by Deborah Jarvis
An Adventurer Like You
This is a non-fiction piece about how I was addicted to Skyrim at the time I took a class called "Feature Writing." It was fun to write, and reflects my mindset on video games at that time in my life. While I have moved on to Minecraft and Diablo III, I will always have a soft spot for this amazing game.
An Adventurer Like You
I am forty-two years old, and I am the Thane of Whiterun. I am also the Thane of Riften, Solitude, and several other cities in the region. I have battled skeletal draugar, shot dragons out of the sky, and found my way through Labyrinthian, albeit poorly. I have worked for the Empire, took the role of a thief, fought as a member of the Brave Companions, and unraveled the riddle of what it meant to be Dohvakin. I am also a college professor, a grad student, and a mother of two.
If these things don’t sound incongruous, I don’t know what does. What is a forty-two year old woman doing playing Skyrim? Why is a grad student and professor not using her free time reading treatises on literature or researching how to find better methods of instruction? Why is a mother wasting her time on video games when she could be spending her time with her children? The answer is that I do all of that too, but for stress release, there’s nothing like killing me some monsters.
How I ended up playing the game is a saga in and of itself. The story begins this past Christmas, 2011, when my son Will put in his bid to get Skyrim for his Xbox. In his lobbying to get the game, he showed me a preview for it, and my jaw literally dropped. I am not a videogame aficionado in any way, shape, or form. Video games were my kids’ world where they would disappear for many hours and immerse themselves on a Saturday afternoon once their other work was done. I tried a few, shook my head a lot, and quickly lost interest for the most part. Not my world after all.
What my son showed me was nothing less than art, pure and simple. The beauty of the game was overwhelming. I had played a little Silent Hill on our PS2, but that couldn’t hold a candle to the graphics I was witnessing. The sweeping vistas, the amazing animation, the picturesque mountains...if only the game play was even half this good. Will assured me that it was. My husband Rob was equally enamored, more for the Viking storyline, I think, than the graphics, but he admitted that it impressed him totally. When the game came out, Rob secured one of the last copies in town by the bare bones virtue of being in the right place at the right time, and Will’s Christmas was made.
Over Christmas break, I watched my son play a couple of times, but mostly ignored the game in favor of preparing for my upcoming Winter Session or ‘Winterim’ class, a grueling eight day marathon of five hour classes and potential snow storm cancellations. When Will went to his father’s for the second half of Christmas week - our standard arrangement - he left behind him an untended game system and the alluring and mysterious world of Skyrim. The temptation was just too great. I logged in and soon had lost all track of time. At first, my game play was ragged, and I died a lot. I had never spent long enough with any of Will’s games to really get a feel for the controller. I kept at it though, and, eventually, I got the hang of how to use the buttons and knobs so that soon I was playing less like an amateur. The more I played, the more I was amazed by the diversity of setting and plot, game play and development. I wanted to spend more and more time exploring this wonderful place. In short, I was hooked.
Still, one might wonder what does a video game like this provide for a woman of my age? Most women I know are more interested in games like The Sims or Farmville and don’t seem interested in adventure games like Skyrim. While I can see the appeal to both of the aforementioned games, there are some very different parts of the Skyrim game play that I like. Some part of it is my love for mythology, I am sure. The game is full of references to mythic beings straight out of Tolkien, and this is familiar ground to me. Dwarven ruins that resemble enormous Steampunk movie sets and deep underground Folmer dwellings lit with giant glowing mushrooms are suitably eerie and fascinating to explore. The dragons are also a large part of the story, and slaying them can be very appealing, as well as analogous, after dealing with everyday affairs.
It was the dragon slaying that was the real problem. In my day-to-day world, I was dealing with an ailing mother who had just come home from the hospital, prep for the following semester, and a growing sense of dissatisfaction. What was I doing, trying to solve all of everyone’s problems? How was I supposed to cope with running back and forth to Melrose where my mother lived and dealing with everyday life? I needed a release from the pent up energy that stemmed from the frustration of being an only child of an elderly parent, a mother of two teenaged children, a wife to a first-year college student, and an English teacher/tutor at a community college. Where in my life was the escape or the release?
That was where the game came in. The first weekend of the Winterim session arrived; my grading load was relatively mild since we had Fridays off, and I had done the vast majority of the work Friday afternoon. I am not sure what time it was that Saturday morning when I started, but I somehow lost close to six or seven hours, near as I can figure. It was something new to me, this loss of time, this immersion into the realms of fantasy. I realized then that I just might be in trouble. Friends who had stronger willpower than I had been sucked into the oblivion of video games for months at a time - sometimes even missing days at work because of a game. I had heard stories from people who got so lost within World of Warcraft (WOW) that they had a hard time not playing, and I had seen the South Park episode that mocked that complete loss of outside life, laughing at the time since it reminded me of people I knew. I had sworn that I would never fall prey to that trap, never to become one of the living dead, and there I was, riding a horse across a rocky terrain with a faithful cat-like Khajiit as a traveling companion, and loving every minute of it.
It seemed like this could become a long-term affair with the gaming console. There are literally hundreds of quests and side quests, challenges, and bounties to keep ten players busy. During Winterim, this became my favorite escape. If anything got too stressful, a short trip to Skyrim would fix it. In a lot of ways, it is a very positive place to be. The more that your character does for people, the better they will react to them, and sometimes heap praise on the hero’s head. The problem is that it also causes an extreme lack of productivity in real life
The real challenge came when the official spring semester came into play, and I had to spend most of my time grading, prepping, planning…the list goes on. I had to dig my heels in hard to keep from falling into the ‘video game trap,’ and I set alarms on my cell phone to remind me that I had to get off the game and get my work done. Still, there were a few days when my son had to argue with me for his turn on his Xbox, and I found myself procrastinating since I needed just five more minutes....five more!
Part of the game’s draw is its ability to interact with some of the amazing characters that reside in the land, such as Cicero, the crazed Keeper of the remains of the assassin’s goddess The Mother, or the powerful Maeven Blackbriar who rules the city of Riften in power if not in name. Working closely with various traveling companions can also be enlightening since some are not even human to start with and these people are often a welcome change to the mundane people in my own life as not one of them needs me to grade a paper for them!
The art of the game is out-of-this-world breathtaking. The first time I stood on a mountainside and saw the aurora borealis twisting gently overhead amid the stars, or watched the sunrise over a lake in the digital morning, I realized how special this game truly is. Objects react to gravity; deer skulls roll down hills and don’t stop until they either fetch up on something or until they stop by inertia. Items on fire actually burn, and interacting with them can kill characters. All of these details are wonderful ,and they can serve a greater purpose for a lot of people. Living in an area where the northern lights are rarely if ever seen and where the sunrise is often obscured by very tall trees, Skyrim gives me a chance to see more spectacular scenery, albeit virtually, than my own life generally does.
Eventually, all good things come to an end, and I have made it a point to severely limit my time to play the game. I still sneak an hour or two (three!) to play the game on a Saturday or Sunday, but they are timed excursions, and when the alarm rings, it’s time to go home. It seems to be a good compromise and it seems to be working - so far. Time will tell whether or not this is realistic.
When my own life gets overwhelming and I need a mental vacation, I can step away for a little while and spend a short time in a world that is not dependent on grading test scores or my own writing ability. I can also relate better to my son with a wider vocabulary of terms at my disposal, and my husband who is also firmly hooked on the game and has to set limits, so we can talk as well. I also now catch those obscure references that my college students wear on their tee-shirts. While many of my contemporaries smile indulgently at my game playing, I know that I can go home, kill a few dragons, and, in the end, feel relatively calm as I relieve all of the stress though playing a game. It isn’t my life by a long shot, nor do I wish it to be, but there are those days when my life definitely needs a little more adventure in it. When it does, I know just where to find it, arrow to the knee or not.