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Editorial about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and the senselessness of war (1 Viewer)

johnthegrungekid

Senior Member
[disc] CONTAINS ADULT LANGUAGE AND SPOILERS FOR THE ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM. READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION. [/disc]

I wrote this a few weeks after Skyrim was released, and published it on Facebook, and now that I'm kind of getting into non-fiction/newspaper-style writing, I'd like a bit of feedback. (I know it'd be best to swear less when writing for periodicals and other professional media.)

So... The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, begins with your character being transported in a caravan of prisoners to be excuted. You learn through dialogue that your character was simply crossing the border from a neighboring province into Skyrim illegally, and was caught in an ambush meant to capture a group of people rebelling against The Imperial Legion. They're rebelling because The Imperial Legion is a fascist form of government, that is forcing the governors (known as Jarls) of Skyrim to outlaw various things, such as the worship of a war hero named Talos.


Anyway, you get to the execution block, and a dragon attacks the city, you're set free, and you flee the city. During the escape, you're given the option of following either an Imperial captain who is sympathetic to the fact that you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or a high-ranking officer of the rebels (known as The Stormcloaks).

Later in the game, you have the option of joining the war effort on either the side of The Imperial Legion or The Stormcloaks.


And that's where the issue comes from. They're both run by horrible, horrible people. As I mentioned before, the Empire is a fascist government trying to crush the beliefs and traditions of the Nords (the natives of Skyrim), and the Stormcloaks are racist nationalists who treat anyone that isn't a Nord like absolute garbage. Before I knew much about either faction, I decided to join the Stormcloaks, because I'm a dissident at heart. If there's a system in place, I'll rebel against it.

When I went to the Stormcloak capital city of Windhelm, I was recieved by the citizens as lower-class trash, because I was a Khajiit (a race of humanoid cats, that are nomadic traders from the desert province of Elsweyr). They hurled insults at me such as milk-drinker, furball, and kitty. While those, admittedly, aren't effective against me, as a human, I'm sure that had I actually
been my character, I would've been rather hurt.

I decided to say fuck it, and join the rebels anyway. So I walk into the castle, and I see, sitting on the throne, the most disgusting and lazy looking man (Jarl Ulfric) I've ever seen animated in my life. He sat slouched in his throne, rest his chin on his hand, with an apathetic, expressionless look on his face. Also, I forgot to mention, he had (several days prior to the start of the games timeline) killed the High King of Skyrim, because he was an Imperial sympathizer, and Jarl Ulfric didn't believe he was worthy enough to be considered the true High King.


My resolve was incredible, so I still approached this pathetic human, and humbly asked to join his military. After a few trials, and taking an oath where I swore to give my life, not for the greater good of Skyrim, but
for the Jarl, I was a Stormcloak soldier. The general handed me my armor, and I was told to march on the city of Whiterun.

Whiterun is one of the first towns in the game that you discover. You purchase your beginning gear in this city. You complete a series of quests that expresses such valor that the governor of Whiterun (Jarl Balgruuf the Greater) bestows upon you the highest honor within his power, The Axe of Whiterun, and gives you the title of Thane (Which, as best as I can figure, just means that you're a very brave person, and a hero to the city).


Jarl Balgruuf is an Imperial sympathizer also, but he, unlike the Empire, isn't an evil fascist cocksmoker, he's just doing what he thinks is best for the people of his city, and the people of his country. Jarl Ulfric didn't much like those, so I was tasked with slaughtering the Imperial garrison stationed at Whiterun, and beating Jarl Balgruuf and his personal guard into surrendering, and giving up his throne as Jarl. I approached the gates, and after a rousing speech, dripping with bloodlust, from one of the Stormcloak generals, I rushed to the gates of the city.


I'm going to step outside of Skyrim here for a second and just say that, at no point during the game did I, personally, fully empathize with either faction. I only wanted... Peace, I guess. I wanted the Stormcloaks to embrace all the different people and races of Skyrim, and I wanted the Emperor to get his filthy hands out of the affairs of the Jarls, so that they could govern their city the
way they saw fit. So I didn't really want to kill Jarl Balgruuf, and I certainly didn't want him to give up his throne, because he was a
genuinely good dude.

He trusted me, quite literally with his life, and the safety of his city, and then I, almost literally, shoved a knife into his back.

Back to Skyrim. So I smash the gates of the city, and slaughter countless guards and soldiers indiscriminately. Keep in mind that the Empire allows women to serve as soldiers and city guards. It didn't seem to matter to me, I killed them all. I was feeling uneasy at this point, as a person, but I still felt, on some level, that it was for the best.


And then I rushed into the city. I killed more guards, and more soldiers, and even (accidentally) a handful of citizens and my own allies. I was swinging my sword with such careless fury that several innocent people, and a few of my 'friends' (or, at least, my characters 'friends') were absent-mindedly cut down. The city was in flames, and there were spiked wooden barricades set up at various locations. I cut through them and continued on to the castle, killing many more along my path (I think all in all, I killed probably 40-50 people, about 80% of which were actually my enemies).


I entered the castle and dispatched the few remaining guards, and then approached Jarl Balgruuf. He stood from his throne, and drew his axe. His body guard drew her sword, and began shooting fireballs at me and my allies. The lesser soldiers of the Stormcloak faction fell quickly, and I'm sure that the two remaining soldiers would have if it was possible (due to the fact that they're necessary NPC's, the game won't let them be killed). I used an ancient power known as The Voice to send Jarl Balgruuf and his bodyguard flying across the room. They smashed into a wall and fell to the ground, temporarily stunned.

I drew my sword (which had a handy bonus effect of setting my enemies on fire) and rushed up to them. I slashed at them relentlessly, and they burst into flames. I used a paralyzing poison on my sword, so that even when they regained conciousness they couldn't move. They literally had no chance of winning this fight, and I beat them to within inches of their life.


Finally the game forced me to sheathe my sword, and Jarl Balgruuf and his bodyguard stood up. Blood was dripping from his mouth as he told his troops to stand down, and surrendered to me. Then, a noble from the city of Whiterun, and empathizer to the efforts of the Stormcloaks (Vignar White-Mane or something) enters the castle, and the following dialogue takes place (paraphrased and shortened):

Jarl Balgruuf: Vignar White-Mane. I noticed your family was absent from the from the battle at the city gates.

Vignar: Suck my cock, Jarl Balgruuf. The Stormcloaks have the right idea. They told me that if I sell you, and the entire city out, that I could have your throne once you surrender.
JB: Was it worth it? Was all the blood worth it? There are dead men and women in the streets that were friends to you and your family.
V: I can justify it bying saying that you were doing a terrible job at running the place, and they were necessary losses to make this country, as a whole, a better place.

Right after Jarl Balgruuf says the "Was it worth it..?" thing, my stomach sort of rolled. I know this is all entirely fictional, and it's a video game, but still, even in a fictional world where you control the outcome of events, things can hit you pretty hard, emotionally. I asked myself the same question. If I were my character, and not just some guy controlling an avatar, would I have found it worth it?
In a matter of just a few weeks, I gained the trust and respect of an entire city, and the city's leader, and then smashed through the gates, killed everyone, and damn near beat the leader to death just because I thought it would make the country slightly better.


Vignar snatches the crown off of Jarl Balgruufs head, puts it on, and then goes and sits on his throne. Balgruuf's bodyguard helps him up, and he turns to look at my character and says: "And you... A Stormcloak... I thought better of you."

Holy. Shit.

I felt terrible. But I reminded myself it was just a game, and that I shouldn't think too much about it. The Jarl wanders off to pack up his things and head off to... Wherever, and my general approaches me and FUCKING REWARDS ME FOR ALL OF THIS WITH A BAD ASS SWORD THAT HE LOOTED OFF OF ONE OF THE IMPERIAL OFFICERS.

I accepted the reward (didn't have a choice to refuse it, or else I would've). And head out of the castle.


... Into an empty city...

... With no one walking the usually busy streets, and none of the cheery vendors at their stalls...
... And fires burning at various locations, with the dusty fog of war settling over everything...

I saved my game, turned off my xBox, and decided the following (it's been said many times, but I feel like it can always be repeated):


There absolutely is no winner when it comes to war. Even an entirely fictional war. I killed dozens of people, and betrayed a pretty honorable guy that trusted me with the safety of his city, just so a racist government could replace a religiously intolerant one.


What the fuck, Skyrim..?
 
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BabaYaga

Senior Member
Wow. Totally going to join the war efforts then- Was just killing villagers & soldiers indiscriminately on my own time, I didn't realise you could get a freaking ARMY to help. I'm joining the imperials then though, cos I want to see what kind of sword I'll get then.

Will get back to give you a critique on your actual writing ASAP.
 

Archetype

Senior Member
I love video games that tell a story. I know I felt guilty after helping the Stormcloaks. When a game can make you feel bad about a decision you made you know the developers have done something very right.
 

VagabondSam

Senior Member
I lost interest pretty quickly to be honest.

The first part that turned me off was the first line starting with 'So...' Not a very strong leading sentence.

In a similar vain starting a sentence, particularly a paragraph with And is a big no-no. 'Anyway' is almost as bad.

As far as intended audience I'm not sure who this is aimed at. I read a lot of video game journalism and I almost never see such detailed playbacks of game time. I get the idea that the choices in the game elected an emotional, or moral response in you and I am guessing that was your point, however a more active dialogue with the reader might have engaged me more.

I felt like I was reading lecture notes, not an editorial. not to mention that with a game that is still relatively new, spoilers aren't very practical if you wish to have a wide audience. there are lots of moments where Skyrim allows for emergent gameplay that could be used to make the same point, without detailing spoilers as such. An example being the Dark Brotherhood Plot which is mostly unrelated to the main story and thrusts you in a large moral choice.

I hope that is not too harsh, but honest feedback is more valuable in the long run. All being said and done, you had a clear end point to make, it just seems like the idea of the war being meaningless could stand further development throughout the piece.
 

Bri

Member
So... I have to agree with the guy above me, when he says that starting the thing with "So..." turned him off. Me too. But I was interested regardless, which is surprising since I don't play video games or really hang out with people who play video games.

This piece works for me for a few reasons. First, I'm unfamiliar with a video game with a narrative other than "Italian plumber saves Princess," so that was interesting, especially given that the game does seem to have an underlying moral aspect. I would suggest getting into that moral issue earlier in the piece, it will widen your audience from just gamers interested in reading about Skyrim. I also noticed a few gems in the piece throughout, a sentence or two that reminded me of the humanity of the author...
I'm a dissident at heart. If there's a system in place, I'll rebel against it.
...
because he was a genuinely good dude.
I'm not really sure why those lines caught me, but they did.

As for suggestions, show don't tell. You sort of describe the game to me, and then tell me that based on this description, war is senseless. How could you get to that issue faster and make it evident to me without having to spell it out? Also, you may have a very good reason for this, and if you do, then by all means, keep it, but the use of the 2nd person in the beginning and then switching to 1st person was confusing. I don't like 2nd person in general, because it alienates the reader. You're telling me I've had this experience, but I haven't. I think you're better off telling about your experience. Finally-- and again, this may be on purpose, but you need a really good reason-- fix the formating. Make your point through strong verbs and precise language, not bold type, all caps, or italics. Those to me just signal weak writing. Which yours isn't neccessarily, but people might be fooled.

Hope that wasn't harsh, I teach 8th grade, so I tend to be kind of a stickler about writing.
 

bluewolf301

Senior Member
bit Over the Top don't ya think.

Skrim is a decent game as any othe person would think any other game is a good game and so i don't think that a long message is nessesray to demonstrate how good the game is
 

patskywriter

WF Veterans
I'm writing this as someone who knows nothing about video games but plenty about street games. When I write a description of a street game, I always start out by stating the goal of the game. Someone who's unfamiliar with Skyrim, then, would find it easier to figure out what's going on without wondering "What's the point to this game?" Otherwise, the reader is going to lose interest very quickly, as I did. Of course, this advice won't apply in your case if Skyrim is a just a free-flowing video game with no real purpose.
 

Pishwi

Senior Member
I did that quest line as the imperials and didn't feel bad at all. Buts that's probably because Ulfric is genuinely evil, and everyone seemed happy after I'd won.
 
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