Skyrim - a review, kind of [by John]

Recently, I played a video game. The game, Skyrim, has been widely and rightly hailed as the most immersive and expansive video gaming experience in history (surpassing my previous most immersive gaming experience—1989’s Contra— by something like 132 ½ playable hours). I personally played Skyrim for approximately 20 hours over the span of about a week: a few hours every other day or so, although Rhianna might know more specifically, and by that I mean there’s a chance I played this game for 170 consecutive hours— I sincerely don’t know… it’s so… immersive. Anyhow, I played this game for some time a little while ago and have this to report: I have no idea what the hell Skyrim is about.

Now, I’m not an avid gamer, by any account. I enjoy, loosely, the fantasies and mythologies explored in video games, though as a rule I don’t have the interest or patience to give them much attention. But I grew up at the dawn of the gaming age, of course, and am now a school teacher, so the prospect of virtually lopping off some demon’s head with a ninja sword serves as a sort of cathartic metaphor in my life: you know— slicing the head off the demon of… ignorance? … with the sword of… learning? The point being that, once in a while, owing to nostalgia or relentless advertising, I’ll try out a game for the hell of it. But again, I am here to report that after 20-something hours of Skyrim I am wholly unable to communicate any of its themes to you. But in the interest of my engaging contemporary pop-culture, here’s an attempt:

It starts out all castles and helmets and other Nordic stuff, like a dragon, so at first you’re thinking it’s Viking-ish in a broad sense. But after only a few minutes, the dragon is totally gone, leaving you in the middle of an apparently unending wilderness (I’m assuming northern Canada?) with your hammer. Now, in the game’s defense, I don’t think everyone ends up with a hammer, but I happened to pick one up whilst being chased by the dragon, so you know… now I’ve got this hammer. And what does one do with a hammer in the wilderness? Owing to the fact that there are no Home Depots in northern Canada, one begins killing many people with it. And that was the first three hours of the game: walking around, hammering stuff.

Suddenly, though, amidst the carpentry, this message appeared on the screen: “Your vampiric powers grow as you hunger.” And I was like, “OH! SHIT! This is a vampire game! I am NOT supposed to be hammering people to death, I’m supposed to be sucking them to death… or… you know… like, bleeding… I mean making them bleed to death with my sucky-fangs…” So I spent the following six hours thinking Skyrim was a game about vampires and let me be clear: it is not. But I didn’t know that, nor did I have any indication as to what the game actually was about so I just went with the suggestion at hand: I was a vampire and somewhere in that fact must be a plot. Every so often another message would appear, to the effect of: “You are the hungriest vampire in this game.” But I had no clue what to do with that, and after a longer time than it should have taken, I grew very bored, so I turned my attention to the only other thing I knew seemed important in Skyrim: POTS. Whoa are there pots in that game. There are pots in barrels, pots on shelves, pots in houses, on tables, littering the streets of towns, in crypts, in stables, in rivers— pots, literally, found on dead bodies, and, of course, in other pots. So anyway, I was just like, “when in Rome,” and went to town collecting pots. I stole every pot from every person everywhere: had I robbed a hundred Container Stores I could not have gotten so many damn pots. I spent eight hours collecting pots of every variation and depositing them in the only place I thought I could: the corner of a wall surrounding the first city I came to. And in my game there grew an immensity of pots (in a town I called Pottown): a wall of writhing, hollow metal emergent as though wrought from the very land itself! The pots grew in number such that even the other characters in the game began to know my wall of pots, and to stop and gaze upon it, fearfully, in awe, as though to say, “Seriously, what is up with all these pots?” And then, suddenly: a dragon.

Initially, the dragon swooping low above my head, I thought he must be angry at me for stealing all those pots. Over time, however, I realized that I had been grievously mistaken. This was not a game about pots. It was a game, as was only subtly hinted at in its opening moments, about dragons. Or dragon hunting. Or, like, I am a dragon, sort of? But a person? Some guy called me “dragonborn” in a moment of dialogue just before the dragon attacked, but I’m clearly human in the game, so I’m guessing my mother’s womb was what doctors call, “an inhospitable fetal environment,” so mom and dad elected to employ a surrogate for my embryonic rearing and that surrogate turned out to be dragon— ergo, “dragonborn.” Regardless, moments after that dialogue, both guy and dragon were dead at the hands of my hammer, their bodies searched for pots.

Over the course of the following several days, I developed many theses regarding the nature of Skyrim— I was a wizard fighting dragons, a dragon-wizard fighting people, a dragon-person fighting vampires— all of which seemed, at different points, somehow incorrect, for varying and vague reasons. So ultimately I gave up. I was only renting the game anyway, so I returned it. Then I looked up the plot on Wikipedia and became immediately unconvinced that the game I was playing was, in fact, actually Skyrim. But given that it probably was, it is now one more thing added to the list of popular cultural phenomena I just don’t understand, alongside Twitter and skinny jeans. If I was to get a Chinese character tattoo of my experience with the game, it would be, of course, “strength,” as I understand is obligatory when getting a Chinese character tattoo. But then, in truer summation of my experience I would get the character that represents “dragons” next to an upside question mark, like in Spanish.

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