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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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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.


  1. I'd like to point out here that there's actually more racism than just those two idiots you first encounter when you first enter Wind helm. If you play as a dunmer, the first thing the innkeeper at the cadlehearth in says is (paraphrased) "Oh, great, just why we need, more of your kind." Viola Giordano makes some very racist remarks regarding Dark elves if you give her ring back to her instead of planting it back in her house, the head of clan shatter shield explicitly calls the argonians "boots" and pays them a small faction of what he'd pay a fellow nord. And in Whiterun, if the storm cloaks take over, the local alchemist, Arcadia remarks that the Stormcloaks refuse to buy from her shop, and given that she says she should just go back to cyrodiil, business isn't going over so well. Same seems to apply to Adrianne.

    I'm curious; has playing as Katnyss given you new perspective on the civil war?

    Also, I've mostly come to terms with the civil war, and believe I have a decent argument for everything except for one topic: Hammerfell. What's your opinion on that argument of the war? After all, if Hammerfell was able to successfully come to a stalemate with the dominion, then why shouldn't an independent skyrim be able to defend its own walls?

    1. You're correct that Stormcloak racism is more endemic than I mention in this post, which is partly due to my own ignorance (I always plant the ring in Viola's house without talking to her, and I would have no way of knowing about Arcadia until after the Civil War is over). Still, none of that would have any real impact on Katnys's decision. To Katnys, it is only natural for people to prefer their own kind. The Nords opened their borders to the Dunmer -- something they had no obligation to do whatsoever -- so who cares if some of them are racist? Sure, Elda Early-Dawn's reluctance to serve Katnys and Jenassa led to a few choice items going missing from Candlehearth Hall, but the complaints of the more radical residents of the Gray Quarter really don't ring true for someone like Katnys. The Nords helped the Dunmer, and that is enough.

      Playing as Katnys hasn't changed my view as much as it has given me the opportunity to think through the "other" side of the argument. If you re-read the Lothar Civil War posts, you'll see that I really struggled with the decision to side with the Empire; had I not seen both sides as nearly equally valid, there would have been no struggle. Still, I have to admit that playing as Katnys has made the Stormcloak argument more vivid for me.

      As for the Hammerfell argument -- well, that's the point that Katnys eventually comes to at the end of this post. If Hammerfell can fight the Dominion to a standstill, Skyrim could probably defend itself sufficiently -- but what more could a coalition of strong, independent nations do?

    2. The degree of Dunmer/Argonian oppression is Windhelm is a very controversial topic in fandom (from "the Dunmer are severely discriminated against, like the Jews were in Medieval Europe" to "they are actually a privileged strata in the city"). I think that while we're probably supposed to think of them as oppressed, the actual game writing on this point is way too vague.

      Even Wolfsilver's examples are vague (the Shatter-Shield patriarch is undeniably a bigot, but he isn't really connected to Ulfric or the Stormcloaks, Viola is not a Nord and doesn't seem to care about the civil war itself, no one mistreats Luaffyn the Dunmer bard of Candlehearth Hall, and Adrianne had been connected to the pro-Imperial government of Balgruuf). Plus the sizeable Imperial population of Windhelm has absolutely no complaints at all. And Angrenor drops his racism after the initial scene.

      The game itself doesn't elaborate on Rolff and Galmar's relationship. Still, it's suspicious that neither brother mentions each other.

      All these considerations even inspired me to make a mod which adds more prominent and Stormcloak-connected racists to Windhelm, reflectively characterizing them as more xenophobic.

      And yeah, I agree that Independent Skyrim chances of survival are good enough, even if you don't take into account that the Dragonborn ends up an one-man army himself.

    3. With your mod in place, how then do you see Ulfric? Does he reject, ignore, or affirm this increased racism?

    4. In my headcanon, I view him as "not racist, but #1 with racists". He would genuinely respect any Argonian or Dunmer who would join the Stormcloaks and prove his bravery (as he does in the game), but he has a dismissive attitude to them otherwise, having views somewhat analogous to ones of Katnys - "We give them shelter, so they should stop whining. I've got Skyrim to attend to. It's not like I'm confiscating that Dunmer noble's farm, is it?" He would have no problem with promoting a brave Dunmer Stormcloak, yet he also has no problem with bigots in his army.

      I am also influenced by 3dnpc mod, specifically by a questline there about two Dunmer vampires preying on Dunmer and Argonians since they correctly judged that as long as they limit themselves to these two races, the Windhelm government would be uninterested in investigating the disappearances. There's also a sympathetic charac

      I also think that Brunwulf continuation of Ulfric's segregationist policies makes a mess of the whole message, retroactively justifying Ulfric. In my mod, I made him desegregate the Argonians and stop giving lame excuses about the necessity of segregation when he becomes the Jarl.

    5. A reasonably sympathetic and not particularly whiny Dunmer character who proclaims that Ulfric is a racist, I mean by that unfinished sentence.

  2. The fanfic-esque narrative focus of these latest blogs is definitely growing on me.

    1. Thanks! Like I said before, writing like this is unnatural for me, but it seems like the best way for me to explain a moral profile so different from my own.

  3. it's been a month since your last post. Come on man! get back in the game.

    1. Sorry about that...things have been a little nuts around here. I just finished a new post tonight. Thanks for lighting a fire under my butt!