When I bought this game for the first time on launch day in 2011, it hadn’t even slightly occurred to me that I’d even remember Skyrim let alone still be talking about it years later as a six year old title. Yet, here I am about to deep dive back into this game. What a sucker.
A misguided sense of longing for this virtual world has compelled me to pick up this title once again (in two-thousand-seven-almost-eight-teen) and for the third time restart this epic quest from the very beginning and play it through. How far? To the end? To a point of diminishing returns? To the first sign of summer weather and the desire to do something besides hibernate and play video games? A combination of all three, no doubt.
You may choose to follow along.
As the title of this post implies, I have it in my head to write a narrative play along with many parts, chronicling the effort. Perhaps it will justify my raw gaming as something more creative or enduring than just pissing away the hours pushing buttons. Maybe it can help me feel better about the expense of my buying the systems and these games with my own hard-earned money. Or perhaps it will just call me out as a mediocre gamer with a writing obsession. Either way, with the ability to capture thirty second clips and share them on this blog, whenever I reach a threshold minimum of footage– or like I said, until I get bored and stop posting — I’ll write my adventures (back) in the land of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Now would be a good time to tune out and click away if you have anything less than a fanatical interest in role playing video games. No? You’re going to keep reading. Alright. I warned you… let’s play.
Playing Like a Girl
As a series, I’ll try to avoid boring readers with a mere narrative walk-through of this game.
Think of this series (caveat: if I ever write another post, it will be a series) as less of a play-through and more as a reflective journal of my travels… my travels through Skyrim. Skyrim’n along with a sword in one hand and a magic glowing hand in… my… other hand? Walking along with me… walking through… uh…
This isn’t just a walkthrough… I guess is what I’m trying to say. It’s travel writing exercise of a virtual quasi-adventure. Maybe you’ll get some tips or hints, but more likely I’ll just enlighten you with the nuanced, overthought, philosophically-laden aspects of playing an immersive video game as a parent… 40-something… guy with obviously too much time and money on his hands.
You could have a better sense of what this is by just reading, but as a more concrete example of my tone take this: I wrote a post a few years ago about how, given the choice, I’ll often play as a female character in RPGs. That article is a little less than… uh let’s say, ‘woke’… on the gender issues herein question than I care to link back to, but despite the poor logic of my mid-thirties on this topic, the habit (the habit of playing as a female character, that is) sticks.
I see it as this: many people project onto their avatars as they play these games. As such, the middle-aged, mostly-Caucasian-player-base probably trends towards picking the standard, muscular, hero-type, white, male character model to drive around this vast virtual world. While me, my coder-brained and story-weaver curiosity in game mechanics has outweighed that need to align my inner self with my virtual self. I usually assume that the game was written, coded, story-trees and optimized with that uber-male slug choice as the default setting… and I’m not as interested in the default setting as I am in twisting that experience askew to see what happens. So I usually pick the girl… if for no other reason than to watch unfold how the code monkeys and story spinners deal with someone choosing that non-default (male) setting struggles that will invariably arise from the simple necessity of basing a game like this around brute force and generally punching things.
It also bears noting that I have in my care a ten year old daughter, and she is a kid who most-definitely likes to game. These kinds of non-girl default settings have measurable impact on how I as a parent am forced to interact with those games. Blah, blah, self-esteem… blah, blah… cognitive science… aaaaaand…. bah-da-bing… justified it all as parent logic. Gotta play video games, hun… I’m honing the dad-skills.
In other words, I’m playing this iteration as a girl named Aenea who is named after (many things, but for me) the fierce co-protagonist from the third book of the Hyperion Cantos. (Love that series. Check it out.)
I press NEW game and the intro-on-rails plugs along explaining some introductory stranger-in-a-strange-land plot points to me. All caught up: civil war, crazy zealots, life is unfair, so sorry you’re about to be executed for poking that mcguffin with a stick. I’ll save you the spoilers and just say that about fifteen minutes into this little prologue I find myself hacking and slashing an escape from the conveniently timed attack of a dragon ex machina and this allows me to go from passive about-to-lose-my-head prisoner to sword-wielding protagonist of this here video game.
“Hacking and the slashing” as a crude descriptor of my skills in the hours of play that follow are not an mischaracterization, either. While I’ve herein claimed to have played this game two times previous (amounting to about 150 hours of my life devoted to this imaginary world) readers may be rightly justified in questioning my claim of ever having played this game (or any video game) at all merely by watching a few of the companion videos posted on this blog. But to be fair to the lackluster shine of my own rusty skills it just-so-happens that each of the occasions of me starting a new game, present attempt included (a) the controls a-la-the-system I’m using are slightly different each time and (b) I selectively forget that one needs to earn-via-grinding even the most simple enhancements to those controls.
So, fresh on a new play-through, I storm in with my (preferred) mad archery skillz only to quickly be reminded that oh-wait-I’m-not-actually-an-archer-yet and the basic targeting sucks until I find some spare time while I’m supposed to be otherwise saving the world of Skyrim to go hunting with a bow and fill a supermarket with enough virtual deer meat and tan enough dear hide into leather to ponder if this game should instead be called The Taxidermy Scrolls: Whack-an-Innocent-Animal for Parts, while my archery skill limps up into a level where I may soon remember feeling confident that the archery controls are working in my favour.
I haven’t, so I haphazardly swing a big old hunk of medieval weapon around by mashing the swing button until the game decides that I’ve probably killed something. Splat.
I escape. It’s the tutorial stage so don’t clap too loudly.
And then adventure ensues.
The only event worthy of note between this point and where the game starts getting into the first serious quest is that, in my rush to build up my inventory of all those things I kinda vaguely recall are important to have a lot of in your inventory, I accidentally sell my entire wardrobe to a random merchant. There’s no undo button for this. Oh you don’t need any clothes to go adventuring? Sure, I’ll give you almost no money for that and not bother noting that you’re nearly naked as you leave my quaint log cabin shop in the middle of nowhere. Hilarity (and a vague sense of panic) follows for about fifteen minutes as my character desperately needs to go hunt some wolves (in her underwear obviously) so that she can craft herself some leather pants.
Let’s see all those Let’s Play kiddos show you that, huh?
Sadly, it didn’t occur to me to get a video clip of my au naturale hunting adventure … though it may have nudged the rating of this post up in a way that I didn’t really intend.
Questing in this game, if I recall — and my latest RPG experience is Breath of the Wild, so I may not entirely recall correctly right now in the Skyrim sense of it — involves a lot of fetching. Like a dog. Go kill these we’re-not-calling-them-zombies (NOTZOMS) and get this doo-dad-artifact-weapon-scroll-object-thing and bring it back for a big reward… and maybe a high five.
Ideally, you’ll earn more from these fetch quests (WOOFs) by cranking up your experience points than just a few in-game-currency (IGCs). This is the point: level up your character via hacking and slashing NOTZOMS, or for example, last time I played I realized that you can crank up your SNEAK score by walking around in a crouch EVERYWHERE. Now I find myself slinking around the wilderness in a perpetual-uncomfortable squat, like my character really needs to find a bush and take a steaming dump. Her quads are going to be be solid ripped by the time I finish this game. My thumbs may be a little stronger in a few months, but I assume eighty hours in this game my quads are going to have benefited very little.
A vague memory distills in my mind as I dungeon crawl. I remember these initial WOOF fights being a lot more difficult. I find myself creeping cautiously into dark dungeon caverns, weapon at the ready, poised to encounter a near-unbeatable foe. Instead, I brain the NOTZOMS with the feather-like touch of my bludgeoning hammer. Just a flesh wound! And they tumble to the floor where I can pick their pockets and ponder the philosophical implications and imperialistic undertones of raiding a tomb full of the historical-undead with the express purpose of stealing IGC and trinkets. I imagine one is not intended to reflect on the moral nuances of such things, but simultaneously there is a kind of presumption of oblivious complicity one needs to make when deciding to become the chosen one.
I push on.
My lack of archery skill and inability to properly juxtapose my actions to the moral weight of bludgeoning corpses in a tomb may have been factors in my next key decision. It also may just be that in neither of the previous two play-throughs have I focused on magic. Play-through one I was a strong oaf with a glowing hammer of bludgeoning awesomeness. Play-through two I was a regular roving robin hood with my sparkling bow in hand. Play-through three, today, and here and now, in this first WOOF I resolve myself to attempt this full game as an awesome magician. I assume that this will involve some careful planning and the effort of learning to use a variety of interwoven spell combinations to maximize my overall fighting strategy, but in this moment that just means wildly firehosing flames from my palms until something falls over dead.
This is not as effective as I had hoped, and I resort to some random bludgeoning here and there to balance out my magical inefficiencies, but ultimately [insert an hour worth of more fighting and deer slaughter and random conversations] results in my participation in the take-down of a dragon who shows up to mess up a guard tower on the outskirts of the town I’ve been WOOFing for in my new life.
It’s not a strong dragon. No. They get stronger, I know, but I mean really… this dragon, let’s call him Fred, picked a fight with the local brute squad, and after a couple stray arrows and some magical alternating current from my evil not-a-jedi playbook the locals are eating roast lizard for months. All the other dragons are meeting in the mountains, and all their dragon text messages are like OMG, who sent Fred into battle? He just had is scales waxed. Didn’t he know that U need to wait 24hrs after a waxing b4 fighting?! Poor Fred :( 1 freaking arrow! k, guys, new post-waxing rule… and so on.
A menacing shout erupts from the sky right around now, which of course means that I’ve gone from IGC-less, seconds-from-death prisoner to super-human-chosen one in the span of two in-game days. Quick tally: narrowly escaped from the head-chopper, picked wildflowers, fought a bunch of wolves in my underwear, smacked some NOTZOMS and tased the weakest dragon of the game into a pile of glowing ash. I must be all the awesomes now. The local guy-on-throne seems to think so: we’re basically related now.
…to be continued.