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Dragonborn DLC Playability and the Skaal Religion

Statue of Talos in Whiterun, with Shrine in front, Dragonsreach to left, giant Eagle in middle, and old Companion's home to right.
Statue of Talos in Whiterun, with Shrine in front, Dragonsreach to left, giant Eagle in middle, and old Companion’s home to right.

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.

* Added to post on December 29, 2012,


I lost the men in my family to DayZ

DayZ Official Site banner.

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.

“The Way My Ideas Think Me:” An Explanation

The Way My Ideas Think Me (Jose Garcia Villa) is a playful and familiar (as opposed to formal in a religious sense) poem that may mask the seriousness of the subject matter.  The first stanza presents a difficulty, a problem, the tension.  The second stanza is fun, as if the author is in a playland; the third stanza flows from it – though something is getting serious enough for the author to become angry.  The fourth stanza presents action to relieve the earlier presented—and the building—tension.   Some specifics are below each stanza (these are my current and concise thoughts on the poem, without influence from other literary critics).

The way my ideas think me

Is the way I unthink God.

As in the name of heaven I make hell

That is the way the Lord says me.

This stanza, and poem, would be easier if the author seemed to be saying that he makes his own life hell, but he says he makes hell “in the name of heaven.”  How would you be making your own life hell “in the name of heaven”?  When we do something in someone else’s name, it’s outward – in witness, in action with someone or something else.  The author, then, seems to be saying that his ideas are contrary to God – he “unthinks” God with his incorrect notions of God and His will – and he witnesses or puts into action those incorrect notions.  These actions can push people toward hell more than toward God; they can make life worse for everyone involved instead of better.  The author hears from God, however, letting him know of his false and detrimental ways.

And all is adventure and danger

And I roll Him off cliffs and mountains

But fast as I am to push Him off

Fast am I to reach Him below.

But now we have this fun stuff.  Well, is making hell in the name of heaven serious, or not?  The life of the Christian can certainly seem like a dangerous adventure, and I think the author is simply stating this in attractive terms so that we’ll pay attention.  He isn’t talking missions trips, however.  Maybe the author thinks it’s challenging and maybe a bit fun to see how far he can go with God – how much “on the edge” activities he can do (sinning or border-line behavior)—without losing Him.  After all, he pushes God away.  The author is “on top” or up high, and he pushes God down.  However, he doesn’t actually want to get rid of God, but quickly reaches back to Him.

And it may be then His turn to push me off,

I wait breathless for that terrible second:

And if He push me not, I turn around in anger:

“O art thou the God I would have!”

The author recognizes his behavior and wants acknowledgment from God – that He’s around and that He’s going to give guidance – also that He has the righteous authority to do so.  If He isn’t such a God, what’s the point?  What is the point of life without a God who is good, moral, has authority in these matters, and has the ultimate capacity to teach, guide and judge?  If you keep on going down the wrong road, would you rather God left you alone, or that He intervened – as a loving parent would?  The author recognizes that there should be consequences to our actions – he waits for God to push him off the mountain.

Then he pushes me and I plunge down, down!

And when He comes to help me up

I put my arms around Him, saying, “Brother,

Brother.” . . . This is the way we are.

God is there for the author–he’s not alone.  God pushes him off the high place (perhaps that he made for himself), but afterwards God also extends His hand and gets the author back up on his feet.  He is so glad to have such a friend, such a God.  With all his foibles and human delusions (like thinking we can do stuff on our own and be our own king of the mountain) he can still depend on his Lord, and even delight in him as “brother.”  And who is our “brother” but the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us to be adopted into God’s family?  We can sin and make mistakes, but Jesus will never leave us if we continue to seek Him.

Secular girl activist meets Christian girl activist: love and necromancy, OR, An Encounter with Simone Weil: A film review

This film is not yet out for general release.  See this FB page  or the website for more info.

Normally a review would recommend an audience for the book or movie or whatever it is that is being reviewed, but this film makes it difficult to say who exactly would prefer it or get the most out of it.  I love the late Simone and seriously looked forward to “An Encounter with Simone Weil,” but I was in for a surprise with this pseudo-documentary.  This film (the Director’s Cut), by Julia Haslett, is like a personal travel diary only instead of the destination being a place, it’s a person.  And the road there is strewn with corpses.

Ok, so let’s make a stab at the audience, or in this offering, audiences.  The filmmaker comes from the liberal anti-American, anti-Christian segment of America, as is made apparent in the film, so that same audience is probably the intended one (since a quote from Michael Moore is on the front dvd cover, this is not a risky guess); the secondary audience would be those who otherwise like Weil or want to know more about her, most likely having heard of her in Christian or philosophy circles.

Simone Weil (1909-1943) was one of those rare of the rarest of human beings, a person with extreme intellectual prowess fused with extreme empathy and charity.  She was an intellectual who taught philosophy (and taught it all in the original languages), gave up her teaching job to labor with factory workers, had conversations with the likes of Trotsky . . . but scratch the record . . . she was also a Christian mystic.  This film touches on her academic career, but focuses on Simone’s social activism (“political” activism in the film) and her unfortunate and apparently irrational taking up with God (film’s view, not the reviewer’s).   It also has much interesting archival footage.

Haslett makes this film, does this research, due to her sadness and feeling of regret after her father’s suicide.  Could I have done something to stop it?, she asks, and Can I do more to help others who suffer?  She is inspired by something Weil wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”  Indeed, surprisingly true and knowledge worth acting upon.  How did Simone give attention, how did she alleviate suffering (or at least how did she try), and how does Haslett emulate Simone in this regard?

Without going into too much detail (a short bio of Simone can be found here, there is an excellent biography at the beginning of the book, Waiting for God, and there are numerous other sources about Simone as well), Simone didn’t just research social problems and make suggestions to the government.  She knew that the only way to understand someone’s suffering, at least to some degree, was to become them.  Thus the factory work episode mentioned earlier.   She also, from a very early age, paid attention to the sufferings of soldiers and workers and ate the small amounts they ate, or didn’t pay for heat if her fellow workers could not afford it.  She gave up on pacifism when she saw that war was inevitable and that providing help to the better side was a good; she fought in Spain for a short time (in 1936) with those against the fascists, and she volunteered to be a front-line nurse early in the Second World War.  She didn’t just talk, she walked the walk.

This is all well-known material regarding Simone Weil.  So what did Haslett do?  She does what she can to suffer alongside her brother who is in and out of depression, and she is involved with causes that are meant to alleviate suffering and bring about justice.  The problem with these causes is that they are very political and Haslett can’t seem to get herself to look at all the sides of the issues (she shows that there is voter fraud in Florida, on the side of the Republicans, but she ignores the voter fraud perpetuated by the Democrats).   Simone was very good at (and purposefully so) looking at opposing information.  Haslett’s inability to look at the other side, of humbling herself for that (or simply not villainizing the “other side”), shows up in another important way in this film.

Haslett is so enamored with Weil, and so mystified by some things about her, that she wants to meet her.  Since she can’t actually bring her back from the dead, she hires an actress (obviously a sharp one) to read and absorb Simone’s writings, and work in a factory like Simone did (sort-of), in order to “become Simone” so that Haslett can ask her questions.   [I’ll pause while you take that in.]   My first thought was, Why doesn’t she just try and understand Simone herself?   Haslett perhaps realized that she was incapable of doing so, but then, what use would there be in talking to and getting annoyed with an actress when you can basically do the same thing with a book?  It does indeed come to the inevitable head when the actress (bless her) says that “I” -meaning Simone – did not kill myself and by being  a slave of God’s I could get beyond my pain (Simone had very bad and long-lasting migraines) and try and do what I was called to do.

“Simone” insisted that she did not kill herself.  This is in reaction to many people’s claim that she passively ended her own life by not eating enough (while trying to get over tuberculosis); something the doctor who filled out her death certificate claimed.  Knowing Simone’s lifelong habit of only eating so much based on someone’s suffering–in this case, it was the amount allotted to her occupied countrymen in France–many question the doctor’s judgment.   But Haslett seemed to be trying to make the case that Simone killed herself, and had earlier submitted to Christ, out of desperation–desperation over not being able to stop the suffering of so many, and knowing that suffering would never come to an end.  It is presented that Simone had to have turned to religion only as a last resort – after all reason and rational thought were used up.  Reading Simone’s writings, one would be very hard pressed to come up with a justification of this opinion of Haslett and others.

For one thing, Simone insisted that “she had not needed to be converted; she had always been implicitly, in ‘secret’ even from her lower self, a Christian” (Fiedler 1951, 23).  Regarding suffering, she came to view her own, from the migraines, as a gift.  Of course, suffering caused by man should be worked against.  Regarding reason and rational thought, consider her claim:  “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth.  If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms” (Weil 1951, 69).  Very unlike Haslett, Simone knew that humans needed salvation.  In all the history now known there has never been a period in which souls have been in such peril as they are today in every part of the globe.  The bronze serpent must be lifted up again so that whoever raises his eyes to it may be saved” (Weil 1951, 76; see Numbers 21:5-8 and John 3:13-15 for biblical references).

All this is significant since Haslett is against it . . . yet she can’t seem to dismiss it.  At the end of the film we find that the brother she includes in the film, who suffered depression after his father’s suicide, committed suicide himself.  Haslett equates his suicide with Weil’s, though this seems very far from the mark (especially if you are of the opinion that Weil did not commit suicide).  She says that, since the world is doomed, the only choice is whether to commit suicide or not.  Wow.  I do hope that if any suicidal persons see this film that they aren’t encouraged negatively by it.  In any case, there actually seems to be hope in the end.

Amazingly, Haslett, for the first time, gives a nod to the supernatural; she says that to give attention is a “miracle.”  As she kisses a wall, she ends the film with this Weil quote:  “Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall.  The wall is what separates them but it is also their means of communication.  It is the same with us and God, every separation is a link.”  Perhaps the best audience for this film are all those who desire Haslett (and others like her) to look toward God longer, until she desires Him instead of the vessel in which He worked so brightly (Simone).

Fiedler, Leslie A.  “Introduction,” in Waiting for God.  Simone Weil (New York: Harper Colophon 1973)

Weil, Simone.  Waiting for God (New York: Harper Colophon 1973; reprint of G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1951)