This post could be opening up a whole can of worms, but so be it. Why all the possible worms? When my son was very young I thought – based on so much of what I read and heard from Christians – that video games were just all from hell and will lead to hell. In more recent times, I have posted online with some Christians who still feel the same, though I’m hoping they don’t really think “Harvest Moon” or “Hello Kitty” games provide a direct ticket to the brimstone dungeon.
There are nasty games out there for sure, games that relish dishonesty, crime, blood, gore, and killing. But does that make all video games bad? Putting aside the issue of time spent by the Christian on past-times (hobbies, entertainment, etc.), are certain video games not only fun and cathartic, but also potentially useful for stretching the mind and for witnessing? I think yes, so let’s take a look at Skyrim with its Dawnguard expansion (Hearthfire, added September 4, 2012, adds pleasantries to the game).
The time frame in Skyrim seems to correspond nicely with the Iron Age in Northern Europe and/or France and the British Isles. Skyrim refers to a region in the continent of Tamriel, and is one of a number of games in the Elder Scrolls series. The region makes up the north central part of the continent, and its Nordic inhabitants are akin to the real world Norsemen (Vikings). For example, what is like heaven to the Vikings was called Asgard, and the honored hall Vahalla. In Skyrim, these are referred to as Sovngarde and Shor’s Hall (Hall of Valor), respectively.
The Imperials, which very obviously correspond to the Romans, have kept order in Tamriel for some time, though they are present in Skyrim now in order to crush a rebellion. This isn’t just a little rebellion, but a power play that would affect all of Skyrim and its relations to the rest of the Empire. Spoiler alert: In typical historic fashion, the son of a king killed his own brother in an attempt to be high king. Each region in Skyrim has a king, and these kings choose a high king from among them. This was a spoiler since only one or two characters in the whole game actually tell you that the king killed was the usurper’s brother.
The point about this power play, however, is that the usurper, Ulfric Stormcloak, had gotten many in Skyrim behind him because he claimed that his primary goal was to reestablish the free worship of the god Talos. Talos used be just a man (Tiber Septim), but was made a god by the other gods (somehow – how this happened is unclear) and thus became worshipped, not just revered as a Dragonborn or for uniting Tamriel in the distant past.
Why was the worship of Talos banned? To end a major war the Imperials and other leaders had signed a treaty with the High Elves, and part of this treaty prohibited Talos worship, as the High Elves considered Talos to be a false god. Despite the treaty Talos worship was going on quietly, but Ulfric’s uprising changed that. Because of the rebellion, the High Elves began persecuting Talos worshippers, thus giving the Stormcloaks fuel for their fire.
There are subtle complications added to the game to make the decision regarding which faction to follow not necessarily an easy one; it certainly shouldn’t be rushed. While most people in Skyrim revere Talos, there are some things said to make a player wonder about him. For instance, the self-proclaimed mouth-piece of Talos in Whiterun is annoying and may seem mad (he definitely is depicted as a melodramatic street preacher), and indeed, his feverish support of the Stormcloaks ignores both the reality of what is going on behind the scenes with the Imperials (many of whom also worship Talos) and the conniving and tyrannical nature of Ulfric and his Stormcloaks. The Stormcloaks are pretty nasty, saying that if you don’t join them you’re against them (an enemy), yet the Imperials say no such thing. There is much more to seemingly righteous rebels behavior vs Imperial behavior, but I’ll leave that for your exploration.
The Stormcloak rebellion is one of the two major plots/quests of the game, the other being Dragonborn’s (the player is the Dragonborn) destiny to rid the world of Alduin, the world-eater dragon. The quests are not totally separate. Without paying close attention, a player may totally miss that Alduin and Ulfric are intertwined. For the Christian, Alduin is of great interest since he is a Satan figure (without the Satan figure, one could maybe take Talos to be a pagan mythological man-god). He claims to be the first born of the great god Akatosh (and some even worshipped him as Akatosh himself), but in reality he was created, and for a specific purpose. He defies Akatosh regarding his purpose, interferes with man, and is arrogant.
Skyrim is full of hints and references to religion, folklore, history, and literature, although much of these are not wholly analogous. As might have been inferred by now, talking with someone about Skyrim can be a starting point to talking about Christ and even the existence of Satan. An inquisitive player may decide it’s worth his or her time to look into the real-world peoples and such in the game. Besides the examples already discussed, there is the goddess Mara, who quite obviously corresponds to Mary, mother of Jesus. Elves are of course derived from folklore (as are the Dwarves), and their demise followed the acceptance of Christianity in European areas. The magical High Elves came from a large island to the southwest of Tamriel, and so this alludes to Atlantis. There are Bretons in the game and there are real world Bretons. As with much fantasy in modern times, the game includes Orcs. Where did Orcs come from? Well, from the mind of JRR Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings)! In Skyrim they are not just like Tolkien’s Orcs, but they are still a corrupted form of Elf.
Without getting into a lot of detail, I was disappointed with the game in some ways. Skyrim seems to favor doing bad things, despite the character played being the Dragonborn, a person who brings good and who is in line to become Emperor. The game has achievements, and many of these involve doing evil things. This is unfortunate, and while a player is not at all required to do these things, some aspects of the game are closed-off if a player ignores these activities. The new expansion of the game, Dawnguard, seems to make up for this somewhat.
Most of the hype was directed towards the evil side of this expansion, involving vampires, but really, as far as I can see, the “good side” gains here. I also have to pat Bethesda (the game maker) on the back for making the vampires in fact gross and bad. Some may have a problem with the main vampire character being “good,” but at least they included dialogue for you to choose that shows your disdain for the whole idea, if you so choose to use that dialogue; there is also the possibility that this character will willingly give up her vampirism (become cured). These games are made for the masses and they are not in business to lose money, so one has to take the good with the bad and make the most of it; in real life this is often murkier and harder to do than in games like Skyrim. That being said, the Dawnguard include in their ranks a witty, funny, smart, and spiritually active ex-priest. He adds a positive spiritual character that is a counter to the street preacher that so many players actually want to kill.
Finally, I’ll leave you with basic good and bad points of Skyrim/Dawnguard/Hearthfire, and this quote from John Battle-Born of Whiterun. This statement may very well be Bethesda’s commentary on the gaming world and not Skyrim, since there appears to be no connection to it and anything in the game–except perhaps that everyone that you encounter in the wild seems to want you to kill them!:
“You know what’s wrong with Skyrim these days? Everyone’s obsessed with death.”
- Truly beautiful to look at and wander around in: HUGE. Our world beautiful, not abstract, though there are awe-inspiring places that mix underwater concepts into air-breathing spaces.
- Complicated main quests and min-quests that require you to listen to many characters to decide what’s best (if you do it right).
- Religious and political aspects and some real-world history, along with the fantastic. Real world lessons in deciphering the truth, in seeing through people’s blind ideologies or loyalties.
- No sex and little swearing.
- Fun and rewarding; tons of play time and things to do including blacksmithing, mixing potions, exploring, etc., besides fighting bandits and doing the quests.
- Absolute loads of books, notes, recipes, etc. (I believe there are over 1,000), promote reading and the value of the written word.
- The new Hearthfire expansion allows the player to – finally – adopt children, as well as do some fun housebuilding.
- Passive goriness along with some slow-mo killing scenes (however, using magic makes for really awesome slow-mo scenes).
- There is much fighting, which might not appeal to some. Play yourself to decide (use the Dawnguard crossbow and you just might get hooked – forewarning you).
- In Skyrim, the bad seems to be rewarded more than the good. The new Dawnguard and Hearthfire expansions seems to even this out some.
- The longer you take to finish the Vampire quest, the more citizens die in the towns – regular citizens, not just stand-ins.
- Glitches, apparently the more you play the more there are.
- This isn’t BAD, but just saying – it could’ve used more humor (there is some subtle dry humor in the game).
This post was expanded on 09/05/12. If you’re interested in seeing videos of Skyrim, there is no shortage on Youtube. For some with clean language, you can see our channel at: Network Hobo. Thanks!
For more thoughts on Skyrim, particularly regarding its darker aspects and dealing with them with your children, see On Skyrim: A Vent from a Christian Parent (a mom who plays).
November 5, 2012. I just found this out so I thought I’d pass it along, from the Bethesda Softworks site on October 26, 2012:
Earlier today, Skyrim came away as the big winner at the UK’s most prestigious gaming award show, The Golden Joysticks. The game captured the night’s biggest award, Ultimate Game of the Year, as well as awards for Best RPG and Best Moment (visiting the Throat of the World).