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Let’s Play Skyrim

I had an epic day of being awesome on Thursday, so I was exhausted on Friday. I spent what part of the day I wasn’t sleeping practicing Zentangles and hanging out with friends. Saturday was similarly low-key. After drawing my Zentangle for the day, I was itching to play a video game: something beautiful and epic and new…

So I started a game of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on PC. Next thing I knew, the sun was rising. I took a nap and basically spent all of Sunday playing thoroughly immersed in that fictional world. I’m enjoying the game and want to experience the story, but to be honest there are aspects of it I find rather stressful. Melee combat, for one – especially since the default difficulty was too high for me and I kept dying. I’ve been doing much better since I dialed it down a notch, but I still prefer to avoid melee combat when possible.

The other thing I find stressful is that, whether a character is attacking me physically or not, they’re talking at me. The physical attackers hurl insults that can hurt more than their blades (except that they’re obviously wrong, because I end up killing them.) Other characters I pass might say something mean, ask me for something, or randomly tell me their life story.

Some of the other characters in Skyrim say very mean things to the player character, especially if you’re playing one of the less popular races. The same is true of Oblivion; I haven’t played the other Elder Scrolls games yet, but I imagine they are probably similar. It’s quite unpleasant, and worse I’m concerned that it could have similar psychological effects to being bullied. I know it’s a game and gamers are well aware that it’s fiction and they can turn it off and walk away from it. Most people have a strong healthy boundary between themselves and the character they’ve created. The bullies can’t actually keep them from achieving their real-life goals – or the ones in the game, for that matter. (In other words, it’s quite different from being bullied in real life.) But I’m still concerned that hearing negative talk consistently for hours at a time can be harmful… at least for me.

On the positive side, I just figured out that I can mute the voices and only have subtitles during dialogue (audio and display settings, respectively). It makes the game a bit less immersive, but perhaps that’s also better for my mental health. I guess I’ll see how it goes next time I play.

Now if only we could do that to real-life politicians…

Anyways, as much as I want to just play the game and have fun with it – learning things as I come across them and making decisions spontaneously – my mind wants to plan out a Let’s Play. The most basic definition of a Let’s Play is a video that combines actual gameplay footage with simultaneous audio commentary by the player; it can be a walkthrough, a challenge run, friends goofing off (whether playing competitively or collaboratively), even a talk about a topic that has nothing to do with video games. Fox’s favorite Let’s Player (LPer) is HCBailley.

I love the idea of Let’s Plays and have wanted to do one for a few years now. I had a couple false starts, but on some level I’m convinced it’s only a matter of time before I get one going that I can be consistent with (and get all the YouTube followers!). It’s an opportunity to do some video editing – which I enjoy for the process at least as much as the product – and share my thoughts about the game. I want to share the story, be witty and entertaining, and give a feminist critique.

I’m trying to convince my mind to put the Let’s Play idea on the back burner for now. Let me learn to be consistent with things that are important to my real life before I start a project that requires me to play a long and involved video game on a regular schedule (and in manageable doses). I need to play through the game at least once before I’ll know it well enough to do it justice. I’m still trying to figure out my priorities for my character; something I haven’t encountered yet could inspire me to change my entire focus. So there’s no need to determine exactly how I’m going to introduce myself, what I want to include in the first episode, or how to include the feminist critique without ranting too much. Those things can develop over the weeks, months, or even years I’ll need to prepare for such a monstrous undertaking… and to be honest, I doubt anyone will particularly care about Skyrim anymore by then. It already has a successor.

The thing is, if I think about the game when I’m not actively playing it, there isn’t much to say. I have my character. I’d like to improve my smithing and melee combat abilities. I’m really glad I can mute the voices and determine when subtitles appear. I’m not entirely sure it was wise to drop all of my gold on a house this early in the game, but it’s a place to keep the dragon bones and scales I’ve been collecting. It also enabled me to adopt a child; interacting with her causes me to feel warm and fuzzy inside. I could think about which quest to start next, but they’re all in a nice convenient log for me so I can just decide next time I play.

The above don’t give my mind much to grab onto, and it doesn’t like that. Moving forward with my real-life career goals, dealing with real-life people (especially strangers in positions of authority), and even just being fully present in the moment are all things that provoke my anxiety. My mind needs something to grab onto, something to think about so incessantly there isn’t room for thoughts about the real world in general and my own life in particular.

It was hoping the Let’s Play would provide such a security blanket; it wants to lure me into thinking about my ideal character build instead of actually developing skills I need in real life. It wants me to direct my creative energy into witty commentary about the game instead of into composing original music, creating original art, or writing anything worth reading. It wants me to feel good about earning virtual money to make a virtual home pleasant and cozy… instead of finding a real job, earning real money, decluttering my real home, and raising a real family.

Oh, Mara, I thought I’d gotten past this. I should have known! How could reading a few chapters of a book once truly change the way I think about and perceive myself? How could it counteract a lifetime of internalized messages reinforced by my perception of my experiences?

My mind is trying to annihilate me. Suicidal thoughts don’t work if nothing else because I don’t want to cause my loved ones pain. So it tricks me into thinking I don’t need therapy and clings to whatever fiction I have some interest in, becoming so wrapped up in that universe I can hardly even feel it when Fox expresses his very real love for me.

I thought I was doing better but then… I don’t know! Did I push myself too hard and need some downtime to recover? Did I relapse? Am I making any progress, or am I just walking in circles completely lost? I hate being unable to trust my own perception of reality.

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11 thoughts on “Let’s Play Skyrim

  1. I don’t know if you are still playing or if you are playing on PC, but if you do play on PC you can always mod your game to make it the perfect game for YOU.

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  2. I’m struggling through a bump in my life at the moment and I’m wondering if Skyrim will make it worse or help. Reading your post brought about a clarity which I had already noticed but ignored. Playing the game will only distract me from the real world and its problems. But the temptation of escaping into a blissful fictional virtual reality is quite alluring….

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  3. Pingback: Resolutions shMEHjzolutions | a day with depression

  4. Pingback: Let’s Play Skyrim | a day with depression

  5. Hi. I also suffer from depression. I appreciate what you’ve shared. To Ziya and Dat chick: I believe immersion in a video game is the same as enjoying a good book, comic, TV series, or movie. Sometimes I feel bad or “guilty” for enjoying these things, like it’s a distraction. But why shouldn’t we enjoy what these artists create? All art is one of the most magical things of human experience and life. People don’t feel bad for reading a good book or looking at a painting in a museum or gallery, so I refuse to give credence to the ongoing stigma attached to video gaming. This stigma is part of why I sometimes feel bad for enjoying something like Skyrim, tho. It’s been beat into our heads over the years. However, this stigma is slowly receding just like it did for skateboarding, rock and roll, and hip-hop culture and music. People are afraid of what they don’t understand. Thank you and best wishes.

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    • Hi Daniel, I definitely think enjoying a video game such as Skyrim can be a positive, healthy experience. Video games are fun and require a lot of in-the-moment problem solving, creativity. It’s important to have balance though – kind of like how you need to leave the museum or put down the book to eat, sleep, go to work, etc.

      At the time I wrote this, I was having trouble finding the balance I needed. I was spending more time in the game than I thought was healthy. That problem has become common enough that video game addiction is now included in the DSM. It doesn’t mean people shouldn’t play video games, just that sometimes people have trouble enjoying them in moderation.

      Ironically, since I started the let’s play I was so concerned about, I actually find it easier to play in smaller doses. I can play for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, and have a good 45-60 minute video. It’s a lot of fun. And then I get to edit the commentary and video, which is a creative process and opportunity to practice skills that I can use in the “real world.”

      So thanks for your reminder to look at games like any other work of art/creativity, because they really are. Skyrim is gorgeous, and people have put a lot of time, effort, and creativity into making it even better through mods. I agree that the stigma around video games is receding, and I hope that trend will continue.

      Best wishes to you, too.

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