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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!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Civil War, Part 1 (Katnys)

Reconnecting with the Alik’r in Whiterun really helped Katnys place the whole “Dovahkiin” thing in its proper perspective.  Being Dragonborn was only of value to the degree it could help her take down the Empire that had abandoned Hammerfell, betrayed her parents, and killed her sister; the Greybeards and all of their “Way of the Voice” business could wait.  Right now, she needed to get to Windhelm and join up with the Stormcloaks.

Upon arriving in the capitol of Eastmarch, Katnys and Jenassa were treated to the sight of two Nords (Rolff Stone-Fist and Angrenor Once-Honored) harassing a Dunmer woman (Survaris Atheron).  At first, she was too dumbstruck to intervene; while her parents had often talked of their life in Windhelm, actually seeing one of her own as a.) an established citizen of Skyrim and b.) a victim of racism was a little too much to process all at once. 

The welcome wagon
Eventually, she pulled her wits together and beat some respect into Rolff (not that it lasted -- she would later encounter him drunkenly shouting in the Grey Quarter), then made her way to the Palace of the Kings for her audience with Ulfric.

Having lived most of her life outside of Skyrim, Katnys had been unnaware of Ulfric before the events at Helgen, so she approached him with neither awe nor ire.  She cared little for the intricacies of Nord politics, and even less about Talos, so she expected to express her desire to join the rebellion, grab her bow, and start killing Imperials.  But when Ulfric began talking about missing his father's funeral and about the obligation he had to the men in his command -- those who fell and those who still fought for him -- she found herself moved far more than she had anticipated.  Surely, a man who cared so deeply for his brothers-in-arms deserved her respect.  She still had no strong feelings about Talos, but her hated of the Empire only grew as she listened to Ulfric's story.  Therefore, when Galmar asked her why an elf would join the Stormcloaks,  she could proudly exclaim her thirst for Legionnaire blood.

The first task -- killing an ice wraith -- seemed like a pointless Nord test of courage, but she had grown used to that kind of requirement among the Alik'r.  Looking for the Jagged Crown felt silly as well, but once she got a chance to pick off some Imperial soldiers, Katnys finally felt like she was on the right path.  Under Ulfric's leadership, the Stormcloaks would drive the Empire out of Skyrim and, who knows, perhaps out of existence entirely.

It was this last thought -- that Ulfric might be the one to bring down the Empire -- that allowed Katnys to stomach the racism she encountered from certain residents of Windhelm.  Sure, one beggar and the town drunk (whom everyone tolerates because he's Galmar's brother) liked to toss epithets around, but that kind of impotent bigotry did little to dampen her spirits as she explored the Gray Quarter; after all, it was hard to be upset when she was in her parents' adopted hometown, surrounded by more Dunmer than she had even seen in one place.  In fact, even as she and Jenassa sipped Argonian Bloodwine and listened to Ambarys Rendar complain of the Nords' maltreatment of the Dark Elves, she couldn't help but think that some of these Windhelm Dunmer lacked perspective.  Sure, the Gray Quarter was a bit of a dump, and some of the Nords were less than hospitable, but what did Ambarys and his ilk expect?  From her time with the Alik'r, Katnys well understood that mercy and kinship are not the same.  The Alik'r took her and Prim in -- fed them, protected them, shared knowledge with them -- but they were never really part of the clan...and why should they be?  They weren't Redguards, after all.  People prefer their own kin, their own kind, and there's nothing wrong with that.  You can be generous to a stranger, but you only really love your own. 

It is precisely that generosity -- the kind shown by the Alik'r to the Evyrdene girls -- that Katnys saw in the Nords.  After the Red Mountain erupted, the High King of Skyrim gave entire portions of Solstheim to the Dunmer refugees, and the Jarl of Windhelm opened the Snow Quarter to them.  The Nords' magnanimity, however, was that of a powerful ally, not an adopted family.  The Sons and Daughters of Skyrim have helped the refugees of Morrowind, and that is enough.  For a Dunmer like Ambarys to expect the Nords to treat him like one of their own was not only foolish, but borderline ungrateful in Katnys's eyes.  It is natural to favor one's own, even as it is valorous to help an ally.

In fact, this history of Nord generosity throws a harsh light on the duplicity of the Empire.  Even as the Nords were opening their borders during the Red Year, the East Empire Company was pulling up stakes to avoid the ash.  The events of the Great War further demonstrated that the Empire exists solely for the benefit of Cyrodiil -- which would be fine if the Empire consisted only of Cyrodiil.  The Emperor had no problem abandoning Hammerfell to the Dominion, and then slapped Skyrim in the face by agreeing to the Concordat.  While the Nords might call you names and start a fight with you, they will also open their homes and keep their promises.  The Empire, on the other hand, calls you "citizen" while it sells you to your enemy.  Tamriel would be better served by an alliance of strong, independent nations than this shame of an Empire.  The Dominion would never be able to stand up against the cunning of Cyrodiil, the brawn of Skyrim, the skill of Hammerfell, and the sorcery of High Rock acting in concert as equals, rather than as thralls to a dying Empire.

Now that she held Balgruuf's axe, Katnys was poised to speed that process along.