Racism in Skyrim I

Racism in Skyrim.


Skyrim is a large role-playing game (RPG) set in the mythical land of Tamriel, specifically the continent of Skyrim, a continent full of wonder and magic. Among other standard fantasy genre wonders, we find mythical animals, words of power, and the ability to cast magic. I will be role-playing as Twice-Vehk, a mysterious Dark Elf wizard who is wandering the continent.

Thesis: Skyrim creates an allegory of White bigotry in America through player to nonplayer interactions and dialogue, and this bigotry is characterized, among other things, but above all, as ignorant.


Upon character creation, I discover that I am about to have my head chopped off by the ruling regime, the Imperials. This seems undesirable to me, but luckily, a rebel group called the Stormcloaks was kind enough to protect me as I make my escape in the middle of a dragon attack. They tell me they are Nords, the native human folk and are fighting to save their land from the tyranny of the Imperials. I have decided to journey to their capital of Windhelm to join their rebellion. They seem like nice people, but upon entering the capital city, I am immediately greeted by Nord racism against my people, the Dark Elves.

In front of the gates, a man called Rolff and his friend is bullying a dark elf woman named Suvaris Atheron. He calls her a “gray-skin” and claims she is an Imperial spy (recall this is the rebel Stormcloak capital) without proof. Immediately, it is noticeable that there are high parallels between the racism within Skyrim and the racism in America, both places are places where prejudice exists towards certain people based on their skin color. As Rolff bullies Suvaris, a guard walks by nonchalantly. Suvaris Atheron does not even plead for help from the guard and the guard does not bat an eye. This is the first sign of institutionalized racism. This particular sign of insitutionlized racism draws a high parallel in the real world, that is, policemen in America are notoriously hostile towards colored ethnicities. Suvaris defends herself the best she can while the man watches. I approach the group, ignoring the guard.

Noting that I am a Dark Elf, Rolff says that I am also a gray-skin and that I must therefore also spy for the Imperials. Rolf is also prejudiced against me, even though it is the first time we met, demonstrating that his racism is due to ignorance. He informs me that I am a parasite and I should go back to Morrowind, my ancestral home. This is a second highly specific parallel between the Dark Elves and African Americans in America because throughout the Civil Rights Period there was a sentiment among Whites (and not just Blacks) that African Americans should also leave for their ancestral home, Africa, similar to Rolff’s sentiment. Rolff’s bigoted suggestion is a hollow shell: Morrowind had been rendered uninhabitable by a volcano eruption, and he touts returning there for me as a viable option. This is of course ridiculous, it is specifically as ridiculous as the notion that African Americans should leave their home, America, for some continent they nor their fathers have never seen. Rolff has further demonstrated his ignorance through his racism.

I tell Rolff that I do not like his attitude and persuade him to go away. Suvaris Atheron, the bullied woman, addresses me. We strike up a conversation, and I learn that Nord racism is rampant: they not only hate us Dark Elves, but also the lizard-like Argonians and cat-like Khajit. In fact, they just don’t like people who are not Nord. This bit of information also finds a parallel in the racism we find in America. If we roughly suppose that the Argonians and Khajits are Mexicans and Asians, then we find that the racism in Skyrim is an allegory for the fact that Whites not only harbor racist sentiments for African Americans, but also Mexican Americans and Asian Americans.

As I continue talking to Suvaris Atheron, I realize that she is notably well-spoken. Upon further inquiry, I learn that she is a local respectable farmer, and also employed in the capacity of the East Empire Trading company. Another parallel between Dark Elves and Blacks can be made, that is, no matter how well educated or well-off a Dark Elf or Black may be, there will still be people who harbor prejudice for them and who dehumanize them with derogatory words. They devalue the education present in certain people, or the potential for being educated, and therefore devalue education as a whole, because education is universally recognized to transcend race and gender. This is further evidence of ignorant racism in Skyrim, a direct parallel to ignorant racism in America.

Continued next week: Racism in Skyrim part 2.

  1. prutting834 said:

    Let me start off by saying that Skyrim is one of my favorite games of the past 5 years and I enjoy every second of playing it on the Xbox 360. With that said, I definitely agree with the original poster that Skyrim conveys an idea of white superiority. The country the game is set in (Skyrim) is home to the race of Nords, a human population dominated by mainly white skin color. Throughout the game, if you are playing with a character that is a human race (Nord, Imperial), you are treated primarily with respect and equality by the Nords present throughout the game world. However, if you play as a non-human race like the Khajits (cats) or Argonians (lizards), you encounter nothing but brutality and maliciousness throughout the game. Simply put, the Nords are racist against any non-human race and it shows. I find this interesting because I did not notice any racism in Skyrim’s prequel Oblivion, so I am curious why the game creators found it necessary to include such inhumane acts in their game. Could it be they wanted to convey realism? Any other thoughts?

  2. My only real familiarity with Skyrim is my friend randomly telling me things like “Whoops, I just killed [Character X]. I have to start over.” while talking to her online. That never gave me the desire to play it. This post does. I wasn’t aware that topics like this were being addressed within the game. I find this interesting on two main levels:
    1) It gives people who may have racism play a part in their every day life see the situation from a different (albeit fictional) perspective. While racist interactions of the game don’t have the impact that their real-life analog would, it’d give people who may not think about this type of behavior some sort of first person experience. At the very least, it could lead to something thinking “Oh, I never saw it that way.”
    2) They decided to play out racist interactions in a fantastic environment. This affords them the opportunity to address the topic of racism directly rather than the specific institutions that espouse it. Instead of a white majority oppressing an ethnic minority, it’s an imaginary creature. There’s no backlash from one side or the other in regards to misrepresentation or bias or specific sympathy because all of these representations, biases, or sympathies stop when the game is turned off. This way the language of racism and process of racism is discussed, rather than specific racism. It says that racism is bad as a whole rather than specific groups of people are bad..

    • springsteen1 said:

      I will reply to Matt’s comment and say that as a non-gamer, I recently played Skyrim (briefly, let’s not get too excited).
      Interestingly, like many other games, I have often heard “just killed…” just as you mentioned, Matt.
      The racist interactions you mentioned in this post are exactly the types of things I both agree with (I’ve been trying to look harder into these types of implications) and love to discuss. Thank you for providing a perspective that I both agree with, and a genre (these intrinsic implications) that most interests me. Also, the ‘language of racism’ both the comments and post mention play to both narrative mechanics and rhetoric we discussed last week. All cool points.

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