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.