On Astrid’s Animation

There aren’t many positions for characters to be in when you are playing Skyrim. They’re walking, they’re standing, they’re fighting. The Jarls, basically the lords of the different holds, have an pose where they lounge far back in their chairs. But that’s about it. There isn’t a lot of variety in the ways that people exist 

The opening of the Dark Brotherhood questline is the guild leader, Astrid, kidnapping the player and forcing her to make a choice. There are three people with bags over their heads, and the player has to decide which one has an assassination contract out on his or her head. The player chooses and the questline starts and whatever.

That doesn’t really matter. When Astrid speaks to you, she is sitting on a shelf in the corner. Like this:

2013-03-22_00016There is a choice in this encounter, like most encounters in Skyrim. You can reject Astrid’s proposition and attack her. She jumps down from the position, her animation seems to reset, and then she goes right into attacking the player. This leads into a questline where the player kills off the entirety of the Dark Brotherhood. Good wins out. The world is at peace.

When I played the game the first time, I was paralyzed by the choice of which of the captured people to kill. I didn’t want to do it. It seemed mean and much more explicit than other video game. I didn’t want to kill them for the same reason that I have never performed a “curb stomp” on purpose in an action game like Gears of War or Spec Ops. It isn’t just killing; it is execution, and the “game feel” difference for me is very distinct.

In any case, I never thought that it was even possible to attack Astrid. It was her unique animation, the pose that no one else in the game has, that made me feel that way. It is a unique form of visual rhetoric–digital body language, maybe. Astrid’s uniqueness in the world gives her a gravitas that is so great that I assumed I could not interact with her.

I thought that was at least worth noting.



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1 Response to On Astrid’s Animation

  1. My first instinct was to immediately kill all three, before even talking to Astrid. At that point, I decided to take a long break to figure out exactly when I had made the decision that the best characterization of my PC would be a bloodthirsty psychopath.

    Seriously, though, it’s a powerful moment in the game. It reminded me a bit of the “Whodunit” quest in Oblivion, where you are granted a choice of what order to assassinate the people in the house. That quest was obviously different in tone, and more about the player being granted permission to become the monster in a slasher film, but both of them strike me as moments that belie the notion that Skyrim is somewhat shallow, narrative-wise. While the whole game doesn’t play out on this level, they’re definitely instances where the player feels like they have a whole variety of choices, and that those choices matter.

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