Breaking the immersion-Skyrim’s racism lacks authenticity
I really like Skyrim. I’ve put in almost 20 hours in just under three days since the game’s release, and barring some unforeseen catastrophe my eventual review will be mostly positive about it. 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?”
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?