The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Screenshot

I really like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I want to state this now, since most of what I'm about to write will probably make it seem like I dislike it. However, just because I like something doesn't mean I can't criticize it as well. And believe me, there are things to criticize about Skyrim.

Most of the complaints I've heard from the various corners of the internet focus on the user interface, insufficient instructions, and good old Bethesda bugginess & instability. These are all legitimate complaints, and rest assured they'll be addressed in more detail in my review. However, there was one moment in the game that really bothered me, and it actually has to do with the (otherwise wonderful) game world itself.

The residents of Windhelm, one of the game's major cities, are supposedly extremely prejudiced against non-Nord races. Dark Elves are forced to live in a small slum in the city, and Argonians aren't even allowed to live in the city. Given that my character was an Argonian, I was looking forward to ruffling some feathers on behalf of my scaly brothers and sisters. However, when I entered the city, this oppression did not manifest itself in any way whatsoever.

Despite being told by anyone I asked that Windhelm wasn't kind to Argonians, nobody in the city seemed to care. The innkeeper rented a room to me with no problem. An NPC spouting racial slurs at a Dark Elf in the street as I entered the city didn't seem too concerned with me, and the town guards didn't hesitate to offer up the generic dialogue that guards in other cities had used. Hell, the innkeeper even complained about all the Dark Elves and Argonians right in front of an Argonian.

The last straw came when I entered the inn and, in addition to nobody seeming to care that one of "those people" had just walked in (and a pretty menacing one if I do say so myself), one of the inn patrons walked up and asked me (paraphrasing) "so are you one of those 'Skyrim for the Nords' types?"

What?!

Do I think Skyrim should be for the Nords!? What the hell do you think!? You make people like me sleep outside on the docks while you're all nice and warm, and you're seriously going to ask me if I think Skyrim should be for the Nords?!

NPCs acting like I was a Nord even though I clearly wasn't became a recurring theme in this city, and it really bothered me because I was supposedly part of an extremely marginalized group. It's similar to a problem that Dragon Age 2 had, in that while Mages were supposedly the subjects of brutal repression by the Templars, nobody seemed to give a second thought to my mage Hawke and his magey companions walking freely around the city with no Templar oversight whatsoever.

This experience really damaged the immersion factor for me. The game went to great lengths to tell me how oppressed Argonians were in Windhelm, but inside the city itself none of it was apparent outside of one scripted sequence. And to top it all off, an NPC actually spoke to me as if I was a Nord. I'm still playing and I'm still enjoying myself, but the lack of attention to detail here was extremely disheartening. Has anyone else experienced this? Or am I just missing something?


Richard Naik

Richard Naik

Born and raised in St. Louis, MO, Richard received his first console (the NES) at the age of six, and from that point on games have been an integral part of his life, whether it's been frittering summers away with the likes of Mario, Mega Man, and the Zerg or partaking in marathon sessions of Halo, Team Fortress 2 or Left 4 Dead. After being a longtime reader of GameCritics, Richard joined the staff in March of 2009, and over the years Richard grew into the more prominent role of part-time podcast host.

In 2016, he spearheaded a complete rebuild of the GameCritics.com website, earning him the title of Chief Engineer.

His gaming interests are fairly eclectic, ranging from 2D platformers to old-school-style adventure games to RPGs to first-person shooters. So in other words, he’ll play pretty much anything.
Richard Naik

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31 Comments on "Breaking the immersion–Skyrim’s racism lacks authenticity"

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Salubri Outcast
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Salubri Outcast
6 months 28 days ago

Well… aside from the question, and even that can be handwaved by the fact that you are the freaking dragonborn. Your exploits are pretty well known very quickly.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
3 years 2 months ago

Your right. By the way Blizzard does much better then Bethesda in that they are better game developers. Listen, they develop much more genres of gaming than Bethesda. While Bethesda sits down and scratches there balls only making Sandbox RPG’s. Lol. I know they do more than that but Blizzard does much more.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
3 years 5 months ago
I think it is apparent that many who play Skyrim do not actually appreciate fully the complexities of making such a large yet interactive game. A few days ago I caught myself playing Skyrim and being a bit unamused by the sad fact that: My race means nothing in the game, except for if I am a Nord. I saved the world, only for there to be a possible future of Alduin’s return only I won’t be there to save it again. The civil war never came to a full-end even after all my hard work. I began to mope… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
3 years 5 months ago
Nords and Bretons are descendant from an ancient race known as “Nedes” whom were the protogenic race of all Humans on Tamriel except for Red Guard who were Yukudans. Bretons were born from Aldmer who took Nedic concubines during their enslavement of humanity, the product turned Nede/Aldmer then repopulated with the local Nedes thus creating the Bretons. Nords are direct descendants of Nedes, as are Imperials. The environment in which they live has shaped their outward appearances. Parts of Skyrim were settled by Bretons, just the same as parts of High Rock were settled by Nords. And all of Tamriel… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
3 years 5 months ago
Since when did multiple races speak English and be from vastly different places (And continents even) The guys back at Bethesda Softworks probably work hard, but as in all expansive RPG videogames, there are going to be slip-ups and mistakes. And there have been many things to try and fix these mistakes. I for one would take this certain step a bit farther, and note that you are really not “allowed” to be a villain in the game. Unlike Miraak, the primary antagonist from the latest expansion pack The Elder Scrolls V: Dragonborn. You can’t use your powers to commit… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
3 years 7 months ago
Here is something that makes no sense. Bethesda said the reason there isn’t alot of Argonians or Khajiit is because it’s cold… as I know said, “WTF are Argonians doing in Windhelm?” which is said to be the coldest city of all? Another thing, Hadvar says “Are you relative to the Riften dock workers Argonian?” Riften has 2… TWO Argonians. The Skooma addict & the Mercenary, personally you should be able to marry the addict after you helped her. Anys yet the dock workers are in Windhelm. Wouldn’t a swamp town like Riften be a better choice for the Argonians?… Read more »
Other Anonymous
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Other Anonymous
3 years 7 months ago

The Stormcloaks are not analogous to the Nazis, but they are hypocrites. The Nords came from Atmora and took Skyrim from the native Bretons (whose remnants became the Forsworn).

Anonymous
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Anonymous
3 years 8 months ago

Why is it so difficult to understand that Nords and Stormcloaks *are not* meant to depict Aryan ideals and Nazis? They just want autonomy, they aren’t trying to conquer all of Tamriel and wipe out “inferior races”. It seems that a lot of Americans can’t understand that this is not the US, it is not a “cultural melting pot”, and the Nords shouldn’t have to have foreign cultures thrust on them if they don’t want to.

Retro
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Retro
4 years 19 days ago

It actually refers to death, which was completely appropriate. Though now as I write this I wonder if you were being sarcastic.

Spotlore
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Spotlore
4 years 19 days ago
I agree. I know this sounds odd, but I started a Khajiit just to see if I’d get resistance when entering a town or city. I was looking forward to seeing how an outcast race can earn the trust and admiration or respect of the people over time. In my eyes, I think it would be more fun to get insults more often. Talked down to, and made to feel unwelcome. Then become their hero. Then still get flak for being Khajiit from time to time. Worst I’ve ever had happen was someone I was already in combat with called… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 3 months ago

do you forget that nords have been battling elves for centuries? the dominion is oppressing them, denying worship and would kill u if u spoke out against them, if thts not a reason to hate them then idk what is

smukes
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smukes
4 years 3 months ago

did any of you take the time to think about what you’re suggesting here? i’m shocked with the thought that anyone would want others to suppress your character, but there’s also this other ridiculously true phenomenon this game is implying. that racism as it exists in our world is intellectually illogic because there is no other sentinent “race” only humans. i mean did anyone care to notice the dark nords??? that s the only genius about this issue, other than that, it’s just the type of gaming obsession that could kill.

AnonymousTurk
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AnonymousTurk
4 years 5 months ago
Yeah. I had very high hopes of being a bad High Elf. I was thinking I would play boss to all people in Skyrim and kick their asses if they’ve a problem with it. Moreover, being the dragonborn I would also maybe boast to Stormcloaks, ban Talos worship after becoming the new hero of the world. Expectations of being a godlike High Elf tyrant respected but hated in Skyrim. Turned out I was just a Nord in disguise of a High Elf. What a turn off. And when a guardsman say “What is it, little elf?” while my character is… Read more »
Kharjo
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4 years 5 months ago
It’s the same story if you’re a khajiit. I had the experience of encountering the khajiit caravans before ever entering a city, and so I was set up to think that “Khajiit are not welcome behind the walls of Nord cities, and are generally mistrusted by the nords”. I was therefore incredibly nervous walking up to the gates of Whiterun to try and report the dragons returning. And yet, without any effort to persuade them on my part, they let me straight into the city. Once i was inside, nary a dirty look to be seen and everyone treated this… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 8 months ago
The issue with such a huge game is that most of it seems artificial, mechanical: the constantly reused assents and enemies, the geometrical cave design, the guards all saying the same phrases, and yes, immersion breakers like this (and the fact that the best way to beat a dragon is to carry 500 carrots and salmon steaks). These games are the reason why I’m not excited about huge world maps anymore. I’d rather have a complete small living breathing world like Deadly Premonition or Radiata Stories, with charm and immersion, than a huge world that feels straight out of a… Read more »
Pedro
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Pedro
4 years 8 months ago

Actually there is…

Emil Hyde
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4 years 8 months ago
Having worked as a recording engineer on voiceover sessions for multimedia I understand how it would be incredibly tedious, moderately expensive and a big time commitment to record alternate dialogue for every possible race/gender combination. But playing as a dark elf and having to hear Nords talk about how much they hate dark elves and other dark elves ask me if I had a problem with their kind (or not call me an idiot for asking basic questions about Morrowind’s history) really broke the spell. I appreciate the variety being offered, but I’d rather have 3-5 fully thought-through options than… Read more »
Bosmerlicious
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Bosmerlicious
4 years 8 months ago
Best moment of a game character acknowledging my Bosmer thief as such just happened to me in Markarth. A member of the Silver-Blood clan in the hold goes over the great war with me, serveral times mentioning the Thalmor as “your kind, elf,” his voice dripping with disdain. When I walked up to the Thalmor representative I expected the same game awareness. Go elf brothers! After he mentioned Altmer joining with Bosmer and general Mer superiority I expected some kind of a shout out but got nada. Real shame. What’s the point to these race-based plot points if your race… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 8 months ago
While they pretty clearly did not want to lock players out of cities or content due to character choice (you miss enough just through skill focus or rp choices), there ARE some moments where they throw a little bit of fantasy racism at you. My Argonian has been hostilely addressed as “boot” a few times and gotten comments like “I know your kind, always sneaking about” (this might be due to my thief skills being high though). And the Windhelm dock boss refers to his workers as boots when you do the quest to get them higher wages, so I’m… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 8 months ago

I just started to play the game, and noticed some of the Nords being ever so slightly RACIST against me. Some stole my sweet roll? Then one of the gards said “I used to be an adventurer like you. Then I took an arrow to the knee…

Come on already.

glyb
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glyb
4 years 8 months ago

[quote=TPR] I certainly agree with this post, however just as a funny side note, my “immersion factor” (if you will) was jarred in the opening sequence when the cart your riding stops in the town the guard says to you “end of the line”. I may be wrong but doesnt that refer to train lines?[/quote]

It’s like the archer’s being told to fire not loose in the two towets

zebra1
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zebra1
4 years 8 months ago
I didn’t even want to play a Nord at first because it just seemed boring — after all, the default Nord looks exactly like Ralof, who you just shared a cart with. I like to be unique, thanks. Plus there are enough of the racist bastards walking around Skyrim. No need to add another. I actually started out Skyrim playing several of the other races (because lizards and cat-people are just cool) and eventually grew tired of them for one reason or another. Then, I finally decided to try out a Nord, and was amazed how much farther into several… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 9 months ago

More importantly, where’s the like button?

Daneel
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Daneel
4 years 9 months ago

[quote=Anonymous]There’s no Nobel prize for writing…[/quote]
What’s the Nobel Prize in Literature for?

Chi Kong Lui
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Chi Kong Lui
4 years 9 months ago

[quote=Anonymous]For me Skyrim isn’t a true RPG. It is more of an First Person Action/RPG. It is mostly about the action and the loot, and character builds. The rest are filler, to give you the illusion that you are part of something greater than just hack and slash. Skyrim is a modern Diablo game, really…[/quote] I’ve got no problem calling Skyrim a freakin’ spectacular dungeon crawler/hack n’ slash. Do we criticize Pokemon or Monster Hunter Tri for not having a better story?

Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 9 months ago
For me Skyrim isn’t a true RPG. It is more of an First Person Action/RPG. It is mostly about the action and the loot, and character builds. The rest are filler, to give you the illusion that you are part of something greater than just hack and slash. Skyrim is a modern Diablo game, really… There is no point in trying to make this filler interesting and showing such attention to detail. This would be far too costly for a single player game. The only way for modern games to have great immersion, good story, and interesting characters, is to… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 9 months ago

There’s no Nobel prize for writing…

Daneel
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Daneel
4 years 9 months ago
I’m playing as a female High Elf (yes, I’m a stereotype) and I’m having the same problem. In Whiterun there’s a preacher who occasionally rants against the elves and he talks with me like I was yet another nord in support of his cause. And that’s not the only one that did that. In the College of Winterhelm (I’m a mage -yes, I’m a stereotype) one of the students is an elf that complains there’s so few of them… but never even acknowledges that I’m one of them! In fact I’m yet to meet any NPC that makes any comment… Read more »
strech
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strech
4 years 9 months ago
I had a lot of the same issues playing through as a Khajit. Ulfric’s right hand man recognized I was a Khajit, as did the threats from enemies (are there no cats in Skyrim due to a genocide of sister’s cats?*) but not much else. The Khajit traders didn’t notice. One NPC patiently explained what Khajits were to me when I asked. Despite Khajits not being allowed into any of the cities they never had a problem with me (or the Khajit I had following me around sometimes). It’s part of a more general issue with the game that it… Read more »
TPR
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TPR
4 years 9 months ago

I certainly agree with this post, however just as a funny side note, my “immersion factor” (if you will) was jarred in the opening sequence when the cart your riding stops in the town the guard says to you “end of the line”. I may be wrong but doesnt that refer to train lines?

Matthew K
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Matthew K
4 years 9 months ago
Richard, I felt the same exact way and, honestly, the entire section of the game rubbed me the wrong way. My first character is a Bosmer female, and strangely enough, it’s like the game is scripted to not know exactly how to deal with wood elves. They’re not hated, they’re not special, they’re not anything, really. This is really no different from the treatment of Bosmer and Bretons in previous entries; you tend to get more specific reactions if you’re an Orsimer, Khajiit, Argonian, or Dunmer (the “oppressed” races). In fact, I relished the role of abolitionist and slave-liberator back… Read more »
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