There’s something to be said about a game’s ability to completely immerse you.
I’ve been playing a lot of Skyrim, ever since the Dragonborn DLC came out. I also accidentally deleted my character, so I’m starting from scratch… it kind of feels like losing a child. Now, it’s kind of surprising for me to be coming back to a game like this and logging yet another hundred or so hours into it, because I’m a game hopper. I pick up a game, play through it, then put it down and pick up another. I play games for their story more than anything else, and once I’ve finished it I don’t come back unless I want to feel a bit of nostalgia.
However I’m not ashamed to say I’ve spent hundreds of hours in games like Skyrim and Minecraft. Sandbox games and games that focus on player immersion have a special flavor that can be incredibly difficult to get into at times, but once that power is tapped into it can be extremely addicting.
For those who haven’t played an Elder Scrolls game, well… I don’t really blame you. They’re chock full of extensive lore that is fascinating and quite deep, however it’s overwhelming if you’re new to it. The beginning of every Elder Scrolls game places the player in the position of a prisoner (for unknown reasons) who happens to be in the right place at the right time. In Skyrim’s case you’re destined for the chopping block, with the axe about to fall on your neck, when a dragon attacks and you escape in the mayhem.
This opening sequence that’s common in all of the Elder Scrolls games puts us in media res while also assaulting us with lore (and an awkward character creation section shoved somewhere in there) that, the first time through, tends to fly right over our head. Then we’re dumped into the world, typically with a specific quest from the main storyline but we can choose to ignore that and do whatever we want. More importantly we can be whoever we want.
I’ve been an Elder Scrolls fan since Morrowind. However I had absolutely no clue how deep the Skryim role playing experience could get until I found the subreddit for the game. I like to lurk around the subreddits for videogames to pick up tips and look into the community. I was already addicted to the game, but through r/skyrim I quickly discovered there was much more to the game than running quests over and over.
Many players repeatedly brought up methods to “increase immersion”, or in other words make it feel less like they were playing a game and more like they were in it. Some of these included turning the HUD off so you wouldn’t be distracted by the compass and status bars overlapping the environment. One method that many players swear by is to never fast travel, which I tried. Have you noticed how big Skyrim is?
The experience wasn’t really for me. However players were doing exactly what Bethesda (the makers of the Elder Scrolls series) wanted them to do. In a role playing game such as Skyrim we are asked to create a character, and fill in the blanks on our own. Rather than riding our way through the story line as a fictional character, we make our own. This makes for a rich experience that’s of the player’s making, not the designer’s. Not once in playing Skyrim does the player subconsciously think they’re Link or Samus. I don’t think I have to point out how this benefits the gameplay. Anyone who has picked up Skyrim and trudged through the opening knows how incredibly addicting and immersive the game is.
However through my adventures exploring the game itself and the community around it, I couldn’t help but ask myself if this kind of experience could be used more effectively. Not to say that any Elder Scrolls games uses the mechanic ineffectively, but what else could it be used for? Not only could we use this complete immersion to wrap up the player in an emotional and epic story, but we could use it to send a message. We could use it to educate and inform. After all, when do we remember things the most? When we directly experience them. Forcing a player to directly experience a historical event in a safe environment has loads of potential.
I don’t think that our industry is at the point to handle something like this though. Video games aren’t respected enough, and aren’t seen as vehicles of art and narrative in the public eye. We have a lot of growing–and a lot standing up for our medium–before we could use a first person RPG to educate and inform about things as heavy as war, crime, or societal issues.
Until then we’ll fine tune the mechanic by slaying dragons and shouting. When the day comes to use the mechanic to educate and inform, we’ll be ready.
Thanks for reading.