Forums » Elder Scrolls

The c0da Code: The Question of Lore Interpretation

    • 17 posts
    April 9, 2014 9:31 AM EDT

    After a very lively discussion yesterday, it was suggested that I open this topic to the rest of the blog. Before we get into the particulars, I would like to make one thing clear. This discussion is about a topic that is near and dear to my heart: Elder Scrolls lore. Specifically, I would like you to discuss how you interpret TES lore.


    The Elder Scrolls is rife with inconsistencies and apparent contradictions. When I first started playing TES way back in Arena, I thought the contradictions were something that the writers missed--after all, TES was a new franchise. Yet, when I played Daggerfall, I was introduced to the concept of Dragon Breaks, and I begun to realize that the contradictions were purposeful. Still not convinced about the existence of contradictions? Phil explained it best yesterday:

    Take for example the whole Hjalti/Talos/Wulfharth thing. What is the canon there? Skyrim comes along with it's Old Hroldan quest to deliberately make the matter more complex. If you say the Heresy is right and I say it isn't, who's right?

    We can add to the list of inconsistencies all day; however, time and space prohibits such a discussion.

    Michael Kirkbride and c0da

    Okay, we've established that contradictions exist. Now, a relatively new ripple in the fabric of lore interpretation has emerged. Enter: Michael Kirkbride (MK). For those who don't know, MK is a former writer for Bethesda and still very active in Elder Scrolls, despite leaving the company during Morrowind's development. He is responsible for a large amount of lore in the Elder Scrolls universe, and was asked by Bethesda to author a few in-game books for Oblivion. Michael continues to write additions to The Imperial Library and the Lore section on the Official Forums (UESP).

    ES-related websites, including this one, occasionally experiences a flare-up regarding his open-source graphic novel, C0da, which is set in the Elder Scrolls universe.

    C0DA aims to truly bring the concept of Open Source to the Elder Scrolls, and encourages any artist, writer, or thinker to expand, explore, and rework it to their heart's content. Link

    To appreciate the magnitude of c0da, I suggest you read MK's own work entitled, KINMUNE, Queen of Alinor. In this controversial, open-source look at TES lore, Queen Ayrenn (from ESO) is actually a robot from the 9E that was accidentally sent back in time due to Hist-ship battles and TalOSian hologram technology. (This is a very abbreviated summary of a complex story arc).

    The Discussion at Hand

    Due to his stature in TES games, MK's interpretation of TES lore has prompted a firestorm of discussion on the proper way to interpret the lore. Is his c0da canon? Is Bethesda rethinking its approach to the lore? This where you, Skyrim Blog members, enter the fray. How do you interpret lore, or, more properly, how do you think lore should be interpreted? Here are some questions to help get you started (you are in no way limited to these questions):

    1. What does "open-source" mean for lore?

    2. Should Elder Scrolls lore be "open-sourced"

    3. Should there be any such thing as canon (official lore)? If so, who decides canon?

    4. How do you feel about c0da and MK in general?

    5. How do you deal with the purposeful contradictions in TES games? Does it even matter to you?

    My hope is that we can synthesize the information contained in the main post and in your comments to create a series of Lore Group articles. So, have at it!

    • 1217 posts
    April 9, 2014 10:19 AM EDT

    Honestly, and this is taking into consideration that I simply might not grasp c0da, I don't see the point of it. It seems, to me, to be roughly equivalent to validating fanfiction. I wouldn't try to argue whether that is meant for his (MK's) benefit or ours as well, but as far as I'm concerned I prefer not having contradictions in the lore without an explanation. Dragon Breaks satisfies me as an explanation. For me, once it's in game, it's canon. When I'm writing something and trying to be lore-friendly, the content of the game is my standard. Beyond that, however, I don't need to feel like the lore can be "anything" because I find that unfulfilling. Creative boundaries create appeal to me. If the answer is just "everything is true", with no other rules, I lose interest.

  • April 9, 2014 10:23 AM EDT

    I think that MK's work feel like FanFic. That's the impression I get from them. His writings are neat, but...they appear to be in a constant dragonbreak, if you know what I mean. 

    The contradictions in TES make me want to hulk out and flip the desk I'm sitting at. There is no truth, and there is no way to swing it either way. Dealing with lore, and trying to understand or explain it is hard enough, but consensus is impossible. The truth doesn't matter. The one who argues best wins. 

    • 1483 posts
    April 9, 2014 10:29 AM EDT

    Quoting myself from yesterday 

    The way I see it, Kirkbrde's works are on the same level as blogs here. You can't consider them canon lore but if some ideas from them appear in TES 6 those ideas will become canon. It will not make the blog author's other writings canon and will not mean that his insight in lore holds more value than any other author's. 

    The reason why I don't compare Kirkbride's works to the lore articles here is because in the blog's lore articles we don't claim to know something that is not backed by a canon lore and do not make up things to fill the gaps. We simply state "we do not know". Kirkbride fills those gaps by himself and while some of his theories are fun to think over because of that, it also reduces their "canon" status.

    As for the questions:

    1. What does "open-source" mean for lore?

    The moment you start to interpret in-game sources yourself it becomes less and less canon. But we need to establish what is canon first. It's what developers considered worthy to end in the game or official books. They definitely have their own perception of lore and they have the option to make that perception into the final product. But until then, it's not canon  In the end, game lore can't become completely "open source" like wikipedia, simply because the developers have to put it in the game and the have to think about the sales and fun aspect of the game above all.

    2. Should Elder Scrolls lore be "open-sourced"

    I don't like the idea of ES lore being "open source" but at the same time I'd like for Bethesda devs to pay more attention to it. Alchemical ingredients change their properties just randomly without any connecion to the area they grow, magical events that can alter their properties etc. 

    3. Should there be any such thing as canon (official lore)? If so, who decides canon?

    Canon = in-game content + content in official books.

    4. How do you feel about c0da and MK in general?

    See the top quote 

    5. How do you deal with the purposeful contradictions in TES games? Does it even matter to you?

    They do make it hard for rational person to make sense of everything. On the other hand, the topics those contradictions address are quite few and it gives us room for interpretation and discussions. 

    I want to add that I'd like to see more "believable" sources in TES 6. For example, we get a lot of information about Dunmer aging and physiology from Real Barenziah which is basically a popular fiction story. There are a lot of sources like that, legends, myths, fictional stories... It's quite hard to dig the rare lore jewels from all that...

    I'll quote author's note from the Great War:

    Much of what is written in this book is pieced together from documents captured from the enemy during the war, interrogation of prisoners, and eyewitness accounts from surviving soldiers and Imperial officers. I myself commanded the Tenth Legion in Hammerfell and Cyrodiil until I was wounded in 175 during the assault on the Imperial City. That said, the full truth of some events may never be known. I have done my best to fill in the gaps with educated conjectures based on my experience as well as my hard-earned knowledge of the enemy.

    • 1217 posts
    April 9, 2014 10:29 AM EDT

    It seems more like the point is that there is no winner. No matter what is being argued, both sides are "right". The lore I've read, though (excluding c0da and exterior MK work) has felt better off for the contradictions and lack of perfect consensus. If, for example, I knew that, despite what all the other races thing, the Altmer mythology is correct, I probably wouldn't even bother playing Skyrim.

    • 856 posts
    April 9, 2014 10:33 AM EDT

    I consider lore of the game anything written by in-game sources (which does not make it 100 percent true). The conflicting and biased in-game accounts is what makes the lore interesting. Trying to read through the in-game sources and distinguish what is true and what is exaggerated and what is simply false makes for an interesting story and interesting debate.

    Anything other than an in-game book written by Kirkbride, including TES lore forum, can be considered lore. Hell, it isn't even 'good' story. Honestly it looks like he just started spewing non-sense at some point. Based on what he has written recently, Bethesda should never allow him to write anything that will become an 'in-game' book, again. (I'm sure at this point he's sneaking in stuff to help him prove his 'points' - which were most likely made up on the spot.)

    Actually, if Bethesda Game Studios ever allows MK's robot time travelling crap into the actual game, then TES franchise will never get another $ from me. Yes, his story-line is so poor, it is enough to ruin the game for me if it becomes official.

  • April 9, 2014 10:33 AM EDT

    The Altmer mythology is probably the least correct. If you ever get around to looking at their ancient history, you'd be surprised at it. I get you're just using an example, but both sides can't be right on an issue. 

    • 1483 posts
    April 9, 2014 10:33 AM EDT

    If, for example, I knew that, despite what all the other races thing, the Altmer mythology is correct, I probably wouldn't even bother playing Skyrim.

     What about Mass Effect? A perfect example of precise lore

    • 1217 posts
    April 9, 2014 10:39 AM EDT

    I guess if you want to tack it down on a specific group or person, then I'd say the writers whose material is used in the game. I think that the boundaries really sort of "establish" themselves. The majority will almost always have a well-defined comfort zone within lore can be stretched or examined in a ton of different ways. If something is well written and easy to understand, it is likely to be accepted. Perhaps not as canon, but as lore-friendly and quality material. When a new game comes out, the boundaries are "adjusted" to accommodate what has just become canon to the majority.

  • April 9, 2014 10:40 AM EDT

    Yes, probably. If I am understanding this right. I think the rejection of the idea of absolute truth is very prevalent in TES. That, and the similarities with eastern religions in the lore seems to follow the trends in the west about both things. The rejection of absolute truth, and the exploration of eastern ways of thinking and eastern mysticism. 

    • 1217 posts
    April 9, 2014 10:42 AM EDT

    Well, I haven't read into everything that has been established regarding Dragon Breaks, but since I don't think they were happening at the very beginning, I'm inclined to agree that both sides can't be right. But unless we understand all the mechanics of the Dragon Breaks, we really can't say which is which. I know this frustrates you, but to me, it makes me more comfortable playing in a multi-faceted world. I can play as a Redguard and be right. I can play as an Argonian and be right. I can play as any given race, and there's room in the lore for my character's lore to be correct.

    • 1217 posts
    April 9, 2014 10:44 AM EDT

    Not sure I follow, here Vaz. Is that a bad thing for Mass Effect?

    • 1217 posts
    April 9, 2014 10:46 AM EDT

    As do I, with the caveat that I do believe it possible to weave me a convincing story that will take me from the 4E to 9E and back. A significant part of MK's problem is that things are injected abruptly, with no fanfare, context or additional background. His 9E story might as well be a different IP for how much it clashes.

  • April 9, 2014 10:50 AM EDT

    Think of dragonbreaks as a 'bubble universe' that splits off from the 'mother universe' and then reattaches itself as the timelines re-align. It was a mechanism for a roleplaying game as roleplay-y as TES.  

    • 1483 posts
    April 9, 2014 10:51 AM EDT

    No, you say you won't bother playing Skyrim if it had precise lore background. Now consider Mass Effect and Dragon Age - two games with precise lore backgrounds documented in codex. Those games are great! 

    • 1913 posts
    April 9, 2014 10:53 AM EDT
    I'm pretty sure the lore doesn't change drastically every game... Excluding the protheans, but they get a pass since we knew almost nothing about them...
    • 1217 posts
    April 9, 2014 10:57 AM EDT

    It's not that I wouldn't play Skyrim because of a precise lore background, I wouldn't play it because of that specific lore background. I find the Altmer lore interesting, and it definitely belongs in the game. If it was established as wrong, it might as well not be there. If it was established as right, I wouldn't feel there'd be much point in playing, unless as an Altmer, and it would just be...dull. Here's an important difference, I think: TES lore often confronts religion, where we are well acquainted with contradiction and limited knowledge/understanding. I can't speak for Dragon Age, but Mass Effect touches very little on religion or mythology without explaining it with fact soon after.

    • 1483 posts
    April 9, 2014 11:10 AM EDT

    Tamriel does not belong to Bethesda as lore itself. However, Bethesda created Tamriel and further development of the universe is again on Bethesda's shoulders. They decide what ends up in TES 6, not anyone else. They can put time-traveling robots, create an Altmer equivalent of Talos, make dwemer resurface and it all will be canon because it will be in the game. People can choose to ignore it, or roll with it but it won't change the status of the lore

    • 1483 posts
    April 9, 2014 11:13 AM EDT

    Dragon Age puts much heavier emphasis on theology and culture than Mass Effect. 

    As for Altmer lore being fixed, I play like that for quite a long time. For me, the Altmer creation myth is the truth and all my characters, including Bosmer, Khajiit, Nords have that in mind (despite believing in different things even the most traditionalistic character acknowledges that Altmer myth is probably right) 

  • April 9, 2014 11:25 AM EDT

    Is it because when everything is true, nothing is? 

    • 1217 posts
    April 9, 2014 11:26 AM EDT

    I'm comfortable with the likelihood, but I don't think I would be with the fact. At the very least, the Altmer creation myth is the most complete. The question lies in whether it has been interpreted/transcribed/carried on in its fullness/accuracy since then.  I also find the notion that the Argonians were the first life on Tamriel an interesting possibility, and the way it fits with (or contradicts) the Altmer mythology is enough to prevent that surety.

    • 1595 posts
    April 9, 2014 12:59 PM EDT

    So how do you guys feel about The Song of Pelinal? I remember having a hard time dealing with that at first

    • 1595 posts
    April 9, 2014 1:30 PM EDT

    Nice discussion ArcanusLex, some good responses here

    I am a big fan of interpretation and feel once something is out in the public domain it should be up to each person to interpret how they want. Games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect have rich lore which I really love but the number of ways it can be interpreted is reduced because it's so fleshed out. So most things become fact as soon as they are written, and discovering the truth about something is as easy as looking it up in a codex.

    What I like about TES Lore is that a lot of mythology and spiritual matters is as nebulous as they are in our own world and discovering what is true is much harder. Especially when there could be multiple truths, as is represented by the Aldmeri creation myth.

    It is my opinion that even if MK's writings do not appear in the games, a lot of there content backs up and validates writings that are. In a traditional argument about canon, The Song of Pelinal would be considered canon because it appears in the games whereas The Seven Fights of the Aldudagga would not. However, to me, the mention of kalpa's in the former is backed up in the latter which in turns makes the Aldmeri creation myth much more open to interpretation.

    It leads us to a possible reason why matters such the gods are so mixed up. I personally like the book Light and Dark as it perhaps gives the Ehlnofey a different origin and throws up the standard creation myths like the Anuad to reinterpretation.

    Without these contradictions, discussions like this or Vaz's Altmeri equivalent of Arkay discussion wouldn't be possible.

    • 61 posts
    April 9, 2014 5:10 PM EDT

    My thick skull couldn't take even half of that in, but yes I think canon is important, as to not confuse the dummies like me. Canon should only be decided by what is in the game or officially released by Bethesda (i.e. books and such)

    • 74 posts
    April 9, 2014 5:19 PM EDT

    It's what's happens when post-modernism stops being an analytical tool and becomes an ideology. If you think it's annoying in games, you should see what it does at the fringes of academic disciplines like history.