5An Incredibly Boring Personality
One of the first things my wife said, after watching me play Skyrim for a few minutes, was, "What must the computer think of you?"
That's because this is my play-style: "Is that a cave? Wait, what's down this path? Can I go in this house? I can? Rad! Some other time though, because that's a butterfly! I can pluck salmon out of the river, harvest mushrooms from stumps and tan leather? That's amazing!"
Watching me play Skyrim is like reading one of those Family Circus cartoon maps if little Billy paused periodically to fire an arrow into the back of somebody's head to steal their magical boots. The only consistent theme linking my actions together is that none of them, not a one, advance the game in any meaningful way.
"Yes, I will be doing this for hours." -- Me, I guess?
If you had come up to me a year ago, disc in hand, hopeful glimmer in your eye, and said that you'd designed a game about butterfly catching and leatherwork, and asked would I mind giving you some feedback? I would have spat in your eye and thrown it in the sewer, then harvested your tears to sell to a Chinese herbalist.
But in a world where you allow me to do anything -- fuel a political coup, join an assassin's guild, slay giants, battle dragons -- apparently green-sourcing my cooking ingredients becomes priority #1.
4A Problem With Authority
I'm not referring to just disobeying the orders of in-game authority figures (though to be clear, I absolutely do that all the time, and have, on occasion, opted to resist arrest rather than pay a bounty of $11 dollars). I'm talking about rebelling against the vague, nebulous authority of the game itself. Skyrim wants me to go the city and talk to the mayor about dragons.
That's kind of the point of the game: Let's get to the bottom of this dragon business.
And yet, the very second I'm told to go somewhere, it becomes direly important that I go literally everywhere else in the world first. But like all young punks with authority problems, I'm mostly just doing it to see where the limits are. Are you going to let me walk all the way to that mountain in the distance, Skyrim, or force me back to the quest with some bullshit invisible walls?
Am I supposed to save this beautiful maiden, Skyrim? All right. Is it cool if I just ... don't?
Oh, you want me to fight the usurper, Skyrim? Sure thing, but can I buy a house and spend an hour arranging the books first?
Unfortunately, Skyrim's answer to every one of those questions is a firm and resounding, "Yes. Absolutely. Go ahead and do all of those things whenever you want."
And that really, really, really fucking sucks.
"God, I'm so sick of having all of this freedom." -- Me, I guess?
Because I want to go save that wench, fight that bastard usurper and fell that dragon. I really do. It looks fun! Way more fun than introducing the Dewey Decimal system to Whiterun, at any rate. But you need to force me over there first, because I'm just not going to do it otherwise. I'm not faulting the game for giving me freedom or anything; I totally acknowledge that this is a personal failing within me. This terrible habit -- of scouting out every single other pathway before the main one -- may be a leftover impulse from older RPGs, where many areas became inaccessible after you advanced through them. So if you wanted to make sure you found all the secret spells and legendary weapons, you had to explore every other path before the right one, otherwise the story might drag you, kicking and screaming, away from the best toys. That's no longer the case with modern games. Most let you visit and revisit any area at any point, but it's too late for me: The behavior is learned, and the damage is done.
I'll harvest every fucking cabbage in this field before I so much as glance at the dragon's nest, and you can't stop me.
Even though I really wish you could.