The Psychology of Skyrim

Ah, the vast and beautiful Tamriel province of Skyrim. It’s easily the harshest place in Nirn to be visited in the Elder Scrolls series thus far and, we are told, the first populated by man. It’s an epic and immersive place, like Oblivion and Bethesda’s Fallout titles before it, created to get lost within.

You build your character — whose only shared characteristic from game-to-game is that he or she is Doväkiin, or Dragonborn: a person born with the soul of a dragon — from anonymous nobody to raging, flame-drenched dragon fucker. It’s an ambitious experience few games even come close to offering.

But I’ve noticed something troubling.

Your character’s behaviour, regardless of how you’ve chosen to play, is problematic. It ranges from mildly disturbing to incredibly dangerous to utterly insane. Of course, Bethesda’s RPG is set in a fictional land inspired by the middle ages — a fair while away from the birth of psychology, let alone its refinement into the science we know today. So it falls to us, noble modern men, to diagnose the deeply unhealthy Doväkiin.

Put down the weapons. Have a seat. We need to talk.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa, known colloquially as anorexia, is characterized by an aversion to food that leads to a state of starvation or emaciation. While this is, largely, an optional disorder (you can indeed eat in Skyrim), it must be said that the act of eating is largely pointless and has less effect upon the Doväkiin than, say, the average health potion.

I’ve been playing for many hours and haven’t eaten a damn thing. This is strikingly dangerous, and I can only assume it’s because my Doväkiin is feeling a lot pressure to live up to his public image as the foretold saviour of humanity. (Shockingly, he doesn’t seem to have lost any weight. I can only attribute this to his gluttonous potion intake.)

The Doväkiin would not be in this line.


Kleptomania is an impulse-control disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to steal. Kleptomaniacs feel the need to take things, usually items of little or nearly no value, but often move onto shoplifting and incidents of more significant theft. The Doväkiin seems compelled to steal almost everything he sees.

That is troubling enough, but the province of Skyrim is altogether geared toward nurturing this unfortunate mental disorder. (I’m looking at you, Thieves’ Guild.) Furthermore, kleptomania is often categorized under the umbrella term of…

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

This one is bad news, purely for the sheer amount of problems it raises. Unlike the other two, nothing specific characterizes OCD aside from feelings of anxiety and the urge to repeat tasks over and over in order to ease the anxiousness; many bizarre behaviours, from the avoidance of certain numbers or objects to preoccupation with certain — often disturbing — thoughts, fall into this category. These behaviours will often lead to personal, social, and financial distress.

Two aspects of the Doväkiin’s personality lead me to believe he is OCD:

1) Hoarding. The Doväkiin is constantly picking up much more than he can carry. Even if his inventory is loaded with dozens of healing potions, he seems to have an irresistible need to pick up any new ones he finds. His house is overloaded with books, potions, ingredients, weapons, and armor that he will likely never use, if he ever used them in the first place.

2) A compulsive need to help others. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with helping someone in a bind, but the Doväkiin takes it to the extreme. He’s on a quest to destroy a horrifying dragon god; he’s recently learned that he is likely the savior of humanity; the fate of Skyrim — if not the entire world — is on his shoulders. But if you asked him to pick up your dry cleaning, he’d probably do it. He is constantly, obsessively agreeing to help people; his quest log is never short of jam-packed. This type of behaviour can lead to serious distress.

Are you absolutely sure you don't need any help? Any at all?


Now we’re getting serious. The Doväkiin is, for my money, undeniably and very seriously autistic. Autism, one of three recognized disorders on the autism spectrum, is characterized by, amongst other things, impaired social interaction and problems with verbal and nonverbal communication. These issues are immediately recognizable in the Doväkiin.

He has absolutely no sense of social boundaries. He walks into peoples’ houses, rifles through their things, approaches random children without thought of what might be implied, and barges into conversations whenever he damned well pleases. Fortunately for him, the people of Skyrim are understanding and only occasionally call him out on his rudeness.


He has serious trouble with both verbal and nonverbal communication. As far as nonverbal goes, he doesn’t seem able to do much other than walk, hop, and look up and down; facial expressions seem a completely foreign language to him. Verbal communication is where he’s really got a problem, however. The only sounds he’s able to make are grunts and yelps when being attacked, as well as violently loud shouts. (How he’s able to convey what he wants in conversations is anyone’s guess. My theory is some kind of Dragonborn telepathy.)

So now you’ve seen the depths to which the Doväkiin is unhealthy, right? Wrong. The earlier mentioned issues are disturbing, to be sure, but the Doväkiin suffers from something far worse…

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) is characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others. Sufferers of ASPD are unconcerned with the feelings of others and almost totally lack the capacity for empathy; in general, emotion is a foreign language to them.

To put this in a rhetorical perspective, psychopathy and sociopathy — terms now mostly avoided by psychologists — fall under the category of ASPD. The Doväkiin seems completely unfamiliar with basic human emotions. He does not laugh, cry, feel fear, or get angry.

His behaviour toward even the most benevolent of tasks is remarkably callous. If asked to save a kitten in a tree, he’ll do it; if asked to kill an old woman who’s become a burden to her family, he’ll do it. Either way he’s rewarded. To the Doväkiin, there is no such thing as moral gradation.

Soooooo worth the 100 gold.

So there you have it, my thoughts on my Skyrim adventure so far. No, it isn’t quite a review. (Since JTM is still low-level, we sadly don’t get advanced copies of games for review. [Wink wink, publishers]. My so far 60-odd hours with the game have been completely post-release.)

To be honest, I’m having a glorious time, whether or not I’ve been enabling a psychopath this entire time. Time to stop writing and dive back in. Who knows, you might even get a review one of these days…

(All psychological info taken from and Wikipedia. Apologies for any errors.)


Posted on November 21, 2011, in Opinions And Editorials and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Awesome article man! I just picked up Skyrim and I’m loving the hell out of it.

  2. This was very funny.


  3. Hilarious. The game is alright, and this is one of the reasons it’s not as great as it’s made out to be.

    Enjoy your time 🙂

  4. geekypsychstudent

    A very humorous article! As a side note, sociopathy is a subtype of Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), but not synonymous with it.

  5. I don’t understand how the reviewer missed all the dialog lines of the main character…

    Just because they aren’t voiced doesn’t mean he doesn’t speak. Otherwise 95% of games would be full of mute people…

    I’m not trying to be a fanboy though. I hate Bethesda, although I consider this to be their best creation since Daggerfall.

    • Flagnammit you guys! It’s a joke, hence my comment about the Dragonborn telepathy. I know the dialogue options imply that he speaks, but, like everything else in this article, I was shoehorning exactly what happens in the game (regardless of what was implied) into a real life context.

  6. “Just because they aren’t voiced doesn’t mean he doesn’t speak” – agree with you. Psychology paper topics

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