Oblivion is about the War on Terror, Skyrim is about nationalism

By on December 20, 2011

How Elder Scroll stories relate to the real world.

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First Impressions
My reaction is

As much as I love the Elder Scrolls series, I never think “good story” whenever someone mentions a game in the series. The games were always about the freedom, the expansiveness and the mythos behind everything, rather than enjoying a good story/plot

Yet one thing that always struck me about Elder Scrolls stories and plots is how much they relate to the real world. That’s right, a fictional fantasy video game series with Orcs, Dark Elves and lizard people tells more ‘worldly’ stories than your average modern warfare game.

Ever since Morrowind, each entry in the Elder Scrolls relate in some way to the player’s culture and society, and tells us stories that connect with the player on levels not present in most other games.

Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Messianic figures are a recurring element in works of fiction, and you can find Christ figures in varied works, ranging from ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ to ‘Robocop’ (yes, that Robocop). However, it was indeed strange playing Morrowind for the first time, and noticing that the game’s story contains a Christ Figure as well.

Let’s take a look at Morrowind’s story. The Dark Elves are living under the vicious rule of the Tribunal, and they are awaiting the return of their hero, Nerevar, to make things right. Nerevar was a legendary Elven hero who led the the Dark Elves to their new land, but disappeared under mysterious circumstances. When Morrowind takes place, the Dark Elves are waiting for the prophecized reincarnation of their hero, the Nervarine, to save the Dark Elves from the tribunal, and stop the return of the evil deity, Dagoth Ur.

There isn’t a shortage of “save the world” plots in RPG games, but Morrowind takes it one step further. You aren’t simply the hero, or the “chosen one”, you are the Messiah. Your character has already existed, and he has returned once again to save his people. While this isn’t really groundbreaking, it does add a lot of substance to the story and player character. The figure of the Messiah is prominent in many cultures and religions around the world, and because of this, Morrowind connects with the player on a new level, where the player could start seeing parallels between the game and real world religions and cultures. While you always knew that you were going to defeat Lord Evil McFinal Boss at the end of the game, the discovery of your role in the conflict throughout comes gradually as you progress through the game, and the more you learn about who you are, the more invested you are in the game.

Again, this isn’t anything ground-breaking, and pop culture is riddled with Christ figures (Superman, Neo, Froddo Baggins…etc), but I don’t recall it being present in a game, especially where the player character is the one.

While Bethesda gave us a pseudo-religious motif in Morrowind, they decided to go with a story that is a lot more timely…

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Let me tell you a story: A powerful, imperialistic cosmopolitan state is being attacked. The attackers are a violent religious cult who are prone to suicide attacks, as they believe through martyrdom, they can meet their maker in paradise.

If you thought I was talking about the War on Terror, then you are wrong. Sane, but still wrong. The above is the story of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a game that attempted to rework the war on terror into its own story, and the similarities couldn’t me more obvious. Cyrodill (which forms the heart of the empire) while initially based on the Roman Empire, corresponds with America. A powerful, cosmopolitan state that views itself as the beacon of progress and culture, but whose imperialistic tendencies caused suffering in other regions. Then you have the Mythic Dawn, a very small religious sect led by a charismatic leader, who see the empire as the cause of everything that is wrong with the world, and have launched numerous attacks on the empire, including assassinating its Emperor. They also fear no death, as they believe that through death, they shall go to “paradise” and meet their God.

While the war on terror isn’t a new topic in games, this is probably the first time a political event was represented this way in a game. This is Bethesda’s unique way of tackling current affairs, and like with Morrowind, this little twist adds another layer to what would’ve been a standard ‘save the world’ story. Unfortunately, the story was still lacking in depth, and this was pre-Fallout Bethesda, so the company has yet to discover the joys of Moral ambiguity. We never see things from the point of view of the “other”, we never hear or understand the Mythic Dawn’s own reasoning for their actions, and we are only told they are bad by the game.

But when it comes to Skyrim, Bethesda’s post-Fallout title, the game certainly upped the ante on moral ambiguity.

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  • Out Reach

    Ulfric Stormcloak Killed the High King of Skyrim, not the Emperor. The High King is a regional ruler, unlike the Emperor who has control over the entire empire. 

    • Serge

      Fixed. Thanks for point that out

  • Random

    You’re wrong about the Mythic Dawn. They did not see the Empire as something evil. They had to kill the emperor because according to their prophecies, it would herald the coming of Dagon.

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