Tag Archives: Elder Scrolls

Border House DLC: This Week in Videogames

 Walkthrough

  • Big releases: Far Cry 3, and “Dragonborn” DLC for Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
  • Also, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has been born again as an iOS app. Eh, there are plenty of  console-to-iOS reboots of much better games. Like Baldur’s Gate, which also hit iOS this week.
  • We also got the box art for BioShock: Infinite last weekend, which appears to feature every FPS protagonist ever. Infinite is slated for a March 2013 release.
  • A new trailer for The Cave, from Double Fine studios, showcases the cast of playable characters. (Joystiq) The game comes out in January 2013.
  • And finally in free advertising courtesy Border House, here’s some footage about Peter Molyneux‘s newest game GODUS. (Kotaku)
  • In case you missed it, Anita Sarkeesian hosted a TED Talk this week! The Feminist Frequency creator talked about her Tropes vs Women in Videogames project, and the unbelievable amount of hateful, mysogynistic backlash she’s received.
  • This week in Bad Ideas: to promote Hitman: Absolution, the developers created Hire Hitman, a Facebook app that lets you take “hits” on your friends for reasons such as “her small tits” or “his big gut.” I would say that you just can’t make this up, but apparently, some people can. Square Enix, the game’s publisher, has apologized, and taken the site down. (RockPaperShotgun)
  • What’s the next big thing on Xbox? We don’t know, but apparently Black Tusk Studio—formerly Microsoft Vancouver—does, and they’re not telling. (Joystiq)
  • In other future news, there’s going to be a thing called “All the Bravest.” Square Enix just filed for trademark and domain registrations on it. (GameInformer)
  • Remember Ouya? Developers’ consoles for those wishing to design for this Kickstarter darling will ship Dec. 28. (Joystiq)
  • The Humble THQ Bundle is doing good by THQ. With nine days left to go in the pay-what-you-want sale, the company’s stock as jumped by 40%. The success of Humble Bundle’s monetization system with games from big studios could have wider implications for the videogame market. (Joystiq) EDIT: The games in the THQ Bundle are NOT DRM-free, which was previously a key point of Humble Bundle’s mission. (Ars Technica)
  • Guys! Boyfriend Maker is still a thing! The controversial app was pulled from the iOS store but is still available via Android, though now with a filter of moderate functionality.  (DigitalTrends)
  • BioWare is throwing all the writers at the next DLC for Mass Effect 3, responding to criticism of their last DLC, Omega, and, of course, the game’s controversial ending. (DigitalTrends)
  • BioWare also wants you to know that they’re still working on Star Wars: The Old Republic, so don’t go! (Eurogamer)
  • A sequel to beloved 1999 RPG Planetscape: Torment is officially in the works! (Ars Technica) Plus, it looks like the original is getting a Steam release. (Gameranx)

Sidequests

  • Our own Quinnae had an article in Bitch Magazine entitled “Game Changer: Why Gaming Culture Allows Abuse… and How We Can Stop It.”
  • Kotaku has a feature on Thomas Deer, a cultural liaison officer at the Kahnawake Language and Cultural Centre who worked with the Assassin’s Creed III developers. Among his input was the recommendation to take out the ‘scalping’ feature that the developers had planned for the game.
  • At Gameranx, Daniel Starkey talks about how he based Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard after his mother, the person who first got him into science fiction.
  • For more BioShock Infinite goodness, here’s Ken Levine’s interview with Wired Magazine, where he discusses the game’s influences.
  • This article from Gameological Society about affectionate gestures in videogames is very touching. Sorry, bad joke. I’m just bitter because they didn’t include the hand-holding in Ico.
  • On The Mary Sue, Becky Chambers talks about how Mass Effect 3: Omega lead her to muse about the continued relevance of gender debate.
  • Here’s a parody of the Dumb Ways to Die video featuring videogame characters. (And here’s the original, for reference)

 Bonus Levels

  • Below, one valiant geeklady rips into the “fake geek girl” myth.

Female Character in Skyrim

Sex Negativity & Skyrim

The following is a guest post from Bobby Arthur:

Bobby Arthur is a freelance writer and marketing communications professional living in Toronto. He can be reached at bobby@thejuiceagency.ca and his XBLA Gamertag is WhiskerRub.

Odds are there is someone in your life who is spending their evenings slaying Dragons and amassing treasure in the most played game of 2011, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Skyrim is an open world role playing game (RPG) created by Bethesda Softworks and is set in a fictional, mostly medieval, swords and sorcery land called, Tamriel. It is a game where I expected to be killing and looting, but never expected to be slut-shaming.

In the game players are able to create an avatar for themselves, choosing a race, a gender, a name, many physical characteristics and a style of play. Will you be a warrior, a thief, a wizard or some hybrid? The nuance in the game comes from having the player face moral dilemmas along the way. Through these myriad choices the player’s avatar takes on its spiritual form. Will you be a righteous defender of justice? Will you be a mercenary for hire? Will you be a healer or will you practice blood magic? Will you steal all of the gold or just most of the gold? During my playthrough I have robbed just about everyone blind and I have murdered in cold blood. By my current statistics, the game tells me that I have killed 1081 people and about 1300 other various zombies, animals, robots and demons (most of whom I have stabbed in the back). I have stolen 2498 items, including 1659 straight from my victim’s pockets. So why did I take such umbrage at being asked to slut-shame a woman in her own home?

In a town called Riften we can rummage around a place called Haelga’s Bunkhouse. Haelga runs a dormitory for the blue-collar workers of Riften along with her Niece, Svana. Speaking with Svana will open up a miscellaneous quest that knocked me out of the fantasy world of Tamriel. It brought me back into a world where at least one in four western women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes and where women’s clothing choices are brought forth as justification by authority figures for random sexual attacks; where girls in schools everywhere are ostracized for their choice to become sexual beings or even just the rumor that they have. I don’t like this world. This world makes women ashamed of their bodies and afraid to express themselves sexually and freely. I hated that my fantasy gaming was colliding with such ugly reality.

Svana was orphaned and her Aunt Haelga took her in. Svana is an adult and cleans to pay her room and board. Seems like a fair deal to me, but Svana has other ideas about that.

“Work? I suppose you can call it that. I call it slavery. I work my fingers to the bone keeping this disgusting place clean.

Ever since my parents died and Haelga took me in it’s been a nightmare. How was I to know she was such a wretched woman?”

And what is it that makes Haelga so “Wretched”?

“It’s not just the work. It’s everything about her. She’s disgusting. I think she takes her worship of Dibella a bit too seriously. Do you know she slept with three different men in the last month alone? What kind of woman would do such a thing? Just for once I’d like to see her squirm…to rub her nose in it.”

Yes, rub her nose in it. Like you might a dog that has ruined your rug. This is an unattached woman having consensual and spiritual sex in her own home. For reference, Dibella is the in-game deity of love, and sex to her followers is a religious observance. So, what are my dialogue choices for responding to this diatribe?

“There must be a way.”

One choice. In a game full of choices, I can either go along with this or walk away. At no point am I given the option to talk her out of this – to say “hey, maybe you’re being a little hard on the woman that took you in after your parents were murdered.” Or, “it’s none of your business what she does in her bedroom.” Or, “do you think she’d be open to a fourth lover this month?” No, the only option is an enthusiastic “Ya, let’s teach that whore a lesson.” And from a gameplay standpoint, such a response is not in character with the hero I’ve created, but no alternative choice was given.

Svana continues.

“Actually, there is. But I don’t think I could get away with doing it. She’d kill me if she found out. You see, after she makes love she gives her partner a token of her affection called a Mark of Dibella. If you confront her with three of the Marks, she’d be so embarrassed… well, I don’t know what she’d do.”

At this stage I can tell Svana, “Sure. I’ll help you” or “Maybe another time.” Such a polarity of choices. So, off I am sent to retrieve these baubles of shame from the three men. On my way though, I can enjoy some of the contextual flavor that the game designers provided for this quest. I can visit Haelga’s bedroom where a pot of honey and potions of stamina rest on shelves. Her nightstand includes two erotic novels. Her bed has working shackles and underneath we find an animal tusk and leather strips i.e. a dildo and whip. The message here presumably is that Haelga enjoys a kinky sexual lifestyle and is therefore even more worthy of degradation than your average sexually active woman. Under the other side of the bed are some gold coins. A suggestion that Haelga is compensated for her abilities? Additionally we can read a love letter addressed to Haelga from one of her paramours.

“Sweet Haelga,

Last night was the most wonderful night of my life. The things you showed me…the things we did… I could never have dreamt that it was possible. Who even knew that someone could manipulate their body in that manner while wearing Daedric Armor boots? You are a true master of the Dibellan arts, my love… a credit to your religion. Perhaps we’ll meet again soon but next time allow me to bring the trout.

Your secret lover.”

Poor joke aside, everybody seems happy. Time to destroy that, I guess. Makes sense. The three men offer little resistance. One gives me some righteous indignation, one feigns ignorance and one pleads for discretion. You see, he’s married. I wonder, why am I not rubbing HIS face in it? With little effort on my part these three gentlemen sell Haelga out and give me the Marks. After confronting Haelga with the evidence of her rampant sluttiness we are given this response.

“What? How?…Where did you get these? No. Don’t tell me. Look, we need to keep this quiet…between you and me, okay? No one else needs to know about it. If word got out that I was practicing my Dibellan arts in Riften, they’ll run me out of town. Here, take this and don’t mention a word of this to anyone, especially, Svana!”

Still protecting her ungrateful niece after all this time. Svana however, is positively tickled at her aunt’s shaming.

“Isn’t it wonderful? I bet she was squirming like a skeever when you pulled them out of your pocket. I think things are going to be a lot different around here from now on and I have you to thank for it.”

Well, that’s one less brazen hussy terrorizing the penises of poor Tamriel. Such a noble endeavor. I think my problem with this quest was the lack of any kind of moral spectrum. She was either a wanton whore and therefore in need of punishment or I could just choose to not do the quest. There was never a time when I could side with Haelga. Haelga’s lifestyle was never to be considered positive. Some people may say, why make such a big deal about this? It’s just a throwaway quest in a massive game where you are able to commit atrocities against your fellow man and woman. This is true, but it’s small things like this that are so pervasive and surprisingly influential.

We all know that killing is wrong. We all know that theft is wrong. We all know that raising the dead is wrong (and unlikely). There are way too many of us however that do not know that slut-shaming is wrong and continue to use it as emotional blackmail or worse, an excuse for violence. By denying the player the option to be sex-positive it perpetuates the problem. Bethesda really missed an opportunity to not necessarily take a stand, but to let the player at least make that choice. Because choice is what RPGs are supposed to be about.

 

This post originally appeared on http://notyourmothersplayground.com


APPENDIX: ​FULL DIALOGUE

Svana:​ Work? I suppose you can call it that. I call it slavery. I work my fingers to the bone keeping this disgusting place clean.

Ever since my parents died and Haelga took me in it’s been a nightmare. How was I to know she was such a wretched woman? So now I’m stuck living here while those pigs she calls customers grope me and say the most awful things.

You:​​ Why do you hate Haelga so much?

Svana: ​It’s not just the work. It’s everything about her. She’s disgusting. I think she takes her worship of Dibella a bit too seriously. Do you know she slept with three different men in the last month alone? What kind of woman would do such a thing? Just for once I’d like to see her squirm…to rub her nose in it.

You:​​ There must be a way.

Svana: ​Actually, there is. But I don’t think I could get away with doing it. She’d kill me if she found out. You see, after she makes love she gives her partner a token of her affection called a Mark of Dibella. If you confront her with three of the Marks, she’d be so embarrassed… well, I don’t know what she’d do.

You:​​ Sure. I’ll help you. OR Maybe another time.

Svana:​ Oh, this is going to be great! You need to get the Marks of Dibella from Bolli, Hofgrir and Indalyn. Not sure how you’re going to do that, but try your best. Then just confront Haelga with them and the rest works itself out. Try and get those Marks without violence please. I don’t want to be responsible for their deaths…or yours.

AFTER RETURNING WITH THE MARKS

Haelga:​ Can I help you?
You: ​​I believe these are yours.

Haelga:​ What? How?…Where did you get these? No. Don’t tell me. Look, we need to keep this quiet…between you and me, okay? No one else needs to know about it. If word got out that I was practicing my Dibellan arts in Riften, they’ll run me out of town. Here, take this and don’t mention a word of this to anyone, especially, Svana!

AFTER CONFRONTING HAELGA

You:​ I gave the Marks to Haelga

Svana:​ Oh I know. Isn’t it wonderful? I bet she was squirming like a skeever when you pulled them out of your pocket. I think things are going to be a lot different around here from now on and I have you to thank for it. Here, I want you to have this. It was my Father’s but I’m certain you’ll put it to good use.

A beautiful Skyrim town with a castle towering in the distance

To the Ends of the Earth: A Review of Elder Scrolls V- Skyrim

My character, Serena, looking out from her balcony in the city of Solitude. Dark eyes, dark lipstick, dark mage's clothing- but a sunny personality!

You could say I found my womanhood on the island of Vvardenfell.

My life has been, in many ways, a master class education in the fact that games are never “just games.” You see, the setting of Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was a key site of my life and my evolution as a transgender woman. In some real ways, my transition began with the realisation that I preferred playing as women in life sims like this. Morrowind’s beautiful, amazing open world was where I learned more about myself than I imagined, as I adventured again and again as a claymore wielding woman bedecked in armour. The world of Tamriel taught me things about myself too numerous to list here. Needless to say, I owe it much and it has a rather special place in my heart, even for its occasional failings.

With that powerful history in mind, I gleefully turned from the eastern realms of Morrowind to the snowswept north, the province of Skyrim, home of the Nord people. This is, at last, a worthy heir to the legacy set forth by Morrowind. 2006‘s Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, unfortunately, did not meet this standard in my eyes. But Skyrim, at long last, meets the very high bar set by Morrowind.

We should begin by talking about how cities and towns speak to the spirit of a game like this.

The Death and Life of Great Tamrielic Cities

Oblivion’s greatest failing was that it lent no soul to its setting: the province of Cyrodiil, the scintilliant heart of Tamriel’s Romanesque Empire. Instead, the Imperial City felt like a large town set in marble. The province itself felt, well, provincial as opposed to cosmopolitan. The expectations set by the numerous in-game books in Morrowind that glowingly described Cyrodiil came to nothing, in the end. Yet, even excepting the size of the cities and towns, their lifeless geometric placement on the map, and their lack of grandeur, there was the soullessness best expressed by the vacant, uncanny valley stares of most of the game’s NPCs.

What Skyrim shows is something that Morrowind should have taught us all too well: Bethesda captures the frontier far better than the metropole. Morrowind’s setting on the island of Vvardenfell was at the very periphery of the Empire’s reach and that fact showed itself beautifully. Skyrim is set in a different periphery but a periphery all the same: a world of the wilds with cloudcapped peaks, vast valleys still fully given over to nature, and rifts hewn over millennia of geological evolution. The sense of being at the edge of the world is pervasive sometimes. It feels real, in other words. You feel as if you stand on a world where things have happened and where things are going to happen- a far cry from Oblivion where there was no ‘there’ there.

A beautiful Skyrim town with a castle towering in the distance.

This is a province with cities that are not vast, but whose dense size is a better fit for the harsh wintry climate, as if the buildings themselves huddle for warmth. Solitude, the Imperial capital of the province, is built on an amazing rock formation that, as the loading screen reminds you, provides a natural shelter for its harbour against the powerful northern winds. That may seem small, yet it’s a master stroke that Oblivion glaringly lacked. Cities and towns in Skyrim make sense. They are located near resources, near trading lanes, on defensible land or on terrain that provides some other benefit. In other words, cities feel both planned and organic in the way that many real life settlements do. Morrowind had this feeling in spades. Oblivion had a pentagon of towns around the capital.

I dwell so much on these intangibles because they are what make giving over so much of your time to play such a worthwhile affair; they lend the world a sense of reality that enhances the simulation and makes the world simply more fun to run around in. Around each bend is unique terrain that feels less shaped by human hands and more by the forces of wind, erosion, and time.

Everything that needs to be said about this can be said via a comparison of the maps: MorrowindOblivionSkyrim. Skyrim’s map may lack the detail of Vvardenfell’s but it does capture a more realistic and detailed world.

But what of the meat itself?

Woman as a Way of Being Human

Much has been made of the fact that your character is a Dragonborn, a humanoid with dragon blood that gives them the power to use the Voice; words of power that channel great magic. Hence every last one of your friends randomly going FUS ROH DAH! every five minutes. This has become the game’s signature, and as a mechanic it works remarkably well. It adds a layer of reward to the game- you find each word of power carved into walls with other Draconic speech; the ‘learning’ takes place via a beautiful animation set to a chorus that never quite gets old.

Legate Rikke, a stern faced woman wearing Roman-inspired iron armour, exercising her right to bare arms and standing before the red and gold banner of the Empire she serves.

But what makes Elder Scrolls games a breed apart is that the main quest isn’t the only game in town. Skyrim is replete with quests, many of which are stunningly interesting, others more mundane RPG fare that nevertheless can’t help but to take you somewhere pretty. One of my favourite quests early on is helping a single mother and shopkeeper with a problem she’s having: a male bard with an entitlement complex (he even wrote the book on ‘romancing women’ in his particular town) has been pursuing her aggressively despite her continually saying ‘no.’ Your job is to make it clear to him that she doesn’t need a man to get by.

There are literally scores of quests that have this flavouring element to the world, that breathe life into characters.

On that note it’s worth discussing the women of Skyrim at length. There are strong women and weak women; good women, evil women, and everyone in between; women of faith and women of the arcane; vampire women and werewolf women; women in power and women barely getting by; women fighting for the Empire and women fighting in the Stormcloak rebellion that stands in opposition to it; a sharp tongued wizard with a beautifully eloquent darkness about her, and an absent minded professor wizard who lives for magical theory; women who are starstruck romantics, and women who need no man.

In a word, they are human.

What a concept.

There is never room for a lone woman to become a representative archetype as, say, an evil or seductive deceiver simply because there are so many diverse women. The game forces you to stare women’s humanity in the face by lending us as many motivations and personalities as the game’s men.

The very first Imperial captain you come across is a dark skinned woman; countless more women who fight and/or are in positions of power and authority abound in the game. You find women who are most at home with an axe, men who are most at home with a poem, and interestingly a lot of people who are quite at ease with both. Women are not there purely for display while the men do all the thinking and talking. In Solitude, a Nord lieutenant, Legate Rikke, is just as at-ease hunched over a strategy map as her male colleagues.

A woman rocking out with her lute out. In the hearth lit, stone hewn tavern she sings "We drink to our youth, to days come and gone. For the age of aggression is just about done."

The game’s narrative also presents you with political complexity. A volcanic eruption in the neighbouring province of Morrowind set thousands of the native Dark Elves on the long road to other lands in search of greener pastures. Many came to Skyrim where they ended up staying despite the often as not racist reception of the Nords. One book in the game reads like a right wing screed, bemoaning the Dark Elves’ “failure to assimilate” and blaming them for “choosing” to live in ghettos. It all sounds rather familiar and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Bethesda is making some interesting political commentary here. Indeed, this issue is at the heart of the complications that beset your choice to side with the Empire or the Stormcloaks at the beginning of the game.

The Stormcloaks are freedom fighters who seek independence for Skyrim, and yet they are very much a ‘Skyrim for the Nords’ group. The Empire, even for all of its abusive machinations, has little problem with the province’s growing racial diversity. The politics becomes even more complicated, of course, and this is yet another reason I’ve come to enjoy this game. You enter a world already enmeshed in complicated, worldly political theatre as this hero-with-a-destiny. Great events are in motion and the world bristles with gossip, arguments, and songs about it all. Some bards will sing of the Empire’s glorious preservation of order, others will sing a toast to the Stormcloaks and their eponymous leader, Ulfric Stormcloak.

Often as not, as you hear tales of woe, anger, and political ferment you sometimes doubt the side you chose. A remarkable feeling that mirrors the self-doubt that plagues real politics. This is a game that, mercifully, avoids the stark good/evil meta-themes of other high fantasy settings (not that there aren’t a few necromancers needing slaying).

The Crunchy Bits

A primal and particularly Scandinavian sort of beauty dominates this game; I can stand on a mountainside and look into the valley below knowing that I could walk every square metre of that plain. Very few games can say this and it adds a depth to the sweeping breadth of the title’s beauty. But that stylishness also infuses one part of the game’s interface that pleasantly surprised me. At the beginning of the game I lamented the loss of the ability to choose your birthsign. Those constellations were a part of the flavour of the old games, but I fully understood (and approved of) the slimming down of the array of statistics you have to manage. Skyrim’s system is both lightweight and flexible enough to accommodate several playstyles.

But the skill/level-up screen seemed to say to me “I’ll take your constellation and raise you a nebula!” Your skills are displayed as stunningly pretty constellations set in great nebulae that enshroud them under the three main aptitudes: Mage, Rogue, and Warrior.

This is, however, a classless game. You level whatever skills you choose, and unlike in previous TES titles the leveling of any skill contributes to your next level. Previously you chose ‘major’ and ‘minor’ skills from a lengthy list and only if one levelled those particular skills would it count towards your next class level. Gone is this confining system, replaced with something that leaves you more nimble with your talents than ever before. At present I’m playing a wizard with a great talent for thievery and the game fully accommodates this.

The magic system is also significantly improved. Although it remains awkward to change spells in mid combat (a Dragon Age-style system would have greatly benefitted Skyrim), you can now cast a different spell in each hand and the new ‘perks’ system (which operates similarly to WoW talents) enables greater granularity for magic. Dual casting fireball, for example, has a staggering effect which a single-handed cast of the spell will lack. There’s quite a lot to love here.

All that’s missing are Celtic bagpipes in the soundtrack, really. But the soundtrack the game does have is still amazing, and it resurrects almost note for note some of Morrowind’s old themes. Music that had become so synonymous with adventure for me that I sometimes ran the tracks in the background of other RPGs I played when I tired of their more droll music.

See if you can spot the dragon some miles in the distance. Beneath an overcast sky Serena's standing on a mountain pass here looking down into a foggy, rocky valley sprinkled with coniferous trees. Every inch of the land in the distance can be explored.

Skyrim is that rarest of games that fully realises the grand sweep of its ambition. The forbidding and harsh beauty of this hardened land is vivid and alive, the people feel more real, and in a vast improvement over Oblivion the spoken dialogue is extremely well done. The landscape is dotted with signs of life, even in this frontier land that is quite far from the (supposedly) glittering centre of the Empire. One finds mills with water wheels and windmills turning, farms with livestock, bandit encampments, small cottages and tiny hamlets mixed in with towns of various sizes, and occasional passersby. There is too much to tell, in many ways. The subplot quests for organisations like the Thieves’ Guild are massive undertakings all on their own which could easily be turned into (good) fantasy movies. You can marry someone of the same sex in Skyrim. You can look at a strategy map on a table and ‘use’ each pin on it to learn a location for your game map. The Dwemer ruins, in all their steampunk glory, are back. On and on it goes.

My greatest hope for this game is not that it becomes Game of the Year. That’s assured. But rather the hope that for some young child out there it plays the same role that Morrowind did in my own life: kicking open the doors of possibility and teaching, in a very real way, the all important lesson that you should be who you choose, and that you ought to be able to push headlong and succeed regardless of who you are. Morrowind was one of the first games that taught me that my sisters could kick ass. Given Skyrim’s lofty heights of achievement, I feel just as assured that it will teach a whole new generation of young people the same thing.