Hi, I’m Austin Hourigan and I’m a Bethesdaholic.
No, seriously, ever since I played my first Elder Scrolls Game (Morrowind) I’ve been hooked on the sweeping, engaging, and immersive worlds that Bethesda is capable of creating. Every time a new game comes out, I play it extensively (except for the Oblivion-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named). Fallout 3, New Vegas, Morrowind, Skyrim– PUT THEM ALL IN MY MOUTH.
I’m going to talk about cigarettes for a second. It’s relevant, yes, but I’m also jonesing right now. I used to smoke cigarettes. Well, I still do, but I used to really smoke cigarettes, you know? A pack-a-day type deal. It got to the point where I wasn’t even sure I liked them anymore, but I kept smoking anyway, in spite of the pain I was having in my left lung, because I didn’t know any other way.
That’s the way I am with Bethesda games. As much as I love Skyrim, I’m not sure why I play it sometimes, or if I even like it. But it’s pretty and it gives me slow motion decapitation and bloody chest hair, so I guess there are upsides. But like a cigarette nicotine high, the feeling fades and I end up feeling unsatisfied.
I finally got around to playing the Dragonborn DLC for Skyrim and it was like a punch right in the feels for me. The DLC plot takes you to Solstheim, which is kind of a border island between Morrowind and Skyrim that was also a setting for the Morrowind expansion Blooodmoon. As an additional nostalgic touch of doom, Bethesda made sure to make the ambient world music the Morrowind tunes instead of the Skyrim ones. Seeing a silt strider was pretty much a nail in the coffin for me, and I had to boot up my Steam version of Morrowind that I bought months ago when it was on sale.
And then I had to immediately shut it off because the dated graphics destroyed my eyes.
Four failed mods, seven dozen google searches, two fresh reinstalls, one Morrowind Overhaul, and several hours later, I booted Morrowind up and my cock nearly blasted off out of my pants with excitement as I gazed upon this new world that I remembered from ages past.
After breezing through the character creation stuff, stealing everything that wasn’t nailed to the floor and selling it, I wanted to head to Balmora with my pockets heavy with money. So I hopped on a Silt Strider and joined the Fighter’s guild and accepted my first mission. And I stood there waiting for my little Skyrim waypoint quest arrow to appear.
“Where’s my little ‘stand under this point to beat the quest’ arrow? You know, the one that Skryim, Fallout, Mass Effect, X3, Diablo III, Arkham Asylum, and every other game under the sun has?” I said aloud to myself, even though nobody else was in the room.
Oh right. Those don’t exist in Morrowind. So how do you know where to find who you’re supposed to kill/rob/whatever? You get directions, like you would in real life trying to find the 200 Acres Pumpkin Patch that doesn’t have an actual address. They don’t even have the decency to give you GPS coordinates.
Here’s how a typical set of quest directions go in Morrowind:
“Oh, you know, just follow Old McCraggy Road (named after the old man who used to hurl feces at passers by while yelling obscenities about cliff racers) until you see a fork in the road. Take the slightly narrower-looking fork (I can’t remember if it’s on the right or the left) and keep waking about 50 paces and turn around. You should see a tree that looks like a penisdongle. Go east from there and you should see a pile of dirt. You’re halfway there, and you’ll have to look for a tomb somewhere around there. Just don’t go into the wrong one or a Bonelord will claw out your eyeballs.”
And like real life when you’re following some senile farmer’s directions, you’re going to get lost, either because the directions are unreliable or because you mistook one landmark for another. That’s just how they do it out in the Wasteland of Vvardenfell. When you got to that point, you usually had to bust out your Vvardenfell map that came packaged with the disk (the nerdier among us kept it readily available for perusal on our walls). You thought that map was just cool wall swag to further preserve your virginity? Hell no! You’re going to need that map, son.
After I shook off the initial shock of not having my hand held by the game I was playing, I opened up my in-game journal and started walking, occasionally looking back and then up and around, like some awkward Cyrodilic tourist trying to find the nearest Chipotle. No wonder everyone calls me “Outlander.”
I didn’t realize until I started playing Morrowind again just how complacent and passive modern gaming made me.
This is how I play Skyrim:
1. Go to person who looks like they have a quest.
2. Accept quest.
3. Ignore what person is saying.
4. Follow the arrow.
5. Kill everything between me and the arrow.
6. ???? (I’m sure I’ll figure it out when I get there.)
8. Go back to step 1
I’m hardly paying attention anymore. I’m just kind of breezing past this beautiful landscape in order to rush to the end goal. Granted, part of this is because I’ve been playing the game for hundreds of hours by now and I don’t have time for idle crap like sight-seeing, but one of the reasons Morrowind was so immersive (aside from just having an amazingly impressive amount of detail) is that it forced you to pay attention to the world around you. You couldn’t afford to have tunnel vision if you wanted to stay alive, let alone prosper financially and sexually.
I’m not necessarily saying that modern gaming is inferior to old gaming. Conveyance has been a huge issue in gaming, and there have been plenty of times in Morrowind where I had to undergo an organized search pattern and explore every crypt I come across within a certain radius in order to complete one simple quest.
But at the same time I find waypoints in video games to be patronizing and non-immersive. They pull me out of the game. It’s like the developers are knocking on my fourth wall and saying, “Hey, go here. Somehow you have a sixth sense on where to go. Don’t ask us. Don’t question it. Um. Dovakiin is psychic. There. Now play the game and chop off some heads.”
I’d like to see AAA games move away from holding our hands too fervently and find a healthy balance between accurate conveyance while still preserving challenge and novelty. The current trend doesn’t seem to favor this, though, and more and more games seem to be getting their actual challenge neutered.
I hope I’m wrong.