Mysteries are better when you're left to ruminate on their ambiguity – they’re thrilling because they make us think outside the box. They also have a communal element about them, bringing together groups of strangers who all want to sift through the same evidence to collaborate on some big discovery. The disappearance of the Dwemer is a perfect example of this in that Skyrim’s ancient dwarves are shrouded in the unknown – although there are a lot of fascinating queries about them, the most important and regularly asked question is simply ‘where did they go?’
For context, the Dwemer were a race of elves in Tamriel that believed in science over religion, which gradually led to them developing an unchecked superiority complex. They tried to become gods to assert dominance over those they deemed beneath them – we see the extent of their cruelty in their enslavement of the snow elves who become the blind, monstrous Falmer by the time of Skyrim.
In Tamriel, plenty have tried, succeeded, and failed to become gods. The dark elves are dark elves as punishment for the tribunal’s own ascension to godhood. The Dwemer, meanwhile, used three tools called Wraithguard, Keening, and Sunder alongside various rituals to harness the power of a literal god's heart. It wiped them out. This happened during the Battle of Red Mountain, so it was a rocky period in Tamriel’s history to say the least.
For all their uppity smugness, the Dwemer seemed to be the only ones that failed. Or they succeeded, leaving behind nobody to worship them. All that is left of the Dwemer are their murky legacy and impressive technology, the same technology that Sotha Sil, a dark elf god, managed to replicate and improve. That’s gotta sting.
The idea of an entire race in a fantasy story up and disappearing is exciting. It’s akin to finding the lost city of Atlantis without ever knowing what happened to its people. That’s why digging through all the clues to form our own conclusions is so fascinating. We’re mythological detectives playing a game of Cluedo with an entire species.
In Morrowind, Dwemer ghosts still roam the halls of their ruins, although we haven’t seen these spirits since. That feels oddly contradictory, like Bethesda has changed its approach and retroactively asked another question: “Where did the Dwemer ghosts go?” In reality, it doesn’t really matter. The writers behind Morrowind favoured the horror of ghosts roaming the halls, while Skyrim opted to play into steampunk fantasy with towering robots and golden arachnids. That’s what leaving it vague offers – complete creative freedom. Each game gets to do something different, playing around with the idea of the Dwemer in a self-contained sandbox, while still being loosely connected to the wider mythos.
Writers can jump in and add whatever they want as long as it’s somewhat linked to the main bulk of the Dwemer story. They just need to ensure that there’s enough to add more threads to the mystery so that speculative posts can pop up with fans debating for hours on end. Tying it all together now would be a convoluted mess – just look at those exact fans trying to.
Dedicating a whole game to answering this or finally telling us what happened in a side quest can never live up to the decades of speculation. The fun of the Dwemer isn’t being right about what the truth is, it’s the detective work and coming to our own conclusions. One fan might assume that they wiped themselves out as they realized the truth of the universe, but I might say that they were absorbed into a giant robotic Dwemer God. Both of us could be right because there’s technically enough evidence to support either theory.
But there doesn’t need to be an elaborate series of quests dedicated to proving one of us right – the environmental storytelling coupled with the odd glimmer into the Dwemer’s past is more than enough to keep things interesting.
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