This article will contain spoilers for some side-quests in Elder Scrolls Online.
It’s no secret that I have a deep love for The Elder Scrolls Online. I named it my Game of the Year last year, and the more time I spend with it the more I like it. It’s also no secret that I try to be progressive and consider myself an Ally, so to find that ESO includes many quest lines with non-heteronormative NPCs was a real delight.
I recalled first encountering a same-sex couple in ESO on a previous PUGCast, but it’s worth repeating here. It was shortly after the American election. The rise of Trump and his hate-filled followers cast a shadow over everything. Fear was real. I’m not normally an advocate for using video games as an escape, but there’s no question I retreated to Tamriel to take my mind off of the horror unfolding over the landscape.
There I encountered a Breton chap, sitting on a rock outside a cave that led to a small village. He was worried. His husband was sick and he’d brought him to this village to partake of it’s famous magical “cures”, but things didn’t feel right. Could I help him find out what they were doing to his husband? I confess I normally button through quest dialog, but this time I took notice. Husband you say? I needed to see where this was going.
Through the course of the quest it is revealed that his husband is infected with lycanthropy, and in fact the village is a kind-of leper colony for werewolves, where the head of the village keeps their werewolf-impulses in check with a magical talisman that controls part of their minds. At the end you are given the choice to either help the woman control the werewolves, or free the werewolves from her control.
It’s hard not to see a parallel between this and Gay Aversion Therapy. The village leader, a werewolf herself, genuinely thinks she’s helping the werewolves by suppressing their “unnatural” instincts. The cost, however, is that the individual must give up their free will and remain a virtual prisoner.
In the end I opted to help free the werewolves and destroy the talisman. The Breton and his husband escape, and start to rebuild their life with this dialog:
It’s notable for several reasons. Too often in fiction, when LGBTQ characters are present they’re either played for comedy value, or noted for their promiscuity. Here is a loving couple, determined to fight for each other, work out their problems, and not compromise themselves. They aren’t a tired stereotype. The fact that they’re same-sex never even arises as a factor. They’re just… a couple.
It was such a breath of fresh air to leave the ugly world of US politics and see a vision of a place where love and devotion is allowed to flourish between anyone who chooses, regardless of gender.
Then there is the quest A Faded Flower, where you reunite a Dark Elf woman with her former lover who she mistakenly thought betrayed her. This one throws a few more emotional twists: the former lover was a Kajiit slave to the Dark Elf’s family, and it was falling in love with her that convinced the Dark Elf to rebel and free the family slaves. Add to this the fact that it has been many decades — Dark Elves age much slower than Kajiit and hence the Kajiit is an old woman at this point, whereas the Dark Elf looks practically the same — and their reunion is all the more poignant.
Without a doubt, the single most beautiful quest I’ve encountered in the entire game is called The Flower of Youth. It’s so minor it’s easy to miss, since it’s encountered on the way to a main story quest area, but it is one of the sweetest and most emotional quests I’ve ever encountered in any game. A video (not mine) of the quest is below, it’s worth watching for the voiceover alone.
You encounter an old Bosmer (Wood Elf) and his husband by the roadside. They have both lived far longer than they expected, and the husband is dying. The Bosmer brought his husband to this place to die peacefully among the flowers that they loved in their youth, but the flowers no longer grow here. You are asked to gather the seeds of the flowers that the Bosmer may plant them in memory of his husband.
I have no shame in saying this quest seriously choked me up. It is so bittersweet and brings home the point that love can, and should, exist between anyone who choses — that devotion is not the exclusive possession of one model of behavior. There is such a heart of kindness in this quest that I want to give the artists and writers who worked on it an award.
I am given to understand that there are many more LGBTQ NPCs in the world, but ESO is so vast I simply haven’t found them yet. It cannot be overstated how important it is to have these kinds of characters present and visible in game worlds. While it’s not perfect, these efforts go a very long way to moving video games forward as a place where mature and supportive discussions can be had.
Thank you, ESO. Despite being a straight white dude, I feel so much more comfortable and welcome in Tamriel knowing that it’s a place where the values of love and compassion are built into the very fabric of the world.