Flashback Fridays: Profile – Lydia

Welcome to Flashback Fridays, where members of Girls Got Game revisit articles or posts they have done in the past. We let our authors republish them here, more than occasionally with revisions. This one is the second in a series done by Carlo. The originals are all up on Facebook. The second installment on GGG is over here. This particular piece can be found here.

Welcome to part three of my series on video game character design!

It is difficult to do a character design analysis on the Dragonborn of Skyrim, despite his iconic appearance and immense power level. More than many RPG characters, the Dragonborn’s characterization is yours to build.

And who actually spends more than a few in game hours wearing that horned iron helm?

Because the Dragonborn has so many faces (and genders, and species), Lydia, faithful housecarl and sworn to carry your burdens, is in many ways the poster character of the game. If Skyrim were Bioware instead of Bethesda, she would be the game’s deuteragonist. She has the most distinct personality among the housecarls in the base game, so much so that she’s the only one to get new dialogue in the expansions.

Today’s analysis therefore, is not just about characters, but about a relationship.

In many ways, Lydia is an extension of you. She carries your items, fights enemies, and will increase in power depending on how much you invest in her equipment. But in some ways, she influences your strategy. She is a warrior through and through – you will not succeed at sneaking missions with her clattering around. She is strong enough to go toe to toe with nearly any mundane foe, but outnumbered as you always are, you are forced perpetually to look out for her. And, of course, you have to take the dungeons slowly, keeping her in sight, lest her suspect pathfinding leave her somewhere far behind.

Bugs, to be sure – but could they be a feature? Having someone with you forces an extra level of awareness. You have to keep an eye on Lydia. In the early game, when you are a nobody, she can carry the day against foes you have no chance against. But when you are the demigod of prophecy, slaying dragons in seconds, your loyal companion is a pack mule at best and a liability at worst.

But isn’t that a way to humanize the Dragonborn? What does it feel like to be a nigh-invulnerable superman, leaving even his strongest friends by the wayside? It is significant that when you go to your final battle with Alduin the World-Eater, you must leave all mortal companions behind.

But before that point, do you leave Lydia at home? How many of us left her drinking mead alone in Breezehome while we ventured on unencumbered by her vulnerabilities? These little gameplay choices beg to be spun into a story. And those choices matter more when they define a character who isn’t you.

Here’s what I did. I am a pansy magic elf and not the strapping nord everyone associates with the prophecy. I cast healing spells, adopt an orphan, build a house, and cook bowl after bowl of apple cabbage stew. Lydia quaffs mead and kills dragons. She kinda wears the pants in this relationship. I imagine that people in the towns believe she is the Dragonborn and not me, because imagine what that would mean: that the gods have rebuked the nords for their civil war by putting their messiah in the body of the race they hate the most. I don’t fit the narrative. But, nonetheless, I am the Dragonborn.

Reader, I married her. Lydia may yell pro-nord slogans, but she wasn’t averse to marrying an elf, particularly an elf who put a roof over her head and filled her inventory with healing potions.

Any NPC can fight dragons. But to make a life – that’s something only the player character can do.

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Antonio Calavera

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