Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a high fantasy role playing game created by Bethesda Game Studios and released in 2011. In it, you create your own character and become involved in a grand quest that takes place in snowy, Nordic highlands of the fantasy province Skyrim. In this video I am playing the same character I created in 2013 when I last played Skyrim, a wood elf archer. In Skyrim, there is no non-lethal option and most combat encounters involve just a small amounts of enemies, so my only option to create a body pile of any non-insignificant size was to slaughter a village. The village I chose was Whiterun, one of the first you encounter in the game. In order to do this effectively, I had to open the developer console and cheat, which you can see in the video. I gave myself infinite health, and also deleted certain characters from the world who could not be included in my pile (because they could not be turned in the ragdolls) such as quest important characters and children.

This idea that not all bodies should be at the total whim of the player is unique to Skyrim in this project. Not only are some characters impossible to kill, but even after death bodies are cumbersome and difficult to move, and the guards in towns are always roughly as strong as the player to serve as a deterrent from extremely malicious behavior (which is why I gave myself infinite health). In games like Dishonored guards are meant to be overcome through clever play, but in Skyrim they are just a flat obstacle to aberrant progress. The fact that this is a very aberrant action is also apparent in the reactions of the characters to the mass murder happening all around them. They appear dazed, and don’t seem to recognize or be able to respond to what is happening in a significant way. Games often struggle with this, but in contrast to Hitman where people yell and panic, it’s easy to see how that game is structured around creating a simulation of domestic and surprising violence where Skyrim is not. Skyrim doesn’t have the ability, or the desire, to show murder and violence on the scale that I attempt in the video, but still begrudgingly allows it.

Bodies in Skyrim are not only heavy because of a moral reluctance to the player's control over others. It also comes from infrastructural gameplay reasons. This is because in Skyrim, bodies are containers. With the exact same interface as if I were interacting with a dresser or chest, I can place items inside of and remove items from dead bodies including even their clothes. Dead bodies in Skyrim are heavy and have a lot of friction because if they were to slide around, the precious items they contain could be easily lost or difficult to obtain. The extreme phobia of loss of content aiding in the accumulation of a pile can also be seen in Tabletop Simulator, where anything that falls off the table is teleported to the back to the center, creating a pile of things purely from the prevention of loss. In Skyrim, the significance of bodies extends beyond their representation as bodies and it is their data bodies, what amount of gold or weapons they contain or their significance to a future quest line, that ultimately determines not only how they interact with the world post-mortem, but if they can even die in the first place. Despite their heaviness and extreme friction when they interact with each other, these bodies have no collision with the player for similar reasons, something that is revealed in the video as I easily walk straight through the pile of bodies. This is mirrored in Dishonored and Metal Gear Solid V, bodies in these games are also not meant to be an obstacle to movement. As such, they do not react with the player unless the player initiates an action with them. In these games the player, through their attention and desire to interact, can summon a body briefly back into the realm of tangibility (but only for them) before discarding it again to interact with everything else in the game world. Bodies are not material to the player unless the player decides they should be.