Skyrim as a Settler-Colonial Text

Skyrim is portrayed as the homeland of the Nords, the “master race” of the Third Empire, the ruling imperial power throughout the series. The entire historical framework of The Elder Scrolls games exists within the aftermath of a settler-colonial occupation of the continent of Tamriel: the Third Empire not only controlled all of Tamriel at its height, but occupied colonial territories on multiple continents, following a pattern of empires in the gameworld’s history that celebrated violent conquest, subjugation, and even genocide in their race for power. . The Third Empire, under the Septim Dynasty, most aggressively embodied this identity—pushing an idea of Skyrim as the Nordic fatherland of the human race, celebrating the legendary Atmorans as the progenitors of all humanity, and reveling in their identity as conquerors and occupiers of the mer, the most numerous native inhabitants of Tamriel. Continue Reading

How Fantasy Games Deal with Race

As Demonstrated by The Elder Scrolls

Video games have politics. With many developers insisting that their games are not political in any way, and with recent games desperately trying to say as little as possible about their subject matter, many critics find that there is once again a need to stress this point. The ability to be political stretches across genres and settings, though some genres and settings lend themselves to being seen as more overtly political than others. For instance, criticising racialised depictions in games set in the ‘real world’, like Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series, is often quite straightforward, especially given the shallowness and harsh stereotyping these depictions usually entail (Dyer-Witheford & De Peuter, 2009, p. 164-70; Gray, 2014, p. 24-26). Continue Reading

Savage Beasts

The Spatial Conflict Between Civilization and Nature in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

It is hard to talk about playing the fantasy role-playing game (RPG) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim without talking about its digital environment. Its vastness. The freedom with which players can move through it. With an impressive “16 square miles” (Hong p. 42) of digital landscape on offer, there certainly is a lot of world to explore. Continue Reading


This essay builds on this particular area of development in video games and addresses the importance of abstraction in this medium by drawing on the work of Jesper Juul, Alexander Galloway, and others, and thus on the relevance of video games from a game theory perspective. A short qualitative analysis of two video games, Jeppe Carlsen’s 140 (2013) and Starbreeze Studio’s Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (2013), is included to demonstrate how abstraction can be used in unique and interesting ways and can increase player agency, engagement, and authorship in ways that have not yet been fully tested. The former visually alludes to early video game aesthetics, but also amplifies updated mechanics that allow for more highly developed movement, transformation, and player outcomes specifically through sound. The latter, though more linear in terms of narrative and gameplay, utilizes a key feature of abstraction to heighten a player’s sense of loss and difficulty by disabling a portion of the player’s game control after a major narrative event unfolds. Continue Reading

Let’s Roleplay

Reading Roleplay in Skyrim 'Let's Play' Videos

While game studies has had plenty to say about roleplaying games (RPGs), and particularly about Massively Multiplayer RPGs, less attention has been paid to roleplay as a play style, whereby winning the game becomes secondary to fleshing out and performing as a coherent character. When the practice has been discussed scholars have tended to focus on roleplay as a communal activity undertaken within MMORPGs, many of which have dedicated ‘roleplay servers’ (e.g. Paul and Pitmann). As more and more gamers begin recording and streaming gameplay via sites like YouTube and, however, other forms of roleplay and modes of engaging with roleplay culture are emerging. In this essay I want to look at Youtube videos made by roleplayers of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011). An offline singleplayer RPG, Skyrim has nevertheless attracted a sizeable roleplaying community on YouTube, from comparative veterans like the UK-based SorcererDave – whose hundreds of videos have attracted over 25,000 subscribers – to newcomers whose output might garner no more than a handful of views. From a scholarly perspective their recordings represent a fascinating, ever-expanding corpus that, beyond its virtue as an archive of gameplay, serves to document the emergence of new, hybrid forms of expression, entertainment and play. In this case a single-player game is repurposed as a platform for self-representation, debate and emergent storytelling as roleplay shifts from an evanescent activity undertaken by particular (groups of) players to a mode of individual improvisational performance recorded and offered to a non-playing audience. Continue Reading

Games & Embodied Cognition

What is it Like to be a Cat-Person?

I’ve played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda 2011) now for 81 hours, with three different characters. I’ve been an elf, an orc and a Khajiit. In Skyrim, I can occupy the body of a magical creature from a fantastic race with a different gender than mine. Yet it seems that no matter the differences between the fantastic races, the basic experience of what is it like to be each is essentially similar. A Khajiit might see in the dark, an Argonian may breathe water, and a Breton might resist magic, but they are all still humans wrapped in a layer of fantastic and endowed with supernatural power. The basic experience of being them is still the same. Continue Reading