Games

When Your Reading Assignment's a Video Game

The world of Bethesda's Skyrim is filled with an almost intimidating amount of freedom for players. It's also a world where books are competing with the giddy thrill of dragon killing.

Be it writing online user guides for software programs or writing news articles, I've come to accept that the majority of what I write is disposable. An article for the newspaper will soon become the liner for someone's bird cage. Another article will be quickly skimmed over and then forgotten as yet another article gets someone's attention. It's all part of the profession.

I could have worse jobs. As for others in the writing profession, I can't think of a less enviable task than the writers for the 300-plus books that are scattered throughout the vast land known as Skyrim, the latest in the Elder Scrolls series. Last month, Bethesda's massive, immersive role-playing game racked up more than $400 million in first week sales.

Like thousands of other players, I prepared for the release of Skyrim like most people would prepare for a record-breaking snowstorm. Days off work were requested. Coffee, alcohol, and food reserves were purchased. The apartment was cleaned to avoid any distractions. The process could also be compared to training for a marathon, but instead of running, you're sitting on the couch for hours and mashing buttons.

Bethesda's last Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, demanded almost 200 hours of investment, and for many, that was on the conservative side. The main reason for such a time commitment is simply because the Elder Scrolls landscapes are just that big and the opportunities to do whatever you wish in them are that limitless. Join a faction of mages, help a down-on-his luck village resident retrieve a beloved family amulet, go on a rare flower-picking exodus, Bethesda notoriously develops each of the Elder Scrolls games so there is no "wrong" way to play.

The world of Skyrim is similar to the worlds of all other Elder Scrolls games. There are cities, different races, myths, and most importantly, a history. All of this is documented in the books that are spread out throughout Skyrim. And there comes the rub for players.

The most common place for these books to be found is obviously on a bookshelf in the inns, homes, and castles that exist throughout the game. But like the real world, books can also be scattered carelessly on a basement floor, be buried next to a pile of clothes or even at the bottom of a sack of groceries. People ignore books at their peril. Some books may unlock a critical mission, some may give the player a skill that will make their missions easier, and some will provide spells that allow players to cook their enemies to a crisp.

The only problem is that the game isn't intuitive enough to know if the player actually reads the text in these books or just uses their control stick to thumb through the pages before their reward appears. In Oblivion, you at least had to thumb to the end of a book to earn a reward. With Skyrim, you get credit just by opening the book.

There is an obvious reason for this setup -- most people do not want their video game experience to consist of reading a book. Reading a book on a TV screen is far more cumbersome than from your own hands, be it in hard copy or tablet form. In addition to the difficulty of reading it on a TV screen, the book has to compete with the general thrills of the game itself. You only have a set amount of time to play a game. Do you want to spend 15 minutes running through a forest and shocking enemies in your path or spend it reading up on dwarven history?

Hence my empathy for the writers of these books. It would be different if each book consisted only of generic text. But to establish the feel of an actual world, the books include plays, fables, and volume-spanning historical pieces. Yes, the player is tempted to thumb through these books as fast as possible, but the care invested in these texts is just as meticulous as the work that went into creating the mountainous landscapes.

Still, it's not like players are forced to choose between satisfying their need to hack, slash, and burn their way through the game and learning about the history of the world that the Skyrim creators have worked tirelessly to create. A new app (of course) allows users download the books of Skyrim to their mobile tablet. As for the non-tablet holding segment of the population, it took more than five years for the developers to complete Skyrim. Chances are that players will have time to give these books of Skyrim a more in-depth read once the two-month long honeymoon period ends. For Elder Scrolls fans, it's a worthy investment of time. For all the technical wizardry of that a PS3, Xbox 360, or new generation PC can supply, the real blood, tissue, and heart of the massive worlds that Bethesda creates still lies on the bookshelves.

 

You can follow the Moving Pixels blog on Twitter.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.