A Sight For Ore Eyes: Examining The Geology Of Skyrim

Trained geologist Jane Robb wonders what we can learn from the geology of Skyrim and if it's accurate enough for the world of education.

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There's no denying the popularity of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Fifteen months have passed since its release and fans are still donning their horned helms in the continued quest for treasure and adventure. This enduring popularity is even more remarkable when you consider that Skyrim is a single-player game. There are no multiplayer modes where player vs. player challenges provide the impetus to revisit and replay. And yet, Skyrim marches on.

At the heart of its longevity lies the humble mod. The opportunity to alter Skyrim's world by creating new objects and tinkering with combat has given players the chance to bring their real-life passions into the game.

However, while delving through the 13,000-plus strong catalogue of Lord of the Rings quests and--my personal favourite (until it was removed for copyright reasons)--mudcrabs that look like Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama, I found one topic to be particularly lacking: my own passion, geology. Yes, that's rocks. And, contrary to popular belief, geology is AWESOME.

So I decided to bring my own knowledge to the table and take a look at the geology of Skyrim. What can we learn from the rocks? Just how accurate is the geology? And is it enough to make Skyrim a valid tool in education and science communication?

To understand the geology of Skyrim, it's not enough to just look at the rocks, or simply observe the landscape. What you need is an understanding of the interactions between rock types and their spatial and geographical distributions, i.e. where they are located on the map and what that looks like. Often that takes the form of mountains, lakes, fields, and even hot springs.

The first question to ask is what kinds of rocks can you find in Skyrim? So far, I managed to map four different kinds of rock that can also be found in the real world. Because of this, I took the real world definitions of the rocks to determine their geology (i.e. their chemical formulas). I also looked at the ways in which they are formed according to TES lore.

The four types of rock include iron ore, gold ore, malachite (an ore of copper), and moonstone, which is actually what geologists call feldspar. These rocks can be found in different areas across Skyrim, but for ease of mapping I've currently only taken into account the locations where they are the most abundant, which is where the most ore veins can be found.

Looking at the map above, you can see the spatial distributions of the four different rocks. The gold colored one indicates where gold is found, red indicates iron, green indicated malachite, and cream indicates moonstone.

By looking at how each ore is made, we can build up a picture of how the world of Skyrim was theoretically formed. For instance, gold ore commonly forms near mountains, where the Earth's tectonic plates push together, while iron ore is formed by iron in the oceans turning to rust and then being squashed, folded, and stretched over the millennia to form iron ore deposits.

Rocks can be found in specific places not only because of the way they were formed. They can be also be transported to their modern resting places because of erosion or plate tectonic movements that push continents together to form mountain ranges or pull them apart to form oceans.

In the west of Skyrim, the curvy lines with triangles on them mean that the land to the northeast has been pushed on top of the land to the southwest. This type of plate movement builds mountains, and could explain why there are mountains in the west around Markarth.

In the east, the Rift holds the town of Riften that--maybe unsurprisingly--could indicate that this area has being pulled apart between the Throat of the World and the mountains adjacent to Eastmarch. When plates pull apart, one is actually being pulled down in relation to the other. This could mean that the Throat of the World is pulled up above the rest of Skyrim, which could account for why we see the highest mountains there.

Looking at the ore deposits in Skyrim, it's clear that gold is abundant over in the west, which is commonly associated with mountain building. Iron ore is commonly found in rocks changed through heat and pressure, which is also characteristic of rocks found close to areas of mountain building. In the east, malachite and moonstone occur near the Rift, where the plates are pulling apart. It's very common where plates pull apart to have increased volcanic activity, which is consistent with malachite and moonstone both being volcanic minerals.

From this analysis, it's interesting to see that Bethesda was faithful to real-world geological principles when creating Skyrim. I asked some members of Bethesda's Skyrim developer team about the geology of Skyrim, assuming that the geology must be deliberate. Surprisingly, they didn't have a consulting geologist on their team, but instead had a dedicated team of artists and developers that did their research without any background knowledge. I believe Bethesda deserves some serious kudos for that.

"Communicating something new and potentially boring or difficult to people through a medium they love is a great springboard and connecting point."

The geology of Skyrim project has also shown what a good tool popular videogames can be for science communication. They're excellent at communicating scientific principles, because so many people can relate to them. Communicating something new and potentially boring or difficult to people through a medium people love is a great springboard and connecting point. Other scientific organizations like the Welcome Trust have been using games as a way of communicating science for a while now, but I believe that using established popular video games is also a way in which to do this.

In the future, I'd like to see more collaboration between scientists, game developers, and artists to make the environments of videogames more realistic. We already see so many parallels between the real world and science in videogames (just take a look at Cameron's show the What If Machine), and some games like Assassin's Creed already have historians on board as narrative consultants.

Taking games and making them applicable to the real world has many benefits for learning and education, but the responsibility for doing so needn't fall the developers alone. Releasing software like Skyrim that allows users to modify aspects of the game is a great way to help people engage more with the story, science, and even learn some programming. Modding could become something teachers take up as part of a lesson in school or university classes.

So where do I go from here? My next step in the geology of Skyrim project is to develop a working mod that includes some of the geological features I have identified with a more complete mapping of the rocks found across its world. From there I hope to carry on helping out with other mods in Skyrim, and maybe even look to other games like Minecraft, which has lots of possibilities for a geologist. Indeed, Minecraft is already being used to teach geography in some schools.

I'll be hosting my project over at Dark Creations, so if anyone wants to get involved, then feel free to get in touch over there. It would be great to know what readers think of this project, so please put your views in the comments below.

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Discussion

235 comments
ApolloAegis
ApolloAegis

This article expresses almost every reason why I favor Bethesda as a gaming company. 

GetafixOz
GetafixOz

Im a pretty keen prospector. I panned my first shovel of creek wash at aout 8 years old in a pan my uncle gave me for my birthday. Any game with mining in it usually sucks me in, if I spent as much time out with my highbanker as I did mining from my hulk in EVE, Id probably be retired LOL. I enjoyed this aspect of Skyrim and thanks for delving into it.

uglypinkmoose
uglypinkmoose

Bethesda is badas....and Elder Scrolls games are badas.... they have so much detail.... Morrowind will probably always be my favorite though 

ToughCritic28
ToughCritic28

Why are we still talking about Skyrim? I don't get people's fascination with the Elder Scrolls games.

RustedTruck650
RustedTruck650

IF skyrim didn't have so much stupid shit to do i'll consider re-buying it and playing past 20 hous and finally finish it for the 1st time.

GoreSmasher
GoreSmasher

Video games are a very important and valid part of life.

brok
brok

Screw Skyrim- I want to see a geologist try to make sense out of Just Cause 2...

nikolokolus
nikolokolus

And this is why the good folks over at RPGcodex, call Skyrim the best hiking simulator ever made.

CountZer0
CountZer0

Maybe the most boring gamespot article I've read in my life :P

ArnoldSideways
ArnoldSideways

Ha! Why did I find myself thinking of T'Rain? Someone needs to make that game:)

OzmaHD
OzmaHD

I love the mods released to enhance real world like textures and environments in the game. I really don't care for ENB's when it comes to thought, however Skyrim redone HD is epic eye candy.

ChaosUndivided
ChaosUndivided

And here I thought they just worked the mountains in as a barrier for the land because they look better then having an invisible wall at the edge of the map.

TheGenereux
TheGenereux

Well, as far as geology and mapping goes, i'm not a pro. I still think your article is interesting and the fact that this should be a valid concept in any game involving a large open world environment. Adds a more real world feel. 

thespartanmk1
thespartanmk1

Don't forget about the majority of Eastmarch. We have a major caldera stretching from the Rift to the outskirts of Windhelm. To me, the logical magma dome is Bonestrewn Crest. 


This is a similar caldera to say, Yellowstone. With major land deformation occurring along the western part of the area. You can hear rumblings of geological activity, and there are many many sulfur vents dotting the area. Maybe it, like Yellowstone, is situated over a hotspot, and may even share that hotspot with Red Mountain due to it's proximity. 


Although Red Mountain is very clearly a Composite cone volcano and not anything like Yellowstone or Santarini. 


That being said, with the eruption of Red Mountain, we could be looking at a possible eruption for Bonestrewn Crest. Some times geological processes are linked in that manner, and considering the proximity of a large dispersion of lava in the form of The eruption of Red Mountain, Bonestrewn crest could be getting angry.  

jubdeidamasta
jubdeidamasta

It's just nice when people accurately apply real world science to video games. The same way they attempt to with explosions and bullets.

docwoo
docwoo

This is partially why I love games like Skyrim and Mass Effect.  Aside from being incredible games, I'm always amazed at how much they can actually teach you about real-world scientific principles and theories.  

mescovic
mescovic

Sorry but this person is not a geologist and if they are. I would get a refund on your fake community college education. You lack a good understanding of physical geography. Also if you are the Jane Rob from the U.K, how into a Geology for global development and not have this down?

AELG
AELG

Well, I've learned a few things about the universe thatnks to scifi games like Mass effect.

This type of things happen pretty much everywhere. Problem is that people don't realize (or care) about it. "Learning" is not always about what they teach you in school, sometimes it is just as important to understad "psycological" stuff, like forgiving a life, or joining one group of NPCs to do something specifc. Understanding why you do it. Why you want to do it.  People didn't like dragon age 2. I liked it. With this way of looking at it, there were many moments when you thought about stuff before deciding anything.

creezysheezy
creezysheezy

If you're talking geology study via video games, you're talking Dwarf Fortress. Not much to look at, but the geological and geographical models may be the most intricate in a game.

Skrilla_XS
Skrilla_XS

Uhmmm, I don't know about you guys, but I trip over floating rocks everyday in real life.

LukeWesty
LukeWesty

Skyrim was a massive let down for me, over crowded quest log made ya forget who ya got them off, dated ai that wasn't realistic at all, more like androids, very  repetitive, endless amount of lifeless dungeons. Once the sence of exploration goes from scaling the map through the campaign it got boring, fast!.

Lowri001
Lowri001

This is actually kinda fascinating, never actually thought about Skyrim like that before.

bluehawk-55
bluehawk-55

too bad SKYRIM has a lot of missions broken, at least to me-- a can't do a lot of sidequests because bugs.

isshiah
isshiah

@ToughCritic28 imagine something you love, and imagine how many people think it's overrated..

life would be boring if everyone agreed and liked the same things.

petez34
petez34

@RustedTruck650 You could do that but believe me, you won't be missing much. The story is incredibly boring and has some of the most unsatisfying combat I've ever experienced. Questing was as exciting as WoW. I uninstalled it at 44 hours. I'm playing the Witcher now and am thoroughly enjoying the story. The Witcher's story is a 10 and Skyrim story is 0.5.

RustedTruck650
RustedTruck650

@GoreSmasher Important? Yes! They are now bacause a humongous industry has arisen out of the video game world. It's a part of the economy that just as any other helps the nation prosper out of the current situation. A "valid part of life"? Hmmmmm...how?

GoreSmasher
GoreSmasher

@nikolokolus If by good, you mean nerd elitists who only like isometric 2d, tons of text and still live with their moms.

Psyperactive81
Psyperactive81

I know!!!! I was 200+ hours into Skyrim when I read REAMDE, perfect combination of Warcraft and Skyrim

renison
renison

@thespartanmk1 First off, your educated and mature comment is a breath of fresh air from the adolescent, youtube-like comments here, since I was hoping other geologist nerds might chime in on this comment page like you.

I didn't think of that caldera but it does make a lot of sense. And to pull from the Yellowstone analogy, the hotspot's eruption seems ultimately fated someday -- but like today's inquires, when and how big it will be is still a foreboding mystery.  Like Vvardenfell before, most of the Skyrim region could be a wasteland if the eruption is as big as it's potential holds.

The other observation I had while playing was great appreciation for the developers detail in modeling much of the land after Artic/Subartic Circle regions and the very visual effect glaciation has had on the land.  Winterhold, 
pockmarked with kettle lakes and short brownish yellow molds, mirrors rocky plains and rolling hills of Iceland and the Scottish Highlands where as giant broken up rock, crevasses and rifts of irregular land opening way for waterways toward the North Sea model after Patagonia and North shores stretching from Norway to Siberia.  And finally in The Pale region, which is literally a beautiful classic Fjord, opening way by giant glaciers slowly snaking their way, scratching striations while receding toward the sea.

I might be wrong with these observations but the educated designers seemed to be on point with making this highland very believable and therefore more immersive in this way.



popnitro
popnitro

@mescovic Yeah, I'm studying Geo at the moment. I'm unsure of how accurate 'Iron ore forms in the ocean' is; is she referring to BIF?
However, like all experts talking to people in the real world you do have to remove the lingo to communicate your point across to a broader audience. Have you looked at some of the comments below? People are learning or at least taking an interest! Let it slide!

Skrilla_XS
Skrilla_XS

@LukeWesty You bought it on console didn't you? If you did, that was your first mistake.

ChaosUndivided
ChaosUndivided

Yep happened to me finished a quest. Went back to the person who gave me the quest to completed it. Objective arrow is above their head. Can't even talk to them. Played the same quest before early in the game with a different character completed it no problem. Reloaded to an earlier point played it differently still got the same issue once I got to this quest. After putting in countless hours trying to do everything this put me off the game and haven't played it since not worth putting all those hours in again just for the same problem to occur. I only ever travelled to places if it had a quest as I know you can skrew a mission if you go there to early.

icebox98
icebox98

@bluehawk-55 though i have to say, skyrims bugs are ignorable because the game is just sooo damn good........ the game may crash there and then but if you are taking the precautions, there is nothing much to the bugs. and the patches really help.......

isshiah
isshiah

@petez34 @RustedTruck650 i spent 400 hours on my first skyrim character. i enjoyed the hell out of almost every part of that game. i gave it a 10.

i also think the witcher is excellent and i am looking forward to part 3.

but they are very different games. it isn't fair to compare a sandbox rpg with a less exploration based and story focused rpg.

Ancient-Hunter
Ancient-Hunter

@petez34 @RustedTruck650 

You guys are just playing Skyrim for different reasons from what was meant. Skyrim is a sandbox RPG, and a damn good one at that.

Games like the Witcher, another game I love btw, are narrative RPG's. Sounds like that's your cup of tea. 

andrewkrevics
andrewkrevics

@petez34 @RustedTruck650 maybe the story's so boring because it only encompasses about 20% of the game, the rest is exploring. if you don't like exploring, which is pretty much a lot of what TES is about, then you probably weren't thinking a whole lot before you bought it. it's a role playing game. you play a role in the game's community and the game world. it's not a FPS like COD, nor an mmorpg like WOW and TESO. it's a single player adventure/role playing game :)

Sanchoff
Sanchoff

@RustedTruck650 @GoreSmasher 
Escapism, another form of fleeing the reality, like reading books, but you dont have to visually imagine it, the games does it for you in a innovative way. Skyrim is just a very good book for some people, why wouldnt it be a valid part of life? 

Just sayin' ^^


Psyperactive81
Psyperactive81

Well put. I can't help but stop and admire the sorroundings every time I play, my girlfriend (who just started playing Skyrim too) is impressed with the scenery. I tip my hat to the amount of time, effort, detail, and creativity that went into this game, from geology, to botany, to fantasy, creating a perfect mix and possibly one of the best RPG I have ever played.

andrewkrevics
andrewkrevics

@Skrilla_XS i don't think it's boring or a mistake at all, i quite enjoy it, thank you very much. Please don't presume you're better than any other gamer just because you play it on a PC. You prefer that medium, we prefer ours. Please respect that and don't bash it.

@LukeWestyHave you watched the "TES Dumbed down" youtube video yet? there are numerous ways you're handheld throughout the game by the compass at the top. if you can't find something or someone to finish the quest, make sure the quest is selected, as sometimes this isn't automatically done. If the dungeon is lifeless, have you already cleared it? dungeons have a respawn timer and if you arrive too soon then of course it's going to be lifeless, you've already completed it! if not, maybe make sure that you don't aim for high leveling, you have no one to compete against, slow down, enjoy the game :) if dungeons are too easy, raise the difficulty level, unlike some games, the difficulty level in Skyrim can be raised and lowered at any time. Returning and according to "Dumbed down TES" (i haven't played the other TES games, forgive me), there isn't as much dialog options as there used to be, characters that aren't critical to quests and whatnot don't usually have a lot to say. As much time as Bethesda put into writing so many books that the player could spend so many hours as a bookworm reading, maybe they could've made it so you could sit down by a town storyteller and listen to his tale by a crackling fire for a few in-game hours. What can be gained from reading an encyclopedia of Skyrim history could as easily be gained from listening to an old timer who was taught the times his father lived in old Skyrim, and is more personal, which is what a lot of people probably would have preferred. Maybe don't yet criticize a game for what it doesn't have, but change how you play it. 

bluehawk-55
bluehawk-55

@icebox98 @bluehawk-55 

i don't mean just crashes, i mean sidequest witout itmes, items stucks on my inventory,a lot of unfinshed broken sidequest. and i heve all the updates-

andrewkrevics
andrewkrevics

@petez34 but then they cease to be just games and become an unhealthy lifestyle. games as a form of entertainment and possibly education could very well be a valid part of life

petez34
petez34

@Sanchoff @RustedTruck650 @GoreSmasher video games are not an important part of one's life. Perhaps for you, games are but in general I don't think so. Games can be relaxing or therapeutic, But can have adverse side effects if over indulged.

peace

andrewkrevics
andrewkrevics

@ToughCritic28 of course if you make more content, then there's going to be more content, but as to what comes in the box, it's not that bad honestly. A little disappointment comes in when PS3 and XBox 360 are supposed to be able to be standalone computer types (as i've heard), so plugging in a keyboard should allow opening the console, but they didn't allow that. anyone who could access whatever webpages and has access to a download area like the systems and PC's have in common, then all three should be able to use mods, but that doesn't happen. But i don't have to worry about FPS drops when i'm on a system like i would if i was playing on a PC

ToughCritic28
ToughCritic28

@andrewkrevics @Skrilla_XS @LukeWesty There's actually some truth to Skrilla's comment.  I bought it on console and I really regret doing so.  The amount of mods available for the PC version adds hours and hours of entertainment beyond the packaged in game content.

InkOnTube
InkOnTube

@icebox98 @InkOnTube @bluehawk-55 I have far inferior PC, it is old Pentium Dual Core 2.9 GHz with only 3GB RAM. Game crashed only when I was using ENB as it really do massive RAM sink and few destabilizing mods. I installed Skyrim Script Extender with loads of better textures, other mods that spawn NPCs, better lighting and FX and doesn't crash. I have Dawnguard and Dragonborn installed. I played over 380 hours. I do have glitches with vampire lord form but other than that are minor things and no crashes. I assume it is something you run in background that came into fight with Skyrim over RAM.

andrewkrevics
andrewkrevics

@TigusVidiks @bluehawk-55 @icebox98 and the stuff that's inventory glitched doesn't weigh a ton. i have a sword and a dagger that are stuck, and they weigh 1 each, not a big deal, i can carry nearly 500 otherwise. if it's quest-locked, then it shouldn't weigh anything. the Glenmoril Witch heads don't weigh a thing until you complete the companions questline, and then they're disposable. try uesp.net (or a guidebook, idk) to see how to unstick some items. maybe you just haven't found the quest to unlock it yet. Skyrim's a huge game though, and there's bound to be glitches and bugs in the (so i've heard) 5 MILLION lines of script required to play the base game (aka, not counting the DLC's) Bethesda does try, but 5 million lines looking for inconsistencies is a lot of work.

creezysheezy
creezysheezy

@TigusVidiks @bluehawk-55 @icebox98  

Never had an missing quest items or impassable doors in Morrowind or Daggerfall, which is as massive as it gets. It's not about size, but what Bethesda decides to give their attention to, what they prioritize as important to impress people superficially.

TigusVidiks
TigusVidiks

@bluehawk-55 @icebox98 this is a repetitive topic. Everyone knows, or shouls know, that TES games are massive in scope and glitches are common. Doesn't mean that those quests will always fail, it means that at times, the game may fail to run a script to start a dialogue, not pop up quest items, not unlock a door, etc. It's a problem most TES fans know about, and are willing to accept to get such a unique game.  Mostly, as months go by, the updates made try to fix the most reocuring glitches with improved codes.
BUT... the only real solution for it, is taking full advantage of the most maleable save system possible, that allows yoiu to save anywhere and everywhere, and hold on to your saves for a while.
The saves are numbered and I usually keeep 1 every 25 saves. (Like save 25, 50, 75, 100, 125...). I also get glitches sometimes. And often they are game breaking.  Doesn't bother me, I just reload to where i need.

icebox98
icebox98

@InkOnTube @bluehawk-55 @icebox98 it only crached 3 times coz i was doin a lot stressin my i7. i guess skyrim is torrelant but selfish at the same time (played for over 90 hours)....

InkOnTube
InkOnTube

@bluehawk-55 @icebox98 Buy the game. I play game for quite some time. I only made break while playing GW2 and now back to Skyrim and latest DLC. Have so many MODs and game only crashed when using ENB. However, many of people I know the play on pirated version and it does breaks.