On Adventure (or: why I can’t stop thinking about Skyrim)
Yesterday, whilst on my way back from a brief foray into Wales on my bike, it occurred to me that I’ve been living my life like I’ve been playing a fantasy role-playing game.
I’m no LARPer, but I’ve long been a fan of one tradition of RPG in particular: the Elder Scrolls series. I played Morrowind before I left home, and I daresay it helped to instill a hunger for adventure in me, even as I was still at school. That adventure would turn out to be University, which was over by the time I came to play the fourth game in the series (my second).
Even though much had changed in the intervening years, something about the spirit of those games was still very much hard-wired into my psyche. The world they presented was one of almost total freedom: you could follow the paths laid out for you, or you could tread your own. They encouraged you to explore, to be inquisitive, to start fights you could never win. The games transcended their fantasy setting (as proven when they transferred the setting to one of post-apocalyptia in the Fallout games) by creating a fully realised world of opportunity.
But these games - to me, at least - were more than just a “sandbox” for you to play in. They were populated by hundreds of people, many of whom were happy to tell their story. More than that, they invited you to invent a narrative of your own. They challenged you to exercise your freedom, and even whilst you knew it would be impossible to experience it all, that wasn’t going to stop you straying into one more cave. I was never one to consciously create a role for myself in such games: I was more likely to behave moreorless as I would in the real world. Usually that meant being good rather than evil, sly rather than reliant on brute strength, and overcome by an overwhelming impulse to climb over the next ridge just to see what’s there.
So you’ll forgive me if, when I’m out riding through strange towns with unpronounceable names, I start to view life through the lens of the RPG. The similarities seemed striking to me. As I explored aimlessly, not heading to any particular destination, I found myself getting great enjoyment out of little more than my surroundings. I had no GPS and no SatNav; not even a map or a compass. I navigated by signposts and the setting sun.
I think, if I’m honest, I’d made the connection long before I even got my bike. I’d had a scooter when I was 16, which was around the time I was playing Morrowind. When I went to University the scooter was sold, and my brief flirtation with freedom of movement was forgotten. But I didn’t forget that feeling of adventure I’d experienced - even though I’d been restricted to just 30 mph - and I knew one day I would feel it again.
I still had my old jacket and helmet, and it seemed a shame to let them go to waste. When I started learning again earlier this year, it felt like I had retrieved my old suit of armour, and that I was getting ready to go on another great adventure.
Over months, I learned how to ride, and piece by piece I reassembled my suit of armour. At first I was slow and unsteady, but as the miles ticked by on the odometer, I could feel myself getting steadily better. I added new boots and trousers to the tattered and worn gloves and jacket, increasing the chance of survival if I did happen to have a run in with that most deadly of beasts: the car. If life had a stats menu, I thought, I’m sure I’d have levelled up at least a few times this summer. When I bought a set of panniers to allow me to carry more on my adventures, I smiled to myself, and imagined that my maximum encumberance had just increased.
I may not carry a battleaxe or wizard’s staff, but I do have my cameras, I thought, and books to read. I know they are all I really need to tell a story of my own.
The winter, however, is drawing near, and I know it’ll become too dangerous to ride before long. In less than three weeks, I’ll once again trade in my adventures in reality for adventures in heightened reality. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is looking to be at least as good, if not better, than its predecessors, and I know I’ll get lost in that world once more. I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm for escapism (particularly one so unashamedly nerdy), but I firmly believe it to be essential to our psychological wellbeing. It is endeavours such as these that reveal to us our true selves: how we behave when we play says more about us than we might realise.
Here’s to adventure: real and imagined.
Edit: I created this short video with some of yesterday’s footage set to the music from Morrowind.
And what of it?