It is a mile wide and an inch deep, this land of Tamriel. There are moments when I get the impression of keen awareness of human nature, and others where quests and dialogue seem slap-dash enough that I wonder if any thought went into them at all. But the real reason I’ve been continuing to play, led on and on past scenery porn and glitched quest triggers, is because playing it gives a sense of reward. Because it’s “fun” and you build a character through your play style, and there’s supposed to be traces of myth and legend and… it’s fallen short. I am playing through quests that ask me to shame women for their sexual behavior. I am playing through quests that show men to be lecherous drunks. I am playing through quests asking me to fight evil that is never explained.
This is not to say I am against video games. Like books, they fueled my childhood. But there seems to be something of a potential lost in most of the titles I come across these days. Vast shallow pools of very pretty water. Empty outlines of the same tales again and again. Not just the damsel in distress, but the same war stories, the same hero-savior tales over and over. That can’t be the only way to approach a tale you interact with. I makes me want to sit and simply play Minecraft, and browse only through indie titles.
So today, I turned off the computer after having slayed yet another surprise dragon who swooped in during my fight with a vampire and his thralls who’d led an attack on the town. The neat behavior/reward cycle created by games had gone all haywire. I felt like a lump of a person. I felt like I hadn’t deeply engaged any new ideas. This is because I hadn’t. I’d only been absorbing the same ideas over and over, about trite characters and my own place as the hero. Instead of diving into tasks that society deems “useful,” I did what any self respecting lazy bum of a writer would do. I scanned my book shelves, pulled a title I hadn’t yet read, and proceeded out to the garden to read. After a while, that flowed naturally into gardening, trimming back stray suckers, harvesting the little red gems of my hot peppers, and repotting the seedlings an errant skunk uprooted in her nightly search for grubs. After I traversed a couple dozen pages and got some dirt under my nails, I felt rested. Aware. Useful.
This contrast didn’t come just because I’d been playing video games earlier, but because the games I’d been playing offered me nothing of the richness I craved. They offered repackaged narratives on par with Twilight. And I find that offensive, simply because games can offer us so much more. To see fantastic concepts, potentially rich worlds, and interesting ideas in gameplay hitched to crappy storytelling and regurgitated notions of society is a slap in the face. Games hold the potential to be great art. I’ve seen few that as yet live up to that challenge.
But it’s a challenge. For me, I heard it issued years ago. I intend to take it up.