Open ended

In 1994 one of my father’s friends came over to our house and brought with him a game, Elder Scrolls: Arena. We loaded it up and my entire family (yes, all of us: mother, father, brother, and I) watched in awe at the game in front of us. The game was ahead of its time in many aspects, and while my family later acquired said game, I was a bit young at the time to actually make it far through Tamriel.

However, I recall playing the second installment, Daggerfall, for quite a number of hours. I never did beat it. In fact, this can be said of any of the Elder Scrolls franchise. Recently, Versus CluClu Land made some posts about playing it wrong, inspired by 1up.com editor Shawn Elliot’s blog post of the same name, that had me thinking about this series in conjunction with another event.

In college I made a rather wonderful friend in Cap’n Perkins. We had similar majors, interests, and gaming background. Mine tended to be more focused on videogames, though I had also been playing tabletop RPG’s since age four. He had fallen out of the loop on videogames, for the most part, beyond cultural references and a game or two here and there.

Recently he acquired an XBox 360 and among his first purchases was Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Since I was among those that had recommended the game (I was not the largest fan on the latest in the franchise, but it still stands as a solid title) he came to me with many a question.

During these discussions I came upon a realization of how I play games.

In tabula rasa type games, where I am given a character for whom no background exists, I have developed the habit of creating my own background. Having been a theater major, always having an avid imagination, and playing RPGs and MMOs as long as I have, I have a whole cast of character personalities upon whose history I draw when playing these games. These do one important thing: they give me a framework with which to operate my character. Well, no, this character would not join the Fighter’s Guild. Why do you ask?

This is one reason I can slog my way through the Diablo series or any number of MMOs despite the grind, that personal connection I have with a character whom I’ve just translated. Meaning, I often break the mold of the main story to fit my needs. Here I am not playing the games wrong in terms of gameplay, but through the necessity of wanting to see my character’s progress in the way I wish to see him or her do so.

Perhaps this explains why I also have yet to actually beat any of the Elder Scrolls titles (though I am very set upon doing so on my most recent pick up of the game), as I never felt the necessity to do so. The world is wonderful, and I enjoy the options presented to me. But, Daggerfall, which is the game in the series on which I have lavished the most amount of time, never inspired me to actually follow the main plotline. I love the world of this series, but I could not tell you most of what is happening in the games’ plots.

Yet, on speaking with coworkers and other friends who’ve played the game, I am left contemplating, am I playing it wrong?

The Sims franchise proved to the gaming world in a large fashion that there is no one way to play a game. Despite what expectations one may have for how people should play a given game, someone will come along and break that mold. However, the first time it is broken, it starts to see more people taking on that role and then making that particular version of gameplay canon. Having recently picked up Diablo II: Lord of Destruction again, I am again amazed at all the builds people have created that were not in what I believe the original intent of the designers of said characters.

Therefore, when I speak with my coworker Luci, I feel a kindred spirit in someone who just wants to roam the world, go into dungeons, and let her character with bright pink hair be herself. Oblivion gates? Sure, eventually she might get there, but the majority of her time in this game involves buying her houses, making her character rich, and just living out her fantasies. I have to say, I see nothing wrong with that (nor should Bethesda, as she is planning on picking up her second copy to have on a system over which she does not need to battle for time with her son).

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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2 Responses to Open ended

  1. Travis says:

    While I have never personally played the Elder Scrolls franchise, I have been aware of it for a while. Not that I wouldn’t like to play, I’ve just never owned an Xbox or 360. This is bizarre considering I’ve owned almost every other mainstream system that has come out since 1985 (excluding Saturn). It just never had that one title I HAD to play, and I’ve lived with an Xbox or 360 owner for a majority of that time.That being said, I gotta say I know what you mean. I’m of the type that loves to go with a story that is given to me and skip any extra stuff, especially if I know that it doesn’t lead to any extras at the end of the game. My roommate Jesse, however, will take forever on a game and will accept NO comments from me about what he should do, which is unnerving to me because I think he is playing it ‘wrong.’I’ve had some games where I’ve been content to roam and explore for hours without any need for advancement, but those have been the best of the best. Disgaea, Kingdom Hearts, and GTA3 come to mind.So are you playing ‘wrong’? Not really, but I think you’d get enjoyment from playing it through quickly and then exploring or vice versa. It would depend on the game though, and on non-tabula rasa games its obviously different.

  2. Denis Farr says:

    The console premise for this series intrigues me, as I’ve never even come close to it on a console. This has caused some confusion in explaining things to my friend, as I keep referencing things the PC version does as the PC version does it. Or things that don’t exist, like apparently the F5 quick save/F9 quick load key taps. Definitely a different way of playing.I’m the type who fully explores things. It’s rare that I replay games, and since I have no idea if I will until after I beat the game, I would rather just have things completed and done with so that I need not come back to it. This also means, if I want to play a different character, build, set up, et cetera, that I can just whiz through the game a second time, not having to worry about certain side quests or missions that hold no appeal or whose rewards are not to my liking.

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