The Curse of the Dragonborn

“Let’s play Skyrim” – by which I mean: “Let’s repeat the same sequence 7 times before we’re satisfied with the footage we recorded, then discover that the video and audio have become unsynchronized, so we have to do it again!” (I’m actually not exaggerating.) Then let’s do a great job editing the footage together and record some kick-ass post-commentary (which tends to also require several takes, and editing).

I’ve been working on this Let’s Play for a little over a week now; I’ve felt just about everything one could possibly feel about it:

I’m frustrated with how time-consuming and repetitive the process is. I’m angry at myself for how much time I’m putting into it, and feeling guilty about the things I’m not doing as a result. I’m thoroughly obsessed with it and gain a lot of satisfaction from thinking about it – but I would also like to occasionally not think about it. I’m devastated when I turn my back on it to spend time with Fox, but we’re both too exhausted to do anything. I feel better when we talk about Skyrim.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far and I want to share it. I’m concerned no one will watch it. I’m unsure whether I’ll be able to keep it up – and whether doing so is healthy. I feel very powerful when I play well. I feel very anxious when I’m unsure about a decision while recording. I want to show off my fantastic skills and wow viewers with my insightful commentary. I even like the way my voice sounds. I want to know what others think of it – mostly.

I think I should delete everything and start over. I think I should delete everything and stop playing Skyrim. I think I would be very sad if I deleted or otherwise lost my completed episodes, which are quite good – especially after putting so much time and energy into them.

I think it’s a fun hobby and good long-term project, assuming I can take breaks from it without abandoning it entirely. I want to join the Let’s Play community. I’m happy that so far I’ve prioritized opportunities to socialize in person and going to my therapy session over playing Skyrim. I’d much rather play Skyrim than do chores, apply for jobs and internships, run errands, exercise, do other leisure activities, etc. I really need to move forward with my life. I’m being creative, really!

My pet rats are adorable, make everything better, and are completely dependent on me. They are a million times more important than Skyrim.

… they also sleep a lot.

Now Let’s Actually Play Skyrim…

My computer problems seem to be resolved. I did a clean install of my operating system, let it update itself, and I’ve been slowly replacing programs. Fox asked me to back up his level 50-something character, so we have all our save files from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Today I played with my level 39 character – who has more gold than she’ll ever need, owns multiple houses, and makes the best gear in the game. (Better gear will become available as her smithing skill improves.) It provided a nice break from all the reality I’ve been dealing with lately.

I played for a while, decided to take a break, and was pleased to discover that my computer did not crash when I closed the game. Since I’ve been so obsessed with the idea of doing a Let’s Play, I decided to give it a try. Like anything else, videos that combine gameplay footage and audio commentary don’t happen because a gamer wants them to. They happen because the LPer gathers the necessary software and equipment, presses “record,” and does their best to make whatever happens entertaining. It takes a lot of courage and self-acceptance.

I started a new game just so I could practice recording. There are some things I need to work out in the introduction, but it goes smoothly enough. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the comments I made during character creation bore little resemblance to the lines I’ve been compulsively practicing.

I want to share my thought process while choosing my character’s race, but actually making the selection in character creation takes me about 2 seconds because I’ve already made my decision. Do I let the video become static while I talk, or do I make my selection quickly? If I do the latter, should I try to talk about the race I chose while tweaking the character’s appearance? It seems like character creation is set up so it can happen quite quickly, without breaking up the action that is going on at the beginning of the game. I’m torn between going along with that and taking some time to share my strategy.

Perhaps I should record post-commentary: instead of talking while I’m creating my character, I can record my comments while watching the video later. That will leave me free to focus on character creation while recording the gameplay footage, then focus on sharing my strategy while recording my commentary. Yay not multitasking!

The point is, I’m finally trying things and learning what does or doesn’t work, instead of just obsessing over them. I even made a short trial episode! Perhaps as I practice taking a more “hands on” approach to the Let’s Play, I’ll feel more confident about working to improve my skills, complete quests, and level up in reality.

Let’s Play Skyrim

Welcome to a repeat of my post from April 2014! I like to think I’ve come a long way since then: I’m hopeful regarding my future. I feel a strong positive connection with Fox (my husband) and other loved ones, especially when we express our mutual affection. I have been playing video games, but for reasonable periods of time and without allowing them to interfere with living my real life. (It’s been several months since the last time I played Skyrim.)

On Tuesday my prescriber told me that I’m doing great, switched my prescription to one dose per day, and said to come back in 3 months. I’ve started addressing my social anxiety with help from my music therapist, Wakana. The last couple days have been a fun reunion with dear college friends. Honestly, the only not-so-awesome thing going on for me right now is the problem with my computer… and even that seems close to being resolved.

I’m doing this re-post because I’ve started obsessively practicing lines for the first couple episodes if I ever do a Let’s Play of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s kind of annoying because I’ve already said the same things many times, and yet I still feel compelled to repeat them over and over. It’s better than having a panic attack because a bee bounced off my windshield while I was driving, imagining wasps attacking me, or being afraid to look in the mirror at night because I was traumatized by a movie I watched as a pre-teen, though.

My anxieties – social anxiety, general feelings that something horrible will happen, and my bee/wasp/hornet phobia – have been flaring up like crazy lately. It kind of makes sense that my defense would be to concentrate on a fantasy world, where I can load from a recent save if I don’t like what happens. The lines I’ve been practicing focus almost exclusively on character creation, the one part of the game over which the player has nearly total control.

There are a lot of parallels between my current situation and the context for the original version of this post (below). I was feeling good about my life, being active and social, trying new things, and acting like a responsible adult then, too. My anxiety was flaring up then, too – driving my mind to grab onto whatever it could as a security blanket:

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. […] I’m still concerned that hearing negative talk consistently for hours at a time can be harmful… at least for me.

[…]

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). […]

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?

[…]

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.

A Step Toward Oblivion

I’m playing Skyrim to numb the pain. It comes when I’m not distracted by socializing, when I’m alone with my own thoughts. I feel like it’s always here, waiting for my loved ones to leave, for the electronics to go off, for me to get tired. I’m always tired. The voices – well, one very mean voice – told me I should drown myself because I dropped one of my favorite bowls (now considered “vintage” because it’s from the 70s) and it shattered. One of the other voices stood up for me: “It’s a bowl. Ze had to clean it up. I think that’s punishment enough.”

I helped Fox get out the door this morning, so he could be on time for an early shift. That felt good. I saw the sun rise. I got to hug him. I got to feel like I was doing something meaningful.

Now he’s gone and I’m surrounded by clutter. I’m tired. I look at my music instruments and feel sad, like my best friend has gone away. Oh, wait, she has. Banji was visiting for the holidays – but she had to go back to where she’s been living, a 5-hour drive away. It hit me much harder than I’d expected. She’ll be back soon. And I can visit her. Weather permitting, of course. But I still miss her. My heart’s been torn out and driven 5 hours away.

Courses. I need to get an extension so I can finish my degree. I’m afraid the dean will say “no,” or that it won’t be enough. I don’t think I’ll be accepted again if I have to re-apply to my program, and I can’t afford to re-take courses. My student debt is crushing enough.

I’m supposed to re-take the courses I had to drop 2 years ago because they were provoking suicidal thoughts. I was hurting myself – not doing any real damage, just causing lots of physical pain – on a regular basis because it was the only way I could get home from classes in one piece. So much was supposed to change between then and now: I was supposed to get better, to improve my music skills so I’d feel more confident using them in class, to become a normal functioning adult. Now I can’t carry a bowl from one room to another without it shattering at my feet.

I was doing better for a while – or so I thought. I learned a lot. I think that stuff is still with me, it’s hard to say. These depression and anxiety goggles are so thick and heavy I can barely lift my head.

But none of that matters. What matters is that something as simple as the holidays being over can still throw me into a deep depression like this. How can I live? How can I accomplish any of my goals and dreams?

Skyrim is my stasis chamber. It’s how I (am currently trying to) survive the long journey through the void of strong depression between planets of… mild depression.

Resolutions shMEHjzolutions

Trigger Warning: video game addiction, particularly RPGs (role-playing games) and The Sims 3

I hadn’t played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim since August 15th. Four and a half (4.5) months!!! That’s not to say I was abstaining from video games; I have been playing The Sims 3 a lot, to the point where my first generation of sims born in-game are elders and the second will be young adults soon. But Skyrim had practically become a thing of the past…

Then a friend posted about it on Facebook, and I started wanting to play again. She was talking about a quest line I thoroughly enjoyed, but have already completed. Other people have talked about the game since, increasing my tendency to think about and want to play it. My desire to do a Let’s Play of Skyrim has resurrected itself; I’d like to say “against my will” but I’m not entirely convinced that’s true. To make matters even worse, the new expansion for World of Warcraft (WoW) has a close friend of mine playing and talking about that game again; I think to some extent the discussion of WoW by a handful of friends at our New Year’s Eve celebration pushed me over the edge.

I had a mixed Holiday Season: there were a number of good things that happened but it was also very stressful, perhaps more so than usual. I tried to acknowledge Yule but I’m not entirely happy with the extent to which I did so. Christmas sneaked up on me somehow and I failed to decorate for it. My godmother almost suffocated on Christmas Eve (while I was celebrating with Banji) and is still in the hospital. I had some very enjoyable gatherings with friends and family over the past two weeks, but it was a lot of socialization all at once, without much of a break in between. I became very irritable – possible manic symptoms? – leading up to New Year’s Eve. I haven’t been getting satisfactory sleep and I’ve been eating a ton of sugar, salt, and fat in lieu of the nutrients my body actually needs. Fox and I had been planning to enjoy today as a chance to sleep in and have a restful time to ourselves – but then he learned a that cousin he rarely sees is visiting with his parents, and decided to go see them instead.

So, the first thing I did when I got home yesterday was load my old game of Skyrim. I was extremely tempted to start a new game (again) but I really want to experience the stuff I haven’t gotten to do yet. I put in several hours of gameplay yesterday and have already played for an additional 4 hours today. It’s been surprisingly easy to just pick up my old game where I’d left off, thanks largely to the quest log. If only it were so easy to just dive back in to real life…

Part of me is upset because the whole point of New Year’s Resolutions is that you’re supposed to start working on them the first day of the new year… right? “A new year, a new you!”? I could have worked on at least one of the resolutions yesterday, but I didn’t. Well, I guess I was socializing in a group for a decent chunk of it, and I was interacting with people I care about. I guess I need to accept that I can’t do all of my resolutions every day, but I regret not at least trying to get in 10 minutes of physical activity.

The rest of me says: let’s be honest. Midnight on January 1st marks the beginning of a new year because we say it does (and ostensibly because the earth has begun a new revolution around the sun – but we could put the point at which revolutions begin and end anywhere along our orbit). It’s a cultural construction that has everything to do with what we want to do – have a clean slate on which to draw our ideal lives – and nothing to do with reality.

In reality the earth making a full revolution back to a particular point on its orbit associated with January 1st is no different from it making a full revolution back to a particular point on its orbit associated with any other month and day. In reality, time is continuous. It is cyclical, but each cycle is affected by events during the cycles preceding it. The cycles do not begin and end at preset points, but flow continuously from one into the next. The way we divide time is arbitrary.

I might have decided that midnight on January 1st, 2015 marked the beginning of a new year, and here are some things I want to focus on. To be honest, I think that’s healthy. It’s important to live life with intention. Saying it’s a new year helps with that: I can forgive myself and the universe for whatever I didn’t like about last year, and focus on what I want to do going forward.

But in reality, my life and my Self have continued on without the luxury of being wiped clean, over countless arbitrary culturally-determined divisions of time and at least thirty new years. I’m still the same person I was at 23:59:59 on December 31, 2014. I still have all the same habits, the same very cluttered apartment, the same mental health issues, the same worry and guilt about what’s going on with my godmother, the same need to have some time to rest before I move on with Life After the Holidays. I’m still clinging to floating debris trying to figure out where I should put my feet.

That’s not going to stop because I’ve decided it’s a new year, as of midnight on January 1st, 2015. Just like I can’t arbitrarily decide that now I’ve recovered and I no longer have depression and anxiety, or bipolar, or episodic mood disorder NOS, or whatever the hell it is. I just live. I need to take care of myself always – not “starting” at x point in time. I can’t do it continuously without fail; I’m going to mess up and backtrack and have another episode and need another break. I’m going to have times when I become obsessed with something and use it as an escape from reality. It just is. I forgive myself preemptively.

What I can do is accept that and do my best to love myself. “Okay, we’ve played Skyrim for four hours, let’s take a break.” I was feeling hungry as I wrote about neglecting my nutritional needs, so I decided to go eat some leftover vegetables. I’ve been having trouble getting a restful night’s sleep, so last night I listened to a guided meditation – that worked perfectly. My resolutions reflect my needs, so it’s important that I do my best to stick to them. But I let go of the temptation to want to do them all perfectly every day. It’s just not realistic. I can celebrate what I do. If there’s something I consistently don’t do, I can try to figure out why and address that need.

That’s what this post comes down to. I made a bunch of resolutions, then proceeded to ignore them in favor of not just playing Skyrim, but becoming obsessed with starting a project that would eat up all my time. In other words, I chose was am severely tempted by a path that would make it impossible more difficult for me to do what I need to create the life I want for myself. Why? What is all this really pointing to? What am I trying to communicate to myself? What needs aren’t being met?

I’m not sure I’m ready to answer that directly, but I’m reminded of a post from last March: Whose Goals are These Anyway?

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.