It’s hard to believe that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim came out exactly five years ago. 2011. Still harder to believe, perhaps, is the fact that today the game still holds the imaginations of many fans, who just can’t keep themselves from returning to the epic adventure again and again. The game’s longevity perhaps owes itself partly to the fact that we haven’t yet seen an Elder Scrolls VI, getting in its place a lacklustre MMORPG and trading card game. But just as important is the quality of the game itself, the massively complex lore that surrounds its universe, and the games mod-ability. An official ‘Special Edition’ of the game with enhanced graphics came out recently, in October 2016, promising to extend the games longevity for even longer.
But why am I talking about Skyrim now? Cast your minds back to 2011 (and try to ignore whatever cringe worthy school drama you may have been involved in) and you may remember the appeal that the mighty Jarl Ulfric and his Stormcloak rebels held.
“Skyrim belongs to the Nords!”
“Hail Ulfric: the true High King!”
Ulfric Stormcloak belonged to the native race of the province of Skyrim: the Nords (a race of tough Viking-like blonde white guys). He was leading a rebellion against ‘the Empire’, a cosmopolitan polity ruling territories across the world of Tamriel, and within the confines of which all Elder Scrolls games have been set. Ulfric’s rebellion was highly nationalistic, revolving around a few key issues, including the Nords’ right to worship the god Talos (recently outlawed by the Empire as part of a peace-treaty signed after its defeat at the hands of the Thalmor), the idea that the High King of Skyrim had been reduced to a puppet of an incompetent empire, and the principle that the Nords should rule themselves. The game allows you to take a side in rebellion, and ultimately win the war for either the Stormcloaks or the Empire.
Many players flocked to Ulfric’s banner, perhaps partly because some Imperial soldiers try to execute you at the beginning of the game, but more likely because of the charm and romanticism, the glory even, that went along with Ulfric’s cause. I was one of those not convinced. I’d been introduced to The Elder Scrolls series via Oblivion, a game in which you played in the Empire’s capital province, Cyrodiil, and had always considered myself working in the service of the Empire. To me the defeat of the Empire at the hands of the Thalmor before the events of Skyrim was just another reason that the unity of the Empire had to be preserved; all would find themselves prey to the High Elves should the empire fragment. Not to mention, I never played as a Nord, and Ulfric had made it pretty clear that I wasn’t welcome in his Skyrim. But so many of my friends, and so many across the online community, disagreed, and fought tooth and nail for the Stormcloak cause. Overall, the issue was highly divisive.
But it’s just a game, right? Perhaps not, if 2016 has given us one thing to think about, it’s nationalistic and divisive politics. Give Ulfric’s rhetoric a second thought and you’ll quickly be able to pull together the similarities with Brexit and the Trump presidency. Yes, there are some logical reasons you might support them. The EU wasn’t as representative as it ought to have been, and Ulfric believed the Empire was wasting Nord lives irresponsibly and without them getting a say. But scratch beneath the façade of Trump, Farage, and Ulfric’s excuses and you’ll quickly find the nasty truth: a highly nationalistic, isolationist, and economically protectionist politics, sprinkled of course with a healthy dose of xenophobia. Perhaps you disagree with me, perhaps you agree with Trump. But I’d like you to march down to the docks or the Grey Quarter of Windhelm, and tell that to the faces of the Argonians and Dunmer forced into poverty by a supremacist Nord society.