Posted by cpr365 on April 9, 2010
The virtual environment of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a sprawling magical, medieval environment where the player is free to explore and do anything he pleases. Everything from massive cities to uncharted dungeons to quaint farms and meadows dot the map of Oblivion that is filled with citizens from all walks of life, from thieves to royalty and from assassins to housemaids. As a player in the world, you can chose to save the world form an impending evil or just go about your way in a guild, buy a house, and go fishing. As a result of the freedom and vast range of locations in Oblivion, it is able to offer subtle comparisons and commentary on the differences and perspectives on urban and rural spaces.
The cities in Oblivion have a sense of security that is typical of urban spaces while simultaneously exhibiting a stratification and gentrification of the social classes; meanwhile, the rural spaces offer both an anti-pastoral and pastoral view of country farming life. The urban sense of security is essentially that there is an active police presence in addition to a large population of people that combine to make the inhabitants feel safe in what would otherwise be a dangerous urban jungle. In regards to the population, the gentrification of the city deals with how the homeless and lower class people are generally allotted in one location while the richer classes grow and expand other portions of the city. On the rural side of things, the pastoralist view of life is focused on the positive, almost exaggerated aspects of rural life such as how idyllic, peaceful, and easy farm life is; the anti-pastoral view centers more on the realistic, if cynical, observance of the hard work, loneliness, and dangers associated with a difficult subsistence rural life.
The various cities around the virtual world in Oblivion have a vast array or architectural styles, city layouts, and inhabitants, but one thing they all hold in common is an omnipresent array of city guards. Wherever you go in Oblivion’s cities, the watchful eye of the policing soldiers is always around the corner. As a player, this means you are safe from enemy attacks while within the walls of a city, or if you are being pursued by bandits, you can flee to the safety of a city and its guards. If you choose to be a less savory citizen, however, the presence of the city guards will make pickpocketing, stealing, and murdering significantly more difficult on you. As I often play the latter type of character, the presence of law enforcement officers and their prisons and swords adds both gravity and realism to what would otherwise be a string of inconsequential crimes on virtual citizens.
Another urban-centric idea displayed prominently in Oblivion is gentrification and homelessness. Every town in the game has a gaggle of homeless beggars who will harass you for change, and in some of the larger towns there are even entire shantytown areas around the outskirts of the greater urban sprawl. It seems that even in the fantasy setting of Oblivion they cannot do away with homelessness and beggars, perhaps a commentary on the prevalence and persistence of this human societal problem. While the homeless beg across the walls, the rich and powerful of the cities pursue elegant lifestyles in opulent clothing and luxurious environments with complete disregard for the problems lurking in their city, perhaps another commentary on the way the real world functions.
Beyond the cities, many farms and rural spaces dot the landscape of Oblivion. They are presented in such a way as to allow the player to determine which rural perspective the game portrays, pastoral or anti-pastoral. The player can easily perceive the rural settings in a pastoral sense at first glance: the sun shines brightly, pretty plants and flowers grow everywhere, the crops and animals look peaceful, and life just looks peaceful for the inhabitants of the rural farms; however, if the player takes a close look, he’ll see the anti-pastoral side of how the inhabitants have to spend a long part of their day taking care of their plants and animals, fending off thieves and goblins, and living in relative isolation from society. Similar to how the real world exists, there is no clear-cut correct perspective, but players are able to see and interact with both views.
The world of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is complex and massive, yet it successfully integrates many real-world parallels of urban and rural life. On a whole, Oblivion’s gap from the real world allows the player to form opinions and insight on the way city and rural life works without having to actually travel out into the real countryside or urban sprawl. The game world allows the player to transcend what he would normally be capable of to observe and interact with the peculiarities of urban and rural life from the comfort of his home.
Short, John Rennie. Imagined Country. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1991.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Bethseda Entertainment, 2006
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