An Unreality guest post by Dave Bast.
Why I picked it: I got a few different personal essays about Skyrim, but this one stood out as an interesting account of why Skyrim’s craziness actually makes it a more lovable game, however immersion breaking it might be. I had similar experiences during my own playthrough(s) and I think Dave’s style makes for an enjoyable journal read.
***This post contains spoilers***
I entered the cave south of Whiterun just after midnight. The bandit guard at the entrance I tried to sneak past was keener than I had expected and caught me before I could proceed. A few quick and deadly maneuvers and the debate was over, his gold in my pocket before he hit the ground. The silly fool should have pretended he didn’t see me. Once inside, I quickly checked to make sure that my blade, an Orc-made, vampiric dagger, is properly poisoned and that I’m ready for combat.
Lights flickered within a large open chamber, the voices of two bandits echoed within. As they came into view I could hear they were discussing the security of their mine’s entrance, one even questioned the wisdom of having only one guard out front. Good thinking, I smiled. I crept down a small ramp and around to the shadows surrounding their camp. As I crept closer, I hoped that they would see me, I was itching for a real fight. They each stood at either side of a small campfire; the one closest to me was within range of a long shadow cast by a bookcase nearby. As I approached I grew excited, I knew as soon as I killed the first one his companion would attack in fear and frustration. I was looking forward to that fight… that and the look on his face when the man he is speaking to slumps dead into the campfire.
However, something about this kill didn’t feel right. As I crept closer to my victim I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a set up. I shook the feelings away. I’m a professional assassin. How many have died to my blade, to this blade? If it is a trap I’ll handle it, I always do. I rolled forward and raised my blade, slashing the neck of my first victim with brutal efficiency. I looked up to see the face of his friend, to see the fear in his eyes as I crouched where his friend stood just one bloody instant earlier. He looked over the campfire, raised his greatsword and said, “Is someone there?”
… For a moment I paused, maybe I heard him wrong. Then he said, “When I find you, I’ll smash you to pieces,” while within two feet of me looking in all directions. After about a minute of dutiful searching he decided to, ahem, return to his post located three feet from the scene of the crime. Then, I guess, out of madness or sheer stupidity he continued having the same conversation by himself like nothing happened… I put down the controller.
No longer immersed, back in reality I felt unsatisfied. It was all a charade. I wasn’t an assassin, I was a dude pretending to be an assassin. Even though all the stealth and sneaking gameplay looked slick, I knew that I could most likely kill all these bandits with my eyes closed. I mean, I just murdered the guy you were having a conversation with, but please, feel free to keep on talking to yourself. I was playing the part of an assassin in a world where it didn’t matter. I could have run through the halls screaming “I wanna be an airborne ranger,” and they probably wouldn’t have caught me until I made it to the gym. I was right, it was all a set-up. The joke was on me.
All the sneaking around was for me and my immersive experience as a player, and was not an inherent requirement of the game. However, for me, no matter how many things you get right or how immersive a game is “supposed” to be, all it takes is one small glitch or bug to pull me out of an immersive experience. It isn’t always a bug, sometimes it is some sort of gameplay choice or feature. Like how half the Draugr in all the catacombs in Skyrim just stand there while I completely destroy them. Sure, they look awesome, their eyes glow and they are genuinely creepy and discomforting to look at, but if they just stand there and refuse to fight they are nothing but giant undead Nordic gold purses.
A little while after the events of the cave I decided to head back to Whiterun to do the general selling of items and goodies before going back out. At this point in the game my most poignant immersive moment was a dragon attack on Whiterun during my previous visit. The dragon killed among other people, Adrianne Avenicci, Warmaiden’s blacksmith. Upon seeing her corpse, Ulfberth War-Bear, her husband, crouched over her body, cried and generally freaked out a ton. It was actually really sad as I was used to seeing her work early while Ulfberth stumbled home from a night in the Bannered Mare.