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?”

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?

  • http://skyrim.vkapadia.com Vinay Kapadia

    Here’s what really broke immersion for me. Try getting the perk Perfect Touch. You can pickpocket equipped items. Ok, fair enough. I guess I can believe that I’m a good enough pickpocket to be able to steal the clothes off your body while you walk. However, there is NO reaction from the NPC! They just keep walking around in their underwear! I can understand why they wouldn’t suspect me, maybe I’m just that awesome a thief. But at least go running home or something to get more clothes. I stole the clothes off a performing bard and she didn’t even break out of her song! In my game, there are now a bunch of people who walk around in their underwear every day.

    • Richard Naik

      Yeah, there a little things like that that really irk me. I suppose in such a large world with so much freedom there are some things that can’t be accounted for, but it *really* seems like there should have been some reaction to me by the people in Windhelm, or at least a reaction to the clothes being stolen off their backs.

  • T

    It’s a major failing point for me as well…

    The same issues apply to gender and sexuality as well — to which I’d think the racial issues should have come up more. The option to marry in the game is ‘nice’ but its irrelevant … the way it’s handled in the game is more like an amateur mod…haphazardly tacked into the game

    and for what? I get more of a reaction from the npcs over what armor I wear (or going without) and little to nothing over my character’s race, gender or choice in a mate (be it gender or crossing those racial and possible species lines)

    And there hasn’t been enough ‘consequences’ over my decisions… even over some of the core/main story options.

    I’ve found myself restarting the game several times with different characters trying to get more of a reaction from the npcs.

    yeah… it’s more than a bit disheartening.

    • ConcernedP

      I agree with you T. I beat the main story line and there is no reaction from many about it. Or ending the civil war. It is ridiculous how little anything is said about the important events.

  • Dragonborn

    Please read the in game book in Skyrim called ~Scourge of the Gray Quarter~ it explains a lot about racism, and particularly why other races are not so affected. If you don’t want to read through it, ill summarize it.
    Argonians are in fact very welcomed in the city, because of their attitude. They bring benefit to the city, working in the docks and seem polite and kind. While they are definitely not treated in the same way as nords, they are welcomed.
    On the other hand, Dunmer have only themselves to blame. The nords allowed another race to live in their city after the disaster of Red Mountain and gain thievery, robbery, and other sorts of law breaking in return.
    While the nords may seem overly patriotic to an extent of being viewed as racist,they have solid ground for their hatred for Dunmer.

  • Mozu

    I am playing through as a Khajiit and after the playing reaching that Great War vet ‘Skyrim for the Nords’ bit you mentioned, I decided to go with the sarcastic answer of an affirmative answer and that NPC actually called me a Nord. My Khajiit was also referred to as a Nord some other time in Windhelm. Besides all the other inconsistencies where race is essentially overlooked, this particular bit really stood out as a poor implementation of the racism aspect of the game.

    Just having your race referred to in battle and your stereotype reinforced through a few guards’ standard dialogue isn’t really reflecting the degree of racism that the NPC describes.

  • Joshua O

    I play as Dunmer and do not notice racism I thought it would be funny the Nords savior a Dunmer… Not so funny…..

  • thisotherdude

    Tell me about it, I started playing as an Argonian and expected some major reactions from Nords, and I got nothing. The best I ever got was in the dark brotherhood story line when you have to pretend to be a chef, the woman said “You’re the gourmet? But you’re an Argonian, where did you learn to cook? Definitely not Blackmarsh,” when she said that line I was ecstatic thinking ‘Finally some immersion!’ Didn’t last long though considering that was basically it. The game needs a lot more lines like that. Especially when you make a Dunmer and run around Windhelm hoping for reactions and getting none.

  • Legate

    Glitches and interface issues are nothing compared to the beauty of Skyrim. The lack of immersion is it’s only flaw. What breaks my heart is how weak followers are personality wise. In New Vegas they shared opinions, had personal stakes in the main storyline and had unique personal quests. In Skyrim they have maybe fifteen phrases that they repeat at nauseam. Take for example Aela the Huntress. I’ve collected werewolf totems with, married and slaughtered countless innocence in the name of Sithis. And yet she has almost no new dialogue. That’s why I love Cicero, his commentary often references the current location. I also hate how the Thalmor do not react to you differently as a high elf. And how none of the circle members can become werewolves. Though overall of course Skyrim is glorious.

  • Chiknhart

    I played an Argonian too, and was also thoroughly disappointed when I didn’t get a barrage of racial slurs from the drunk in Windhelm, despite him telling me about how much he hates Argonians on several occasions. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when a Thalmor threatened to turn me into a pair of boots. Skyrim needed more of that.

  • Nathan Beardmore

    Skyrim for the nords is joining the rebellion in the civil war they mostly want to get rid of the altmer though, so they except you as a member, I’m a khajiit and enemy’s say ” you’ll make a fine rug cat ”
    Enemy khajiit say things like “I will enjoy counting your coin” or “you will be easyer to rob when your dead” I’ve heard some guards saying ” I know your kind , always sneeking about “