game, video games

Sexuality in Oblivion

As I inch toward sixty plus hours in Oblivion, I’ve begun to look at the society of the various cities, how their peoples interact and the relationships between them. It’s hard not to. The more time you spend in the game, the more you end up knowing about the people and their routines, their schedules. Show up in a city at 6 AM and some people will be out. Show up again at 6 PM and there will be a completely different group of people up and about in the city. That’s one of the more interesting aspects of the NPCs in Oblivion, that they move according to a schedule. You start to learn certain more important — to me — schedules of the people you interact with most. You learn to know when they are in bed and who they hang out with over time. Like I said, it’s hard not to learn learn after hours and hours of interaction. Failing to learn those schedule, or not caring about them, can lead to some interesting discoveries though.

I was on the quest to steal the tax records, and the gold collected, from the guards in order “to let the Watch know they went too far.” It requires that you break into the Watch Towers and make you way to the Private Quarters of Hieronymus Lex. His room is on the fourth floor of the building and I needed to make my way up through, past the many guards, in order to get these items. The first time I attempted this, I was caught. As I was walking through the first floor, one of the areas with beds, I was noticed by some of the guards that were standing around in the room. I tried sneaking past them, but they noticed me and warned me to go. As I was leaving the area to try again another time, I saw something that triggered this whole post and the research that predated it. While I was in the Watch Tower, I noticed two men sleeping together.

That may not mean anything to you, two men in the same bed. In fact, unless you are very familiar with how sexuality works in Fallout 3 / New Vegas, it probably would not even mean anything at all except both NPCs were tired. However, to me, it meant that I needed to do more research into how relationships works in Oblivion. Because, as I am about to point out, to me and my understanding of the Gamebyro engine that runs all three games, it meant that these men might be homosexuals.

Having sexual relations in the Fallout 3 / New Vegas means that you sleep in the same bed. Not in a euphemistic sense, but the literal one. Both of your characters lay down on the bed and the screen fades to black. Then, there will be sounds of moaning. The player is supposed to assume that some type of sexual actions happened to produce such responses. However, nothing is shown. These games are rated Mature after all and not Adult Only. In a post “Hot Coffee“, the chance of even some expression of sexual actions is frowned at and discussed at length on Fox News.So, because I had seen both of these men in the same bed and I knew that might mean they were in a relationship of some kind, I began to investigate what other relationships might exist in the game.

For a fantasy world filled with hundreds of people, there seem to be very few sexual liaisons happening. Leaving aside the fact that over a half-dozen races exist together and that multiracial couples exist too, the amount of “incidents” between people seems very rare. For the average player, this lack of a layer of verisimilitude is probably not very noticeable. How would you know where people go and who they sleep with unless you followed them? That is, unless you had access to the code that ran the characters. That is where sites like Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages are very, very helpful. Without it, I would not have been able to search through various character schedules and backstories to track down some interesting relationships in Oblivion.

The very first question that came to my mind after I began to think about the idea of sexuality in Oblivion was wondering if homosexuals existed at all in this fantasy world. Despite the fact that it is a mainstream choice in reality, “alternative lifestyles” are often left out of video games. In fact, it was a major point of contention with the Mass Effect games that there were no true homosexual options for the main character. The fact that the later games published by Bethesda, Fallout 3 / New Vegas, have several both open and closeted gay and lesbian characters left me wondering if the fact that I had not run in to any homosexuals in Oblivion meant that they must all be closeted. (Or that I had not been paying enough attention.) So, I began some research into the people of various cities.

After several different searches of the database and reading through many descriptions of the lives of people in Oblivion, the closest I have come to finding someone even closeted gay was in the character of Viranus Donton. It is within his Bloody Journal that he talks about his relationship with his mother and his “friend” Eduard. Even then, one must really rely on some projection or selective interpretation of certain phrasing to even get to that opinion of the work. In the section labeled “Morndas”, he says:

“Thank the gods for Eduard. I fear without him I would go mad. His constant companionship keeps me hopeful that I will one day be returned to active duty. Until then, we have each other. He has willingly forgone lucrative contracts in order to help me pass the days. A truer companion I could not imagine.”

Then farther down there is a an entry for “Loredas” that says

Again, nothing. It seems my only hope is that Oreyn will find another contract for me, though contracts are harder and harder to come by with the increasing presence of the Blackwood Company in Cyrodiil. Eduard and I spoke of them over breakfast this morning. He believes them to be nothing more than a rogue mercenary band. I fear he is as naïve as he is beautiful.

I’ve been given another contract, clearing out some trolls that have been troubling miners. And Eduard is to accompany me! I can’t think of better news. This is exactly what I need.

You could read that Viranus and Eduard have a homosexual relationship. Or you could read it as Viranus having a crush on Eduard. Alternative, it could just be that they are good friends. The subtly there is hard to parse without additional information about how they live or more primary sources of writing. So, moving from homosexual relationships, I moved to any expressions of sexuality that were perhaps… forbidden. Even in fantasy settings, there have to be alternative sexual practices.

Searching for that brought me to Falanu Hlaalu and necrophilia. I guess I should not find it surprising that a character in this world would have that predilection. Previous to finishing the Mages Guild quest lines, there are dozens and dozens of necromancers about the world. They are gathered in numerous caves and seem to want to hide their actions. That fact that one of the game’s characters might want to have sexual relations with something that was dead, given all these other people practicing this magic, should not be too odd. I’m not saying it’s not sick. It is. But it’s… kinda expected. The fact that there is not more sexual predilections related to magicka and Daedric worship is probably more odd. If the world and lore of Oblivion was a closer match to that of reality, there would be more sexual aspects to ritual worship of gods, divines, at least as it applied to more primitive civilizations within the world.

Since I had exhausted the search for forbidden and “alternative” lifestyles in Oblivion, I started in on relationships that were hidden from others, affairs. The first of which came to mind was the The Siren’s Deception quest. Visiting Anvil and talking with its many citizens will prompt some conversation about the all-female gang of thieves that is stealing only from married men. Going to Gogan, which many people in the city will point you to, will lead you to his wife, Maelona. It seems that this gang has made off with her ring, a family heirloom, via Gogan’s “involvement” with this gang. Jumping ahead in the quest, you confront this gang, they attack you, you kill them. It turns out, once Gogan and Maelona enter the house that the gang was hiding in, that the two of them are actually city guards and needed a stranger to get to the gang in order to break their pattern. Believe it or not, this produced two more interesting relationships between people to me. One, that marriage exists within Oblivion and two, that monogamy is important.

I’m not sure how weddings work within the The Elder Scrolls universe. This quest from Daggerfall hints that they can be used for political means but what of the common folk? How do they get married? Is it important in their worlds or cultures? To what divine are they they married under? Do they lose favor or gain blessing with one divine over another through marriage? As soon as I began to think about the idea of weddings and marriage within the game, I realized that there was a profound problem with the lore: given the degree of racism among certain peoples, how would ceremonies even happen? What are the customs, rituals and symbols associated with marriage? Are the couples that I run into throughout the game only ‘married’ in the sense of Common Law? Regardless of the why, I am sure that the who in the situation are important. It seems that it is always two people and that being faithful to each other is important.

“The life of a sailor’s wife isn’t an easy one. Heinrich is at sea nine months out of ten. But Anvil’s a friendly town, and the Nine console me.”

The above quote comes from Hasathil, the wife of a sea captain. She is a Bosmer, a Wood Elf. Her husband is a Nord, a human. This marriage between these two races is apparently pretty odd with people in Anvil saying things like “You don’t see a lot of Human-Bosmer marriages. I don’t know if it’s even legal in Cyrodiil.” and “Marrying a Bosmer is just wrong.” So, the fact that she is finding “console” in the Nine is good for her. Except, she is also finding “console” in her secret meetings with Enilroth too, another Bosmer. Hasathil is far from the only woman seeking “console” though.

Mirabelle Monet is the innkeeper of The Fo’c’s’le, a boardinghouse for Sailors. According to many of the town people of Anvil, “Mirabelle Monet runs quite a boarding house. I understand all of the sailors leave very satisfied” and “I’ve heard that Mirabelle spends a lot of time with the sailors. A lot of personal time with them.” Doing a bit of investigation reveals that this is quite true. Not only will she not rent a room to anyone not a seamen, she also does a bit of night walking. It seems she chooses between Thurindil, Anguilon or Krognak gro-Brok to sleep with each night. All three are pirates by the way. In order, they are Bosmer, Bosmer and Orc. It seems that Mirabelle might also jump between their beds during the night as well. Given this behavior, what is the result?

Something that may not seem all that strange to many people is the absence of children in Oblivion. Given the occasional promiscuous behavior of people like Mirabelle, it might lead to pregnancy. In would, in fact, if this was reality. But this is a video game, there will be no pregnancy or even children in the game. On the verisimilitude front, this seems odd until you consider that everyone can be killed. Given the uproar over being able to kill ‘hookers’ in other games, the developers of Oblivion decided to not include pregnant women or even children. If you can kill off just about any of the characters in the game, and you really can, this would present a situation where violence against minors and women could be acted out with impunity.  Even the essential characters, the unkillable ones, would just wake up and take more violence. The solution in later games, Fallout 3 and New Vegas, was to include children in special situations but make them unable to be hurt at all.

Sexuality is seldom expressed in Oblivion. This might have more to do with the fact that it came out in 2006, before the major emphasis on personal relationships that many later games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age and even Far Cry 2 had. Oblivion was more about exploring a fantasy landscape, of doing quests. Having personal relationships, even among the greater population was probably not even a major concern. The in-game world is more of a reflection of other works within its genre. Most of those, in turn, have very few even straight relationships present, let alone alternative ones. Sex is just not very important. It could even be argued that its general lack of sexual liaisons is a better treatment than many modern day games that go out of their way to include gay relationships. By ignoring sexuality, the game might be saying that it is just another aspect of the human condition, no more important than any other in defining people.