Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Adventuring in Skyrim

A vista from Skyrim
I haven't played very deeply into the CRPG Skyrim yet, but I'm captivated as I was with its predecessor, Oblivion. The viking-inspired scenery and cultures of Skyrim are beautifully executed. The game-play (I'm playing on the X-Box) is good. There are over 200 "spaces" to visit in the game, which includes some fairly sizeable dungeons.

I think the dungeons are where I have the most fun. Crawling along, experiencing the weird ambient lighting and sounds (especially when something howls, crashes, or moans out of the back-channel speakers on the surround system) is totally immersive for me. The sense of tension is palpable, and it truly captures the best moments of past play experiences at the table in "traditional" RPGs. As a result, I find myself wondering if the play experience is richer for me because I grew up reading and playing at the table, as opposed to having access to CRPGs as they've evolved over the last 20 years.

I've played CRPGs in various forms, from the text-based ZORK, and various MUDs like Medievia, to basic graphical games like the Baldur's Gate series, to MMOs like World of Warcraft. But all of that came after fairly rich literary and gaming experiences that occurred almost exclusively in my imagination, and that of my friends. Because of that, I think I'm pretty forgiving of game mechanics, and I easily get involved in the story and scenery (whether in text or image form) of the game. That's not to say I've never played a crappy game, as I recall more than a few with ridiculous graphics, mechanics, or story elements that put me off. For the most part, however, my CRPG gaming experiences have been good.

Oblivion and Skyrim have been something different though. They are not perfect games. And I think the Bioshock and Mass Effect are examples of games that explore more provocative stories. But I find myself most drawn to the classic fantasy tropes that Bethesda has explored with their Elder Scrolls series. The open adventuring environments (notable even in the graphically-simpler Morrowind) and level of detail just make these games complete for me. It's the sort of feeling that inspires my campaign creation. Building a world that continually unfolds as my players explore is my aspiration.

Capturing some of the tension and excitement that I experience in Skyrim, and bringing that to the tabletop for my players to experience is part of the challenge of GMing for me. A creative goal. Whether or not I'm successful, I have fun trying, and I'm inspired to keep at it by games such as Skyrim. What inspires your gaming experiences?


  1. Fundamentally, I think that my gaming experiences are inspired by the desire for self-expression. If I can’t self-express in some way within the parameters of the game, then I tend to disengage and withdraw. At that point, I find that I'm just an observer and no longer a participant.

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head about why tabletop has survived computer games. Aside from the social aspects (which are a huge plus), RPG's are essentially a literary tradition. They survive for the same reason that books have survived movies.

    Movies and computer games offer their own enjoyment. Tabletop gaming and reading offer a different (and every bit as rich) experience through language and the imagination of the player or reader.


  3. @Patrick.

    Although, as an aside, it seems that tabletop, LARP and all kind of RPG material will be going the way of the book and increasingly becoming digitized. More publishers seem to be discontinuing their hardcover books and going to straight PDF. Which, while environmentally wise and still for readers, is kind of sad because now we lose all the beautiful artwork.

  4. My sources of inspiration have come from multiple sources. My wish to design the perfect dungeon comes from Zelda, my desire to say something really inspiring from Lord of the Rings, the wish to make something to wonder at from anything Neil Gaiman-related, the list goes on and on.

    I guess as someone who grew up with video games and books I find that both are perfectly capable of influencing me. Strong characterization can come from Dostoevsky and Mass Effect.

    @Anna. I don't think hardcover books will go entirely to digital, for the same reason books haven't (yet). Enough of us still want a physical product. Granted, that may mean that we have to order from a print-to-order website, but everything'll probably go that way anyway.