The world of Skyrim is not built to scale. Objects on the map are further than they appear. When playing an open world game, such warning labels are never applied, but the implications are there. Just as a second in real life is tantamount to a minute of game time, so is a single step akin to traveling ten.
However, unlike with time, in-game distance can hardly be quantified with neat little ratios. We may be able to travel from Markarth to Riften in less than a day, but that doesn’t represent or even give us an idea of the actual time it should have taken if Skyrim were real. That’s because if Skyrim were a landmass the size of Europe, spending most of your game traveling from hold to hold would be incredibly fucking tedious.
Thus, when the lore tells you there are 7000 steps on the way to High Hrothgar, the bullshit detector should not sound the alarm. The idea as a developer is to make the journey appear to be of significant length without making it a chore. At the same time, being cognizant of these realities doesn’t stop the question from burrowing into your mind. Every time I walked the steps, I felt the junkie need. I felt a burning desire to count.
And with that, the basis for the character Dar’Rakki was born.
Of course, like all the NPCs, The Conspiracy of the 7000 Steps was never explicitly designed to be a quest. The true nature of Dar’Rakki’s conflict has nothing to do with the Greybeards or High Hrothgar or even the notion of conspiracies. Dar’Rakki is a character about coping with grief. Thus, when trying to integrate the player into that story, the logical thing to consider was how people try to allay that suffering.
For those who bypassed the backstory, Dar’Rakki never wanted to come to Skyrim. It was his childhood friend, Adanja, who coaxed him to make the journey. She promised him she would never leave him alone, and when she lost her life to save him, he treated it as a betrayal. In truth, his anger belies his sadness, heartbreak, and fear. As the prototypical stranger in a strange land, his survival will likely depend on the kindness of others. Yet after what happened to Adanja, the one thing that scares him more than making new friends is the thought of losing them. To Dar’Rakki, the Greybeards represent the best Skyrim has to offer. If they can’t be trusted, then no one can.
Which is precisely why there are consequences for telling him the truth.
Dar’Rakki’s quest, you see, is not about how many steps there are or whether the Greybeards are a bunch of lazy charlatans. It’s about white lies and how what we want to know isn’t always what we need to hear. When you converse with him, you learn that Dar’Rakki is fragile – with a mind that should be bubble-wrapped and handled with care. If you plan on telling him the truth about the Throat of the World, you might as well drop him from it.
Sometimes the warning labels are there. Even if they’re just implied.