May 28 2013 10:00am

Geek Love: My Big Gay Skyrim Wedding

Geek Love My Big Gay Skyrim WeddingMy name is Jacob Clifton, and I am a bad gamer.

...Well, a bad role-player. Part of it is, I think, that coming into gaming in my mid-thirties means role-play has lost a lot of its appeal, since real life provides far too many opportunities for that as it is, but honestly I just can’t understand the appeal of being anyone other than myself.

What that means is that when I play a game—beyond Mass Effect, the games I’ve learned I love most are the Bethsda open-sandbox franchises, Fallout and Elder Scrolls—I play as myself. I suppose I’m missing out on part of the adventure, but I’m more interested in exploring other people’s stories than my own.

Minor spoilers, as usual—and plenty of nitpicking to be done—but not really the point.

Starting Skyrim, my second real videogame experience, I figured early on there would be two storylines: One relating to dragons and prophecies about me, personally, and the other a political story about an annexed territory reconciling itself to—or against—home rule. There’s nothing I like better than a revolution, so I decided to save the bulk of that story for last, to end in style.

What that meant, then, was largely ignoring the most important stages of the game, in order to travel around and see the sights and generally level up. Which, to my task-oriented mind, is only sometimes satisfying. And so, as I would in any venture, I set about making spreadsheets: Curricula, different series of quests I could undertake—get all the Dragon Priests, or become beloved in every city-state—before heading into the final fray.

Then I discovered that you could get married. I am fascinated by the romance element in modern games—seeking as it does to bridge the lonely experience of gaming for hours with the adventurous experience of making connections, friends, enemies—and especially as they provide an index to the ways the entertainment industry makes a place for non-standard (straight male) gamers. I knew what I had to do: I made another spreadsheet.

Opening up dossiers on every possible husband in the game, I narrowed the list by red flags—this one a werewolf, that one a drunk—I’d arrived at five fellows I thought would fulfill this part of the game. Which was the hardest to obtain? Argis the Bullwark, a Housecarl in the staircase city of Markarth. A sturdy Viking with a smart facial scar and a distaste for spelunking.

What followed was probably twenty hours of hardcore gaming, as the various requirements were met. In order to even get to him where he sits—waiting for love—in the empty (but up-for-lease) Vlindrel Hall, one must: Earn eight grand (I’d never had more than a hundred bucks to my name), gain the favor of Markarth’s local Jarl (five missions right there), and become a hero of the city (five random “good deed” encounters with the people). I had chosen correctly.

One such task brought me face to face with one of the bachelors who’d very nearly received a rose: A midnight angry drunk whose “good deed” involved punching him in the face for a dollar. Dodged a bullet there. Another task involved becoming closer with a certain mercenary band that I’d somehow intuited were werewolves, which I found distasteful, but I did benefit from working with them—just enough to get my husband—in later parts of the game. Heavy random adventuring and side-quests brought in the cash... Or so I thought.

When I came to the Jarl’s palace to buy my home—up to which I’d been creeping, every so often, to listen at the door in some sort of punchy fit of attempted role-playing—I was turned away: Apparently I’d miscounted my gold, and couldn’t afford the place. Three hours later, after returning several times with more and more manic (and futile) amounts of cash, I turned to the internet: Turns out Markarth is the one palace with a glitch that removes evermore the possibility, once you’ve jumped the gun.

How to proceed? I couldn’t go through all that again. I hadn’t slept, I was going crazy. The internet explained that in order to solve the problem, I’d have to go just far enough along that political storyline to trigger a coup, replacing the Jarl and his court with a new regime. That’s another five hours—thrilling ones, diplomatic near-misses and political hair-splitting—along a plot I was doing this to avoid, but eventually I got my coup. And my house.

Part of the marriage mechanic in the game is to visit the Temple of Mara, on the other side of the game map, to pick up an amulet signifying your desire to wed. I’d quickly come to call it the “DTF Necklace” because of the bizarre conversational options it opened up: Old blacksmiths, weird cutpurses and the occasional Amazon warrior all seemed suddenly very interested in my romantic leanings.

I found Old Argis at the dinner table, in a new house I hadn’t even had time to explore, and he explained first to me that he was my Housecarl—he came with the house as a sort of Viking Shadout Mapes—and that second of all, he was ready to get married. (In real life, when I make these spreadsheets, this is exactly what I imagine happening, so it was not a huge shock.)

Back to the Temple to set the wedding date, and then home—once again, in a fit of roleplaying enthusiasm—to sleep in my new bed, in my new house. We’d wake up in the morning, “fast-travel” (a teleporting game mechanic to save running-around time) to the Temple, and have the whole thing wrapped up by noon. I woke, instead, to a nightmare.

Certain early events in the game trigger an encounter with an assassin’s guild, which I vaguely knew would happen but didn’t know how or what it would be like. What it was like was: Awful. Trapped on the morning of my wedding in an abandoned shack (“The Abandoned Shack”) with a masked woman who wanted nothing more than to put me through a series of ethical tortures in order to prove a point about assassins. I would have loved it, any other time, but I had marriage on the brain and I was not interested one bit in her drama. But she would not relent.

After dealing with her whole thing, I was able to leave the Abandoned Shack—sun only beginning to rise—and I crossed my fingers, hoping I could teleport to the Temple and get my life back on track. But no! Random dragon encounter. A huge black beast circled me, cutting off my escape, and I fought that monster harder than any of the dozens of dragons I’d already killed. Dispatched after a few curse-filled moments, I set out again.

I arrived at the Temple of Mara in a soft rain, just in time to see everyone I had ever met in the game—and an equal number of strangers, who proved to be Argis’s relatives—filing out of the Temple, hurling epithets at me as they went. In my memory, they spat. Argis was nowhere to be found. Inside the Temple, the Priest I’d contracted couldn’t look me in the eye. I waited outside, in the rain, for a pathetic hour before returning: He wasn’t the one, the Priest explained, I needed to apologize to.

After an embarrassing amount of time revisiting our favorite places, I realized I was role-playing to a fault, and he’d be back at the kitchen table, because he is the product of an artificial intelligence and not the sentimental romantic I’d apparently made him in my head. After a very apologetic speech, toes kicking the floor of a house I’d still not really explored, he agreed.

And you’d better believe we sat in that church all night, waiting for the sun.

What I loved about the experience is how random elements, triggers and mistakes added up to a story that took just as long as any storyline—the ones the game provides or the ones I’d made up—and every bit as emotional and challenging as them, too. Nobody else will fight a dragon on their wedding day, or get kidnapped on the eve of their wedding by magical assassins. Nobody else will secretly work to bring down a coup on the Jarl to whom they’d sworn fealty, just for the chance to take off the DTF necklace so people would stop acting so weird all the time. That disaster was just for me, and I loved every second.

But even more intriguing, as my game continued with Argis in tow, were the two effects I’d never imagined. Number one, the man who was supposed to be my bodyguard had become something precious to protect: No way, after all that, was anybody going to hurt him. That’s cute, but mostly it’s odd to see the way it still effects my gameplay.

The second bit, though, isn’t just about me and my particular game. See, although Argis is a Housecarl and a bodyguard, he’s also now a Spouse. And this is where the Attitudinal Index part comes into play: How far we’ve come, how far we have to travel, and the basic hilarities of being (or playing) gay in a somewhat safe-but-still-janky public space.

As a Spouse, this huge Viking has two extra responsibilities: One, he nets me a hundred bucks a day from a “store” he apparently runs—despite being by my side at every moment—and two, everyday involves a “homecooked meal” I can add to my inventory. I’m new enough to videogames that I’m only assuming this is an RPG staple, the wifey at home who cooks and produces money like some kind of robot; I’m guessing the standard is not to take her everywhere, as I’m guessing none of the ways I’m playing the game are all too standard.

When I ask him to make me some food, he promises there’ll be another one tomorrow. When I ask him if he’s got any cash, he hands it over with a tender, “This is your half, love.” It’s adorable. And it is weird.

The fact is that when Argis says these weird things, it’s a cute glitch—and in real life, my actual husband saying any of this wouldn’t make me bat an eye—but if I had a computer wife and she said those things, I’d get grossed out pretty fast. Not about what’s happening, but why: Marry your Amazon fighting-partner, it would be weird to have her dialogue suggest she never leaves the house; a woman player in a straight marriage would hear the same odd things out of her burly man—but I think it does point to an exact moment, in the early 2010’s, when we were in some ways almost there and in other ways, less so.

It’s not a criticism, I don’t see a way to get up in arms about it—I almost think it’s better this way, as a reminder of where we came from and where we’re going. Because it does speak to certain underlying assumptions about the way we play games and the way we relate to one another that don’t necessarily work seamlessly for the vast majority of us—women players, gay and lesbian players, people who actually know how to roleplay, unlike me, and get to take on different genders and sexualities—but it’s made all the more confounding by the fact that no matter how high those numbers get, within and without the world of gaming, we’re still—for all intents and purposes—minorities.

Jacob Clifton is a freelance writer and critic based in Austin, Texas. He currently recaps The Good Wife, Bates Motel, and Defiance for Television Without Pity.com. Check out jacobclifton.com, Twitter and Facebook.

Michael Green
1. greenazoth
Emergent narrative is always pretty cool when it happens to you -- there's a kind of weird thrill when the random components of a system seem to add up to something larger. Of course, that makes me wonder about the role of the storyteller, and how stories are going to be made in the future . . . heh. Anyway, this was a cool, thoughtful article -- thank you.
Mordicai Knode
2. mordicai
I would argue about that term, "glitch" that you use at the end referring to your super buff male spouse saying these stereotypical "housewife" things. It isn't a glitch at all; they built in those options, & they recorded those lines. There absolutely is something to be said about how games where race & gender are strictly cosmetic render issues of race & gender null, & tend towards the "assumed straight white male" experience. I'm not trying to undercut that, but the fact that the game DOES have the option to marry regardless of gender & does have the same options regardless of gender is a step in the right direction.

(Also, my Tor.com post about Skyrim has my orc's wedding pictures...)
3. ASG
I think Jacob's point is that male or female, gay or straight, a warrior isn't going to suddenly develop the personality a traditional 1950s housewife. It may not be a glitch, exactly, but it's a design oversight.

I think the intended path for the player is to have a spouse who is not their travelling/combat companion. At least for the available female spouses, there are several options who are not able to fight in combat but can become spouses. I wasn't interested in a male spouse, so I never checked out those options but I would expect it's fairly similar. Imo, it's a glitch/design oversight that a warrior would suddenly become a housewife and somehow split his or herself in half to run a shop despite being away adventuring for days at a time. Ideally, each possible spouse would have its own way of being a spouse based on its personality. Of course, that would be way too expensive and time consuming to do so I understand why they took shortcuts.
Chris Nelly
4. Aeryl
In Fable you pay to upkeep your spouse(s*). And they complain if you don't give them enough money. And when I've married shopkeepers, I never saw a dime.

*Also in Fable, there are achievements for marrying many times, and your spouses don't come with unless you hold their hands.
Chris Nelly
6. Aeryl
It is. I spend more time running between spouses(who WILL LEAVE YOU if they get unhappy enough) than I do completing quests. I once had a spouse leave me because I didn't realize I had highlighted the NPC next to them when I was trying to give them a gift. And others, I've brought prostitutes home with to use our bed, and they just shrug.

I think Dragon Age does it a bit better. It only offers you members of your party to romance, and it does offer gay/straight/bi romance options.
7. heather hogan
I can't pick a favorite thing you've ever written, but this is right up there at the top.

(After I married Mjoll the Lioness, I spent like ten hours leveling up my smithing and enchanting so I could make her the most invincible armor ever. I wasn't about to lose her to some goddamn Dwarven Centurion in the depths of a Dwemer ruin.)
Jacob Clifton
8. JAClifton
I spent like ten hours leveling up my smithing and enchanting so I could make her the most invincible armor ever

Heather, I love you. I didn't even know you played. And yes, that is the gayest thing you've ever said. Also the cutest.
Mordicai Knode
9. mordicai
7. heather hogan

I married Mjoll too! I gave her hand-me-downs. Of course, that was an enchanted Daedric armor set, when I got the "two enchantment" perk & had to make a new set...
10. harmonyfb
I, too, have a wierd personal rpg narrative with my Skyrim spouse - I married Balimund the Riften blacksmith, and he became a stay-at-home spouse. I kept finding him in the (female) housecarl's bedrooms, he quit giving me the 'homecooked meal' dialog option, and then his wedding ring turned up in his store inventory. o_O

Skyrim romance cracks me up.
Alan Brown
11. AlanBrown
I read this, not because the topic interested me, but because I have found Jacob's writing interesting in the past.
And, as a middle-aged non-gamer, I found my head spinning by the end of it. I guess you don't need to visit other planets to discover a whole new world...
Jacob Clifton
12. JAClifton
@1 greenazoth, exactly. It was the first game I'd played besides Mass Effect (in the wrong order) so I was very impressed, even as I knew it wasn't "real." Thanks.

@11 AlanBrown, I love hearing from you as always, thank you for contributing.
13. s pfeffer
I also married Balimund, but he hangs out outside smithing all the time, so, you know, eaten by dragons like immediately.

I thought about pursuing the Dunmer woman at Winterhold College once Balimund had been messily devoured, but I didn't like the idea of her giving up her studies to make me fucking horker stew every day!
Tim Jacobs
15. evert
I had to Google "DTF," and then I literally laughed out loud. Thank you, and a great article.
18. jmanna
In a lot of RPGs, the home cooked meal is made by the character themselves through a combination of items using a particular tool. So for a lot of games it's a 'make it yo' damned self' option. In others it will be a matriarcal figure, a grandmother or mother, someone who feels the need to care for your character (admittedly, usually female). I think the honest intent of the developers of Skyrim was that your character has Things To Do (TM) and a spouse was meant to support you as you do those things, regardless of gender expectations. Could be worse, you could have taken an arrow to the knee. Then it would have been all over. Or so I've heard.
Donna Fike
21. VideoGames
nice, fun reading your skyrim wedding geeky story.
Mordicai Knode
22. mordicai
This thread re-upped to my profile, so I went & hung out with my wife Mjoll just to you know, make sure we're cool.

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