This quarantine’s big video game moment belongs to Nintendo’s ANIMAL CROSSING, a game where pay off debt, farm absolutely everything, and decorate. I look at ANIMAL CROSSING and all the people I see using it to have social interactions and come very close to buying the game, despite knowing without doubt that I will hate its guts. I have never been a gamer who enjoys fishing for hours, or routinely shaking every tree I see. Decorating, character customization, and arbitrary side activities for their own sake have no appeal to me.
So obviously I played SKYRIM instead. I got a house in Whiterun and I decorated it with books. Then I put a couple of orphan kids in there, too. We played Tag and Hide-and-Go-Seek. I couldn’t leave them home alone, so I hunted the map for a perfect bride. Eventually I found one; she was pretty and opened a shop that could bring in some money. She also never once saw my face due to my metal mask. We got married in Riften. There was no honeymoon because I had shit to do. I also decided my character should be vegetarian. Enjoy ANIMAL CROSSING; I play games for grownups.
SKYRIM is an open continent or country or state or county, I’m not sure. In it, you play a person who survives execution via sudden dragon attack. The rest is up to you. From where you start, the game strongly suggests you walk to a specific town, but also fuck this game. You are an adult, do what you want. If you want to explore a cave in the opposite direction, no one can stop you.
One of two things happen in that cave. You die, or you kill everything and collect a bunch of crap. Some crap comes in the form of weapons. Some in money. Some in potions. Some in books. And a whole lot of it is straight-up crap. Let me tell you about these goddamn books. Each one is a literal book. If you want, you can spend your video game time reading a hundred books. The burn is some books give you a stat increase if you open them. So even if you have no interest in reading books in a video game, you still feel compelled to open each and every one of them. At least until you have all their titles memorized. And good god, you will.
When it comes to fighting, you have several options. The SKYRIM gods give you two hands. Each hand can do a different kind of fighting. One hand sword, one hand magic. One hand shield, one hand staff. If you want to sacrifice a hand, you can go bow-and-arrow, or swing yourself a big-dick ax or something.
Early in the game, your magic won’t do shit. Your arrows won’t do shit. Your shield won’t do shit. You’re going to use two one-handed weapon, or one two-handed weapons. And you get better stats at these things as you use them. This means when you’re otherwise strong enough to play with magic or arrows or one of these other options that barely hurts enemies, you will feel like a nerfed loser, which I get plenty of in real life.
So you walk to some caves you are simply not ready for and finally decide - and your terms and when you’re good and goddamn ready - to visit the town suggested by the game earlier. There you will learn how to upgrade armor, tan leather, turn ore into ingots or maybe the other way around, make weapons stronger. You will feel like this is important, and you will feel cheated as the game keeps throwing stronger armor and weapons at you that don’t require all this extra time. Now, to be sure, you can probably blacksmith yourself some good stuff. I’m just saying you’ll never need it compared to things you’ll pick up anyway while doing quests.
Ah, quests. If I understand this correctly, SKYRIM has infinite quests. Main ones, side ones, guild ones, book ones, DLC ones… in theory, I don’t think you can finish this game. When I quit, I still had like twenty open things to do. Some quests have pretty good stories. I was particularly fond of quests where you help some heroic ghost settle old beef. You’ll probably find a guild you like more than others and enjoy their quests too. I was into being as assassin, for instance. I didn’t care much for being a thief. Without some kind of hook, these infinite quests are often identical, but that sort of thing is true of all open world video games.
I played SKYRIM obsessively for about three weeks. And then one day, I just had enough SKYRIM. My thirsty desire to whittle down my astronomical to-do list disappeared and never returned. I played through all the main story missions and found myself wandering a world with no purpose.
At this point in the game, I would have to make myself play, the same way I make myself go take walks or eat a vegetable every day. I no longer needed to collect money because there was nothing to buy. I didn’t need potions because I never really feared death. There were a couple big towns I never even visited. I knew what awaited me, anyway: a shitload of NPCs that lead to a shitload of missions that lead to a shitload of missions that lead to a shitload of loot I no longer needed. It was time for me and SKYRIM to part ways.
I did enjoy my SKYRIM time. The three weeks I spent playing it kept me from total quarantine despair when I didn’t even have a job to distract me. I had a companion for a while who was super badass. At one point he died, and I mourned him. I really did. My kids were brats, but I liked giving them gifts. My wife cooked me some very nice dinners, and if I slept with her I got an experience bonus (that all stopped when I decided to become a werewolf, however).
Life in Skyrim was good. But with my purpose in Skyrim complete, I can never go back. I’ve tried. I walk around a bit, kill some Draugrs, but it’s not the same.
I didn’t beat SKYRIM, SKYRIM beat me. Not by being too difficult but by illustrating how meaningless life is without goals, without wanting something that remains out of reach until you put real work into it. And because of that, I have decided to create a tableau including every NPC, monster and location in the game with nothing but glue and hand-painted toothpicks. Thank you SKYRIM, Thank you for giving me purpose.