Obligatory Skyrim Thinkpiece (The Second)

After the extensive nerdiness that I realize emerged in my last entry on my Skyrim adventures, I figured that this time I should probably try to keep things more ruminative and less summative.  So this may be a short post, which is probably for the best when it comes to things like massive games with way more content to discuss than is really healthy.

I decided after I wrote my last post on Skyrim that I was reaching a point where I was ready to put the game away again, but I decided that first I would finish the main quest line, since that’s something I’ve never done previously.  As I’m writing this, it’s been maybe an hour since I finished the main story.  It was good; I liked it.  The fact that my character is once again the Chosen One who has the entire fate of the world resting on her shoulders continues to be absurd, but at least this is the primary story, so I can kind of forgive the game putting her in this position (it’s really just when every other quest line has the same device pop up, and for unrelated reasons, that things get silly).


Local bigots or toadies for elf Nazis: the choice is yours! (Image credit: Elder Scrolls Wiki)

And really, it’s the Chosen One trope that’s been bugging me the most as I’ve been playing Skyrim.  Like I said before, it’s fair to remember that this is a single player sandbox game set in a fantasy world; most of the stories that the player’s going to interact with are going to be very focused on the specialness of the player character.  That’s okay, as far as it goes, but it feels overplayed in a world where everyone has a major crisis to deal with, and it’s always your character who’s the fulcrum.

Take, for example, the one quest line in Skyrim I expect I’ll never finish: the civil war between the Imperials and the Stormcloaks.  The game starts with the Imperials nearly victorious since they’ve captured Ulfric Stormcloak, the leader of Skyrim’s rebel faction.  Because of an attack by Alduin (who, again, is looking specifically for your character), the dragon who’s behind all the bad stuff that happens in the main quest line, Ulfric escapes and the war gets rekindled with both sides at an impasse.  If you don’t get involved with either side, the war never gets resolved.  Your presence in Skyrim actually makes it so the war can’t end without you picking a side.  That’s bad enough, but then you have to consider that both sides have some pretty major downsides.

On the one hand, you have the Stormcloaks who should get some cred as the local rebel faction who are fighting for their right to maintain their cultural and religious heritage (because the Empire nearly lost a war with some elvish Nazis thirty years prior, worship of the Nords’ primary god has been outlawed as heretical).  That’s a pretty noble cause, but then you meet some Nords and realize that the most staunch believers in the rebellion are also indefatigable bigots who distrust anyone who’s not from Skyrim, especially if they’re elves (rule of thumb for Elder Scrolls races is this: if it’s not human and doesn’t have a tail, it’s an elf), and that Ulfric Stormcloak is mostly just pushing the rebellion so he can make a bid for Skyrim’s throne.

On the other hand, the Imperial presence in Skyrim is more or less just there to uphold the laws required by all members of the Empire.  Modeled after Imperial Rome, the Empire in Tamriel is a human government that does a lot of good facilitating trade between its disparate regions and helping protect its citizens.  Then again, it’s modeled after Imperial Rome, which was not without its issues.  Also, within the context of Skyrim‘s story, the Empire does represent actual cultural oppression, as the Imperials are required to uphold the White-Gold Concordat, a peace treaty with those elf Nazis I mentioned earlier that more or less established this faction of elves’ cultural hegemony worldwide, even though the Empire is still technically independent.  For the Nords in Skyrim this is a pretty egregious insult, because much of their culture and history revolves around their homeland as the cradle of humanity.

So to reiterate, the sides you can choose in this civil war are either the local bigots led by a guy who doesn’t actually care about the cause at all or the Imperial interlopers who are upholding the decrees of some Nazis.  It’s not a conflict that I really feel too invested in, and it kind of irks me that nothing will happen in the war unless I help one side out.

But I suppose that’s the major flaw in open world games; all of these stories exist in this space, but they only play out when the player gets directly involved in them.  Besides what’s directly in front of you at any given moment, the whole world just remains static, waiting for its Chosen One to come along and make things happen.


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