I wrote about this dlc already (at dragonborn dlc wordpress) but wanted to convey some more information about the Skaal’s religious views, and generally about the playability of the new dlc content. So basically this is an addendum to the linked article; please see it if you would like more coverage of the Dragonborn dlc.
Dragonborn DLC playability. First. when we got the DLC I was playing a game where I had a high level character, over 60, and I was getting close to wrapping all the quests up. Playing at this level in Solstheim is relatively easy. Only Karstaag was a difficult opponent (surprising battle, that was!). But, beginning a new game and going through it so far – I’m now level 11 and had gone back to Solstheim after first going there at level 6 – I can say Solstheim is not a place you’ll get through easily for a while. Of course, the game level setting can be adjusted to its lowest level, but I’m going to bet that fighting off random lurkers will prove pretty impossible for a low level character. I wanted very much to make it to Neloth and so I swam there. The only real problem I had was when my companion, Lydia, wouldn’t just swim along and ignore a Lurker. *People ask when “the quest” starts with the DLC. There are various quests, but the main quest with Miraak will activate after you go and see the Greybeards for the first time. A couple of his cultists will meet you somewhere and attack you.
The Skaal and their religions views. The Skaal are most interesting, as their visiting researcher (like an anthropologist amongst a far away and dying tribe) frequently points out. Unlike the majority of Nords, they believe in an All-Maker god and not in the pantheon of deities. If you never read the book, Children of the All-Maker, or don’t talk to Frea after the main quest is over, you would very much think that the Skaal believe in a Judaic type of God. They talk or write of going to be with the All-Maker after they die, and seeing others that have passed on there too. They also allude to spirtual consequences that are Western, not Eastern (there is the call of the All-Maker, and ignoring it has consequences).
YET, oddly, the two sources I mentioned say they believe in reincarnation, even for humans. So, it doesn’t make much sense (you can’t be with the All-Maker visiting relatives while also being another person on earth). Interestingly, there are real-world people groups in Asia that, when found by missionaries in the past, have shown that they believe in God and even had premonitions of Christ. But this is not what is happening with the Skaal. I would give Bethesda some credit for actually taking apparent early Norse belief in reincarnation and adding it into the game (as evidenced in the real-world Norse Poetic Edda). However, having the religious leader (“shaman”) pray in an Eastern religious fashion takes away from this seeming historical reference.
The “Dragonborn” addition to the Skyrim video game, which came out earlier this month (December 2012) for XBOX, has – I think – the most “Christian” oriented content overall (in Skyrim, not the other Elder Scroll games). I wish I had written down certain dialog as I played it with my high-level character, but I simply wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary to takes notes on! (If I start a new game, it will be some time before I can get to those dialogs again – for now, this commentary without quotes will have to do.)
This latest DLC adds additional land mass via a large island known in the Elder Scroll series as Solstheim. (Update of Dec. 24: it appears to be playable from the beginning of a new game, as I went to Soltstheim at level 6, after I fought my first dragon and made my way to Windhelm). It is no doubt loved by Elder Scroll fans since it brings in elements from Morrowind (the home of the Dunmer, or Dark Elves), and indeed, the flavor of the place is quite a bit different from Skyrim (the home of the Nords). There are various quests to be found and accomplished, but the main quest involves the defeat of the first dragonborn, Miraak, who still exists after ages because of his service to Hermeus Mora, the powerful spirit being of knowledge and fate. Miraak desired power and thus made a “pact with the devil” – a safe allusion to Mora and his top minion. The DLC takes place when Miraak has used his powers to enslave the sleeping minds and bodies of the denizens of Solstheim, whom he is using to build a temple to himself. Miraak has only a small amount of dialog, but that small amount sounds an awful lot like satanic desires and promises. In addition, he has his hypnotized followers say things that are a copy, and thus a sick mockery, of true spiritual expression.
What’s interesting, from a Christian-in-the-current-world point of view, is that Hermeus Mora’s realm is called Apocrypha. (“Apocrypha” are extra-biblical writings of various qualities some are legitimate but have some textual or factual issues, while others are outright forgeries with false “witness”). It is dark and hazy and is made up of books (literally – the walls are made of books), and all underneath and around walkable areas is a very black sea. This “sea” has black slithery arms coming out of it all of the time, and they will whip you and hurt you if they can. The most dangerous creatures that stalk the place look very much akin to the old “creature from the black lagoon.” The other dangerous creatures are “seekers,” whose hideous appearance includes a lamprey-like mouth where their stomach is. These seekers of “knowledge” are never satisfied, but devour what their gut desires and not what their heart and mind discerns as true. This is my take on them, anyway, which I see as the problem with seeking and using secret – usually false – knowledge, and which is the point of this dark and eery place.
When it comes to Christianity, God chose to communicate with man and it was His desire to be known and understood. Those who purport to have “secret” knowledge of Him in order to steer someone away from God’s revelation, are not working within God’s desires for mankind.
On the other side of the coin are the Skaal of Solstheim. They are Nords of the ancient way and claim to have been given Solstheim by the All-Maker. They believe in one creator God, and the way they talk about creation and how we are to be in it, generally fits in with the Judeo-Christian biblical message. You can have an interesting conversation with Wulf Wild-Blood of the Skaal, who asks you if you can find his run-away brother whom he believes turned into a werebear (like a werewolf, only a bear). His brother could go down that path only be rejecting the call of the All-Maker. While the Skaal have beliefs that mesh with scriptures, they have others that do not – they believe in reincarnation. Conversations with fellow Skyrim players about how reincarnation doesn’t at all mesh with a loving creator God, and how it is wholly incompatible with Christ’s message and work, is a possible real-world benefit of playing this game.*
If, as a Christian, you will only play games that have pure Christian messages and signs, then Skyrim and Dragonborn aren’t for you. But if you want to play a game that actually gives a nod to God and certain Judeo-Christian beliefs and virtues in today’s world, then Skyrim is an OK game for that. I wrote about Skyrim earlier, here. That review by no means covers all the aspects of Skyrim. There are things about the game I don’t like and scratch my head at, wondering about the game maker (Bethesda) every time I think of them (there are aspects of the game you can only play if you decide to do bad and dishonorable things).
Hopefully I’ll be able to flush this review out in the future, with quotes and such. In the meantime, enjoy the Dragonborn and listen to the new leader of the Skaal: do not follow Hermeus Mora, but follow the path laid out for you (and to the Skaal, this would be by the All-Maker).
* These last two sentences were edited in after the initial posting of this review (12-20-12).
In line with encouraging circumstantial thinking, like “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” I’m making the most of the video game DayZ by sharing with you its addictive qualities. The men in my family team-it-up in this multi-player online game, and the survival aspect is so intense it’s like they’re literally out in a gorilla warfare battlefield. Consider yourself forewarned if you haven’t played DayZ yet, and I’m assuming that’s the case since if you had, you’d be playing it right now instead of reading this.
DayZ is actually a mod made for the military simulation game, ARMA 2. This mod places the player in an apocalyptic zombie world of survival, but it’s the other online players that are more often the real danger. This game is not anything like shooter zombie games such as Left4Dead. Sure, you shoot zombies if you want to, and no doubt you’ll have to, but they are often slow or relatively easy to deal with. Well, during the day, anyway. Most online players, however, are just really horrible individuals. I say that so generally because as far as I and the men can tell, the vast majority are snipers, bandits, hackers, etc.–we’re guessing 80% to 95% of all players fall into these categories. Most will shoot you on site, which is really a “jerk” (that’s putting it kindly) move since when you die, you lose any of the hard-won items you may have found.
A good little background summary from Wikipedia: “The mod places the player in the fictional post-Soviet state of Chernarus, where an unknown virus has turned the population into zombies. As a survivor with limited supplies, the player must scavenge the world for supplies such as food, water, weapons and medicine, while killing or avoiding both zombies and other players – in an effort to survive the zombie apocalypse.”
When you first spawn, you start out with only a flash light, a bandage, and pain-killers. Wow! Nothing to fight off zombies with. You must scavenge for even the most rudimentary weapons, such as an ax or crowbar. There are of course a whole variety of guns in the game, but you must find ammo too, and unlike many online games, you have limited backpack space. You can become injured easily in the game and require morphine, blood packs, or even hospital care, in order to survive; playing as a team, the men help each other out with drugs, blood transfusions, that sort of thing. You might very well imagine playing the game for some time without really getting too deep into it yet, before some unpleasant fella (gamer, not zombie) murders you.
Which brings me to a well-known YouTube player called FrankieonPC. He’s generally a good guy and has done some pretty awesome stuff, with the help of some friends. He has shown that the game has a surprising range of multi-player capabilities. In one video where he has gotten rid of some bad guys (he, along with some other hero players, rid the servers of snipers and bandits – this really takes skill when the snipers simply bump people off upon spawning) and raided some hacker stashes, he calls all good folk to a church. They arrive on a bus. Can you believe it? There are usable buses in the game, and you can see all the people – online players – riding in the bus. Anyway, Frankie has dumped the weapons from the hackers in the church and anyone is free to take what they want. This is very cool and warm and fuzzy, and then . . . someone bombs the church!
Besides buses, there are helicopters, trucks, cars, ATVs, and even bikes, though none of these are common. Vehicles can be found (or stolen), though they may need to be fixed. Not surprisingly, you will make a desirable target as a vehicle driver. The game is open and huge, and has an awesome markable map available. Servers vary in their difficulty level (there are fewer people on the higher level servers), and they may have other differences, like vehicle spawn rate, day or night only play, and so on.
The men that I’ve lost to DayZ say that what they like most about the game is killing bandits and saving bambis (that is, newb players that are easy targets for the snipers and bandits). They like working together under pressure, helping each other survive, and finding vehicles and fixing them. The difficulties they’ve encountered include hackers with over-powered weapons, fatal glitches (like from doors and stairs), and not being able to see at night, at all, as if it were always a new moon. And, of course, they love the challenge of surviving longer than the average time of 1 hour and 8 minutes, or whatever the current figure is, as kept at the DayZ site.
This post could be opening up a whole can of worms, but so be it. Why all the possible worms? When my son was very young I thought – based on so much of what I read and heard from Christians – that video games were just all from hell and will lead to hell. In more recent times, I have posted online with some Christians who still feel the same, though I’m hoping they don’t really think “Harvest Moon” or “Hello Kitty” games provide a direct ticket to the brimstone dungeon. There are nasty games out there for sure, games that relish dishonesty, crime, blood, gore, and killing. But does that make all video games bad? Putting aside the issue of time spent by the Christian on past-times (hobbies, entertainment, etc.), are certain video games not only fun and cathartic, but also potentially useful for stretching the mind and for witnessing? I think yes, so let’s take a look at Skyrim with its Dawnguard expansion (Hearthfire, added September 4, 2012, adds pleasantries to the game).
The time frame in Skyrim seems to correspond nicely with the Iron Age in Northern Europe and/or France and the British Isles. Skyrim refers to a region in the continent of Tamriel, and is one of a number of games in the Elder Scrolls series. The region makes up the north central part of the continent, and its Nordic inhabitants are akin to the real world Norsemen (Vikings). For example, what is like heaven to the Vikings was called Asgard, and the honored hall Vahalla. In Skyrim, these are referred to as Sovngarde and Shor’s Hall (Hall of Valor), respectively. The Imperials, which very obviously correspond to the Romans, have kept order in Tamriel for some time, though they are present in Skyrim now in order to crush a rebellion. This isn’t just a little rebellion, but a power play that would affect all of Skyrim and its relations to the rest of the Empire. Spoiler alert: In typical historic fashion, the son of a king killed his own brother in an attempt to be high king. Each region in Skyrim has a king, and these kings choose a high king from among them. This was a spoiler since only one or two characters in the whole game actually tell you that the king killed was the usurper’s brother.
The point about this power play, however, is that the usurper, Ulfric Stormcloak, had gotten many in Skyrim behind him because he claimed that his primary goal was to reestablish the free worship of the god Talos. Talos used be just a man (Tiber Septim), but was made a god by the other gods (somehow – how this happened is unclear) and thus became worshipped, not just revered as a Dragonborn or for uniting Tamriel in the distant past. Why was the worship of Talos banned? To end a major war the Imperials and other leaders had signed a treaty with the High Elves, and part of this treaty prohibited Talos worship, as the High Elves considered Talos to be a false god.
Despite the treaty Talos worship was going on quietly, but Ulfric’s uprising changed that. Because of the rebellion, the High Elves began persecuting Talos worshippers, thus giving the Stormcloaks fuel for their fire. There are subtle complications added to the game to make the decision regarding which faction to follow not necessarily an easy one; it certainly shouldn’t be rushed. While most people in Skyrim revere Talos, there are some things said to make a player wonder about him. For instance, the self-proclaimed mouth-piece of Talos in Whiterun is annoying and may seem mad (he definitely is depicted as a melodramatic street preacher), and indeed, his feverish support of the Stormcloaks ignores both the reality of what is going on behind the scenes with the Imperials (many of whom also worship Talos) and the conniving and tyrannical nature of Ulfric and his Stormcloaks.
The Stormcloaks are pretty nasty, saying that if you don’t join them you’re against them (an enemy), yet the Imperials say no such thing. There is much more to seemingly righteous rebels behavior vs Imperial behavior, but I’ll leave that for your exploration. The Stormcloak rebellion is one of the two major plots/quests of the game, the other being Dragonborn’s (the player is the Dragonborn) destiny to rid the world of Alduin, the world-eater dragon. The quests are not totally separate. Without paying close attention, a player may totally miss that Alduin and Ulfric are intertwined.
For the Christian, Alduin is of great interest since he is a Satan figure (without the Satan figure, one could maybe take Talos to be a pagan mythological man-god). He claims to be the first born of the great god Akatosh (and some even worshipped him as Akatosh himself), but in reality he was created, and for a specific purpose. He defies Akatosh regarding his purpose, interferes with man, and is arrogant. Skyrim is full of hints and references to religion, folklore, history, and literature, although much of these are not wholly analogous. As might have been inferred by now, talking with someone about Skyrim can be a starting point to talking about Christ and even the existence of Satan.
An inquisitive player may decide it’s worth his or her time to look into the real-world peoples and such in the game. Besides the examples already discussed, there is the goddess Mara, who quite obviously corresponds to Mary, mother of Jesus. Elves are of course derived from folklore (as are the Dwarves), and their demise followed the acceptance of Christianity in European areas. The magical High Elves came from a large island to the southwest of Tamriel, and so this alludes to Atlantis. There are Bretons in the game and there are real world Bretons.
As with much fantasy in modern times, the game includes Orcs. Where did Orcs come from? Well, from the mind of JRR Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings)! In Skyrim they are not just like Tolkien’s Orcs, but they are still a corrupted form of Elf. Without getting into a lot of detail, I was disappointed with the game in some ways. Skyrim seems to favor doing bad things, despite the character played being the Dragonborn, a person who brings good and who is in line to become Emperor. The game has achievements, and many of these involve doing evil things. This is unfortunate, and while a player is not at all required to do these things, some aspects of the game are closed-off if a player ignores these activities. The new expansion of the game, Dawnguard, seems to make up for this somewhat.
Most of the hype was directed towards the evil side of this expansion, involving vampires, but really, as far as I can see, the “good side” gains here. I also have to pat Bethesda (the game maker) on the back for making the vampires in fact gross and bad. Some may have a problem with the main vampire character being “good,” but at least they included dialogue for you to choose that shows your disdain for the whole idea, if you so choose to use that dialogue; there is also the possibility that this character will willingly give up her vampirism (become cured).
These games are made for the masses and they are not in business to lose money, so one has to take the good with the bad and make the most of it; in real life this is often murkier and harder to do than in games like Skyrim. That being said, the Dawnguard include in their ranks a witty, funny, smart, and spiritually active ex-priest. He adds a positive spiritual character that is a counter to the street preacher that so many players actually want to kill. Finally, I’ll leave you with basic good and bad points of Skyrim/Dawnguard/Hearthfire, and this quote from John Battle-Born of Whiterun.
This statement may very well be Bethesda’s commentary on the gaming world and not Skyrim, since there appears to be no connection to it and anything in the game–except perhaps that everyone that you encounter in the wild seems to want you to kill them!: “You know what’s wrong with Skyrim these days? Everyone’s obsessed with death.” Good points:
Truly beautiful to look at and wander around in: HUGE. Our world beautiful, not abstract, though there are awe-inspiring places that mix underwater concepts into air-breathing spaces.
Complicated main quests and min-quests that require you to listen to many characters to decide what’s best (if you do it right).
Religious and political aspects and some real-world history, along with the fantastic. Real world lessons in deciphering the truth, in seeing through people’s blind ideologies or loyalties.
No sex and little swearing.
Fun and rewarding; tons of play time and things to do including blacksmithing, mixing potions, exploring, etc., besides fighting bandits and doing the quests.
Absolute loads of books, notes, recipes, etc. (I believe there are over 1,000), promote reading and the value of the written word.
The new Hearthfire expansion allows the player to – finally – adopt children, as well as do some fun housebuilding.
Passive goriness along with some slow-mo killing scenes (however, using magic makes for really awesome slow-mo scenes).
There is much fighting, which might not appeal to some. Play yourself to decide (use the Dawnguard crossbow and you just might get hooked – forewarning you).
In Skyrim, the bad seems to be rewarded more than the good. The new Dawnguard and Hearthfire expansions seems to even this out some.
The longer you take to finish the Vampire quest, the more citizens die in the towns – regular citizens, not just stand-ins.
Glitches, apparently the more you play the more there are.
This isn’t BAD, but just saying – it could’ve used more humor (there is some subtle dry humor in the game).
For more thoughts on Skyrim, particularly regarding its darker aspects and dealing with them with your children, see On Skyrim: A Vent from a Christian Parent (a mom who plays). November 5, 2012. I just found this out so I thought I’d pass it along, from the Bethesda Softworks site on October 26, 2012:
Earlier today, Skyrim came away as the big winner at the UK’s most prestigious gaming award show, The Golden Joysticks. The game captured the night’s biggest award, Ultimate Game of the Year, as well as awards for Best RPG and Best Moment (visiting the Throat of the World).