The Metaphysics of Morrowind: part 4
Concludatory ramblings to a post series on extraludic/metagamey wossnames in The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind. Introductory part one here, part two on time, space and Dragon Breaks here, and part three on meta-NPC extraordinaire Vivec here.
Final musings on metaphysics in Morrowind
TES examines what it means to create an imaginative work by setting up a world and then subjecting it to the literary/ludic equivalent of laboratory analysis. Metaphysics undergo destruction testing, seeking the limits of the universe by pulling and twisting time and space to (dragon) breaking point.
Metaphysics are an age-old human concern, to poke and prod at them is in our nature. TES creates characters who are pushing the limits of their fictional world and struggling to come to terms with its rules, with varying degrees of success. In TES, true agency is not something afforded to just anyone. It must be sought after, fought for, stolen. Whatever it takes. Sometimes these attempts take the form of assaults on the fourth wall, yet paradoxically, I don’t find that my suspension of disbelief suffers as a result – quite the reverse, in fact. TES is more real, more human, more relevant as a result of these metaphysical clashes of imagination and reality, and metagame clashes of NPC and player, player and game. They remind us to question the nature and limits of our own perceptions, our world, our agency. (Note to self: attempt to restrict use of tricola.)
Explorations of fictional metaphysics, self-aware characters and the fourth wall are not unique ideas in art, but when encountered in a game, especially an RPG like Morrowind, the dynamic is different. Games are all about player agency, the imposition of the player’s will upon the gameworld. The artistic achievement of a game is inherently collaborative. The designer creates the world and the rules of that world, and the player provides a response to that: the way they move within, or learn to break out of, that framework. “It’s impossible to cheat in a single-player game” is a quote from a TES forumite known as Brash, back in the day. The simple rightness of her words has stuck with me. Breaking the rules is just another way of playing the game. Sometimes the best way. Just ask Vivec, the Thief of The World, the ultimate cheat.
A game is a created reality, and TES invites the player to invest their imagination in that reality, and to interact with it. To shape it as they see fit. They release tools to mod it, so any player can make themselves an all-powerful god. Cheating? Wrong word. It’s part of the game. It is allowing the player to change their world.
And so it makes sense that Bethesda create ingame lore that plays with these ideas of so-called cheating, of power and agency, of warping the world around you. If the devs are the Godhead, then each player is immersed in their own god-dream. But the good player, the ruling king, is a lucid dreamer. If they can master the dream-game, if they can gain enough power, or cheat, or create their own reality in the Construction Set – this player has not just beaten the game, they have *become* part of the Godhead. Of the creative process. CHIM.
This is not just why TES is special, this is why gaming is special. Collaborative creativity. The sharing of the “divine” act of creation through play. Authorial control is not lost, it is multiplied – we are all part of the Godhead. What some have seen as gaming’s creative Achilles heel is, in fact, the source of its power. It’s creating a dream, and sharing it with other dreamers, who then make it their own and share it back.
“A whole World of You.
God outside of all else but his own free consciousness, hallucinating for eternity and falling into love: I AM AND I ARE ALL WE.”