To even the most politically absent modern gamer, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a game that displays both an imaginative fantasy environment and a compelling developed society for the player to explore. The extravagant history of the dragons within the universe coupled with the numerous factions and organizations to join makes for a fully immersive and personalized experience for any play-style. Although, like any other piece of media, the rhetoric within the game may be critically analyzed to uncover hidden meanings and motifs, whether intended by the developer or unintended. The in-game society which appears complex, could not be moreso. Skyrim is written and directed, and furthermore, played, in such a way that no matter where you stand on the spectrum, the game seems as if it supports your own beliefs both as a character and player. However, for the sake of rhetorical and critical analysis, the Skyrim “Civil War” can be proven to house an amusingly ironic double meaning.
The Stormcloak Rebellion, established in 4E 176 in-game, is the first playable faction the player becomes acquainted with during a play-through. Their chief ideals are set in racial prejudice and xenophobia, though do not make much sense to the thoughtful player. “Skyrim belongs to the Nords!” is a frequent battlecry of Nordic soldiers and their kinsmen, however the history of the continent of Tamriel states otherwise. The Falmer, or Snow Elves, inhabited the land that is now Skyrim long before the migration of Atmoran colonies of Nords. The war that ensued shortly after the arrival of the Atmoran colonies resulted in the enslavement and near extinction of the Falmer race and complete Nord domination of what is now Skyrim. This is blatantly reminiscent of the Native American enslavement and genocide as a result of the migration and colonization of the Spanish, English, and French peoples in the late 1400s through the early 1700s. The leader of the Atmoran colonies and historical icon for the Stormcloak Rebellion, Ysgramor, represents Christopher Columbus for multiple reasons. One, being the common theme of leading a ship of settlers to a “New World” and claiming it as they see fit. The ignorance of the Stormcloak Rebellion, leaders and soldiers alike, is reminiscent of the modern telling of the trade, pilgrim, and colonization migration from Europe that ignores the mistreatment of the Native Americans by means of raiding, passing along of illness, and enslavement. The simplistic “Skyrim is for the Nords!” chant exposes this ignorance plainly, contributing to the idea of the presence of white supremacy in Skyrim. One would also consider Ulfric Stormcloak’s distaste for and mistreatment of races alternative to Nord in Windhelm. The Dunmer (Dark Elf) population is forced to live in the Gray Quarter on the Eastern side of the city, while the Argonians have been segregated to the East Empire company docks outside of the city walls. Ulfric Stormcloak as a leader, however, is a subject for debate both in-game and out-of-game. His intentions could be interpreted as either nationalism or narcissism, or even a bizarro in-between. It’s unclear whether the basis of his uphill ascension to the position of High King of Skyrim is on the grounds of speaking for his people, or to gain a platform of power to rule from the source of his personal beliefs.
On the alternative side of the Civil War lies the Thalmor. This group of prejudiced and arrogant Altmer (High Elves) are both scholars and gifted mages and fighters, and make for a worthy opponent of the seasoned warriors and barbarians in the Stormcloak Rebellion. Due to the unpopularity of the Thalmor, many will disagree that it is the most shadowy faction in Skyrim. Although there are run-ins throughout the main quest line and in unmarked areas, what one can learn of the Thalmor may go unnoticed and therefore requires ample research. The player, known as the Dragonborn in-game, is smuggled into the Thalmor Embassy during the quest known as “Diplomatic Immunity” as a part of the main storyline. In this time, the player learns of their immoral information-extortion practices and surveillance strategies. A once tortured prisoner can be released from their custody by the player’s hand. In addition, the player gains access to records on multiple main characters. Upon reflecting on which government systems thrive from an obsession of crime and punishment, I personally believe the Thalmor to be a symbol for a fascist regime. Simply one google search will reveal that these types of regimes involve “belligerent nationalism,” and “militarism.” However, the most basic shred of evidence comes from the fascist tendency to govern on a basis of religious and racial superiority. The Thalmor holds true to this as they claim the Mer race to be far superior to every race of man. The Mer race, referring to every race of elf as well as orc and once dwarf, is known to have settled Tamriel long before man and to lean towards a magical or stealthy play-style. Their perceptions of Gods and Goddesses also differs from that of man, which of course is the source of the Thalmor ban on Talos worship. While this regime could be seen as a symbol for a left-leaning establishment seeking to censor other religions and belief systems while dismantling the white man’s inherent bias, I personally see the Thalmor to be even further right-leaning than the spiteful Stormcloak Rebellion.
When one refers to the domestic conflict in Skyrim as the Civil War, unintended dual-meanings can be derived. Many writers on forums such as Reddit, GameFaqs, and Nexus Mods are quick to compare Ulfric Stormcloak and the Stormcloak Rebellion to Adolf Hitler and fascist Nazi Germany, however, I disagree. While Ulfric Stormcloak does display characteristics of aggressive racism and xenophobia, he has not succumbed to genocide, torture, or religious persecution. One could compare the Dunmer population in the Gray Quarter to the Jewish population in the ghettos of Nazi Germany, but as nearly all of them are refugees escaping domestic crises in their homeland of Morrowind, the population could be compared to Syrian or otherwise Muslim refugees today. After making this comparison, one should realize Ulfric Stormcloak really does not even truly display a likeness to President Donald J Trump. The Stormcloak Rebellion is closer to a slur-slinging, casually-racist moderate Republican community. Coupled with the early exposition of the Thalmor’s fascist identity, the in-game “Civil War” makes for some very amusing irony. The unintended dual meaning aforementioned refers to the “civil war” within the right-wing ideology. The moderate Republican Stormcloak Army versus the fascist Thalmor entices quite an interesting social commentary, and opens the floor for even more comparisons. The most prevalent comparison to make as a modern player is between the Stormcloak/Thalmor conflict and the internal struggle of the Republican Party during the 2016 primary and general election season. As the election is over, it’s obvious that many Republicans came together and decided to vote for Donald Trump, but the dialogue from a popular podcast “This American Life” only a week before the general election proves that many Republicans could not bring themselves to cast their vote for the Republican nominee. Avik Roy said, “And I don’t know if I consider myself a Republican anymore. I think the Republican Party is a lost cause. I don’t think the Republican party is capable of fixing itself, because the people who are most passionate about voting Republican today are the Trump voters.” The internal struggle between the Republican party at this time was far less pronounced than the Skyrim Civil War, however the underlying ideals remain the same. Although these connections can be made, alternative ideas can of course be derived from these same concepts and ideas, making Skyrim a more deeply immersive and personalized game than any player could have originally imagined.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Directed by Todd Howard, performances by Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Joan Allen, Michael Hogan, and Vladimir Kulich, 2011.
“Skyrim: The Stormcloaks are a representation of Nazi Germany • /r/FanTheories.” Reddit. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.
“Will I Know Anyone At This Party?” Interview. Audio blog post. This American Life. N.p., 28 Oct. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2017.