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If you have been following this project you will know that I am attempting to develop a mod for the popular video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
The mod is meant to be educational – but not in a conventional sense. I want people to play it and not feel like they are being forced to learn something, rather for people to play it because they want to and in the process of the game realise that there is something useful here.
For more information on this project and its background check out my initial post, my set at Science Showoff and also where I am hosting the project over at Dark Creations – with a detailed project outline.
I have now completed the initial mapping of the province of Skyrim in the continent of Tamriel. I did this using the immensely helpful UESP map which details the locations of the major types of ore veins to be found in Skyrim. The most common ore veins (in order of abundance) are iron, corundum, ornichalcum, quicksilver, silver, moonstone and malachite. Malachite unfortunately barely even occurs on the UESP map as it is found in so few places, so I have not included it in this map.
The map here is very rough. It is hard to get accurate locations from one map to another, but I have tried my best. This means that every location is likely to be relatively inaccurate. In addition, because of the nature of geologically mapping a hypothetical location, there is not much possibility of identifying ‘contacts’ between different rock types.
Why are ‘contacts’ so important? The location that two or more rock types are in contact with each other is crucial for mapping in the field. It is through identification of contacts between rocks that geologists are able to define where a body of rock is below the surface. In nature you will see exposures of rocks at the surface – when you are walking along and you see some rock sticking out of the grass that is obviously part of the hill you are walking on, or a road that has cut away at the rock around it. These rocks don’t just occur there though. The rock goes below the ground where you can’t see it, and the purpose of geological mapping is to find out where the rock is below the surface. If you know where the rocks are below the surface this is one of the keys to understanding how they got there.
To do this requires an understanding of the type of rock you are looking at – is it hard or soft – which will determine whether you are likely to see it on a hill or on flat land. Contacts between one rock and another provide definite boundaries that you can mark off on your map and are one of the most important pieces of information for geologists in the field.
We can’t do this on the Skyrim map because 1) it is imaginary 2) the scale of the maps means that this kind of observation is difficult 3) I am not going to spend hours and hours in Skyrim looking at rocks and veins which ultimately, because it is imaginary, won’t have a beautiful contact visible there and 4) I would rather spend my time in Skyrim plundering ruins, killing dragons and doing cool quests.
And of course,when I come to develop a storyline around the geology of the area, the geology will need to be simplified – and because this is a game and imaginary I am allowed a certain amount of creative license!
I have grouped where one or more ore locations of the same type can be found into ‘blobs’ that you can see on the map. Each blob is colour coded to represent a specific ore.
Red = iron
Blue = corundum
Purple = ornichalcum
White = quicksilver
Grey = silver
Yellow = moonstone
Above is the map I have created with the locations of various types of ores (blobs drawn on over the coloured contour map). It might be difficult to see, so I recommend clicking on it and trying to zoom in. Unfortunately, when you get to this level of detail on the map of Skyrim, there is less consistency in the geological data. However, this was to be expected.
What I now aim to do is open this project up a bit to other geologists out there who I know are interested in mapping Skyrim. I would like to call on your expertise to come up with hypotheses about the geological evolution of Skyrim. I am going to leave you the option to try to come up with something highly accurate, or to use your own artistic license in interpreting this geology to develop a hypothesis that makes sense but also includes some fun and interesting geological processes. I will not determine how the particular rocks/minerals mapped here were formed, because I would like to leave this open to geologists’ own interpretations.
Leave your ideas in the comments below (or you can always email me at janeliz.robb at gmail.com) and I will collate them together and see what I think would be most suitable for making into a storyline for a new quest in Skyrim. For this, I will take into account the simplicity of the geological evolution if the area – I want to make something that is simple and easy to create a geological map of and that allows the creation of a viable new mineral that can be mined. Once a final hypothesis has been determined, I will write a post that describes this in a simple way for others who don’t know about geology to keep up to date with the project.
So, have a bit of fun with it and let me know your ideas!
So, it has finally arrived! My first academic article available for free on my blog.
Please click on the link below to access the .pdf version of the article, and please leave any thoughts on the article in the comments below.
This is an electronic version of an article published in Geology Today: complete citation information for the final version of the paper, as published in the print edition of Geology Today, is available on the Blackwell Synergy online delivery service, accessible via the journal’s website at http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/GTO or http://www.blackwell-synergy.com.
In response to my post on the Geology of Skyrim, which managed a whopping 60,000 views in the first week it was posted (thanks guys!) I thought it would be good to take a closer look at some of the great comments left about the article. I also did an interview for Bethesda Softworks and this was posted on their blog, and I am really glad to see this also received a large majority of positive comments.
It was great to see so many positive comments (also some lovely emails which I greatly appreciate for the time and effort those people have taken to read my article and compose something in response too – thank you!), and I have to say that out of the 60,000 people who read my blog not one was a troll!
Having so many positive comments is a great thing, and shows the willingness of such a diverse range of people to learn, and crucially, as I will demonstrate in this post, engage with science.
So here I will provide a breakdown of some of the key comments from the article that broadly demonstrates the kind of reception this type of science communication can generate as well as the level of engagement it can encourage. I have separated the types of comments into several themes, which I will discuss separately.
Inspiring a new interest in geology
Some of the comments were from readers who liked the game but had either actively disliked geology before or had not come across the discipline.
“I hated geology in college, but I do believe you just made it more interesting for me. Thanks!”
“THANKS! I hated geology, but now it’s much MUCH more interesting thank you! thank you!”
“I’m not much a fan of geology, but this was an interesting read. Would love to see a breakdown of all of [the continent that Skyrim is a part of] when [The Elder Scrolls] Online is released.”
This was one of my primary aims when I began the mapping Skyrim project and wrote the transcript. Helping people become interested in geology in the first place and realising how exciting it can be is also one of my top aims as a science communicator.
New approach to gaming
Some readers subsequently wanted to engage even more with geology, either through a new approach to the game itself or in other aspects of their life.
“Wow, another aspect of this wonderful world that makes me love it so much! I love that your scientific, geological approach, just makes the game even more real. life-like for me!”
“My god, this article was so good! As a student of Geology, I found it to be very well written and explained a fair bit of things in a logical way”
“Your work has inspired many! Thank you for taking the time to share this with us. I look forward to reading more about this. For science!”
“Great article, great science….as a chemist, you’ve inspired me to look at the biochemistry/chemistry involved in the game’s alchemy! I applaud the work.”
“As an author in the process of creating my own fictional world, this not only interesting, but useful. I really want my world to make geological sense and there’s some good info in here to help me understand how to do so.”
“From this day on, I shall never wander around Skyrim without paying attention to rock formations, ore veins and other means of geological activities. Thank you for this most interesting read!”
For these commenters the article not only was an interesting read but actually has encouraged them to take this new interest and use it to their benefit – either educational or for fun. This is great, as it shows a passion for learning as well as the potential for games to form the basis of deeper learning, where people can take knowledge and apply it to their own lives and worlds.
A few readers were already fans of geology and Skyim, and it was great to see these people enjoy the article as well. I have had some emails and comments from geologists who have enjoyed the work and this is great for me as it helps to ensure that I got my facts right!
“As a geology major and a computer gamer, I thank you for connecting two things I love.”
“Thank you so much for this. Geology and The Elder Scrolls series are two things I love and you combined the two artfully, tastefully, and most importantly, in a very exciting manner. This was a great read! I will share it with my friends.”
Connecting disciplines is very important in modern science and research, as well as in science communication. Finding new ways to engage people through disciplines they like as well as recreational activities they enjoy is a great way to engage and enthuse people.
What I really liked about a lot of the comments was that so many people wanted to know more.
“Loved this! A whole new perspective on skyrim. It would be cool if you could add in some fictional science for how the likes of ebony ore and others are formed”
“While I’m not sure it’s the same in [continent], in our world, quicksilver is the old-fashioned name for mercury, so I don’t know if that would change any of your conclusions?”
“Now here is a hard one. Based on your findings can you produce a map that shows what Skyrim will look like based on further geological actively?”
“I have been fascinated in Skyrim and please try to solve the mystery about the arch rock in Solitude, where the Blue Palace sitting. It’s odd how that happened.”
“Great analysis. I would definitely subscribe to a mod that makes Skyrim more scientifically realistic. I am also curious to see how the new area in the Dragonborn DLC will present its ore distribution. Wonder if the nearby volcano will produce an abundance of moonstone. Also I am pretty sure there are going to be more armour types coming, meaning more ore selection? How safe do you think it was to build an entire city (Solitude) on that kind of arch over the sea?”
“I think you did a marvelous job interpreting the possible history that the likely wasn’t considered when creating the terrain. Did you look only at what we know about Skryim, or did you take into account the surrounding areas? For example,Vvardenfell being dominated by an enormous volcano or the terrain we saw in Cyrodil in Oblivion? I’d love to see your take on possible plate boundaries on the world map.”
The best thing about these comments is that they show a deeper interest and understanding of the subject matter from reading the post. The fact that readers are asking further questions means that they have really understood what is going on and can use this knowledge to think in more depth about other problems. Even if they are not going to use the knowledge to actively try to solve their questions themselves, the urge to learn more is really promising.
Such positive feedback on the project means that I really want to continue with making a mod for the game that incorporates the geology and learning into live gameplay, and hopefully can then reach an even wider audience and result in a much more educational experience (if done correctly!) than just reading an article.
Yes, there were some comments that were obviously from super Skyrim fans that pull me up for not being technically correct with respect to The Elder Scrolls lore (the set of games that include Skyrim), but this isn’t trolling, this is just ‘dedicated fanaticism’. I did respond to these comments when posted, and stated my intention when starting the project to make an educational and fun resource that therefore has to include real geology – where Skyrim was a useful analogy to the real world. However, these were the only kinds of negative comments I received.
They do however demonstrate some of the difficulties that I may come across when I finally develop a mod for the game and provide a useful insight into the communication barriers I will encounter. What I will take from these comments is that I need to ensure I am clear about the purpose of my project, and that ensuring readers know the boundaries and limitations of my interpretations is important. The ratio of bad to good comments is also very low, and I don’t believe they affect the conclusion that this project was a success.
My next steps will be to further define the objectives of the geology of Skyrim project: what kind of learning do I want to achieve (i.e. I believe teaching the questions to ask in order to understand the geology is more important than singular facts)? What is the best way to go about achieving these objectives? For this I may want to take a look at some other science gaming projects such as the Wellcome Trust’s games for inspiration. What is the actual in-game experience going to be like (i.e. how will an in-game quest play out and how will I ensure that it is still fun)? And finally how can I ensure that the mod is accessible to all and that the quest is completable by even those with no knowledge of geology at all?
Hopefully, what my post on the geology of Skrim has taught me is that geology can be interesting to everyone, that games are a good way of engaging people with science, and that everyone can find science accessible if it is communicated effectively.
Find the latest update on this project in my Mapping the Geology of Skyrim post where I have produced a map of all the major rock exposures in Skyrim.
If you would like to follow the progression of this project please head over to the Dark Creations Forums where I am hosting my project on the Geology of Skyrim. Feel free to join and offer advice or assistance at any point!
To have a look at a quick summary of the comments on my articles on the geology of Skyrim, take a look at my post on How teaching science through video games can engage new audiences.
Here is a transcript of my recent Jan 2013 Science Showoff set on the geology of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Having seen that no-one has actually done this so far and published it on the web, I decided to put my geological knowledge to the problem and do a set on it! This will hopefully form the basis of a mod I will be making which looks at the geology of Skyrim which I think could be useful for educational purposes – see my initial post on this idea here.
Hello! My name is Jane and I love the video game Skyrim! So, to begin with, who actually knows what Skyrim is? (Luckily at this point there was a general excited murmur of consent that most people did actually know the game!)
For those of you that don’t know then, here is a little run-down of what the game involves…
It is a role playing game that means you can be any person you want and dress up in cool clothes (this is my outfit in Skyrim: Nightingale armour from the Thieves Guild FYI!)
You get to explore cool places (such as this Dwemer ruin)
Fight awesome monsters like Dragons…
And then of course claim the treasure…
But best of all (for me) is the scenery, and most importantly, the rocks:
So what I want to do tonight is take you through a little tour of what I think the geology would be in Skyrim. Namely, I think looking at the process of questions a geologist asks themselves when working out the geology of an area, and applying this to something cool and accessible like Skyrim.
The first question to ask therefore is what? What kinds of rocks can you find in Skyrim? Luckily, for most of this work, there are a whole host of other people in the world who are much geekier than me who have actually taken and collated and all I have to do is ask the right questions!
Here are the eight different kinds of rocks found in Skyrim. Not all of them are actually real however so the ones I will be discussing today are iron ore, gold ore, moonstone ore and malachite ore. Some notes: malachite is actually an ore in itself (of copper) and you do not get an ore of malachite; moonstone is a mineral and corundum is real (a mineral) but is found in Blackreach which is underground and cannot be shown on the Skyrim map.
So now, the next question we need to ask is where? Now we know what, it is logical to look at where they actually occur. This is taken from the extremely useful Skyrim Wiki, which has a run down of all the different rocks and all the places where you can find them, ordered from most deposits to least. I took the first entry for each rock, the place with the highest number of deposits.
Here we can see the spatial distributions of the four different rocks. The gold coloured one indicates where gold is found, red for iron, green for malachite and cream for moonstone.
Now we want to know how they actually got there. Lets take a look at how each of these rocks can form. There are different ways that each of these rocks can form, but for the purpose of tonight I will just take the most common formations.
Gold ore commonly forms in compression zones where landmasses push together, (commonly associated with mountain building) where metamorphism, or rocks undergoing change through heat and pressure, dehydrate. The release of fluids from the rock will take with it dissolved minerals which can include gold. When these fluids crystallise, in cracks within the rock,, you can find gold alongside other minerals like quartz and sphalerite (pictured). When these mountains that have formed erode over millions of years, the gold in the cracks is found in alluvium, or river sediments where people will then pan for gold.
Iron is most commonly derived from rocks referred to as banded iron formations. These are Precambrian in age – they are at least 2,400 million years old! These rocks are really exciting, because they actually represent the point at which organisms started photosynthesising and producing oxygen. At first, when bacteria began producing oxygen earlier around 2,600 million years ago the oxygen produced was chemically captured, forming iron oxide deposits as seen in the banded iron formations. Later, when much of the iron had been oxidised, free oxygen began to accumulate in the atmosphere until it reached a level similar to today’s. Banded iron formations therefore didn’t occur much after 1,800 million years ago. The banded iron formations commonly formed in the oceans, and the red bands of iron oxide are therefore mingled with oceanic fallout silica. As these rocks are so old, many of them have been deformed through metamorphism.
Malachite is a copper ore. It can be formed via fluid interaction of intrusive magma that has cooled at different times and depths. The fluids pick up dissolved minerals from the magma, and the fluids are later driven off during cooling of the magma. This causes zones of rocks which are enriched with various metals and other minerals precipitated in cracks within the rocks. This type of formation is commonly associated with copper ore and the veins and cracks carrying the mineralised rocks is called stockwork.
Moonstone is actually a mineral that geologists call feldspar. Feldspar is a rock forming mineral commonly associated with igneous rocks (formed from magma/lava). Shallow melting of the mantle (below the Earth’s crust) produces large volumes of magma that are rich in silica and therefore silica rich minerals including feldspar which is a silicate (contains silicon and oxygen). Cooling of this magma can lead to separation of feldspar which has more potassium and feldspar that has more sodium, forming lamellae of white and pink (to the naked eye) and black and white (under the microscope). This mixing of slightly different composition rock means that to the naked eye the feldspar looks shiny, and is why it is given the name moonstone.
Great, so now we have the how sorted from the rocks point of view, we should also really ask how they got there from a landscape point of view. To do this we need to take a look at the map and look at the geography – where the hills are and what they can tell us about how the area has formed.
Over in the west, where we see a couple of curvy lines with triangles on them, these mean that the land to the north east has been thrust on top of land to the south west. This is also called compression, which builds mountains, and could explain why we see mountains in the west around Markarth.
In the east, we see the Rift which holds the town of Riften. Maybe unsurprisingly, I see this area as being extended (or rifted apart) between the Throat of the World and the mountains adjacent to Eastmarch. The straight lines with squares indicate extension, where the land to the east has been displaced towards the east. This is also called a normal fault.
If this is the case on the map, then we could also infer that to the west of the Throat of the World there has been some further extension, which is why I have put arrows across the area of mountain building. This could also tell us that the thrusting occurred first, and that the extension occurred later.
The Throat of the World and the town of Solitude are therefore displaced above the rest of Skyrim, which could account for why we see the highest mountains there and the plateau where Solitude sits.
But what does this all mean?! Can we fit this large scale analysis together with the formation of the rocks? Does it all add up? Well, surprisingly the answer is yes.
And here it is! To recap: we have gold occurring over in the west, which is commonly associated with zones of compression and mountain building, found in streams in alluvium from the erosion of these mountains. Iron ore is commonly found in heavily metamorphosed rocks, and metamorphism is very commonly associated with areas of compression and mountain building. The land in the centre would have been thrust towards the south west to form the mountains in the west near Markarth, which therefore seems to make sense. In the east, we have malachite and moonstone occurring near the Rift – a zone of continental extension. It is very common at rifts/extension zones to have increased volcanic activity, as when continents pull apart magma will rise up to fill the space created.
And there you have it, the geology of Skyrim. Of course, this is all hypothetical not least because it is a video game but also because there may be other interpretations of the game, especially if you were to take a closer look at the structural formations in-game and better map the spatial distributions of the ores. However, it’s a start and I hope that this is useful to some interested people! As I also said at the beginning, I think that if this was to be done properly – and a mod made about the geology of Skyrim – then it could be a great educational tool and a fun step for science communication to a new and diverse audience.
Please feel free to contact me about this project by heading over to the Dark Creations Forum linked to at the beginning of this post, or through Twitter (@JLizRob) or email janeliz.robb [at] gmail.com!
N.B. I do not claim ownership/copyright of the images (apart from where I have edited over the maps).
It was with the arrival of the excellent blog post on Science, LIVE: A Made for TV Experiment that brought the topic of TV science and Prof. David Nutt’s new show: Drugs Live to my attention. Later I also read of a discussion between Prof Nutt and Julia Manning asking whether it is right to take ecstacy in a TV trial.
In addition to my angle on the issue of science communication related to this issue, the entirely separate issue of ‘is it even right in the first place?’ was addressed in the latter article. Maybe unsurprisingly, I completely side with Julia Manning, and feel that a scientific study funded by a TV programme is not viable. I can’t understand how this can be published in a journal when the topic has been funded by a body that has a personal interest in the outcome. I know, the Medical Research Council (MRC) didn’t fund it because it doesn’t fit with their portfolio of addiction, but I still feel there is more to the story of the study and its quest for funding that I can’t see. Another issue that I found distressing about this article was the fact that Prof. Nutt continued to take personal offence to Julia’s criticisms. His overuse of the work ‘I’ worried me to the point that I felt he viewed the study as a reflection of him personally and not there to provide help to those suffering from depression and the doctors who will treat them. Some examples:
“I should be commended for finding a way of doing quality science, which otherwise wouldn’t happen.”
“I’m looking to innovate…Your argument with me is essentially fuelling that prejudice.”
Maybe my feelings are completely unfounded, but this made me question the purpose of the show, bearing in mind that I have doubts about the quality of the communication of the process of scientific research, in Prof. Nutt’s own words: “…show the whole process – from design to analysis – of a scientific experiment being performed.”, and what benefits (if any) it will bring to the public and the medical sciences. Will the show stir up more questions amongst the public about drugs and science, and will they be the right ones?
Moving on to my main point about the quality of the scientific communication within the show, I have serious doubts about whether the public will really understand the whole process of a scientific experiment being performed from an hour long TV show. Translating the results of ‘ground-breaking’ science in a show this length probably has its own difficulties, but here we are supposed to be witnessing the whole ground-breaking study within the 57 minute long programme. Mark Stokes discusses this issue in his article that I mention above as the basis for this post.
People may ask questions like: why have we not found the cure to cancer yet if scientific studies can be undertaken so quickly? The biggest miscommunication here is the rigour and process of science rather than helping people understand it. There needs to be more support for people to gain a feeling for the logical thought process that comes along with all scientific studies, the way that research questions are developed, the background knowledge that needs to be acquired before you begin, the decisions regarding the best methods to use and the pitfalls and changes of direction that projects may take along the way.
Another thing I am very much personally against is simplifying science so much that you end up telling scientific lies to your audience in order to get across a basic concept. This is easy to do, and to an extent even universities do it: I remember as I entered my 3rd year of my undergraduate degree being told by tutors in our first lecture to forget everything we have been taught so far because although it helps us understand the basic principles of geology, its not necessarily all true. This of course was an exaggeration, and was based very much on the fact that we don’t know all the facts (by a long way) in geology as with all sciences. Whenever I communicate science however, I try not to back down from telling people the whole story. Yes, this is a more complex way of addressing science communication and involves a lot more work on the communicators part to get very complex issues into manageable words but it CAN be done. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of the reasons why so many senior scientists are so difficult to talk to about their research, because sometimes it takes so much to find the words to describe what you can say in one word of scientific jargon it’s hardly worth the trouble! I personally find analogies incredibly helpful, as I use these in my own mind to understand concepts and situations so try to think of something everyday to describe and then apply to a situation. I think Dawkins and his extended use of analogies is partly responsible for this.
So, I would like to post the question: Is TV an effective way of communicating science, and should we be thinking much more about how and why we would use this particular medium for science communication? I think in the case of Drugs Live, the answer is no, TV was not a good was of communicating this study for the reasons outlined above. However, I think many other science TV programmes are excellent and at the very least inspire many people to get involved with science or have an interest in the natural world. TV and online video is a great medium for connecting to a diverse audience and should be used to help raise awareness about science. I am still inspired when I see David Attenborough and Iain Stewart (the ‘star’ of geology TV shows), and I also love shows about history and archaeology as well. These shows do not attempt to undermine years of research in one hour, but intend to draw attention to wonders of nature or modern science and I think they really work well. (Time Team was in some ways more like Drugs Live however, as from the smallest piece of evidence a whole town could be re-imagined right down to the colour of people’s dress…although something I really enjoyed watching maybe it was also not the best piece of communication.)
So what do I think is a better form of communication of scientific processes that takes advantage of modern technology? For me, it’s blogging, as this can form part of an active dialogue in communication, where readers can comment and writers can link simply to their inspiration from other articles or academic references. These discussions on blogs can even be part of further posts, or brought to wider Twitter discussions. With so many diverse questions and opinions people can learn much more easily about the process behind science, and enhance understanding simultaneously by a range of knowledge and opinion.
People are currently talking about blogging and online science and the effects that comments can have on the opinions of the readers (see this post for a little background). I believe that the worry that negative or unfounded comments can negatively influence readers’ opinions only enhances the argument for more science communication regarding the scientific method. The public appear to rely on the accumulated opinions of others to base their own opinions on. If anything this is good as it means that people want to get engaged and will listen to others opinions on the matter. People will be increasingly dependant on opinions of others when they do not have the tools or knowledge to assess for themselves what makes sense and what does not. Unfortunately the less someone knows and the more silly comments there are then the worse the end product of communication is. What we want is to keep this consensus of listening and commenting on others opinions as a form of knowledge sharing and enhancement but also to focus more on increasing the public’s ability to evaluate arguments themselves through effective communication of the scientific process.
In conclusion, TV can be a great communicator but I have yet to be convinced of the value of Prof. Nutt’s form form of communication and scientific study.
I recently wrote a post about the geology of Skyrim on a transcript of a stand-up set I did at an event in London that details the basic questions needed to be asked about how to understand the geology of the area, and the interpretations gained from them.
My idea to start this project comes from a love of the game and the amazing scenery in-game. I am also a geologist with an undergraduate and masters degree in geology and geological conservation in museums. I have a passion for communicating science, especially geology, and thought that Skyrim is a fantastic medium to reach out to lots of people who might not know about geology. I believe that through the game I can help people realise that geology can be cool, and can bring an extra something to gameplay next time they sit down to play.
My mission is now to take the short set I did and transcribed on my blog to the next level, by making a better map of the geology of Skyrim and then translating this to a mod, so that gamers can see the interpretations of the geological history for themselves. In addition, I would like to create a quest for the game which allows players to map the area themselves, and make inferences about the geology to reach the ultimate goal of the quest.
To make this a reality I will need someone – or a team – of modders who are very familiar with Bethesda’s Creative Kit modding software and can advise me on what is possible with the software. I would love it if anyone interested in taking this project forward could contact me via Twitter @JLizRob or email janeliz.robb [at] gmail.com.