Dragon Archivist Required: Evaluating the Suitability of a Role Playing Game for Literature Modding

This paper evaluates the practical limitations and dramatic possibilities of modding the commercial role-playing game Elder Scrolls: Skyrim for the visualisation and exploration of canonical literature. While many commercial computer games are predominantly based on violence and evasion, Skyrim has some additional features that may interest literature teachers. Skyrim’s Creation Kit natively helps builds game levels for medieval settings (Skyrim) or for modernist settings (Geck: Fallout) but all sorts of virtual environments can be created, even for urban visualisation and tourism. There are seasons and changing weather patterns, a large and varied landscape, hostile creatures, inventories, and various types of possible interaction that are not just typical adventurer violence (praying, healing, reading, tool and material creation and repair skills, persuading and charming, causing fear, creating followers, recognizing and collecting flowers and animal specimens for alchemy experiments, buying and selling, sneaking and thievery, inducing disgust or revulsion, fermenting frenzy and chaotic behaviour, trapping souls, and so on). The Non-Playing Characters have a life of their own, are of different “races” and professions, can detect players, speak dialogue, and can be persuaded charmed or repelled, and all these features are modifiable.

Most relevantly, Skyrim features books that contain minor narratives to advance game-play, they can also be stored and traded. Books can also be modded via the Creation Kit. Librarians and academics (wizard teachers) play an important part in the meta-narratives and minor quests, as does a certain dragon archivist. Can these books be used to convey aspects of literature in a game setting to students and the general public who may lack the initial inclination to read the great classics of literature? Can the game-play either help them to visualise new and engaging aspects of literature; can it induce them to read the original text again? Most importantly, how much effort is required of a mainstream humanities scholar to develop his or her own mods in Skyrim? As it is single player, and requires the use of another application, Steam, is it worth the effort?