The Morrowind Story: The Smaller Story

This is the first part of a series of articles about my experiences with the great classic, Morrowind.

I haven’t played Morrowind for ages.

It was shoved to the back shelf, and my hard drive, by newer games, games with lots of pretty explosions and nice graphics.

And I am ashamed at that.

Starting a few days ago, I picked Morrowind back up, and have started over in it, determined to enjoy this masterpiece, to renew my love of the role-playing games.

To celebrate this occasion, I will be writing a series of blog posts about different aspects of Morrowind, and how new games, and maybe TESV can learn from the greatest game of the series.  In this post, I will be talking about not the main quest specifically, but the little things, the little sidequests, the little sites that tell of a much larger story that the player will never know.

While I will admit that the main quest of Morrowind is not the best, and can be pretty weak at times due to the non-linearity of it, the place the game really shines is the little things, the little quests and sights. Take for example, I was exploring a northern part of the island, north of Gnisis, when I came upon a large boat that was beached. It was not Imperial, it was very obviously Morrowind in origin, resembling those used by fishermen in the Bitter Coast. I looked around it and found that it was completely empty and abandoned. Not a soul or piece of wreckage to be seen anywhere around the lone shipwreck. I continued on up the hill away from the waterside, and I am attacked by two men that had built a small camp, almost directly overlooking the ruined ship.  I was forced to defend myself and kill the two men, dark elves to be exact. But I was forced to think, was these two men the sailors from that ship? Had they been forced ashore by some storm?  Or were they just bandits, that had happened to set up camp near the shipwreck. Or, even worse still, had they killed the sailors that had piloted that ship? So many questions about such a small and seemingly meaningless thing, yet I, nor anyone else, will ever know the answer to that question. We are invited to make our own assumptions, to create our own story. And many times the stories that we make in our heads, tailored exactly to our own personalities and tastes are far more affecting than something that someone else comes up with.

A while later, I was walking a path called the Guar Trail, and I happened upon the bones of some poor, dead soul. Or at least, that is how I think of that small, sad pile of bones. It could just as easily be some bandit that was killed when he greatly underestimated the strength of his victim. Or maybe, a rat or Cliff Racer startled a Guar, and it accidently killed its herder. Do I know? Of course not. Does anyone know what happened on that lonely road all those days and nights ago? Again, the answer is no. We must decide what happened ourselves. As I said, I like to think it was some wary traveler, maybe a pilgrim on his way to Koal Cave. He was beset by some wild beast, or maybe a bandit, and was killed. Just another person lost to the wild wastes of that part of the island.

I am not saying that all games should be made entirely of these things, but such little details, such little unknowable stories scattered around the world, only add to its richness and deepness. They can be passed over without a second thought by the player that wishes to go to Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. But for the slower, more observant player, they can add so much to the experience and their enjoyment of the game.

Some other games have done this as well, and one that springs easily to my mind is the storytelling masterpiece of Half-Life 2. Yes, it is a very typical alien invasion story, but the little details, like the ones I have talked about in this post, are what changes the story from a mediocre alien invasion story to a story with humanity, with empathy, with a sense of what was once, and what has been lost.

So, when Bethesda to finally decide to start major work on The Elder Scrolls V, I hope to see more of this type of thing in it, unlike in Oblivion. Will they put these little things in? I have no idea, but it takes such little effort and time, just a little thought by the designers, to turn a dead, lifeless world that exists for the sake of allowing the player to walk and explore it, to an old world. A world that has existed before the player, a world where people lived and died, and the shadows cast by their lives and deaths are still visible in the very fabric of the landscape.


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