Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Love and Death in Skyrim

Back in early December, Tracy Allvis gave me a six-month anniversary (semianniversary?) present - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for XBox360. Now, I had never played an Elder Scrolls game before. I had heard through various geeky channels that Skyrim was a massive, gorgeous fantasy RPG with insane customization and a nearly infinite world of places to go and things to do. I'd also heard it was thoroughly addictive. Tracy was told as much when she purchased the game for me, warned she would become a "Skyrim widow", one of many significant others of nerds who found more and more of their time spent in Skyrim (the name of the continent on which the game is set, as well as the subtitle of the game itself).

The rumors were right. This game is ENORMOUS, and it is extraordinarily addictive. While I am able to limit my play time enough to not shirk work or boyfriendly duties, I have nonetheless logged many, many hours of my free time into Skyrim in the past couple of months, and have really only done 1/4 to 1/3 of the things to do in this game. This is partially because of the sheer amount of stuff to do, but also because of the way the game gives you minimal prodding to do anything in particular. If I want to spend 20 minutes trying to glitch-hop my way up a mountain for no reason, the game lets me. If I want to run around stealing food items and cooking them into different food items, I can. What's that? Dragons are attacking and there's a civil war and the world is in jeopardy? Sorry, no time for that, I'm trying to catch this firefly now.

As part of the immense openness of the game, there are numerous NPC's with whom you can form various relationships. Including romantic relationships. In Skyrim, I am a married man. This is hilarious. Not because marriage is inherently hilarious (it's not), nor even because video game marriage is inherently hilarious (it is), but because this game's conception of romance is ludicrous. Here is my tale of hearts intertwining (photos are not screencaps of my actual game and characters, but rather shots pulled from the web that were close enough).

My wife is a merchant. I like her because she has red hair and is not racist to the cat people. When we met, she was having trouble finding mammoth tusks. I found her some mammoth tusks. From that point on, every time I saw her in town, she would flirt with me and/or buy Sleeping Tree Sap from me. Later, I bought a necklace at a church in a different town. The next time I spoke to her, while wearing the necklace, she pretty much immediately asked me if I wanted to ask her to marry me. Just like that. I went back to the other town, set up the ceremony, slept at an inn until it was time, and headed to the church.

Ysolda, AKA the future Mrs. Remus the Breton

It was time for the wedding. About 10 real-world minutes after the engagement. Which occurred after a grand total of probably 15 interactions, most of them business. Here is what I wore to the wedding:

I spent hours crafting and enchanting this shit, like I'm gonna take it off for some WEDDING!
But I decided it all felt a little... forced. It was all happening too fast. I needed some tradition. I needed a Best Man. And who better to be my Best Man than my constant quest companion/servant/carrier of heavy stuff. Her name is Lydia. Lydia has cleaved more heads with axes to protect me (even when I don't want her to) than I can count. And sometimes I shoot her with my magic bow by accident when she runs in front of me and then she dies and I curse and reload my last save file. Because I am progressive and awesome, I am OK with a woman being my best man. This is what Lydia wears, and indeed, what she wore to the wedding:

Darth Vader + Boobs = My Best Man
But I couldn't find her. I don't know where she was. She usually is directly behind me, especially when I've entered a tiny room and want to back out of the door, wondering what me SPRINTING in place in her direction means in terms of whether she should move or not. But on my wedding day, the most important 3 minutes of my life in Skyrim so far, she was nowhere to be found. I knew she wasn't dead, just missing. Maybe she was jealous I was marrying another woman after she'd literally died for me repeatedly and hauled a metric fuckton of heavy dragon bones all over the continent for me. Fair enough. I'd need a different best man, though. Lucky for me, I am a conjurer:

OK, I had my 2nd string Best Man, it was time to get married. So I got married. There was like a 60-second scene of a priest guy talking, then we were married. There were some rings. My wife asked if she wanted me to move in with her or vice versa (she moved in with me, I had too much stuff to move out). And it turns out Lydia did come to my wedding, she must have been in the back, giving her tacit approval to my happiness without her (she is still my battle partner/servant/quest friend). Now my wife lives in my house and gives me money sometimes and cooks meals if I ask. I don't know if we've consummated our marriage, the game is fuzzy on that detail.

But not all in Skyrim is love(ish?) and roses (I have not seen a single rose in this game, to my knowledge). Sometimes life events are of a harsher nature. One time, I stole a horse. Well, stole is kind of a strong word I guess. I stole him for somebody else, along with some pedigree papers or something. I think he was stolen to begin with. I don't know, I just follow the arrows on the map. Anyway, when I went to bring Frost (that is the horse's name) back to the guy who wanted me to steal it, an option came up to persuade him to fuck off and let me keep the horse. That sounded good, so I tried that. And then Frost was my horse.

Death on four hooves
Frost was a great horse, and rather than run from danger, he would actively assault my foes. The best was when I was hiding and firing arrows into a fort, trying to snipe off enemy bandits, and then Frost took off. I thought he was running away. Quite the opposite. He ran into the fortress. I got worried. Then I saw him, on the battlements, kicking the shit out of an enemy. He ran INSIDE AND UP THE STAIRS to mess dudes up for me. That is a true horse friend.

Sometimes Frost died too, and I would reload and save him. But recently, the magical college in which I am enrolled went all wonky and the neighboring town was attacked by magic ghost comet things. I forgot I had left Frost in the town, and when I rushed back to fight these dudes, which were FAR harder to kill than they looked, I noticed like half of them weren't there in the town (I had to kill 10, 5 were unaccounted for). I followed my radar thing to the road out of town.

Frost was bravely, desperately fighting all 5 of them himself. It was a hopeless battle, and he fell. It had been way too long since my last save, so I finally opted to not reload to get him back. I was sad, and I mournfully avenged my loyal horse warrior by destroying the magic ghost comets with a vengeance. RIP Frost, you died as you lived: kicking the living shit out of bad guys.

Oh, but the messed up part? When I checked his corpse to make sure he was really gone, the game gave me the option of removing one horse hide from his inventory. "Where was he carrying a- oh, no. No way." I opted not to skin my horse friend. His body lies in state, frozen and ageless on the road out of Winterhold. I'll visit some time and try to set up a shrine of dropped belongings. This is what passes for respect for the dead in Skyrim.