Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Appeal of Skyrim to a Nerdy Non-Gamer

I love all things sci-fi and fantasy, enjoy classic literature, and have a special place in my heart for Weird Al Yankovic's "White & Nerdy." Even so, if we're getting into technicalities, I consider myself more "nerd" than "geek," because technology foils me every time (a post on my love/hate relationship with it will be forthcoming), and I am not and probably never will be a gamer. The last video game I played was Super Mario on a Nintendo 64 console in the late 90's, and I thought I was the bomb when I could get down the snow slide in "Cool, Cool Mountain" without falling off.

Oh, yeah!

So when Mr. Nerd got all excited when his newest purchase- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim- arrived, I didn't understand the hype.  Isn't it more fun to read a book and use your imagination?  What is so entertaining about "leveling up"? What on Earth is a "Dwemer"?  One evening, I decided to watch him play so that I could understand the appeal, and you know what?  I think I found it.  So, without further ado, here are the four main reasons that Skyrim appeals to me, a non-gamer.

#1 The Scenery
Snow-covered mountains, imposing fortresses, eerie underground caverns, still forests... as much as I like forming my own image of fantastical worlds while reading, this one is pretty amazing. While Mr. Nerd was busy trying to figure out where to go on his quests, I gawked at the landscape. Maybe it's not as mind boggling to someone who plays video games all the time with a GeForce GTX 690 graphics card and has gotten used to graphics designers cramming in details, but to someone who has never "gotten" gaming, this

(Image from

is pretty impressive.

#2 The Action
I had always thought of single-player video games being formulaic and dull.  Perhaps I have been living under a rock; I did not realize that there is an almost infinite number of possible quests in most games, and player actions have an impact on how the game progresses.  There are countless wikis for Skyrim telling you how to find hidden levers to open doors, where to go in a labyrinthine castle, or how to best kill a Dwemer spider (a metal guardian made by the Dwemer, a race of cave-dwellers known as ‘Dwarves’ but not actually shorter than men).  Still, just because parts of the game are rote doesn’t mean that you will have any idea when those spiders will attack or when an ice wolf will jump out and scare the life out of you (ok, fine, out of your partner watching you play).  You will be kept on your toes during the game.  Just don’t try to jump of any five-foot cliffs, because you’ll probably die.  You’ll stay alive swimming 500 meters in freezing water in plate mail, though.

#3 The Characters
Other than all being fairly war-like (with the exception of an occasional innkeeper or Shetland pony), there is remarkable variety in looks and temperaments among characters.  Some are valiant, some conniving, some downright insane, and this keeps the game interesting.  Each of the 10 races that you can play has a cultural history and its own unique powers and defining characteristics, and although learning about each of these could take a while, it makes the Skyrim world easier to immerse yourself in.  Even though the female bodies are fairly one-size-fits-all, and some things are physically a little odd about the animal-race females, as mentioned about the ones in the World of Warcraft in an article on Hourglassy, I found myself appreciating that women in the game are for the most part treated no differently than men.  I watched Mr. Nerdy’s character interact with a few women, including Lydia and Legate Rikke, both of whom were portrayed as fierce warriors just as much as their male counterparts. 

Delphine, a Blade, I found kind of annoying, but she is definitely a warrior.

#4 The Magic and the Weapons
Who doesn’t want to be able to hurl fireballs at their enemies?  Or be able to control a dragon with their voice?   Leveling up, I found out, can make your magic that much more awesome.  Now, I am sure that there are myriad lists of what all the potions, weapons, and spells do, but part of the fun seems to be asking, “What happens if I try this?”, dying as you’re thrown backward off of one of those frickin’ tiny cliffs, and then trying the next item in your arsenal (also, immortality! Well, sort of… it will go back to the last “Save.”).    With all the insane weapons like the Orcish Blade, Staff of Chain Lightning, Ancient Nord War Axe, Exploding Dwarven Bolt of Shock, etc., why wouldn’t you use all of them?

Perhaps a Potion of Minor Kick-Ass would be beneficial in this situation?

So my advice to you, fellow non-gamers, is to go put on your Metal Greaves of Cause Lots of Pain and go slay some dragons!  Or at least watch a fellow nerd play for a while and see what all the fuss is about.

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