When Games Matter: Skyrim as Religious Experience

When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say to say about who we are and the world we live in.

Mist pours out from the many cascades of a majestic mountain river, steam hovers over the water in the river’s calmer places, and the wind blows drifts of snow across my path. Before me stands “The Throat of the World,” the tallest mountain in all of Tamriel. A monastery dedicated to the study of dragons sits some 7,000 feet up the mountain — I, my horse, and my companion set off to climb the mountain and visit the monastery.

On the trek up the mountain, I find myself stopping every few minutes to take stock of my surroundings — the world of Skyrim is breathtakingly beautiful. Jagged snow-capped peaks, tall evergreen trees, and snow drifts surround me. Below I can see the small mountain village I recently past through and ruins of temples and castles of old littering the foothills. I am not particularly concerned for my safety — residents of the village make the trek up the mountain weekly to deliver supplies to the monastery.

As I stop to take in the beauty of my surroundings at a bend in the mountain path, I hear my horse scream and my companion, Lydia, draw her sword. Before I can properly react, a snow leopard is tearing into Lydia. I dismount my horse, draw my sword, and slash at the leopard but it’s too late. Lydia and the cat’s dead bodies lay strewn across the snow covered path. Skyrim is beautiful and dangerous.

I pause the game, select “load,” and go back to 5 minutes before my meeting with the leopard when Lydia was still alive.

When I am not playing Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I find myself thinking about its world. Skyrim lets me traverse mountains I will never traverse and swim in rivers pouring through intricate cave systems that I will never explore. The world of Skyrim is a reflection of our own — beautiful, majestic, and dangerous.

I have been delighting in this game — I have only explored a small fraction of it but that is enough to convince me that the rest is worth discovering. There is certainly danger in delighting in virtual creation — there is always the possibility that such creation would make us disinterested in the real world. I think, however, there is another side to my delight in the world of Skyrim. It is a reflection of my longing for Christ’s kingdom which is coming to earth.

In Skyrim, I can enjoy all the majesty, splendor, and adventure the world has to offer without being overcome by its attendant dangers. Sure, I can be attacked by wild animals and monsters that can kill me or my friends, but in these instances, Skyrim is but a foretaste of the world to come. One day we will stand atop snow capped mountains marveling at the fields, trees, waterfalls, and villages below free from the bitter sting of cold. Because of what Christ has done for me, one day I will inhabit a world where death will no longer reign and where I will rejoice in God and what He has made.

In Skyrim, my problems are imminently solvable and with a little foresight, every mistake I make is immediately reversible. None of this matters, however, if the world of the game isn’t intriguing. The crowning achievement of Skyrim is the world the creative team at Bethesda has made — one that I keep wanting to go back to. Such a compelling world brings with it the temptation to disengage from reality, however, such a world would contain far graver dangers if I refused to notice the hand of my Creator in it.

About Drew Dixon

Drew is an editor at Christ and Pop Culture and editor-in-chief of Gamechurch.com. He is also a pastor, soccer coach, and writer. Drew also regularly writes for Think Christian, Bit Creature, and Paste Magazine. He has also written for Relevant Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @drewdixon82

  • Jordan Ekeroth

    Love this, the entire time I was thinking about “The Great Divorce” and it’s picture of heaven as a massive and beautiful land where believers are constantly exploring and travelling deeper into the mountains, ever drawing nearer and nearer to God.

  • http://generationalgamer.com/ Generational Gamer

    They truly have outdone themselves at Bethesda with this game. I will likely never travel to the Alps or New Zealand but a game like Skyrim gets me close. The geography of this game is inspired by our own world that was painted and set in place by our creator. Making your own character and setting him/her on a path lets you explore the vast world of a “righteous” act. Here you can be the hero in new exciting ways and play it through to the end… or to whatever point of closure you can get with a never ending game like Skyrim. No- I haven’t played it. I watched videos, looked over screen shots and heard great things about it from friends. Its on my Christmas list. :)

  • http://www.gameosaurus.com Patrick Gann

    I haven’t bought this game yet, but I know I’m going to love it. The only ES I ever beat is Arena, but I’ve sunk big time into Morrowind and Oblivion. I loved the forests in Oblivion, but the settings here in Skyrim are just absurdly beautiful. Thanks for the article. I agree with Jordan, this article makes me think of Skyrim as very Great Divorce-y. :)

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    Thanks guys!

    Yeah I like the Great Divorce connection–I didn’t make it myself when I wrote the article but in retrospect it certainly does remind me of that book.

    @Pat its hard to imagine what on earth you are doing that is more important than Skyrim! ;)

  • Matt Delos Santos

    It is interesting that created beauty invokes a longing in the Christian (and in a way, all people) to see Eden again. Great art is an inkling to God’s creative power, a power that He shares in part with us, due to His image in us. It makes us wonder, “If only.” Praise God it will be so, one day. Until then, we can hope, and glimpse that in art that matters. I’m glad videogames are getting the hint of the secret of great art.

  • Cian

    I’m researching for an essay discussing religion in games and came upon this article, I understand you’re happiness when linking the world of Skyrim to your perception of the afterlife, but I have a few questions that bothered me.

    Do you see the afterlife or Heaven as a kind of master video game where you are actually ‘in’ the game? And how, as a christian, do you feel about murder in games? and regarding Skyrim, swearing allegiance to several false deities and even fictional devils?


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