There are four types of video game players, says Richard Bartle: the Explorer, the Socialiser, the Killer and the Achiever. The names are rather self-explanatory: the Explorer loves to wander; the Socialiser loves to chat; the Killer loves to compete; and the Achiever loves to rack up points and trophies, even when they might seem arbitrary to everyone else.
You'll really enjoy Skyrim's latest piece of downloadable content, Hearthfire. But only if you're the type of player who gets a kick out of achieving things just for the sake of achieving them. Only if you're an Achiever.
Though Bartle, the man who invented MUDs (rudimentary text-based predecessors to MMORPGs), was primarily analysing online games when he devised his four archetypes, they apply even to singleplayer experiences like Skyrim. When I play Bethesda's open-world masterpiece, I think like an Explorer. I want to see the world, to find hidden secrets and discover everything the designers wanted me to discover, to slowly peel away at the story one layer at a time.
Throw in a few dashes of Killer and Socialiser and you've got a basic rundown of the way I play video games.
That's why I had no real interest in Hearthfire, which came out Tuesday for Xbox 360. Hearthfire gives you an acre of land and asks you to build a house. You can add extra wings, decorations, and even a bedroom for children (which you can adopt, naturally). You can use your new home for storage or tea parties or corpse dissection or whatever else you feel like doing. It's yours.
To do all of this, you'll need to find ingredients. This is rather tedious. It usually means fast-travelling to a store, buying an iron ingot, hammering it down into a set of nails, realising you're out of lumber, fast-travelling to a lumber mill, buying stacks of lumber 20 at a time by selecting the same dialogue options over and over, heading back to your place, realising you're out of stone, walking to the convenient infinite stone quarry next to your house, mining for a while, encumbering yourself because you're carrying too much, and slowly treading back to build the next section of your manor. Rinse, repeat.
I've played several hours of this new DLC. I've built up a manor, adopted children, and turned my level 30 powerhouse into Domesticated Dragonborn. To me, there were few things enjoyable about this experience. It was nothing but a mundane to-do list.
See, I have no interest in showing off a gigantic mansion or collecting lots of ingredients. I don't care about how big my house is, much in the same way that I don't care about min-maxing or achievements or many of the other game mechanics that many players find fun. My brain just isn't wired to enjoy that sort of thing. I'd rather spend my time wandering and exploring and questing and killing and adventuring.
All that said, I can't speak for Achievers. I'm not one of them. If you're the type of person who can't get enough of trivia scores or Xbox Achievements, if you're constantly trying to master the leaderboards on Jetpack Joyride or collect a million coins in New Super Mario Bros. 2, this DLC may very well be perfect for you. It certainly does what it promises: it gives you the plans to a house and asks you to fill them in. It gives you the opportunity to progress through a series of sequences and feel like you've accomplished something grand. "Hey, look, I built a house!" you can scream to the world. And maybe someone will listen. It probably won't be me.