanted to distance myself from the character. So I made a blond high-elf and named him Legolas. I'm great with a bow anyway, so this was an easy character to play as.

    Legolas joined the Imperials, destroyed the dark brotherhood, and accepted Harkon's gift to become a vampire lord, and eventually turned my wife into a vampire and killed everyone in Fort Dawnguard.

    I did this to experience the opposing questlines without feeling I betrayed my morals, among other things. I had no objections to destroying the dark brotherhood; I merely joined them on earlier playthroughs to experience the fun quests.

    However, I sided pretty strongly with the Stormcloaks as opposed to the Imperials in the civil war. And siding with the Dawnguard instead of Harkon and the vampires is a no-brainer to anyone, except maybe a self-loathing misanthropist.

    I will say I am surprised you consider the Imperials to be morally-superior to the Stormcloaks. The skyrim civil war quest line really seems to parallel the American Revolution. The Nords are fighting to defend their way of life, dislike the connivings of the Thalmor, and wish to worship Talos in peace.

    The empire is trying to impose its Cyrodillian laws from a far away land on a people who value tradition, as well as their way of life.

    It's a lot like the pilgrims moving to the new world to have religious freedom, then eventually declaring independence from England. Siding with the stormcloaks seems like the American thing to do.

    Plus, the Imperials are the ones who tried to kill you at the very beginning of the game....

  3. I remember reading Hunger Games and deciding not to continue the series. I did this precisely because I felt the author was manipulating events to keep Katniss from having to make truly difficult moral choices. Here's hoping she got a better moral workout in your playthrough.