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There's lots of things I enjoy about over-analysing Skyrim, and the responses I get are a big part of that. There are a pleasingly small number of people that misread the title and my intentions ("Oh sure, the game with dragons is veeery accurate…"), and a fantastic number of readers willing to add their own knowledge and join the discussion. Sometimes, one of you lovely people will step in and flesh out something I have mentioned or correct a minor mistake, which is awesome to see. Learning should be a two-way exercise after all. And there's still a lot of untapped History within The Elder Scrolls.
If you're joining this gaming/history blog at Part 4, hello and welcome. I started playing Skyrimfor the first time last November, and I've been climbing every tower and turning every rock for signs of History. Sometimes real life Historic details are the clear inspiration for a detail in the game, and sometimes the game appears to stumble into a historic comparison. And in one particular situation, History actually helps to explain one of the most famous lines in the game…
I was surprised by how few NPCs have actually expressed the immortal phrase, "I used to be an adventurer like you, but then I took an arrow in the knee" during my journey. Oh sure, at least four different people have shared that particular woe with me, but the sheer magnitude of references to this phrase on the internet had led me to believe that this line of dialogue punctuated every sentence. I half expected to discover that this was actually a form of greeting among townsfolk.
Whatever your view of the in-game catchphrase, the statement is very strange. There seem to be a lot of old adventurers with life-altering wounds in the same region of the body. This is doubly odd when you consider the presence of magic – a swift restoration spell can heal even the most grotesque of wounds. Why are there so many people in this world with long term injuries that shouldn't exist?
History provides an answer.
To start with, we have to consider the function of arrows. The main purpose – as I'm sure we all know – is to allow the user to stab a target from long range. A nice thin, sharp arrow head will find its way through most light armour and cause the target a distinct amount of grief. However, this isn't the only purpose. Most arrows are designed to find their way into the soft, squishy, important parts of a person and set up home there.
Above is a collection of arrowhead designs. The 'barbed'' arrowheads present the gruesome way that arrows are made to cause maximum pain. The arrow goes in very easily, but will want to stay forever. This actually exploits the way that the skin and muscle with try to naturally close a wound. To make matters worse, arrow heads are usually bound to the arrow shaft in such a way that they will break away if yanked on. A common adhesive was beeswax; the arrow head would stay glued on in flight, but come undone when the injured warrior tries to de-arrow themselves. That might help to explain why not every arrow in Skyrim can be retrieved from the corpse of your recently departed enemies.
This situation was so common that barber-surgeons actually invented arrow-pulling tools to make the job easier. They did not make the job less excruciating or graphic. Most of these tools involved pushing/pulling the surrounding flesh further away from the missile, making it easier to retrieve the offending item by hand. You would want a Potion of Cure Disease handy, because the process is undoubtedly going to lead to infection alongside the brain-punching pain. The surgeon at hand may have an anesthetic (white wine was popular in Europe) and maybe a mild sedative (opiates if they've got them), but there's no denying this process is incredibly dangerous. And if it goes wrong, the barber surgeon may return with another tool: a dirty, big saw.
No matter how magical the environment, I wouldn't blame any resident of Skyrim if they turned down the procedure. A flesh wound can be healed, but an arrow inside the knee is not coming out without visiting a world of pain. Especially since some of the arrow designs in the game are really elaborate. It's conceivable then that injured warriors may turn to the other form of surgery available. It's still painful, but brief and with less risk of amputation: cauterisation. A few pokes with a red-hot poker would seal the flesh right over that tricky little arrow head. In my mind, it is entirely plausible that the NPCs bitterly recalling their adventuring days are the people that feared the more invasive surgery. Or worse: they had the arrow pulled, but the surgeon didn't do a very good job and left a piece of arrow behind...
People in Tamriel are so mean too each other. Wherever you go, someone is talking trash about Dark Elves or Bretons or anyone who doesn't look like them. It could be argued that racism is going to be more prevalent in a place where there are actually different races.
What I want to consider is: did xenophobia exist on this level in our past? Or is there something in the water making these people ultra-bigoted?
The word 'barbarian' springs to mind. In its original form, the word means 'foreigner', yet today the word conjures up an image of a slovenly, dull-witted warrior with a thirst for violence. The Romans used the word to refer to pretty much anyone that couldn't speak Latin (and the Ancient Greeks used the phrase to refer to pretty much anyone who wasn't Greek). While the word is innocent, there is an undertone of smug-patronisation implied in its usage. The Romans certainly thought that 1st century Britons were an odd bunch:
"Very many [Britons] who dwell farther inland do not sow grain but live on milk and flesh, clothing themselves in skins. All the Britons paint themselves with woad, which produces a dark blue color; and for this reason they are much more frightful in appearance in battle. They permit their hair to grow long, shaving all parts of the body except the head and the upper lip. Ten and twelve have wives 16 common among them…" -Julius Caesar, 55BC
This is big man Julius describing the "most civilised" Britons he knows of, and even then he considers them to be hairy, scary wife-swappers that don't know how farming works. Brutish and uncivilised. This is the way that the highly advance Romans saw the tribes that they were conquering. If there's a parallel to be drawn with Skyrim, it's with the Nords and their views on races they deem lesser than them. Nords will refer to each other as 'Kinsman', and sneer at at the more tribal species.
On the other hand, many tribes found an easy peace with the Roman invaders – the Trinovantes in the East of England were more than willing to befriend the conquering legions – rather than resist. Even the notorious Boudicca showed respect and civility to the Romans… that is until her husband died. After the Romans took her land and abused her family, her opinion of the Romans turned wildly.
The Vikings are similarly remembered for their 'barbarism'. According to contemporary sources, they were violent and vicious pirates who beat up monks and burnt their monasteries. If this was entirely true, then it must be pointed out that when most Viking raids were at there height, the Vikings were Pagans; Christianity meant very little. To the Scandinavians, the wooden monasteries full of gold and silver would have made for easy targets, but the plundering would not have been sacrilegious. Furthermore, the sources that have recorded Viking raids largely come from monks and other holy men. One famous bad-mouther of Vikings was Alcuin, a Christian scholar, who went to great pains to record how evil and horrific Viking attacks were along the English coast, despite spending most of his time in Europe.
This is not to say that all Viking xenophobia was unwarranted; the British tribes had reason to be wary. Not all Vikings came to raid – the word Viking is a collective term after all. Many Vikings came to occupy Northern England and parts of Ireland and Scotland with a greater focus on trading resources back to Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia. King Canute (also spelt Cnut by those that like to live dangerously) was able to conquer England, snatching it from Anglo-Saxon rule, and what followed was nearly twenty years of peace and prosperity. Vikings and Saxons would continue fighting long after that, but History proves they were capable of being civil.
Of course, it's very easy to see how the local populace would mutter negativity. In Tamriel and in reality, a great deal of conflict has occurred, a great deal of which has been fought between different regional groups. Whilst kings and chiefs can broker peace, the underlying tensions will not dissipate easily.
For most medieval people, travel is not part of their existence. Tribes were far more isolated by their smaller populations and the level of technology. If a visitor did appear, they were either coming to wage war or trade. If the visitor is a Norseman, it could well be both. The level of Xenophobia would therefore depend on the unique experience of that village. Given that most people had no need to read or write, there was little chance that the average Saxon would have their opinion swayed by an angry monk's writings. In Skyrim then, the Xenophobia is rifer due to the way in which various races/species are merged into the same living space. Diversity is high in Tamriel, but so are racial tensions. I blame the Nords myself.
Just two comparisons this time around. Usually the connections between History and Videogame are much smaller, briefer topics; I felt that historic medicine and historic attitudes were much broader topics and should be given more space. There were many more comments I could have made about ancient health practices, and much more could be said about historic xenophobia. I think I could easily overdo the latter; this is intended as a light-hearted, videogame analysis after all.
I hope you continue to enjoy this kind of blog, and that if you have any knowledge to add, (or corrections to make) then you will leave a comment below. I've definitely got a Part 5 lined up, and then I'll be looking for another game to over-analyse. I've already had some great suggestions.
Now I won’t say that I offered inspiration to the latest Call of Duty… because I obviously didn’t. What I did do was suggest a change to the game franchise that kind of, sort of, made it into the game. Which I think we can all agree is still pretty impressive… if you’re easily impressed. A year ago, I stated that Call of Duty would be improved by the Power Glove from The Legend of Zelda, and Advanced Warfare included exo-suits. That’s basically the same thing (if you ignore all the differences). I’ve always known I was a visionary…
I began blogging just over a year ago. So far I’ve written about being a Gamer-Teacher, explored some of my Weird Theories about various videogames and generally talked about why games are good things. Yet the blog I began with was on this particular subject: Which Games would benefit from a Zelda Weapon? Because the conversation were so fun the first time, and I’m looking for a nostalgia trip for myself, I’d like to revisit this topic.
Below are examples of weapons from Link’s arsenal, and the games I believe they might improve. Some are my own ideas, whilst at least one is inspired by the reader response from the previous blog all those one year ago. The last blog offered individual games that would benefit from a Zelda item, whereas these suggestions are a bit more general.
The Hylian Shield.
There were a couple of replies last year that called for this item of glorious gorgeousness to find its way into another game. The claim made at the time was that it would have livened up the otherwise murky landscape of the Gears of War franchise. It was also noted that the design and shape of this handheld barricade could lend themselves to the firefight.
The slanted edges at the top could allow the user to peer over whilst keeping the shield held high; the fact that it can be easily wielded in one hand ensures that the fighter can use a firearm one-handed; the colourful pattern would distract the opposition or focus them on you if your aim is to ‘agro’ the enemy away from your allies. Link’s shield is often used to great effect at deflecting or reflecting enemy attacks, making it way more versatile than your average lump of wood or metal.
Of course, the shield itself does not need to carry the well-known symbols and imagery of the Legend of Zelda series. Keep the shield, but add a colourful design more relevant to the game in question. Why not make this a customisable feature? I’d love to see what patterns and visuals other players could create for their own shields. And by ‘love to see’, I of course mean ‘dread to think’ and ‘wonder how phallic’.
The Flame Lantern.
When explorers like Nathan Drake or Lara Croft trip, slip or face-plant into a cave, they usually have two lighting options. Firstly, they may have remembered to pack a torch like good little adventurer. Alternatively, they can search for the nearest, most inexplicably convenient torch living nearby. In the Dark Souls games, the player’s created protagonist/punching bag is sent down darkened corridors and crevices with the most meagre of lighting.
A simple light or lantern serves as illumination – and a striking atmosphere – but usually inhibits the player-character’s ability to fend off foes. Not the Flame Lantern. Not only with this object light your way (and any other extinguished lanterns) but it can also set flammable objects ablaze. This little fire-starter can get you out of serious scrapes, or get you into areas that you though were impassable. Should your adventure game take you too close to a giant spider’s web or a group of particularly dry Zombies, the Flame Lantern will burn right through them. It’s not the most impressive weapon, but it makes all the difference when monsters get a little bit cuddly.
The Wall Merge ability.
In a recent edition to the franchise, but no less versatile, the Link of A Link Between Worlds is able to drop a dimension and fuse to smooth surfaces like a painting. At first this quirky feature allows Link to slink between tiny gaps in the stonework, or cross gaping holes in the floor. The game then reveals further opportunities to use the Wall Merge: it’s quite useful for prising objects stuck to walls, and is really useful for sneaking up on other people.
I’m very open about my uselessness where stealth games are concerned. I have patience in spades, but lack the timing and forward thinking approach that more sneak-orientated games demand. I need all the help I can get, and the Wall Merge ability gives me hope. I rarely seem to reach the baddies before they about-turn, and my hiding places would make the average hide-and-seeker grimace, but if I could blend into the nearest wall… I might have a chance.
The ability to pass through barriers and bridge gaps offers a multitude of gameplay opportunities, but it’s the sneakiness of the Wall Merge that appeals to me. Sidling silently past guards, watching there confused faces as they try to remember if that picture was always there, then suddenly barrelling over with the force of the dimension shift. This might take the serious, gritty feel away from most stealth games, but I think it would be worth it for the expression of the henchmen’s face as they are ‘surprise-glomped’.
Besides, there are very few stealth games where the Wall Merge couldn’t logically fit. Whilst Assassin’s Creed presents itself as historically accurate, we could imagine this new ability as the user of the Animus exploiting a bug in the system.
The Gale Seeds.
My opinion is completely torn on Fast Travel. On the one hand, I think a large game deserves to be personally travelled and appreciated. If I’m taking part in a Role-Playing Game, then I feel I should appreciate the whole experience. On the other hand, sometimes the only side-quest you have left for 100% completion is on the wrong side of the map and...well…
What I am more certain about, is that Fast Travel often feels tacked on to the overall game. Whether you hold to a sense of immersion or not, blinking across the map via a loading screen feels somewhat dislocated. Unless I missed a briefing that explained that all open-world game protagonists suffer from serious blackouts, there is rarely an explanation for skipping chunks of game time.
I’d like to see Fast Travel made more ‘included’ within the games they are employed. A wonderfully ludicrous way this was achieved was with the Gale Seeds in Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages & Seasons. There are five different magical seeds that could be harvested from trees across both maps, and the Gale Seed had two attributes. If fired against an opponent the seed would summon a mini-tornado which enveloped the target, forcefully removing them from existence. However, when used on the player, the created wind storm would whisk Link into the air and deposit him at one of several locations across the map.
I’m sure there are gamers that would argue that this form of Fast Travel would contrast with the aesthetic of most open-world videogames, but I’m sure the more innovative game developers could find a way to make their own version of the Gale Seed fit the game design. What’s more, the fact that the Fast Travel is now a consumable item means that players will, perhaps, rely less on the ability to skip the journey. Too much Fast Travel is wasteful, in more ways than one.
Think of a game where you could jump. That should be a fairly easy task to complete. Now think of a game that let you jump-glide. Slightly more challenging, but I’m sure you can think of one. Now ask yourself: did you prefer the jump or the jump-glide? The answer to that question is really easy.
There are already oodles of games that give more than just a traditional hop in the air. Videogames of all genres are fully aware that gamers enjoy gameplay that doesn’t ground the player. Whether it’s an unexplained double-jump or a rocket repelled boost jump or a broken-winged glide we can appreciate a big jump. It’s simple, gleeful fun. Very few games make the jump-glide look as fun… and fashionable… as the Legend of Zelda, however.
Roc’s feather imbues Link with the power to front flip with style across pits and enemies. Whenever this item is unlocked, the hero of Hyrule will spend every journey bouncing and tumbling through the air because walking is for squares. With Roc’s Cape however, the front flip is combined with a swift glide through the air, clearing huge distance in one effortless leap. On top of this, each version of the Cape looks pretty stylish, which I think we can all agree is the most important thing when equipping your character for battle. Simple, elegant, cathartic and well worth sharing around.
Pick a game. Any game. Add a Hookshot. It’s now a better game. Yes, even Tetris. No, I don’t know how that would work. But you know I’m right.
This was a consensus reached in the ensuing discussion of this blogs first outing. There are so many games that employ a grappling hook or gun of some description, and they are always entertaining. Link’s Hookshot is one of the best adaptations of this idea. This is partly due to the satisfying clinking of the metal chain as it launches from the handle, and partly due to the physics-bending way it pulls Link towards the target surface without any influence from gravity. The Hookshot serves as an excellent ‘fetching’ tool too, snatching dropped items from distant ledges or tugging the defences from an armoured enemy. Whilst the abrupt, swift motion looks painful at times, Link has never express any discomfort.
The Hookshot is simple, effective and versatile. The possibilities for this weapon in other games are vast, and the delight they would bring to each game would be tremendous. To prove this point, I refer to Team Fortress 2 and the recent decision to add a Hookshot-esque grappling hook to the game December 2014. I personally think Valve know I just bought a new gaming PC and heard how much I love Hookshots...
Link has a wide variety of toys to share with the other boys and girls, and each one would transfer beautifully into a wide range of games. Since last year I have seen numerous new games try new gameplay features that remind me of tools I’ve seen in Legend of Zelda. Whilst the inspiration is probably not drawn directly for the Zelda series, I’ve no doubt that the series will continue to offer inspiration for years to come. For now, why not leave a comment suggesting a game and Zelda weapon that should be combined, or offer an opinion on any of my suggestions?
Thank You for Reading
As the New Year begins, reflection of the Old Year takes precedent. The World Wide Web is awash with Top and Bottom lists of Games from 2014. The general consensus seems to be that last year saw a few excellent games hovering above a majority of… games of a significantly lower calibre. Big promises were left unfulfilled, which left the community somewhat dejected. I personally had a good year of gaming, but I have spent the last two months playing Skyrim… so my opinion probably doesn't count.
I'm quite often late to the party when it comes to games. I'm a patient sole whose always been taught to save the pennies. The only game I played on its release date last year was Destiny, which was a gift from my fiancé. Otherwise I've been enjoying my time playing Xbox 360 and PS3 games that were released months and, in some cases, years after their release. This has often meant that I have played a videogame long after the media hype or critical sneering has died away.
Even when opinions are taken out of the equation, it can still be difficult to enjoy videogames. It might be that it isn't your usual type of game, or that there's an aspect of the games that bug you, or something feels missing. Either way, having simple fun with a game isn't always so straightforward. Below are a few videogames that I've struggled to settle into, or enjoyed only because I was in the right frame of mind. Have a read, and consider just how easy you find it to fully enjoy your gaming.
I started playing Dead Space 3 long after the initial scathing and derision was over. There was a lot of gamers disappointed by the direction the franchise went in: the horror element of this series has been increasingly supplanted by action; the unwelcome growth of the micro-transaction; odd little changes to the inventory. The third iteration is hardly a massive alteration of the franchise, but there were just enough minor changes to rub gamers the wrong way.
I tend to agree, to a lesser extent. I'm not the most ardent fan of scary games, but I liked the way Dead Space would scare me. The game put you into a desperate situation, but gave you just enough power to fight that desperation. In Dead Space 3 I was practically shedding ammo and small med kits and the tension gradually fell away too. My personal grievance was just how lazy the jump-scares were becoming. When the Necromorphs are popping up out of the snow every two seconds, the scare isn't really there.
How I enjoyed it: Knowing that the game was going to be more action-based, I found myself considering the series from Isaac Clarke's perspective. In Dead Space, Mr Clarke was terrified of a new monster made of blades and dead colleagues. In Dead Space 2 he's come to turns with his role as monster-killer. Despite his early complaints, the Isaac of Dead Space 3 is more at home amongst the Necromorphs than a pig in mud.
Whilst it's not nice to see a horror franchise forget it used to be scary, the action-shooter aspect of the game is as strong as it ever was. So, following Isaac's lead, I revelled in the killing of monsters rather than waiting to be scared.
Once I was in the right frame of mind, Dead Space 3 became fun. The gunplay is still immensely satisfying, and each weapon is wonderfully entertaining. I'm quite fond of any game that lets me build and modify my own weapons, and Dead Space 3 let me attach a flame thrower to the bottom of a rocket launcher. Unfortunately, I can't quite explain how they both take the same ammunition…
Providing I hold back my disappointment concerning the absence of horror, the Dead Spacefranchise remains an enjoyable romp, and Isaac Clarke is a suitable central character. He's not scared anymore, so neither am I.
I should completely adore Sniper Elite V2. I'm fond of any game set in an historic setting, and the whole notion of a lone soldier sneaking around with a sniper rifle has instant appeal. Despite this, I do struggle to fully enjoy the game, largely because it suffers from repetition.
Sniper Elite V2 has a very focused gameplay style. You find a spot to shoot from, and watch as the game takes absolute delight in showing the slow-motion, x-ray vision view of every kill shot. Each time you make a successful shot the game reacts like it didn't think you could do that. The only way the game could further emphasise how awesome you are is by awarding you points every time you kill- oh wait the game does that too. The game does a very good job of making sniping entertaining and rewarding – which is great for a game about a sniper – but after a while there is a feeling of 'rinse-and-repeat', taking out enemies in the same fashion, with only minor changes to scenery.
How I enjoyed it: I rarely play Sniper Elite V2 for more than twenty minutes. It makes a great break from the work I bring home, and passes the time if I'm waiting for friends to join a multiplayer session. If I finish a game and there's time left in the evening, this game gets brought out. I play it just long enough for the act of hiding and sniping to entertain and not become stale. It also makes for a wonderful stress reliever.
This blog could easily become a smug reflection on just how great I am for enjoying games for what they are, so let's balance things out with a game that I tried to enjoy and failed hard. I never quite found a way to appreciate Crysis 3, despite getting along with its prequel.
I played Crysis 2 to its fullest, and very much enjoyed the journey. I tried my best to follow the stealthy approach, and I'm the kind of person who fails miserably at sneaking. I was much more at home with the second option: gunning down enemies behind reinforced armour. Despite my ineptitude at stealth, I still appreciated the game mechanic. The fact that your invisibility has a limit, and weapons fire nullifies its effect adds a very real need for strategy and quick-thinking.
Why I didn't enjoy it: I was therefore disappointed to discover that the game developers had attempted to undermine the primary game feature – the Nanosuit - by adding a new feature that shuns its very premise. The Predator Bow lets the player stay invisible after firing off a shot, thus negating any need to sneak around, picking enemies off. On top of this, the bow is inexplicably powerful, thus rendering all non-stealth weapons pretty much unnecessary. The player can simply stand at the edge of an arena, fire off kill-shots one after the other, and then sneak around collecting the arrows to repeat the process. The games core gameplay was now made almost obsolete.
Now I know I could have ignored the existence of the Predator Bow and done things the old fashioned way (the kind of old-fashioned that uses guns instead of a bow…) but what bugged me was just how much emphasis is placed on the Bow in-game and in its advertisement. "I have a bow now!" the game beams, "and bows are cool. Everyone likes bows and this one's from the future. All the cool kids like bows." I was therefore facing two options, play the game without the bow and ignore a focal point of this iteration of Crysis, or use the thing and make the game tedious. It was at that point that I realised that I was having to overthink a game that features a dead dude in an alien suit and I lost interest.
Every possible opinion that could be expressed about a videogame has been linked to Destiny. The sheer magnitude of debate and diversity of reaction around this game has been extraordinary. Saying that I quite enjoyed the game feels quite out of place amongst the many, heated arguments, but I found Destiny to be a good game. Not quite good, not very good, just a good game. Those that criticise the lack of story our correct, but those that argue for the effective core gameplay have it right as well. This was the one and only videogame that I played new this year, on release day at that, and simply playing and enjoying the game was challenging at best. Even when I joined a strike team currently in session, the people in my group playing the game would often argue about the quality of Destiny.
Whilst I did enjoy playing, you might also have inferred that I am not playing it any more. I sank many a happy hour into the game, and enjoyed completing and re-completing (and re-re-completing) each and every mission. The main reason I felt I could do no more with the game was that I couldn't complete the 'raids'. As a teacher my work can carry on into the evening, so I can't promise a group gaming session in advance and certainly can't give a game more than a couple of hours in an evening. I didn't stop having fun, but I reached the limit of what I could do with the game. Once I stopped playing, the need to play subsided.
How I enjoyed it: I've always described Destiny as if it was a spinning top. It's simple, colourful, and when you get it going it's entertaining in a straightforward away. If you keep the top spinning, you won't see anything new, but it's still wonderfully cathartic. Apart from getting a little bit better at spinning, you don't really achieve much. As long as you find the motion entertaining, you'll keep spinning, and it will keep your attention. Once you've lost interest, it can be easily put to one side or replaced by a new toy.
I played Destiny because, despite its flaws and 'unfulfilled potential', it was a very fun experience. Just like a spinning top, it isn't a toy I will remember too fondly or want to play with again, but it was entertaining at its core like every video game should be. Some people will play it until they've levelled and unlocked what they can, others will play for much longer because that core gameplay entertains them. I won't likely return to Destiny because I feel that I've had all the enjoyment I can.
The act of sitting down and purely enjoying a videogame isn't always easy. The more we think about games, the more we dissect them. A single fault with a game can override our ability to appreciate the strengths. Time and concentration we can afford a videogame can vary wildly. If someone points out a feature of a game they disapprove of, that can be all you ever notice when you get your chance to play.
I'm curious to hear how easy you find it to enjoy a videogame. Does hype affect your outlook? How do you allow yourself to appreciate a game for what it is and not what it could have been? Are there games you won't play because "they're not your sort of game", or will your leap into a game that even the most positive reviewer has struggled to praise? Can you think of any games that you began hating and then learnt to love?
When I first asked the above question, I didn't think I'd be able to write a third part. I was so sure that as I trundled further into the fantasy landscape, less historic details would present themselves. As magic and mythical beasts become increasingly prevalent, I expected to spot fewer references to the real ancient world. Whilst this is very definitely the case, Skyrim is still presenting quirky little historical accuracies.
For those who've missed the first two parts, the aim here is to highlight all the little ways thatSkyrim is influenced by History. In some cases these comments refer to very real events, whilst in other cases I refer to things that people believed were real throughout History, such as dragons. And no, I've still not found any historic evidence to prove that dragons were real. I'll keep looking though.
So here are a few more aspects of Skyrim that show the mighty influence of historic events. [Educational Warning: Minor amounts of learning ahead.]
Have you ever considered how odd it is that this fictional world is ruled by a 'king'? The writers could have selected any imagined title for the local despot, but instead they opted for a pre-existing label of leadership. Well, that isn't the only title pulled from History. Each region of Skyrim is governed by a 'Jarl', which is the Scandinavia word for an Earl.
It's all well and good trying to convince the common man that they are ruled by one, single person with a fancy hat, but it's another thing to organise. Whilst a King rules the state, his most loyal and powerful subjects would each rule a section of the country in the King's name. These Jarls also had the chance to become the next King in the previous fellow met an untimely/violent end.
Whether you are using the word Earl, Jarl or Count, these individuals are vital the success of a medieval king or queen. With their support the King can raise troops and taxes from every 'Earldom' in the Kingdom, uprisings can be swiftly dealt with, and news from the four corners can reach them quickly. If the Jarls are less than loyal to their current King... well then you get a Civil War like the one boiling over in Skyrim...
Thane is also an historically accurate term. Once you have completed enough missions in a region to prove to the local Jarl that you are indeed a purveyor of awesomeness, they will bestow this title upon you. In Skyrim a Thane receives a new weapon and special friend to follow you everywhere no matter how far you fast travel. In medieval Scandinavia, a Thegn is the early version of a Knight, and could become a Jarl themselves one day.
The title makes you a 'servant' or 'attendant' of the king. As with a knighthood, the title of Thegn/Thane is traditionally awarded by the King rather than the local Earl. Just as a Thane in Skyrim can get away with petty crimes – so long as the bounty is low – no one except the King was allowed to pass judgement on the King's Thegn.
The only 'inaccuracy' that can be found with the use of these two terms is that they were, even by the middle ages, fairly primitive words. As stated, 'Thane' would give way to 'Knight' and 'Jarl' would switch to 'Duke'. Perhaps the intention was to use lesser known words to give the impression of fantasy. Then again, the original word for Duke is 'Dux'... and I think I would have preferred everyone in Skyrim calling each other Dux instead of Jarl.
Spells and Wards are a big part of the combat in Skyrim. They are also, sadly, very historically inaccurate. Magic is one of those features that is accurate in the sense that History inspired it. In part 2 of this blog I argued that without the historic belief in dragons we wouldn't see them in a fantasy setting, and the same is true for magic.
Throwing fire, ice and lightning across the horizon is a bit much for most superstitious historic civilisations, but the ability to heal through magic exists throughout history. The use of healing abilities on the wounded or sick is an event witnessed throughout History. Hildegard von Bingen, an eleventh century saint, was apparently blessed with healing powers through physical touch and through a more tangible combination of herbs and stones. Yes, Hildegard's levels in Restoration and Alchemy were pretty high.
Whilst Charles II of England may not have learnt 'Grand Healing', he was believed to possess an equally fanciful ability: Royal touch. This ability is also where the term "lay on hands" originates from. French and England Kings had for centuries possessed the ability to heal the sick through touch, and Charles II used his ability to heal over 100,000 people during the Great Plague.
Whilst the act of summoning a healing light from the palms of your hands is disappointingly far from the truth, there are countless instances in History where healing magic seemed to play a part. This is true of even more recent History. When the Russian Tsar discovered that his son was a haemophiliac, even the most expensive doctors failed to help the boy. When all seemed lost the Tsarina called on the help of the self-proclaimed holy man named Rasputin, who indeed appeared to bring the boy back to full health. Whilst luck and coincidence offer better explanations for this feat, the Tsarina was wholly convinced.
There are other magic abilities in Skyrim that have roots in History – the abilities to turn or banish the undead are another example – but the ability to heal through touch or simple words is regular feature of more sensible and logical points in time.
Very early on in the game, your created character is threatened with a swift head removal. In Part 1, I discussed the accuracy of this practice at length. For a long stretch of my playthough it seemed that beheading or imprisonment were the only forms of punishment available to the citizens of Skyrim. How happy I was to see a twin pair of stocks set up in the lower corner of Markarth, the most Western settlement.
Medieval crime and punishment is a fascinating topic, and one that would take several blogs to fully explore. The vast multitude of ways in which the peasantry and nobility could be maimed, killed, humiliated or tortured for even the most menial crime is astounding. A low-level thief in medieval Europe risked loss of fingers, hand or eyesight, having an ear lobe or nostril sliced or having their hand or forehead marked with red-hot poker (to name just a few methods). Yet few methods of punishment were more simple and effective than the stocks.
You may recognise the contraption. You might have once posed for a photo with your head and hands through the holes in the wood, trying to look guiltily and sad. Yet there is no denying that the stocks are one of the most widely used methods of punishment, and also interrogation, in history.
When you have a moment, try standing like you would if in the stocks: bent forward, head down, with your arms up to the level of your neck (I'd probably warn the people you live with before you start standing round the house like this). After a while, it will start to get uncomfortable and a lot more humiliating. Now imagine you are standing like that for an hour. After a short while, everything will start to hurt, and there's nothing you can do about it. To make matters worse, an hour is probably the shortest amount of time you'd expect to spend in the stocks. Four hours, eight hours, three days... these are all periods of time that criminals are known to have spent between these blocks of wood.
And what possible crime would you have to commit to spend a whole hour in this contraption? Swearing. Yup. If you were caught cursing in medieval England, it could mean an hour in the stocks.
We get things easy in Skyrim. When you're caught pick pocketing or Fus Ro Dah-ing the local population, your punishment is a restful night in the cells. Wouldn't it be a much more effective deterrent for your character if they were physically tortured in the stock? Well... probably not... you'd just skip the hours until freedom, but it would be more historically accurate. And if the townsfolk turned up to verbally and physically harm you whilst you were bound, well that would just add to the historical experience.
The windows of houses in Skyrim are incredibly small. Larger windows appear to be lots of small segments of dark glass stuck together. Once you're inside a building there seems to be very little to see of the outside world. This makes sense from a game creator's perspective – interiors don't have to be loaded until necessary – but there is also historical accuracy to this: making glass is hard.
A medieval; craftsmen would often have one particular skill that they honed in order to make money. We can't all try our hand a bit of blacksmithing whenever we feel like it (and there's certainly no real chance in mastering metalwork after hammering together a few necklaces). Glassmaking is a new skill altogether, and given that most medieval houses coped with wooden shutters, learning to make glass was rarely a way to make money.
We think of glass as smooth, clear and colourless, but Anglo-Saxon glass usually had a distinct blue-green colour and a rough, bubbly surface. The wine bottles in Skyrim are perhaps the most accurate examples of what medieval glass would look like. Impurities in the mix and the basic nature of the technique would mean that clear glass vessels were near-impossible. It's also the main reason why most medieval vessels are deliberately coloured; to hide the murkiness of the material.
So glass is much more common in alcohol-holding form than as windows throughout history and in Skyrim. Those lattice windows are also very common in the homes of medieval nobility. The thin and rough characteristics of the glass meant that large panes of glass were out of the question. However, the main form of glass in early medieval Europe was neither windows nor bottles. Glass was more often used to make beads and decorative pieces in jewellery. The logic is pretty straightforward here: whereas in Skyrim precious stones and jewels seem to be more widespread than food, in the real world the average person would need something cheaper and more obtainable to make themselves look pretty.
So this game continues to tease out historic nuggets amongst the magic and mayhem. So much so, that a Part 4 is surely on its way. For one thing, I'll probably need to comment on how everyone in Skyrim is far too healthy all the time. Either way, I hope you enjoy these tangents from Gaming into History.
I've had a very family-orientated Christmas this year, and haven't been gaming or blogging all that much for the last two weeks. I hope to be writing on a weekly basis again. May that news bring you joy and/or dread. Happy New Year!
If you want a game to look zany, turn any animal into a tool for destruction. The creature might be the weapon itself, useful for bludgeoning, or it might be the ammunition that you fling or fire at your confused opponents. Either way, animal weapons are usually delightful. On the other hand, animal weapons in History tend to be a bit more alarming…
I'm not for a moment suggesting that any of the games I will mention are directly inspired by historic events. As with my comparison of Gunblades in and out of videogames, my intention is to highlight the parallels between fiction and reality. In the case of animal weaponry, real life is sometimes sillier.
[Educational Warning – blog contains trace amounts of learning]
Consider all the games that use birds as weapons. Bioshock Infinite has its malnourished crows,Borderlands has a bald eagle with a grudge against eyeballs, Dr Robotnik's arsenal includes a range of avian mechs and Angry Birds has…birds. The point is, videogame birds might be deadly, but only in History did someone decide to put pigeons in missiles.
I'm glad to say that Project Pigeon – because why would you call it anything else – never made it past the research phase. However, the practice of using birds as a guidance system did receive genuine interest (as well as $25,000 from the NDRC, which is nearly $350,000 by today's standards). The principle: sets of three pigeons would act as the guidance system for a missile aimed at ships at sea. The three birds would be trained to tap at an image of ship on a screen (to receive a treat) When their missile was put into action the birds would tap towards thereal naval vessel, steering the missile to its destination. The idea isn't so ridiculous; the guidance system required to guide a missile in 1937 would be heavy, cumbersome and expensive. Besides, no one would miss a bunch of 'flying rats'.
Let's go back to Borderlands. The bald eagle known as Bloodwing has a difficult time of things. The only time he sees the light of day is when his owner chucks him at someone's face, and then he has to go away again. To make matters worse, Mordecai can decide to set the bird on firebefore letting him take flight. It looks awesome, but is no doubt terrifying for the eagle. Surely no one in History has ever been so callous? You know, apart from when the Romans used burning pigs to fight elephants.
The use of such a tactic is ambiguous, but it's clear from the writings of Pliny the Elder that there was an accepted use of "War Pigs" during the Roman era. War Elephants were apparently troubled by the squeal of pigs, and this fear could be escalated by covering the pigs in tar and lighting them. That makes sense; I can imagine that I would be slightly unnerved by the sight of flaming balls of pork screaming towards me; the smell of bacon would do little to calm my nerves. So, whilst the sight of the burning Bloodwing might strike some as ridiculous, History wins another point for absurdity.
The Worms series is chock full of various weaponised animals. Some bound forth from the earth-eating warriors, some burrow through the ground, and one or two fall from the heavens. Yet the end is usually the same: a big, fiery explosion. In this fictional landscape, the sight of exploding animals is comical. In History, exploding animals were used on more than one occasion… which says a great deal about us as a species.
You may have already seen this image floating around on the internet. This is a photograph highlighting the attempts made to turn dogs into bombs. Most tank crews would think nothing of a stray mutt wandering up to their machine; by the time they noticed the explosive vest it would be too late. Just like the sheep and ferrets of theWorms series, the detonator is in the hands of the owner. The "dog mines" were an idea invented by the Soviets, and were employed against the Nazis in 1942.
This plan backfired in a big way. Whether you believe in karma or not, the creators of this fiendish idea got their comeuppance. This tactic relied on the dogs doing as they were trained to do – seek out the nearest enemy tanks and crawl underneath – but the dogs had been trained using the tanks that were available. On more than one occasion the Russians would watch in horror as the dogs scampered back towards the Soviet battle lines still carrying their explosive payload. The whole debacle made as much sense as exploding sheep with super powers.
These examples only scratch the surface of animal weapons in History. For every bizarre creature-based weapon used in videogames, History as an equally bizarre counterpart. Not to mention all the times in History when animals have been used for espionage. Corvo fromDishonored has his ability to inhabit the mind of rats and sneak around, and the CIA spliced recording equipment into cats in a failed attempt to spy on the Kremlin. You decide which version is stranger.
As with my last 'Videogames vs History' blog, I've tried to give just a few fun facts with the hope that you might seek out the rest. If you don't feel the need to find out more about all the ways us humans have turned animals into tools of war, you might instead want to find out about all the animals that received medals for bravery since the Second World War. Or maybe you'd rather take the easy option and ask me for more information. Feel free to leave a question below. Maybe you've spotted similar comparisons between the odd animal weapons in games and in History? Let us know.
The next time you see a particularly wacky weapon that involves an animal, not matter how strange, consider the possibility that at some point in History a military leader may have looked at that contraption and thought: "well that has potential!"
There are lots of big reasons to love a videogame. Great gameplay, thrilling story, stunning visuals and so on. These are the major factors that decide whether a game will draw us in or not. Yet once we’ve embraced the experience, it’s often the smaller details in a game that make the journey so much greater. When we are reminded of a game we played years ago it’s often the little things that we remember.
I am thankful for those mini moments in videogames. They are the gems that the player can only notice once they are on board, enriching the adventure once they are discovered. These are some of my favourite 'little things' from videogames new and old.
Killzone 2 – the kill beep
The first game I played on the Playstation 3 was Killzone 2, and I still fondly remember my reaction to the new generation of shiny graphics. Both the single player and multiplayer parts of the game are fantastic, the world in which the game takes place is fascinating, and I had a truly wonderful time beating up Space-Cockney-Nazis. For all its strengths, there was one little noise that really added joy to the murder of multiplayer.
Most First Person Shooters I’d played confirmed a kill with a written confirmation or a “+50 points” sign, but I had never before seen a game that gave a gleeful chirp for each take down. It’s tone is a little out of place, but I love the fact that it’s there. It’s like a teenie, tiny person is cheering me on to victory.
Shodow of the Colossus – pet the horse
I found another excuse to talk about my favourite game! Yay! I’ve already waxed lyrical about the SOTC in more than one blog. I adore everything about this game, and this small, unnecessary animation just adds to the love. Aside from riding Agro around into near-certain death, the player can give the horse and affection stroke. Shadow of the Colossus is a game full of wonderful little details, and this particular feature is quite endearing.
There’s no reason for petting Agro and there’s no benefit to treating your steed with love. But the game let’s you do it, because of course we want to pet the horsy (I like to think that it’s the main characters way of quietly apologising for the mess he’s got them into).
Warzone 2100 – the New Paradigm
So many hours of my young life were dedicated to playing Warzone 2100. This post-apocalyptic, Real-Time Strategy game had me hooked. For me the greatest part of game was the way in which you could design your own tanks from the parts you ‘scavenged’ during the story. There were hundreds of combinations to be found from mixing the various weapons, chassis and tracks. That, and you could build hover tanks.
There’s a little piece of this game that has held fast in my imagination for years. When the game first opens out onto the nuclear wasteland that was once earth, you first opponents are unruly, unorganised scavengers. The first real challenge you come up against is a group who call themselves the ‘New Paradigm’. It’s only a small part of the game, but I have always loved that name.
The simple, faceless introduction of this group is incredibly brief, and you never learn much more about them after that. Yet there’s something about their title, and the way that the group addresses your existence that has stuck with me every since. The cold, semi-sythesised voice declaring that “you are in contravention of the New Paradigm”, has always made me smile.
Resident Evil 5 – who is Roger?
The main characters of Resident Evil 5 miss their friend. His name is Roger, and wherever Chris and Sheva go, they are always trying to find him. If you press the button to call your partner, they might call shout for them by name, ask for assistance, or call out for this mystery character. If you and your co-op companion hit the button repeatedly for no good reason, it soon becomes clear that these two heroes really miss their friend.
One day, I’d love to find out who Roger really is. Despite all the zombies and bat monsters, Chris and Sheva are always talking about him. He must be a really great guy.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance – Flaming Loading Screen
Videogames do great things with loading screens these days. Assassin’s Creed and Bayonetta are two superb examples, allowing the player to move the protagonist around the screen whilst they wait, practicing for what awaits. In the case of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, the loading screen is also interactive... though not quite to the same level.
The games loading screen has the word ‘loading’ etched onto it. I think we can all agree that this makes sense. The word has been set on fire by someone irresponsible, and the text will burn bright until the game is ready to proceed. Should the player move the analogue sticks while they are waiting, they can move the fire. It’s as underwhelming as it sounds, but it’s a part of the game that has stayed with me. There was something quite cathartic about the brushing and swirling of the flames. It took the edge of waiting for the game to load, and calmed the frayed nerves after a crushing defeat.
Mario Kart – Yoshi’s Sadness
If I’m playing Mario Kart, I’m playing as Yoshi. This is an unchanging truth. Everything about this little dinosaur is adorable, from his the big, bulbous nose down to his weirdly practical style of footwear. One of the main reasons I pick Yoshi every time is for all those little noises he mumbles and burbles during a race. Whilst all the whoops for joy are incredibly cute, his reactions to losing a race are the most endearing. (35 seconds into the video)
Source: sonic et moi
Every time I lose a race, I find myself beaming at the sulky noises Yoshi emits. He sounds like a little child that’s been told there’s no more ice cream left. It’s almost worth deliberately losing a race to hear he’s sad little warble. Almost.
It’s the little parts of a game that can stick with us long after the major plot and gameplay elements have faded from memory. Sometimes it’s a word or phrase, others times it’s a sound effect, or a tiny game feature that entertained you. Even the most highly polished games need those little quirks if we are to embrace them.
Can you think of any small game elements that are as memorable or remarkable as the entire game they were in? Is there something on this list they you agree with? Leave a comment below, and let’s give thanks to the little things in videogames.
Thank You For Reading!