The Elder Scrolls

This is probably heretical, but in the context of Tamrielic science and progress, I don’t think the Dwemer were that advanced.

This thread is sorta spun off from my last one I did a couple days ago, and the one about magic interfering with technological development, but I think it deserves its own discussion.

So whenever there's a conversation about technological progress in TES (and why it has or hasn't happened), a common refrain is: "Of course industrialization and progress towards futuristic technology is can happen, the Dwemer did it!", with the unspoken assumption being that they were self-evidently the most advanced culture in the setting because they had lots of machines and a culture which centered logic and rationalism… But let's take a moment to examine this critically, and look at how the Dwemer held up in conflict with other civilizations.

The picture that forms is pretty clear – at best they were average, and at worst, they kind of sucked. They lost to the Nords, getting half-way driven out of Skyrim. They were pushed to a stalemate by a single Nord mage. They ultimately had to ally with the Chimer to even win a defensive war against the Nords… And then they lost the War of the First Council to the Chimer, despite having both Nordic and Orcish allies, and one of the Chimer houses on their side. At the same time, they were losing a war against their own slaves.

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Now, you can make excuses for each of these in isolation, but in broad strokes it paints a pretty clear picture. In our world, this is not what happens when "advanced" cultures fight with primitive ones, especially in their own homelands. But seeing this result, we have to question if our traditional narrative of industrialization=progress=power even applies in Tamriel. The Dwemer had weapons we'd conceptualize as modern – robots armed with firearms and automatic weapons, even automatic explosives like mines, but they were still defeated by advanced mages and pseudo-magical techniques like the Thu'um, and even the very primitive warfare of the Falmer.

Because we inherently relate fiction to our own reality, we see the aesthetics of what we understand as technological power in the Dwemer and assume this means, in universe, that they had achieved greater progress as a culture. But I'd say the lore suggests the Dwemer were instead, while extremely advanced in a specific way, deviants from the most logical path of development within the physics of their world – similar to if, instead of developing steam power, our culture had become obsessed with hydraulic power on the basis of ideology and iterated on it repeatedly while refusing to use anything else.

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Just something to think about in conversations which take the idea of "progress" as meaning "guns, electricity and production lines" as a given.


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