2011 In Games: Skyrim And The Money You'll Never Spend

While game news is light, and we're reminiscing on a gaming year gone by, I thought I'd take the time to write about the games that defined my year. They weren't necessarily classics — some I absolutely hated, some I fell head over heels for, but they're all worth discussing. Today we're talking about Skyrim.

"Yeah, so I went into this weird forest and I was on my horse and I randomly came across all these mushrooms, so I picked them all up and then I found all these flowers and I picked them all up. Then I was too heavy to move so I just jumped into the river and let the river move me until I got to my house and then I..."

Look, I'll stop there. This is, almost word for word, a story my brother in-law told me over the Christmas break about Skyrim. Written on the page it doesn't make a whole lot of grammatical sense. When I listened to him say the 'sentence' it made even less sense. Who spends time in Skyrim hunting for mushrooms and flowers and becoming encumbered with them? Why not just throw them away. Why hop into a river? What are you going to do with all this stuff anyway? Make an exotic salad?

I didn't say that, of course. I just nodded and smiled. My brother in-law plays games a little differently from me. My brother in-law plays games a little differently from every other human being on the planet.

Fast forward to last weekend. I'm watching another relative play Skyrim. Note: I spent a lot of my time over the holidays watching other people play Skyrim.

He was also encumbered — with a metric arse-load of weapons and armour. He'd just finished 'smithing' them near his house in Whiterun, and was now in the process of ever-so-gingerly shuffling his way up a massive staircase to enchant them.

Again I was bewildered. I watched as he used the whirlwind sprint shout to move forward a couple of metres, then waited. Then used the shout again. And waited. This was literally the only way he could move forward at a manageable pace whilst carrying all this junk.

He did this for 20 minutes, just so he could make it to the top of the stairs and enchant all his armour and weapons. Then he sold them all. This whole process took roughly 45 minutes in total.

"Why are you doing this," I asked.

"So I can make money," he replied.

"You have more money than you could ever possibly spend," I say, completely bewildered.

[Awkward silence]

"I just want more money I guess."

It's bizarre — Skyrim is filled with moments where you simply stop and gaze with wonder at the incredible scale of it all. Looking back, these are the moments I value most in my Skyrim experience. Climbing the steps to meet the Greybeards, staring out across the expanse. Stumbling across a pack of wild mammoths being led by giants. Taking on two dragons at the same time and somehow succeeding. It's these encounters — the sense of scale combined with the wonder of complex systems in motion — that I love. This is what makes Skyrim special. For me at least.

But at the same time, Skyrim has this incredible ability to make players a slave to the mundane. My brother in law will spend hours looking for mushrooms on horseback, my relative lumbers more than he can carry to make money he doesn't need. Play Skyrim long enough and you'll forget why you even bothered in the first place. Taking down Alduin and following any kind of logical narrative begins to fade from significance. You'll kill dragons with one arrow; you'll max out your sneak and disappear with a single crouch. By that point you'll be dead to the wonder of it all, you've broken the game and all that's left is the economy of Skyrim — a set of rules you've learned to exploit.

And then, before you know it, you'll stop looking out at the horizon in amazement. You'll stop gaping in fear at dragons swirling above the skyline. You'll begin shuffling at a snail's pace up the same random staircase to enchant weapons you'll never use, to make money you'll never spend, wasting hours you'll never get back.


Comments

    Mark, did you mean "Ben _lugs_ more than he can carry to make money he doesn't need."? Unless there is a tree-chopping mechanic in Skyrim I was heretofore unaware of?

      Nah I like the word lumber. Sometimes I just invent things! :)

        First you play fast and loose with our accent, now your invent words in our language?! This is an outrage, sir! Forsooth.
        :P

          Lumber also means to move with a heavy clumsiness, or move with a rumlbing noise.

      Actually, there is a lumber chopping mini-game you can play to get small areas on side. Easy to miss.

        So that explains all those woodcutting axes lying around everywhere.

    Also, great piece. I find the differing ways that people play games utterly fascinating.

    I guess it's a good thing I haven't gotten into Skyrim yet. I'll play it for maybe half an hour, do a quest or two, and then won't play it again for a couple of days.

    Definitely one of the reasons I burn out on Bethesda games in general. After a certain point there's no real goal to anything. Of course you could say that about most anything, but Bethesda games really seem to emphasise it a bit.

    This is the problem I have with Skyrim. Hell, one doesn't even need to go to such extremes as the examples you gave to exploit the game. It's actually hard not to exploit. One has to actively avoid doing anything in an efficient manner otherwise skills level too quickly and you become unstoppable.

    When it comes to crafting though, they needed to introduce the basic MMO system. The higher your skill, items don't give the same experience to the point where they give none at all.

    You obviously never heard what people got up to in Fallout 3 (ie: filling corpses up with stuff and then dragging it to the nearest merchant or their apartment all to avoid being encumbered)

      That is the smartest God damned thing I've ever heared.

    Pickpocketing is another skill that quickly breaks the game in a single afternoon..

    This article has made me stop worrying about the loot and concetrate on what I liked about it when I first installed it.

    Well stated Mark, but for me accumlulating "stuff" in games has an emotional impact like no cut scene or animation or dramatic landscape ever will. If you removed all the extraneous things from the Elder Scrolls world and just made it a open world adventure, I would find it dull as dishwater.

    From Roguelikes to MMOs, RPGs that allow you to craft and collect connect you to the world *mechanically* in a way that no mere beat em up ever could.

    A recent example for me was Dead Island. I started it up and when I saw that I could loot suitcases for money and crafting items, the game sucked me in completely.

    We all play games differently, and I for one can't think of anything more "mundane" than a game full of wonderful art but no inventory system.

    +1 to this! I Recently told myself I've finished Skyrim (even though there are always more quests cropping up). After getting the best armour, weapons, and more money than I know how to spend, Not even the hardest difficulty proves any challenge.
    I do agree with light487 that I should stop picking up everything and focus on the real awesome aspects of the game I originally loved.

    He did this for 20 minutes, just so he could make it to the top of the stairs and enchant all his armour and weapons. Then he got to the vendor and found they had no gold left to buy his junk.

    Fixed. Why do the vendors all have limited amounts of gold anyway? It's 'realistic' but also very annoying.

      Being on PC, I did a roundabout cheat so it felt less like cheating. I'd give the vendors 5k gold and then sell my wares to them :S

      They had too little money considering the kind of equipment most sold. Hell, it'd be like a Cash Converters only keeping $50 onsite to buy stuff from the public?

    Its weird the different ways people play skyrim,I had a look at ny friend's 13 y.o. sons save game, he was about Lvl. 20 the same as my charcter but had spent most of his time crafting and maxing out the blacksmith tree.So he had legendary dradietic armour and weopons but because he was so narrowly focused his weopon and armour skill were lame and my charcter at the same Lvl. did more damage and had a better armour rating with only unimproved steel and iron equipment,and my breton was basiclly a destruction mage to.

    Yeah, I exploited the hell out of that elf you can recruit in the first town.

    My archery skill was pretty damn cranked by the time I killed my first dragon.

    Couldn't your relative with all the extra gear just carry enough so he's not enumbered and just make and extra trip or so to pick everything up? Would be far quicker and less aggrivating

    You nailed it. What a freaking awesome game!

    If he was near his house, why did he walk all the way to Dragonsreach to enchant stuff?

      You can't get the enchanting table in the Whiterun house iirc.

        Ah, I was thinking of the alchemy lab. My bad.

    i used a console command to delevel myself and a few of my main skills back down to 20, its making finishing all the side quests challenging.Cant wait for the DLC to come out.

    This is why I don't use "exploits". It quickly ruins the experience and simplifies it into a game to be gamed.

      You don't need to use exploits. Simply using the same armour type, weapon type and/or magic type will have the same effect. You have to actively avoid levelling anything in particular to keep the game a challenge which defeats the purpose of playing the game your way. It's a catch 22. (Unless of course your way of playing is to use every single weapon, armour and magic type regularly to avoid levelling skills so often)

        The game can be very challenging if you level the wrong skills first. I did nothing but thieving up until level 20 (which takes about 45 minutes) but then I had nothing but skills that improved pick pocketing so I hit for almost no damage, my armor rating was terrible and all the mobs had upgraded to the more dangerous versions.

        It took me something like 40 swings to kill skeletons!

          No sneak attack damage buffs?

    I made money to get the Achievement...then stopped as I didn't need money at all ever again by that point.

    My wife was playing the other day and I asked her what she was doing, and all she was doing was breaking into peoples houses to eat their apples. That's literally it. I did remind her that there were other things to do in the game, but it appears that the only thing she was interested in was eating other peoples apples. She doesn't even like apples in real life.

      Bahahahaha, that's gold! I'm gonna play Skyrim now.....

    I remember when I was jumping about for hours on end in Morrowind just to be able to carry more stuff. :)

    Might sound strange, but I can't get enough of Skyrim yet. I still have too much stuff to do, so screw it, i'm letting Alduin take over the planet.
    Looks like i'm not the dragonborn after all.
    Someone just shoot an arrow in my knee right now becuas eat the end of this game I am joining the city guard :).

      Your not missing much. Main quest is shorter than some of the side quests. Alduin is actually easier than regular dragon encounters.

    Meh. We all play differently. Personally, I take as much enjoyment out of being involved in the mundane of the game universe as I do the gorgeous vistas. I've got over a thousand hours in, have leveled to the mid 50s, started over because of a glitch, and made it back to the mid 50s and I still haven't completed all the quests, or collected all the stuff I want to collect. I've played every day since 11/11 and will probably play every day throughout the first half of this year and I will adore every moment of it.

    I'll make you a deal. I won't denigrate the way you play if you don't denigrate the way I play. Deal?

    I feel special and sad knowing I have done the exact same thing in whiterun.... Good ol smithing and enchanting

    What is this Skyrim that everyone talks about? I don't get out much... since i took an arrow in the knee.

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