playing, video games

Life in Skyrim

I kept hearing about it. I would read about it from other people. Everyone who had played the game was having the same experience: Skyrim was sucking away their life. It was the only game they were playing. They were utterly caught up in the quests and world of the game. I thought I would be different.

Now, I admit to jumping into the Elder Scrolls universe with Oblivion. On the Xbox 360. Four years after it came out.

A friend of mine was talking it up at every opportunity. He was playing it on the PC and had all the mods to match. He had invested hundreds of hours and wanted me to play it too. I wouldn’t. I told him that I didn’t like open world games. That I couldn’t get into them. Too many options to distracted me.

But, eventually, he won out. I bought it used at a local GameStop and tried it out it. Worked my way through every organization’s quest lines. Maxed out most of the skills. I spent the time standing around in the game just casting spells to level them up. After a few weeks, I too had the hundreds of hours logged in the game. I even started writing about my experiences as a way to restart my blog.

Coming to Skyrim, then, was going to be something special. It was going to spark all kinds of thoughts and discussions for me to write about it. I was going to examine every facet of the societies in the game and chronicle my journey. It was going to put me back on the path of getting into daily writing again as its prequel had. I was going to do so much analyzing.

But after 40+ hours playing it in the last two weeks, I keep having the same thought: I want to keep playing. Nothing else matters to me. No other games have caught my interest. All I want to do is adventure in this world. Talk to all the various characters. And, above all else, finish all the quests I have accumulated. It’s that last element that is driving me crazy.

Everyone wants something in Skyrim. And they all want you to do it for them. Innocent conversations can spark quest lines as the underlining system moves mysterious ways to link up characters and locations for the player. Walking around a small town can elicit cries for help, offers for service, and situations that demand your attention. Starting something as simple as a trade conversation causes people to remark about their supply of Frost Salts, how they have run out, and, of course, could you go get some for them?

Each time, I’ve said yes. If they would ask for my help, I gave it. And now I have a problem. My character, some traveling Redguard woman with perhaps some past of criminality as the beginning scene suggests, is tied up in doing things for other people. Most people, in fact. From the ruling families to the common weapon seller, I have been contracted out to kill other people, collect lost jewelry, and go into all the places where others have failed and often died.

Fundamentally, the game is about discovery and recovery. Hunting through forgotten archives for artifacts of power drive main story lines as all the items from legends long thought forgotten are found, one by one, by the player. The truth of settings, tales, and other records are questioned and the veracity of claims of the supernatural are tested, often through the killing of the source or turning off of some ancient device. Everything from the dragons themselves to all various labyrinths are linked up to showing up somewhere and seeing what is there to find.

Yet, none of this first-person archaeology pushes me deeper into the game. While I am interested in collecting better weapons, armor, and ultimately defeating enemies faster, it is the quests themselves that make me want to keep playing. The small narrative pay off at the end of each adventure keeps me hooked as I log ever increasing hours. The more people ask of me, the longer my own checklist becomes in the game. If they ask it of me, I will do it — and gladly. This is my addiction to Skyrim.

I want to help people. When they bring their worries to me, I want to take work through their problems. And thus, I become, at least in the game of Skyrim, some traveling warrior who, instead of seeking my own salvation and immortality through glory, sets off into the depths of the world to find things for other people. I am not unlike some mercenary who, like in so many other games, are set forth by the commands of others as I build a place for myself in a world through a performance of feats, each time adding to a legacy of activities behind me.

200 years ago, according to the lore of Skyrim, there was an Oblivion Crisis in Tamriel. An event that upset the fabric of reality in the fictional universe and set gods and men in a collision that was governed by the will of a single individual who finally ended the conflict. That was me. Over hundreds of hours, weeks worth of in-game time, I saved a world. Then I faded into legend. Whatever life I lived in that game is now myth, lost in time and the complications that come with trying to put together the various combinations of races, powers, and outcomes that are possible in that game.

I know that ultimately I don’t matter to this world other than what I can do for it. They always ask of me, and not on my behalf. I am but a visitor, both as player and character. If we are not around to build on what we have done before, we fade from memory, both my own and that of the game. Yet, given that, I want even now to go back into that game and to play more of it. I want to accomplish more, and see what else it has for me to do.