Let me first preface this by saying that my argument here is a seemingly ridiculous one for video games. After all, so many video games are knocked down for being over way too soon or having very little content that it’s ludicrous to even entertain the idea that a game should suffer because it has too much to do. But well, Skyrim has too much to do.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that Skyrim is not meant to be a game with a straight, linear path. Sure, there are plenty of storylines that hold the world together and plenty of paths you can choose, but it’s only the ones that you do choose that matter (you can completely ignore the main quest if you want). It’s a massive world that’s designed to suck you in completely. It wants to take you from a prisoner with nothing to a master of the land. It gives you a blank slate to work with and lets you turn your character into whatever you desire it to be. So when you have a game like this that allows you to express your ambitious desires this much, what’s the problem?
When I first started playing Skyrim, I had no idea what to do. I don’t mean that in a sense like I had no idea where to go or how to actually play the game, but I had no idea what I wanted my character to be. I play video games with an unhealthy obsession to escape reality, but the massive amount of choice Skyrim gave me when I first started the game made me feel like I was back in high school again with people constantly barraging me with questions about what major I wanted to choose, what my unchangeable life goals were, and what kind of soul-crushing jobs I wanted to apply for a couple months after high school graduation to setup a retirement plan. I felt like Skyrim needed a video game within a video game to escape the pressures of Skyrim-reality. I mean, I don’t need some depressed secretary with lame life-affirming posters of animals next to inspirational quotes berating me for my lack of focus on being undecided between either wanting to go battle-mage or rogue warrior! Shut up, Ms. Kimmy. I hate you, I HATE YOU. Ok, ok. These sound more like personal issues. Yeah dude, I know.
Presented: One example of an inspirational animal poster (featured animal: dog).
Regardless, the multiple career paths you have to choose from in Skyrim is, at first, stifling. With very little to guide you, it’s very easy to make a character that’s initially too unfocused and spread out. And with a character like that, you’re setup to fail over and over. When this happens, it feels like the game is punishing you for wanting to explore different class and character types when it should be doing the opposite. Since things don’t come quickly in Skyrim, as well, it can take you hours and hours of playing before you realize that you’ve built a weak character and all you can do is start over. In this regard, Skyrim is a lot like reality in that you can’t spend your life jumping by whim from random career path to career path.
The main problem with that assessment, though, is that no matter how much a video game can mimic “reality,” it can never fully recreate it. The satisfaction you get from accomplishing something in game can never meet the level of satisfaction you get from accomplishing something in real life. I don’t mean that video games are designed to be a replacement for reality or that they should be. In fact, it’s a dangerous thing to even suggest that. Like any other artistic medium, though, they’re designed mainly to entertain and inspire. When a game requires so much of you to invest towards one specific path and when the accomplishments of that are something that you can never list on a resume, it can sometimes feel meaningless when you succeed in-game.
Life is defined by fleeting grand moments and a whole lot of boring minutiae that fills up the rest. My problem with Skyrim is that a game that has as many quests and as many things to do like Skyrim does can never maintain the steady stream of grand moments like a shorter and smaller game can, especially when the game requires you to grind on end to succeed. The majority of the people I’ve talked to who have stopped playing Skyrim at some point didn’t stop because they reached a certain end-game moment in a quest and felt satisfied ending their experience or because they had accomplished everything – they stopped because they got bored.
By design, there is just too much manpower and money required to create a game on the scope of Skyrim that is a constant stream of ever-changing moments and new, exciting things. And so, much of the time spent in the world of Skyrim is spent engaging in repetitive tasks and quests. Not everything can be that thought out because well, a game like that would take years and years to make. From a business standpoint, that just cannot happen.
Don’t get me wrong, Skyrim is still an amazing game that has and will continue to suck out many more hours of my life. Playing it just feels more like work than fun sometimes, and don’t we play video games to escape that?
A kind of unrelated video showing all the random ways you can die in Skyrim follows below.