So after about four years and twenty-odd games with the Wii, I finally decided to purchase a more grown-up gaming system. No, I didn’t splurge on the PS4 or the Xbox One; I bought a second-hand Xbox 360 from a pawn shop. My main goal was to get a system that would output in high definition, which the old Wii did not. But I also wanted to play some critically acclaimed games that I have recently read about in the context of one of my favorite topics, gaming and education. I have long been interested in the idea of immersive literary worlds–this subject made up part of my dissertation, has been featured in a few of my publications (such as Literature and the Web), and has been kind of a hobby. Also, if I call it an academic interest, I can play video games all night with impunity.
So enter the Xbox, and my first game, Skryim: the Elder Scrolls (Bethesda, 2011). I’ve read rave reviews of this particular RPG, and the reviews are right: it is an amazingly immersive game. There are a few game elements that make it very notable in the swords-and-sorcery camp: first is the open world, which is a newish concept in videogaming, though some would claim game designers were at least shooting for this as early as the 1980s. What makes Skyrim and open world game is its huge terrain, its non-linear approach to objectives, and the sheer number of in-game goals to chose from. As narratives go, video games are generally pretty linear: the player advances his character/avatar through a series of increasingly challenging levels, gaining skills along the way that help him toward the final objective. This is news only to me, but Skyrim is much different: I can wander around, taking on small challenges presented by NPCs, gaining experience and choosing particular skills to hone. I’m a level 15 Khajilt, and so far, I have pretty much stuck to looting various crypts around Skyrim, something for which stealth and night vision come in pretty handy. I’ve been to quite a few locations in Skyrim and even purchased a horse to help get me around.
At the same time, I am aware of the larger story arc of the game: my character is something called Dragon-born, which means I have the ability to absorb Dragon souls, making me pretty rare indeed. There is some kind of civil war happening, too, and some doomsday dragon named Alduin is threatening to end the world. I’ve tried to kill him but so far have failed. What all of this geekery means is that game developers are getting awfully close to creating actual open-ended narratives, the kind that hypertext theorists were dreaming about in the 1990s, where there is no beginning or ending to the story and infinite possibilities within it.