Skyrim, as far as I can tell, is a game that a lot of people like. I can’t comment on its quality as I haven’t played it myself, but I do know quite a bit about it, and what I know entices me. It’s an open-world game where you can simply explore, where random occurrences often evoke a hurried excitement of chilly wonder. I know that the lack of a moral choice system makes the world around you one of amorality, where you are free to do what you like based upon your own instincts. I know that one certain attack (you know the one) will go down as one of the most simple, entertaining, and fulfilling actions in gaming history.
What I don’t know is what Skyrim is about.
I missed out on a lot this year, but for the most part, I know quite a bit when it comes to what those games are about. Skyrim’s plot, characters, world, and basically every other narrative detail has eluded me. All of my exposure to Skyrim has been through friends playing it and me A) watching them or B) hearing about it.
What I’ve heard about the game basically amounts to what I detailed above and more: the random encounters, blowing dragon skeletons miles away, hilarious glitches, and so on. No one has given me details about any story missions or plot points, which leads me to believe that Skyrim is very different from a lot of other narrative-driven games.
I tend to believe that Skyrim’s story, for many people, isn’t as important as what the game itself actually is. Skyrim’s world is richly-detailed, delicately expanded through books and characters and all types of sources within the game that flesh out the past, present, and future of the land. However, what your character specifically is doing in Skyrim doesn’t seem to be of much importance.
I recall when Fallout 3, Betheseda’s last major effort, came out. People were all over themselves about just wandering for hours, battling super mutants, and soaking in the atmosphere. With Skyrim, it’s largely the same story, but almost even more so. After all, as far as I can tell, there’s no bombshell, turgid ending to send people flying like in Fallout 3.
I’m dancing around it, but what I’m trying to get at is that Skyrim, though a narrative-driven game, is not about story or characters or mythos, but rather, it’s a set of tools. It’s a big world full of life and mystery waiting to be discovered and every once in a while a character in it will remind you that there are bigger things to worry about.
Open-world games are often accused of largely being pointless since there is a promise of non-linearity that goes unfulfilled. Skyrim is no different; it’s still a linear experience with a story that must be completed in a certain order like any other RPG. However, what separates it from other games is the entertainment value that can be gleaned from simply ignoring this fact.
Without even touching the controller, Skyrim has taught me that games do not have to follow conventions or narrative goals or really any other thing to create a unique experience. It’s one of those games, you know, the kind people talk about with each other, obsess over, find every detail within it. It’s been a while since we had one of those. I’m just glad to see that people like me get to enjoy them, even from a bird’s-eye-view.