Monday, 8 October 2012

Skyrim and the horizon

On Saturday Dylan at Digital Orc wrote that he hasn't been playing video games much lately, and compared movies, roleplaying and novels as media, while Stuart Lloyd wrote about an old ST game called Mystic Well, a simple example of a digital dungeon crawl.

Coincidentally, on the same day I also watched some videos of a player running through stretches of Skyrim with a good knowledge of the earlier Elder Scrolls games. He had a thoughtful approach to the morality of the sides in what's still a very modern insurrection, and took the time to edit and polish the series in line with the general tone of the game.

Skyrim seems to encourage this kind of thinking. In Mystic Well historical terms, it feels like a Lure of the Temptress meets a Frontier: Elite 2 for depth and scope, with few easy answers. Although Jim joins the Empire out of pragmatism - and an odd lack of dialogue options - he's not entirely happy, and hopes there could one day be a return of religious tolerance, but presumably doesn't expect so subtle an approach will be accommodated.

But when he's there as the leader of the uprising is executed, an incautious comment by another character suggests there is hope, as if the designers did think it all through. The game seems happy for a player to take no side, and an armistice can be negotiated too.

This and the overall complexity, from politics through terrain, weather and encounters to picking flowers and even tasting bees, makes me think any options missing in the game might be not so much limits of thought or technology, just space for a future instalment.

Where am I going with this? As in Skyrim, it may be near incidental, but there is a point.

Here's the first video, an intro which blurs lines, offers key context and brings in another major character, as well as engages the player right away. It has some strong language.

It's no surprise there is plenty of comment below the videos. Some is discussion of that moral reflection, and it's interesting that there seems to be less criticism than there can be, and more comparing notes and suggestions for other things to do and places to go.

The tone is more one of people sharing an experience, even an adventure, and possibly just a little in awe, even so many months after release. And Jim takes the time to reply. 

The experience of watching those few videos was almost like watching a TV series, and certainly cinematic, but also novel-like in the challenge to the viewer, and more directly engaging thanks to the host, as well as a way to socialise with other interested parties.

And here's the point: with all that complexity, thanks to a powerful engine and rich world, made possible by the processing speed and recording power of curent home computing and the minds of a huge creative team, along with an ability to 'film' gameplay itself, with a commentary and musings, and to edit the result into a narrative, then post it for people around the world to watch and consider and respond to in comments, are we coming to a point where there may be no barrier between literature, cinema, television, roleplaying and video gaming, and general social interaction, and maybe real-world politics, natural science and philosophy in the broadest sense? Is the future of these art forms our lives?

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