About six months ago, all I heard about was Skyrim. Everyone was playing it. People were being made widows by it. No one could adequately explain what was so cracktastic about it – or even what it was.
About two months ago I bought it for special k. He started playing, full of high expectation – but two hours later his reaction was, “Meh.” Three hours later his reaction was, “I could play this game forever.”
For those of you who haven’t heard of it – or haven’t had the pleasure of trying to speak to your husband while he’s playing it – it’s a computer game set in a fantasy landscape. Think Lord of the Rings, with some other races thrown in, and a Hogwarts-type school for adults.
There are lots of reasons to enjoy playing it. The landscape is vast and spectacular and you can interact with every part of it. Seasons change. Days pass. Every village has its drama and you can follow characters about and get involved in their story lines. There is a surfeit of story lines. One day special k’s moving up the ranks of the thieves guild, the next he’s walking around inside a mad god’s head, trying to wake him up. It leaves you to make morally ambiguous choices without one outcome ever being prized over the other.
But this is why I think it’s so successful:
Special k was making his way down a huge river, in the middle of nowhere, trying to find his way out of a valley. He came to the river’s end, beneath outcrops of stone so huge you couldn’t even see the sky any more.
There were only rocks – and the huge, hairy corpse of a troll hitting against the rocks with the river’s movement. Beside it was a chest, still full.
There was no explanation attached – it had nothing to do with his mission, and didn’t send him on a new mission. It was just three small details that between them evoke a whole drama that had already played out, and was done.
It’s tip-of-the-iceberg storytelling at its best. It makes you feel like you’re in a complete world that doesn’t need you inside it to function. Other things are happening and have happened.
So next time your protagonist finds themselves in a river – remember to add a dead troll who hasn’t been robbed.