2013 Popular Culture Association (PCA)

Respect Your Elders: Representations of Academia and Modes of Learning in Skyrim

Recently, Rice University created a stir by offering an upper-division class exploring the intersection of Old Norse sagas and Skyrim.  Louise Whetherbee Phelps argues that “higher education… needs to be ‘reinvented’ if it is to survive and thrive in this new century, when it will no longer hold a monopoly on the production and dissemination of knowledge” (67). The incorporation of games as pedagogical tools and texts for analysis is part of such “reinvention.” Yet what discourses regarding academia are embedded within such games? What are the consequences of such moves?

This presentation interrogates The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim‘s remarkable preoccupation with traditional academia, presenting higher education as a once powerful but now irrelevant, fragmented, and irresponsible institution that has little more than vocational training to offer.  Additionally, the game assigns value to various modes of learning, rewarding the player that continues to accumulate knowledge and skills. Though experiential learning is overtly privileged, the game maintains an ambiguous nostalgia for more traditional modes of learning. By contrasting the player’s avatar as the protagonist with scholarly figures, Skyrim offers insight into the way those outside academia perceive the institution, as well as attitudes regarding current modes of instruction. This presentation will explore the ways in which the game represents academia and evaluates instructors and their pedagogy, in order to suggest that the game cautions against learning without wisdom. Acknowledging such perceptions is vital if the university is to persist into the future.

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