There is no game quite like Skyrim. With a myriad of choices—from a character’s species to specialized skills and play styles, factions they ally with or fight against, and a massive open world to explore both above and below ground—the game doesn’t push a player in one direction so much as it sets them free to do whatever they want. Sure, it’s not the first medieval fantasy game to feature dungeons and dragons, but there is nothing quite like it either.
Developed by Bethesda Studios, and released on Nov. 11 of last year (a coveted 11/11/11 release date), the roleplaying game has sold millions of copies worldwide.
“Skyrim is what you make of it,” Felix L. Wu ’14 says. “I wouldn’t call it a sandbox. It’s not like Grand Theft Auto. It’s sort of like a Lego set, you get what I mean? Lego sets have instructions, you build things with them and then you mix them with other Lego sets that you have and start doing your own thing.”
“If we estimate about a very conservative estimate of two hours a week since it came out...I would not be surprised if I’ve already played 50 hours,” Wu guesses.
WILL THE REAL DARK ELF PLEASE STAND UP?
Because of the game’s incredible flexibility, the character a player creates and the way he plays can give players an outlet to an alternate reality of sorts—and can even say a lot about who the player is.
Amil A. Jayasuriya ’14 estimates that he has spent approximately 30 hours playing the game. “I played as one of the regular people...not the Nord. The Imperials.”
Jayasuriya’s roommate Allen J. Macleod ’14 has a slightly different style of character creation. “I employ a color-blind selection process so I don’t see race,” he jokes. “No, uh, I am a Dark Elf? I think? Wow, if I had to pick the one thing that sounded the nerdiest....”
But despite the nerdy feelings we all feel when discussing our gaming habits, Skyrim’s mainstream status is difficult to ignore. Wu indicates some surprise at the game’s ability to gain widespread appeal. “A number of my friends, who I wouldn’t expect to play Skyrim or enjoy it, actually enjoy it,” he claims. “It’s still a video game, of course, but it feels less like the standard sort of familiarized storyline shooter whatever video game. It’s an explorative, choose-your-own-adventure sort of thing.”
That freedom to do whatever, whenever makes Skyrim the antithesis of games like Call of Duty, which tells a single story in a single, specific way. In fact, many players disregard what would be considered Skyrim’s main narrative thread in favor of exploring their own interests.
“I basically just abandoned the main plot and just went to find words,” Macleod says, referring to dragon shouts that the player can discover throughout the game in order to gain unique, powerful abilities.
Similarly, Jayasuriya completely avoided the game’s main line of quests in order to join the Dark Brotherhood, a guild of assassins and a standout faction from Skryim’s predecessor, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. “I played Oblivion, and the thing I liked the most about that was the Dark Brotherhood,” he says. In Oblivion, the player could be recruited by the Dark Brotherhood by murdering an innocent person. “And so, on day one, me and [my friend James] went around murdering a town trying to get into the Dark Brotherhood, but that’s not how you get into it in this game, so...we just murdered a town.”
“I actually intentionally started off by ignoring the main quest line and doing the College of Winterhold line,” Wu says, “to essentially gain access to all the spells, all the people that could teach me skills.” He spent much of his time leveling up his skills of Conjuration and Destruction magic in order to play entirely as a mage, a class of characters that uses magic, unlike a thief who specializes in stealth or a warrior who solves problems with brute force.
“In some ways, I’ve been playing this almost as if I was actually trying to follow a standard mage storyline,” he explains. “Like a questing mage who’s searching for the inner secrets of magic. I’m not closely doing that necessarily, but I definitely have that in mind when I’m playing; that I’m not a warrior by any means.”
But even within the game’s incredibly nonrestrictive rule set, there are certain rules to which each player holds himself. “One rule I impose on myself is to find the secret of the town and get myself into that organization as quickly as possible,” Jayasuriya says, explaining how each city plays host to some sort of faction or group. Riften, a city in the southeast corner of the game’s map, plays host to the Thieves Guild, a perfect host for Jayasuriya’s stealth-focused character. “It does a good job bringing you right into the world. Almost without a choice, you learn about what’s happening in a city. And you get an image of the social dynamic with the city.”
“The game does do a good job of portraying characters that are more innocent and more annoying,” Jayasuriya says. “So as a rogue, when you have the ability to pickpocket or assassinate without really getting into too much trouble, you’re never gonna go after the caravan that’s outside of town where they’re struggling to survive.” Even among thieves, a man/lizard-man/dark elf/anthropomorphic cat must have a code.
While some players focus on combat or stealth, other players focus on exploring the massive digital landscape. When I tell Wu that my style is to turn the difficulty all the way down so that I never have to worry about dying and losing progress, he gets where I’m coming from. “I understand that,” he nods. “One of my friends has been doing more explorative sort of play. He had one save that was accidentally saved over by someone. But then he started another one—totally different—playing as an Argonian, who no one plays as, running around with two maces doing ridiculous things.
“He’s been trying out all the fun things. Playing a werewolf all the time,” he describes. “Just rushing into things without giving a crap.”
Skyrim’s lack of strict rules of play gives the player flexibility to do whatever he chooses. The infinite number of wooden bowls populating the game’s environments are of no use in combat or trade, but to Wu they are indicative of the game’s freedom. “If I wanted to, I could sell every wooden bowl I find, and that could just be something I do, and there’s no one stopping me from doing something like that,” Wu says.
There is a social element to Skyrim, as the uniqueness of each player’s game makes it ripe for discussion. “It’s definitely fun watching and helping somebody else along,” Jayasuriya says.
“[My roommates and I] are all playing different styles. The guy in our room—senior spring, he already has a job—he’s already at level 52 after only starting this semester. He’s been doing a beefy warrior type,” Wu says. “My other roommate, Jonathan, has been playing a sneaking thief character.”
Macleod adds, “I also think the game does a good job of giving things a sort of epic—and I mean that not so much as ‘Aw, that was epic!’—but I mean in the actual sense of an epic journey.”
As of now, Jayasuriya has put his time with Skyrim on hiatus. “I don’t think I would play it again. Then again, with one character, you can play for like 300-plus hours and still be finding new things.”
—Staff writer Brian A. Feldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.