This research article by Kristian A. Bjørkelo focuses on exploring the world of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (referred to as Skyrim), the unique political and racial implications within one of the central conflicts within it, and the White Nationalist interpretations that were argued to be possibly deeply rooted within one of the sides of the conflicts. Using the white nationalist online forum ‘Stormfront’ as a source of data, the author uses an encoding-decoding methodology in order to analyze how these forum users were found representing themselves using the “Civil War” questline in Skyrim.
In the article, the author draws parallels between the fictional ‘Nords’ and the actual, real-life white nationalist individuals who frequent the Stormfront forum. Nords are a white-skinned, blonde haired, blue eyed Nordic inspired race, with aesthetics borrowed from Vikings and Norse mythology. The author describes White Nationalism (WN) as an ideology born from American context where skin color is the equivalent of race and ethnicity. The aforementioned “Skyrim Civil War” is an in-game questline in Skyrim that focuses on the the civil war raging within the province. The Imperial Legion, a multicultural military power who fight for the Empire and the Stormcloaks, a group focused on defending Skyrim from the Imperial Legion mainly consisting of Nords. They are known for being xenophobic and nationalistic. A third faction, the ‘Aldmeri Dominion’ exists within this conflict, consisting of high elves who are known for their proficiency in magics who seek to affect the world in their own secretive ways. One of the major plot points regarding the Aldmeri Dominion revolve around their forced ban of the worship for the god ‘Talos’, an extremely important figure in Nord culture. This act, known as the ‘White-Gold Concordat’ is one of the key factors for starting the civil war within the game.
The online forum of ‘Stormfront’ is a haven for individuals who share the commons beliefs and ideologies of White Nationalism and use the board as a place for discussions. Within the forum are a variety of posts, varying in discussion. The author focused on the Skyrim post, where individuals shared their experiences with the game, and used these posts as a focus of analysis to understand what were the implications and connections that the posters found within Skyrim.
Encoding-decoding was used to analyze the different posts and messages of the Stormfront users in the Skyrim thread to understand the themes and meanings of their posts. The author used this methodology and argued that the Stormfront users decoded the game in such a manner that it fit with their ideals, although the developers and publisher did not encode the message in such a way. The author found that individuals had the power within Skyrim to create their own ‘perfect world’, where their actions helped create a world with the beliefs and ideals that they themselves believed in through the civil war conflict. Many of the different aspects of the Stormcloaks echo the beliefs of the real-life White Nationalists. “The Stormcloaks fighting for a ‘Skyrim for the Nords’, echo the Stormfront users’ own calls for a monoethnic and monocultural society without the influence of other races” showcases the problematic nature of this entire civil war and it’s connection with the Stormfront forum’s users. There are also implications of racism towards the Jewish race, who the White Nationalists in their narrative argue are the main source of the blame for multiculturalism. This is also echoed in the game, through the Thalmor Elves being classified as “Jews with pointy ears and gay magic”.
Due to the open-ended nature of Skyrim, there is a discussion on what is the correct way to play the game. The author describes ‘affordances’, the properties of an object that let the player interact with it and argues that the designers of Skyrim do not determine how an object is to be used, but simply provide the methods and leave the rest up to the player. The overall conclusion of this article discusses designer intentions, especially in an open-world game where a variety of interactions can occur due to a variety of reasons. This often leads to situations where it is unclear what is intentional and what is not. By empowering the player to make different options, they also innately give the power to reinforce their own beliefs, and this is the main root of the problem where Skyrim can be seen as promoting White Nationalistic beliefs even if it was not intended.
Picture 1: “A Land Divided” by Bethesda Softworks https://static.wikia.nocookie.net/elderscrolls/images/4/49/A_Land_Divided_Cart_Art.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20170622205215
http://gamestudies.org/2003/articles/bjorkelo – Written by Kristian A. Bjørkelo