One of the tragic first-world problems of my childhood was that I was never allowed to watch TV or play video games.
“It rots your brain!” my mom and dad always told me when I begged to watch Nickelodeon or play Pokemon so I could understand just what the heck my friends were talking about. When my boyfriend discovered that I had never played so much as a single game of Mario or Pacman, he was appalled. He insisted that I start playing Mario Kart and Super Smash Brothers with my entry and that I start playing a role-playing video game called Skyrim: Elder Scrolls V on his computer.
For those unfamiliar with video gaming culture, Skyrim is a recently released game that takes place in a Scandinavian-style, medieval world called Skyrim, a place full of magic, war and dragons. The main plot of the game is that the player is meant to save Skyrim from the return of the vicious, evil dragons. It has been hailed for its incredibly vivid graphics, but mostly for its open-world system, in which your choices have huge effects on the way the game is played. “You can really get into it,” Firas Shennib ’14 said. “It feels much more rewarding and weighty when you have to make decisions about who lives and who dies, who wins and who loses. It actually feels like you’re a person in a world and that you’re making an impact.”
Because of their choices in the game, everyone who plays Skyrim experiences it completely differently. They have each created unique characters that use different weapons and go on different quests in the game.
I began playing, and once I learned how to use the controller and stop my character from banging into walls, I spent more and more time in the game. I’ve become fascinated with the culture within the province of Skyrim, but also the gaming culture and how people play and react to Skyrim.
Alex Weaver ’14 spoke highly of how wide-ranging the game is. “The amount that you can do is really amazing,” she said. “The main quest is about 100 hours, and then if you add side quests, it’s about 300 hours. And that’s running through as quickly as possible without stopping to explore.”
The role playing in Skyrim can be extremely detailed and involved. Shennib and I spent some time chatting about our different characters. My character is outwardly heroic and good, but she wavers between trying to get what she wants and doing the right thing. However, while I’ve stuck to one disposition, Shennib frequently changes personalities. “My character is a barbarian turned criminal turned homicidal maniac turned arch-mage turned vampire,” he said. “I change personalities whenever I want to switch it up.”
The enmity between the people of Skyrim and the dragons is central to the game. Battles with dragons are very difficult to win, but for Chris Riegg ’15, that makes it more interesting. “Dragons make the game’s battles feel more significant and strategic,” he said. “Why square off with a wolf when you can fight a flying, fire-breathing lizard as big as a barn?”
Shennib was almost reverent when he spoke about the landscape within the game. “Most other games you play limit your ability to explore and landscape is very secondary,” he said. “It’s copy-pasted from one area to the next. But with Skyrim, the entire world is handcrafted and inspired by epic landscapes on Earth. The south is full of tons of forests and deer. To the north, there’s giant glaciers and crevices of ice. You can see the water expanding, and you can’t see the horizon.” Wade Phenicie ’14, on the other hand, admired other parts of the landscape. “Some of the cities were designed wonderfully,” he said. “Whiterun looks like Rohan from Lord of the Rings.”
Skyrim has a dedicated following of intense gamers. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I was the biggest gamer on campus,” Shennib said. Phenicie has played games by the same maker before and started playing only two days after it came out. “I’m basically done with the game,” he said. “At least, I consider myself finished with it. I’m sure there are little miscellaneous quests to do, but they’re not that interesting.”
However, while Shennib and Phenicie are proud members of the gaming community, Skyrim has bridged the gap between die-hards and less invested fans. Weaver, for instance, doesn’t consider herself to be an intense gamer. “I’m not too big into gaming because I have a Mac, and the Wii is the only gaming system I have, but I would consider myself casually interested in gaming,” she said. Skyrim is so innovative that even casual gamers have bought it to see what all the fuss is about.
It is partly due to my newfound interest in gaming that I’ve come to love playing Skyrim, but there’s certainly something unique about the game. In some ways, Skyrim feels like real life. The graphics are easy to lose yourself in, people react and respond realistically and comparisons could be drawn between the racial and political tensions in Skyrim and those in real life. In Skyrim, though, you’re the undisputed hero and savior of the world – and it’s a lot of fun.