Sunday, 2 February 2014

Monday blog: Playing games in other worlds

Currently reading: The Subtle Knife - Philip Pullman
Reading next: The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
Writers' Bureau course progress: Assignment 2 in progress

When I'm not writing or have become so jaded that writing becomes a problem I like to kick back with a good video game. But not one of those mindless shooters you see on the old TV box, no, I prefer something with a little more imagination. Story based video games are my favourite and there are some real fine examples such as The Last of Us and Bioshock: Infinite which provide interactive story driven experiences well on par with any action blockbuster or moody thriller you might see in the cinema. But sometimes I need something slightly different, something that still allows me to be creative, even away from my writing.

One of my favourites is a game called The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the latest instalment in a long-running series of  computer games in the RPG genre. RPG stands for Role Playing Game and although they differ between franchises the main component of an RPG is a highly customisable character and dynamic progression system. Basically you can choose who your character will be and have full control over their actions and development.

The name Skyrim refers to the world in which you play, a massive region of diverse landscapes ranging from Arctic-style tundra, towering mountain peaks, swamped marshlands and dense forest. There are settlements, cities and camps all filled with their own individual inhabitants, each with a tale to tell and some with a quest to complete. During the time of the game there is a civil war on the brink of eruption between the native Nords and the Imperial Empire who wish to claim back the land, although it's not as straight forward as that.

As mentioned before the beauty of this genre of game is the ability to be exactly who you want to be. Skyrim offers a variety of races which are commonplace within the Elder Scrolls series. But beyond that you can choose whether you want to be a mighty warrior, agile archer or perhaps a powerful mage. But even then the customisation doesn't end there, the people you meet will offer various ways to complete their quests. Want to be a paragon of virtue who helps everyone with a smile? Sure. How about a dastardly thief that steals from shops and then sells it back to its owner without them ever knowing? No problem. Perhaps you would rather spend your days honestly, denouncing violence and gathering ingredients instead to potions and turn a profit by selling your wares? Equally valid.

Of course there's a main questline which involves dragons and saving the world but why bother with that when there's so much to discover in the world at large? The game is incredibly free-form, never pushing you into a single option. Part of the role-playing experience is to create your character, both in the game and also in your mind, and playing out this experience as that character would. Random encounters mean that even when you're deep in the wilds you'll never be bored... or safe. Anything from wolfs and trolls to vampires and mammoths are out to get you unless you stay on your toes. Stumble across an old ruin or cave? Perhaps there's loot inside, or a mystery to solve surrounding an ancient artefact. Honestly the list is nearly endless.

So with some many options, character possibilities and encounters you can never have one play-through the same as the next. This makes Skyrim a perfect canvas for inspiration and is a place that I have been returning to ever since the game was released in November 2011. Now if you don't mind I think there's a dungeon that's in need of delving...

This is Frisk,
signing off.

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