“Hey you there! No lolligagging!” Now, my fellow Dovahkiins, we can get down to business. I have probably spent an unhealthy number of hours on Skyrim since it first came out. I could share the amount with you, but I think I’ll just keep that to myself shall I? I get this weird on-off obsession with the game and, despite having plenty of other new games to tackle, I find myself always coming back to Skyrim. While some of my fellow gamers may not enjoy sandboxes as much as I, understand that my obsession is not limited to its expansiveness. Skyrim offers a great deal in the political structure of the story, the representation of women, tailored play styles and more. So what’s the good, bad and the ugly of being a female Dovahkiin?
I’ve played through many different quests, but I only just finished the main quest line this last year, probably because I have a case of gamer ADD. I was more immersed with the darker side quests (We Know!) and anything stealth–give me some Thief love! Every time I have played, even before I added the DLCs (Downloadable Content, i.e. expansions), I found new quests and new characters. Due to my wandering antics, I hadn’t paid close attention to the political struggles. When I played through the main quest, however, I noticed that something was missing. When beginning the game, you are thrown into a political struggle that slaps you in the face with it’s bluntness. You can side with the Imperial Legion or with the Stormcloaks. People will eventually react to you differently in the game as you complete different quests, become a vampire, earn or lose favors with Jarls, steal, wear certain armor, etc. They will even comment on your race. Interestingly, they will not comment on your gender. While the political structure is laughable compared to something like The Witcher or Dragon Age, it’s nonetheless still there. So why is there not more discussion involving women?
There really isn’t any good reason to ignore gender when they can incorporate race recognition. I would love to see a TES (The Elder Scrolls) installment that incorporated a stronger reaction to gender and race like that of Dragon Age, one in which you can adjust personality. Some of the female NPCs are just bar maids. Why? Some are soldiers. How do they feel around their male counterparts? Are they harassed? There’s a female Jarl. How did that happen? Does it make a difference to the citizens? They incorporate a race struggle in Whiterun about the Dark elves, why not a gender struggle? Was the Dovahkiin always expected to be male? These are inclusions that could add incredible dynamic to the game while giving a better voice to women in the gaming world. The women in the quest lines I have played through have ranged from the typical bar maid to the very sultry, dangerous Astrid to an amazing, bad-ass vampire companion, Serana. Yet, the depiction of female creatures such as Flame Atronachs and the mods players create are disturbing. Furthermore, there is a distinct story that involves intense political and racial issues, yet none mention women despite Skyrim’s incredible variety.
The expansiveness fascinates me not only in choice of quest but the variety in choice of women, men, races and classes. When you first begin, you will have a tedious job of structuring your character to your desire, whether male or female. I have played both male and female characters to test any potential differences. As far as I have noted, there are none; but there are distinct differences between races. When it comes to race, I choose between the Khajit, Argonian, Wood Elf or Dark Elf, all of which fit the stealth-oriented classes very well (Hands to yourself sneak thief!). You can make characters old, young, dirty, super clean, or similar to yourself. This is a plus for women because your choices are not limited. You don’t have to be the Angelina Jolie action stereotype (though there are mods for that). Indeed, many RPG games are slowly acclimating to creating dynamic female characters. My most recent creation was a female Wood Elf with a half mohawk and war scars. I mean really, who battles dragons and looks perfect, right? The one thing I don’t like is that you can’t adjust your Dovahkiin’s personality. There is a great range of personalities in the Skyrim realm. Take for example, Uthgerd the Unbroken. She is a warrior woman with an aggressive attitude, always looking for a fight. Another example is Serana, a vampire, part of the Dawnguard expansion, and she is not what you would expect. She is kind, gentle and caring and is disgusted by her father, the master vampire. In general, you may find that the female NPCs, such as shop owners and citizens, you encounter are more often disgruntled like their male counterparts–after all, they do live in the cold reaches of a northern territory. Of course, developers can’t please everyone. That’s where mods come in.
As a PC gamer, you know all about mods. You know that Skyrim looks like next generation when mods and the appropriate graphics card are applied. Well, mods are not just limited to environment aesthetics. Mods have been used to create “sexy” characters (see clothing mods) and to make women perform sexual acts/be abusive to women (see this reddit fead and XXX mods). This seedier part of the game isn’t even to blame for the developers but rather players who have too much time on their hands. Simply noting that the issue exists is enough; people will always adapt games in this manner. Nonetheless, there are issues with female creatures in vanilla Skyrim (meaning not-modded) that give me pause. I read an excellent post on FemHype by Jillian about these female creatures. While I believe the developers did a fair job (not great) at representing women in general, they did an atrocious job when it came to female creatures. I mean really, as the blogger pointed out, why do flame atronachs and sprigs have boobs while frost atronachs, who are male, don’t have ice balls? A simple Google search shows the numerous comments people have on how “hot” flame atronachs are on top of being controlled by their summoners as submissive pets (fifty shades of flame anyone?).
On the upside, I am relatively impressed by the armor available to both male and female characters. While the Forsworn could probably use a little more fur (and *ahem* sanity, which is why they can survive having sensitive parts exposed), the rest of the characters range from fully clothed iron armor to the typical bar maid outfits you may see at a Renaissance festival. The women are realistically depicted with dirt, grim and very little make-up (unless of course you’re using a mod, then I’m sure you can get your Jersey-shore style on if that floats your boat). While the difference in figures could be a little more accentuated, we’re not at least staring at anime girl legs half the time. Nor do we have to wonder how a woman will survive slashes from swords and hypothermia when her legs, stomach and breasts are mostly exposed because practical armor actually exists. Offering practical options also enhances the immersive feel to Skyrim. We have to celebrate the small things, ladies!
So is Skyrim a great example of how women should be represented? No, but I believe the developers did a fair job. There are always going to be issues. We are all human and thus prone to wanting what we think physically attracts that clump of neurons behind our eyes. With that said, however, we can still work to give women a strong voice and representation. As mentioned, there is a clear racial and political struggle, but issues involving women are never brought up. Games are gateways to how we see reality, sometimes they are our getaway from reality. They can teach us about our own culture, but the content needs to be there in the first place. Considering its attempt to slightly mirror historic Nord culture, I find that this would be an excellent addition that could open up conversations outside the game. Could sandbox games like Skyrim pave the way for fairer representation of women in games? Is it the best way to offer more options up to players, male and female alike? In order to change the status quo, we must speak up, no matter how small the issue may be. Nothing happens in one big catastrophe. It’s the little pricks of the arrow against the dragon that will bring it down and make way for progress.
Fus ro dah, my fellow Dovahkiins, and share your wonderful insights!
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