I was sixteen years old. Wait, no, come back, this isn’t my life story…
Or, maybe it is.
I was sixteen years old and my love for games was diminishing. I was focused on my studies, determined to pass all of my exams so I could study the sciences and maths at college. I was going out a lot, drinking with friends, spending time with the people I cared about most, as the majority of us were going our separate ways after school had finished. Games took a back seat in my mind. All I really cared about was Pokémon, but even then, Black and White were disappointments for me. I felt like my time had come. Alas, ’twas time for me to ‘grow up’.
But then I saw the first gameplay trailer for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
I became obsessed. I had to know everything about this game. I begged my dad to get me an Xbox 360, because asking him for a computer seemed too much and I didn’t own any of the last generation of consoles at the time. I watched every single video that Bethesda released with details about the story, the gameplay, the characters, and when November 11th 2011 came around, it broke my heart knowing that I’d have to wait another two months…
But the wait paid off. Christmas Day, 2011. Finally, I had my very own copy of Skyrim. It was all over. I could play.
The first time I loaded up the game, I was greeted with the music. The bellowing sound of the drums. The enchanting chorus singing the tune that I began to know so well. The harmonies ran throughout my room and my mind and I instantly knew that the journey I would embark on would be one that would last with me for a long time. It’s a piece of music that lasts with me to this day (and one I continue to be convinced I know the lyrics too, even if the words do turn into incoherent mess of phonetics).
Beginning the game, I arrived at a black screen. The sound of horse hooves against the weathered ground. Then, light. As my eyes adjusted to the surroundings, I realized I was sitting in a cart, travelling through a mountainous region with three others, hands bound like prisoners. Was I also a prisoner? Where was I being taken? What was to become of me?
Just as I had asked those questions, a man acknowledged my awakening, explaining that I had been captured in an ambush. As conversation ensued, it was revealed to me that one of the men with me was Ulfric Stormcloak, the leader of a rebellion against the High King. That could only mean one thing: I was about to set out on my trip with destiny and take my rightful place in Sovngarde, the Nord afterlife.
Entering the village of Helgen, the locals had gathered around to see the incoming criminals and the demise of the chief of the Stormcloaks. Parents ushered their children inside, not wanting them to see what was to come. Soldiers lined the streets, staring coldly with their judging eyes. A priest stood before me, there to help me accept my fate. We slowed down and came to a stop in front of a watchtower. It was the “end of the line.”
We clambered off of the cart and had our names listed out to use. Ulfric was first and walked solemnly into place. The one who first greeted me – who became known as Ralof – was next, proudly taking a stance as he walked towards his final resting place. Lokir of Rorikstead, the horse thief, panicked and ran for the hills, only to be caught mid-flight by the archers and shot through the heart. I remember feeling sorry for Lokir. It wasn’t his fault he’d been caught in the ambush; he’s simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Finally, I was called forward. But who was I?
I’ll admit now, the customization process took me far longer than it should have done. I won’t bore you with the intricacies of what went down, but know that dirt color was a very important factor for me. In the end, I decided upon a female Bosmer by the name of Allissa. I’m an enthusiast of stealth gameplay, so the fact that their skill sets favored a thief class swayed my decision massively.
Unfortunately for Allissa, her race was not enough to save her. She would still succumb to the same fate as her fellow captors. I followed the captain over to where the other were gathered, gazing earnestly at the chopping block ahead. Of course, I had just spent nearly 45 minutes creating my character, surely they wouldn’t just destroy her now?
A general by the name of Tullius stood before Ulfric, accusing him of murdering the High King with his voice. This was so intriguing to me; I mean, how on Earth could someone be murdered with a voice? Just as I was questioning this, a mighty roar rose above the quiet, to the surprise of myself and the others gathered around me. Even though this potential threat of danger had appeared, we still weren’t aware of what it actually was. The executions began, with one man being led to the chopping block and head taken off. It rolled across the floor as the axe went straight through the neck, leaving me even more terrified about what was to come.
Then, it was my turn. I was led towards the block and my head rested onto the wood, staring up at my executioner. As I believed I was looking at the man who was to take my life, the roar returned and an ominous black shadow ascended from behind the mountains. This was my first encounter with a dragon in-game and it was spectacular. The animal’s presence was breathtaking and it was at that moment when he opened his mouth and once again let out a triumphant roar, I knew; I was absolutely enthralled with this game.
I could go on and tell you more about my experiences within the world of Tamriel: my stint as an assassin in the Dark Brotherhood, the time I turned into a werewolf with the Companions, interacting with the Nine Divines to make sure that their wishes were being fulfilled here in Tamriel, killing a chicken in the first town I came across and having to fight off the entirety of Riverwood before inevitably being murdered by civilians. But doing that would be pointless.
Skyrim is a journey that will last with you long after you put the controller down or turn the computer off. Every aspect of the world that Bethesda has created for the player is designed in such a way that immerses them into the life of their character. Although decisions don’t affect the story in such a way as other RPG’s sometimes do, I still felt like my presence made a difference in the world. I wasn’t just playing as the Dragonborn. I was Dovahkiin, Dragonborn, hero of Tamriel and the woman who would learn the language of the Thu’um in order to rid the world of the menace that was Alduin.
More so than any other game has before or after it, Skyrim changed my life (which sounds completely cliché, I know). It was the game that truly rekindled my love of video games and is the reason I became so interested in their development. Without Skyrim, I’d probably be studying to be a social worker at university. Instead, I’m learning more about how this industry works, how games are created, talking to developers and seeing the passion that every single member of this community puts into the products that they create, or even play. I wouldn’t be here sharing this experience with you as a writer.
Honestly, I don’t think the RPG genre as we now know it would be the same. The question that is always raised when a triple-A RPG is set for release is: “Is this game the next Skyrim?” or “How does this game compare to Skyrim?” It helped set the standard for the genre and is used as a comparison, not only in terms of success, but in terms of quality. It truly is an experience which will change the perspective of just about anyone who plays.
And if you’re still one of the few people who hasn’t embarked on the adventure that awaits you in Tamriel: what on Earth are you waiting for?