Will’s Armchair Designer (Mini)- That one annoying chicken in ‘Skyrim’.


Ah-hah. The infamous Riverwood chicken.

This infuriating little bastard is actually a very, very clever piece of game design. Very clever indeed. He’s placed very specifically to teach people who aren’t used to RPGs and systems whereby you are punished for crimes to the crime system in ‘Skyrim’.

See, say you’ve picked Skyrim up for the first time and have no idea how to play the game. You play the prologue, during the first half of which you’re unable to kill anyone, and during the second half you have clear ‘Friendly’ and ‘Enemy’ characters.

Then, you escape Helgen, and are loose to the wilderness. Along the way, you may see the occasional wolf, fox, or bandit- but no civilization, until you reach Riverwood. Everyone you meet is a no-consequence kill, as they’re most likely bandits.

So far, you’ve never been held to consequences for killing someone. The mechanic of crime has not been introduced. So, you see this chicken, and decide “Heck, let’s kill this chicken”.

And, why is that?


  • People kill small animals in games all the time. For example, in counter-strike. The average non RPG-player will be used to shooting things without consequences. They usually explode and make a funny noise.
  • We don’t want to kill people. They’re established already to be characters and aren’t hurting us.
  • We don’t want to kill the dog. He’s a dog. We like dogs. They’re companion creatures in real life.
  • Placing a cow right in the entrance-way to the village seems a little… odd.

So, there’s a chicken there. We want to kill the chicken because hell, it’s funny, right? So, your average player is going to attack and kill this chicken, at which point the town will become hostile to you.

“Oh, bugger!” The player says internally “I’ve really annoyed them here!”

And, just like that, the player has been taught that, in this game, you are allowed to commit crimes, but there are consequences should they be caught. The prompts back it up very concisely, too.

Very clever game design, that. And the same occurs when you steal for the first time- which you might do with the nearby weapons and armour lying nearby. That even comes with red text to make sure you realise you’re stealing.

Bethesda are clever, aren’t they?

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