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.
"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.