Lost in a Fantasy: Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption, and the Appeal of Virtual Worlds
I have been disappearing a lot lately, slipping off by myself for hours. My wife has definitely noticed, and I know that some of my friends have taken note. It’s hard to reach me when I disappear, and ever harder to drag me back to the rest of my life and my roles and responsibilities. The place I’ve been disappearing to? It’s the northern-most province of the continent of Tamriel a land a mountains ,mist, snow, and stone. Its rivers run clear and fast; its weather is frightful and harsh, surpassed only by its ever-present predatory fauna. It’s a place called Skyrim, and it is entirely fake. Like many others in the past several months, I have flung away untold hours—hundreds and hundreds of hours—to Bethesda Softworks’ The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. A single-player role-playing game (RPG) set in the above-described land during a period of political strife and apocalyptic tidings, Skyrim is in many ways an archetypical American fantasy RPG.
I’ve always enjoyed video games and in my first few years in high school, I was an enormous fan of high fantasy of this sort, but things change. I left behind fantasy at some point, enjoying The Lord of the Rings when it came on TV, but devoting more of my interest to the generic pleasures of art cinema and Westerns in recent years. Video games have remained a constant, but in the past few years my gaming time had been more or less exclusively devoted to three product types: NCAA Football from EA Sports, Sid Meier’s Civilization, and Rockstar Games’ open-world action games like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption.Why I wanted to try out Skyrim I cannot precisely say. The TV ads were well made, but so are those of many other video games, and this material did not intrinsically speak to me. There I was on a random evening in December though, walking a few blocks to rent Skyrim from a Redbox stand. I have been missing real life on and off ever since that night.