Lately I’ve been playing Skyrim – one of the best video games out there. There are a large number of factors that make this game so good, but one of them is the amount of choices you have in the game.
At the beginning of the game, you go through a brief introduction to the main plotline accompanied by learning how to play the game, then you are sent out into a massive world. From that point on, you can do whatever you want. You can follow the main quest to get to the end of the game, or just go off exploring and doing minor side quests. If you want to go around stealing from all the residents of the world, you can (although you may find yourself in jail). If you want to ignore the quests and focus on skills, go right ahead.
However, the brilliance of Bethesda (the company that made the game) shines through the most when it comes to the decisions you have to make as part of a quest. Some of them are black and white with a clear right and wrong, but some of them... some of them just have no good choice to make.
There are a number of big quest lines alongside the main one, and one of these is a perfect example one of these challenging decisions. It’s a decision so hard to make that I have yet to make it once – even though this is my third time playing through the game and it is the second most important plotline.
Basically, the nation of Skyrim is part of an Empire which recently signed a peace treaty that, among other things, outlawed the worship of one of the world’s gods. That particular god was particularly revered by the people of Skyrim and it has incited a rebellion against the Empire.
It falls to you, the player, to choose the side of the war. Empire, or rebellion? Well, it may seem like a simple choice at first, but as you delve deeper into the plot, you discover more about each side of the war.
The rebels are in their homeland, being banned from worshipping one of their gods, thus their cause is just. Of course, the leader of the rebellion killed the High King of Skyrim – there is debate among the populace as to whether it was a legal challenge or outright murder.
On the other hand, the Empire only banned the worship of this god because it was the only way to save the Empire from a more powerful enemy. That particular enemy is in the background watching and even fuelling the civil war as it weakens both sides. That means it would be better to side with the Empire because it consolidates power for the future when the lurking enemy takes to the offensive again – at which time, presumably, the god could be worshipped again. Yet, to take that side is to go against the freedom of the people.
As you wander the world, you receive propaganda from both sides of the war. The Empire is weak and wants to rule Skyrim with a puppet queen. The rebel leader is a murderer and just wants power. When you enter one of the Empire controlled cities you witness a public execution. When you enter the city of the rebel leader you discover that the humans living there are extremely racist against the elves.
The more information you receive, the harder the decision is to make. Because, there really is no good decision – either choice has negative consequences. Now, of course, this is only a game. It doesn’t really matter what choice you make.
However, many real life decisions are just as complicated and convoluted. Choices are only rarely black and white – in spite of how we often treat everything as if it is. And that is what is so amazing about Skyrim.
Fantasy reflects reality. It is a tool we can use to observe and reflect upon our lives and our world. In the end, it may give us better understanding. Or it could just infuriate us. It’s all up to how we choose to look at things.
Click here to find the charity anthology containing a couple of my short stories.