When we think about the subject of architecture, naturally our minds are drawn to the physical structures we live, work, and worship in, but what if I told you that architecture is also an important component in a world we can’t touch? Today we’re going to explore how architecture has impacted video gaming. Video games today are a far cry from the shoot-'em-ups and Pac-Man games of the era of the arcade. Gamers today are willing to spend a lot of money and countless hours playing titles, but what is it that compels them to do so? Gameplay is an important aspect, but of equal importance is worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world with associated history, backstory, and visuals to support the storyline of the game and make it more immersive. On the topic of visuals, real-life architecture is often referenced in video games to help drive an immersive experience and make it feel more believable. One video game that successfully references a fair number of real-life counterparts is "The Elder Scrolls Online". The Elder Scrolls universe has 10 unique cultures, and for each, the developers have assigned a specific architectural style. To keep things brief for this blog posting, we’ll take a look at just 3 of the 10 cultures and see what their real-world inspirations were. 

High Elf Architecture

screen shot of a High Elf castle from Elder Scrolls Online
Screen shot of a High Elf Castle from Elder Scrolls online.
ribbed ceiling vaults
This screen shot show the ribbed vaulting inside the castle.
exterior of St. Patrick's Cathedral
St. Patrick's Cathedral, NY. Photo by Charles Parker via Pexels

The architecture of the High Elves is based on Gothic architectural elements with a sprinkling of Middle Age castles thrown in for good measure. The structures reach up towards the sky, emphasizing verticality. Pointed arches, a staple of gothic architecture, are plentiful throughout the High Elven city. Flying buttresses can be seen on the towers and interiors showcase ribbed vaulting across the ceilings. There are also aspects of general Middle Age castle architecture incorporated, such as merlons, crenels, and machicolations. 

 Khajiiti Architecture

screen shot of a Khajiitii home from Elder Scrolls online
Screen shot of Kahjiiti houses from Elder Scrolls Online.
sketch of a vernacular Indonesian house
Indonesian Vernacular House Sketch


Khajiiti architecture is inspired by Indonesian Vernacular Houses: Rumah Adat, or Custom Home. Like their real-life counterparts, the in-game houses are made of timber, stand on stilts, and feature unique steeply-sloped roofs. Some of the larger Khajiit structures are comparable to Indonesia's Pagaruyung Palace.

 Redguard Architecture

screen shot of a Reguard Castle from Elder Scrolls Online
Screen shot of a Redguard castle from Elder Scrolls Online.
Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. Photo by Haley Black from Pexels
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi. Photo by Mohamed from Pexels.

Redguard architecture takes inspiration from Islamic architecture. The resemblance is not as closely duplicated as the other styles I’ve mentioned, but certain architectural elements can certainly be picked out; you can see pointed Moorish/Horseshoe arches, Minaret-like towers, and pointed domes. The rhythmic geometric patterning is also likely a reference to Islamic architecture, although it is not nearly as complex. 

Having each game culture have a distinct architectural style makes the game’s worldbuilding feel more natural and complete, and by referencing real world architecture, it very effectively immerses players in the fictional world. The next time you play a video game or see some gameplay from one, keep an eye out for the architecture used in the game. You might be surprised to find some identifiable styles.

by Josh Kindred

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