9 Years and 300 Hours of Skyrim Later
After nearly a decade of play, I can’t seem to put this game down
I have a confession. Some might call it an open secret. I own about 100 games on Steam. Sadly, that’s not the issue. The issue is that I’ve played more hours of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim than all 100 of them combined.
I bought Skyrim back in 2011. This might be surprising news to you, given Skyrim’s rise to memetic infamy due to Bethesda’s incessant porting, a scheme that eventually landed it on platforms as gaming-obscure as Amazon’s Alexa. But this was before all that, back in the dark ages where I had to beg my mom to drive me to the local GameStop. Harrowing, really.
I can’t exactly pinpoint what initially drew me so fervently to that GameStop 9 years ago. Probably something along the lines of: big dragons, big swords, pretty trees. Why does anyone play anything? Even so, I had never played an Elder Scrolls game before and I was slightly reticent to jump in at entry 5. Fortunately, Elder Scrolls lore is, in my opinion, quite straightforward. Hardy nordic villages. Scheming cat-people. Civil war plaguing an ideologically divided country. Let me know if you’ve heard this one before.
It was not only the overarching story that I found familiar. Most elements of Skyrim are hardly innovations. The gameplay — smack things with a sword or a fireball — or the character archetypes — brutish jarls, conniving wizards — are all staples of the fantasy genre. But, please, do not misunderstand me. This is in no way an indictment. It’s actually high praise.
Skyrim’s genius lies in its simplicity
Skyrim’s enormous replayability relies on the fact that there is no right way to play it. As long as you’re alive, you’re headed in the right direction. The game has an underlying linear narrative in the form of its main questline, but this main quest functions as no more than a barely-there itch, dormant until you are inclined to scratch it.
And why ever scratch it? To me, the allure of the game is that I can live in the world without being at the center of it. Unlike most games, Skyrim works hard to validate your idea of fun. It has no agenda of its own. You can be a psychopathic assassin, a Robinhood-esque thief, a traveling salesman, an onerous smith. You can even be a lizard person.
I’m serious — you can be a lizard! This was a big draw for me back in 2011. What other game let you be a lizard? A lizard mage, no less. And if I worked hard enough, I could be the lizard arch-mage of Skyrim’s magical college of Winterhold. Then, when I bored of that, I could retire and build a house in the wilderness with my lizard wife. And then if I got more bored, I could drop the house and the wife and become a bard, recanting wistful tales of my life to drunk peasants.
But even the promise of reptilian adventure does not a ten-year, 300-hour addiction make. A monumental modding community continues to add content on a nearly daily basis, reviving last-gen gameplay mechanics and re-texturing the scenery to the point that it occasionally looks better than real life. Skyrim’s community retains such an ardent passion because, like me, people refuse to stop playing it.
Yet, even without the ability to mod in Thomas the Tank Engine, this game would — and already has — become a 12GB staple on my hard drive. I patiently await the day when I run out of experimental characters to try, companions to befriend, and bandit-infested caverns to decimate. Until then, Skyrim is as fresh as the ideas I bring to it. The other 100 games will have to wait.