Some game experiences go beyond just killing time, zoning out or having fun. Some game experiences become part of who you are. They whisper to you when you’re not playing. They are nearly spiritual vision quests where you confront your Darkest Darkness.
Skyrim is such a game.
I made time for Skyrim. My family went interstate, I took a week off work and settled in for the long haul. After playing every day until the wee hours, I was still not done. Although I’ve now finished the main story and a number of other questlines, I’m still not done. I’m not sure I ever will be.
Skyrim is a vast fantasy Viking world where your character is the centre of every story. It is achingly beautiful, terribly lonely and wonderfully dense. It rejects recent fads of multiplayer modes, social gaming, co-operative play. It asserts that being alone is OK. It leaves you to figure stuff out for yourself. It’s not brutal like Dark Souls, but enabling, like a rich father who pays for your music lessons (or secret crack addiction). It says “tell me what you want to do and I’ll help you.”
They may not play Skyrim in Valhalla – for immortals would surely be into heroin and jet-polo – but they would play Skyrim in its waiting room. They should put Skyrim in nursing homes and hospitals.
Skyrim embodies and solves an existential dilemma – we are all alone inside our heads, wondering what to do, yet we exist within a world that has been built for us by others. In the face of anxiety and doubt, the only solution is to act, to fix yourself to a moment like pinning a butterfly to a wall. Commit. Read a book, pick a flower, eat a bug, make a helmet, fight a dragon. Everything you do, you get better at. Skyrim shows you a menu and asks you to choose. There are no wrong choices, only what feels right for you. Some people find such freedom unnerving and flee to a more directed experience.
I pondered how many people had to work together to bring us this game, how many technologies had to be developed, materials extracted and refined, infrastructure to be built in order for me to be able to sit on my couch and wander around this dazzling world. Not for those people the paralysis of contemplation. While the same thought applies to other games, it was Skyrim that made me think it.
Maybe Skyrim’s frequent loading screens gave me the time for this sort of reflection. Maybe it was the lore, which talks of men becoming gods, or the minor choices you make within quests, choices that may reveal something about you, or your character, which is you anyway.
Skyrim isn’t perfect. Nothing is. After dozens of hours, you’ll notice wrinkles, like pruny skin when you’ve soaked in a bath. By then it’s under your skin, in your pores, part of you. You may find a point when you’re done – but that’s good too. Things must end.
The Fallout games had stronger and more genuinely branching stories, Dragon Age and the Witcher had more complex combat mechanics, but Skyrim is simply a sublime place to be.