(Contains spoilers for TES IV: Oblivion and TES V: Skyrim)
So, we’ve all been there. Saved the world, defeated Alduin the World-Eater, visited Sovngarde, came back to tell the tale. Not that anyone is asking you to. Possibly the most frustrating thing about being a hero who has impacted all of Tamriel through your selfless deeds is the fact that just about nobody cares. OK, yeah, you can talk to Paarthurnax, who will be frustratingly oblique and not exactly as congratulatory as you’d like. You can talk to the Greybeards but they’ll mostly not speak back. And, yeah, of course, you can talk to the Blades, you know, Pompous Old Dude and Snarky Assistant. They’ll be thrilled that Alduin is defeated and then immediately tell you that if you don’t kill your old pal Paarthurnax that they won’t talk to you anymore. So your reward for saving Tamriel is some rambling from an old retired dragon, happy nods from the Greybeards and a new, rather unpleasant, job from the Blades. Thanks guys!
Maybe you also happened to be the Hero of Kvatch during the Oblivion Crisis, and was expecting something a little warmer from most people you run into around Skyrim. In Cyrodiil, people have no problem telling you how amazing and selfless you are. You’d think it gets old but nope, it absolutely does not. Also, that nerd Martin sacrificed himself, so he’s not around to take any of the credit. In Skyrim, even before killing Alduin, you are the sole reason why there is an economy (notice that there are never any queues in the stores you visit?), you have saved/done good deeds for most people in most towns and cities, and you, though it is never mentioned, are the only successful archaeologist and excavator around. Still, you don’t get any respect. And once you’ve saved the world? Chilly indifference, broken only by the odd “It’s a fine day with you around!”.
It gets hard, guys. It ain’t goddamn easy. But I’m here to tell about some coping mechanisms to get that sweet, sweet approval fix that you need to get through another skull-bashing day.
Absorb yourself some Dragon Souls
From the first time you do this at the Tower of Whiterun, this is a surefire way to get attention in a totally heroic, who-me kind of way. Let’s say you’re about to go around Dawnstar and try to loot that buggy chest near the mine. Suddenly, you hear that all-too-familiar screeching and some dragon lands on a roof in front of you, quaking the very earth upon which you stand. So BOOM, you shout Dragonrend and, in front of all the terrified and very in-the-way townspeople, you hack that dragon to bits before their eyes.
Unfortunately, they all immediately wheel around and go back to their normal lives with not a single thank-you. Sure why would they, who are you only the ONLY PERSON who seems to know how to fight dragons? They’ve come to expect such excellence from you, which, okay, is a compliment. But like, I don’t know, maybe some days it’d be nice if some of the guards would say “We’ve got this, don’t worry, it’s literally our job,” but nope. Or a “Hey, thanks for stopping our town burning down, we do appreciate all you do, Dragonborn.” Nah. It’s apparently my job to protect towns that I’m not even a Thane of yet.
However, once the dragon’s soul flies into you and all that epic music blasts, they all immediately run back and stand in awe of your excellence. At this stage it is extremely validating to run up to each townsperson and talk to them so that they can tell you that they’ve “never seen anything like it” and you can feel like you’re special again.
Nobody said these were healthy coping mechanisms, okay?
Who’s this punk Miraak?
Oh, um, okay, who are these robed Lovecraftian cosplayers who are telling you that you are not the Dragonborn? They didn’t really get much chance to talk before you smashed their dorky heads in and left them naked on the streets on Riften, but ummm could a false Dragonborn have done all that you have done? Tell me, when’s the last time this squid man killed THE ACTUAL EMBODIMENT OF ARMAGEDDON?
Whatever, it’s fine, don’t let it throw you off your game, just hop on over to Solstheim and show this dingdong what’s up. This quest is a great way to remind everyone how great you are, including yourself. Your sense of growing irrelevance and inferiority is challenged by this new opponent, plus the whole quest to defeat him takes place on a cool little island where small communities seem to remember you more easily and even Hermaeus Mora is excited to see you come and shake things up.
Apart from when that Storn guy gets impaled (by… knowledge? I think?) this is a feelgood quest that lets you tear down your most vocal critic. Haters gonna hate, from whatever plane of Oblivion they’re hiding out in. And then, you’re gonna bash ’em good.
Serve your daedric overlords
Personal morality, shmersonal smhorality. Once you’ve completed main quests and you still aren’t getting that pure uncut validation on the reg anymore, you quickly come to realise that the beautiful, noble character you have created has tumbled down a slippery slope into more murky depths. The Dark Brotherhood and the Thieves’ Guild welcome this descent, and so do the Daedric Princes.
Shed your personal standards of what is good and evil. Always hated Lydia? Bring her up to Boethiah’s shrine and sacrifice her. Jarl of Whiterun’s kid is acting creepy? Steal his only friend, the prince Mephala. Seen one of those preachy Vigilants of Stendarr hanging around outside a house in Markarth? Help him face whatever’s inside and, while you’re at it, slay a priest for Molag Bal. Get drunk and offensive with Sanguine, and play around with some dead dude’s mind with Sheogorath.
It might not seem like much, but by shedding your personal morality you not only expect less of yourself and therefore crave less external validation, you’re also getting mad props from demi-gods like alllllll the time. And if some thug tries to act tough with you, you get to choose which historic and madly powerful weapon you get to fight him with. Feels good, man.
Love in its most selfish form
Let’s say you’ve done all of this. You’re not just the Dragonborn, you’re also the swing vote for the whole Skyrim Civil War. You’re the savior of two criminal guilds. You’ve encountered every daedric prince and gotten some swag out of the bargain. Essentially, you’ll be in every history book related to the fourth era and people will be totally singing your praises. But right now they sure aren’t.
The best and most selfish way to feel a rush of validation is through the magic of love, my dudes. Get yourself an Amulet of Mara and suddenly you’ll realise “Hey, these people were only holding back their attention because of how absolutely knockout I am.” You can swan around talking to randomers and just say (in the most awkward sentence structure of all time) “Interested in me, are you?”
If you’re not even ready to settle down yet, you can still ask people if they’re interested, hear their enthusiastic response, and then walk on by. It’s the Skyrim equivalent to hitting and quitting it. All the validation, none of the commitment. And, once you’ve chosen your mate and they inevitably disappoint you – remember, there’s always your next playthrough and The Shrine of Boethiah – that’s the way to wreak vengeance on a disappointing ex.
There it is, guys. Ways to distract yourself from the crushing meaninglessness of your exceptional existence in the harsh land of Skyrim. Risk your life killing dragons just to win their souls and strangers’ approval, get rid of that sneaky Pirates-of-the-Caribbean’s-Davy-Jones lookalike and save another landmass, throw everything to the wind and do whatever powerful demi-gods tell you to, and finally, find temporary inner peace by people telling you they want to marry you. Happy wandering and watch them Skyrim skies, traveler.