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Why I Love (and Hate) Gaming

December 22, 2006

I wish that I talked more about gaming. Not wrote, mind you. I do enough of that, I think. No, I mean talk. Like, with people. This may have something to do with the fracturing and increasing insular nature of my friend-group, but I just don’t get the opportunity to talk games as much as I used to.

If I were talking to a friend, I’d bring up the game that caused me to take an early Christmas break this week: Oblivion. The full title is The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and marks the fourth chapter in an ongoing series of games from Bethesda Softworks. None of them are directly story-related (though they all take place in the same world). Their real connection is in gameplay; specifically, an open-ended freeform type of play a lot of people think Grand Theft Auto III invented. Not so. I was enjoying it as far back as 1994, in Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls: Arena. The Elder Scroll series are one of the pillars of American computer roleplaying games. Morrowind (the third game in the series), especially, is mentioned in the same breath as games from the Ultima and Baldur’s Gate series’. The completely open playing field means you can do pretty much whatever you want. Oblivion takes this to the furthest extreme, offering you the opportunity to be a hero, a villain, a thief, or a paladin. Or anything in between.

Oblivion has been on my mind lately, because it’s been getting tapped in a lot of ‘best of’ lists for this year. Despite having released waaaay back in March, it’s still on the minds of gamers both console and PC. In the ‘always now, never past’ world of games, that’s saying something. It’s just that good. In fact, Oblivion tops my list for best game of the year, right up there with Half-Life 2: Episode One. In fact, Oblivion is a great example of why I love gaming.

Earlier tonight, I sat down with my much-loved save. This particlar saved game does not include the end-game state; I beat the game all the way back in the spring, to get a sense of things for my review. But, I didn’t want that to be the way the story went for my particular character. I reverted to an earlier save and kept playing. By the time I’d stopped playing, sometime in April, I’d never actually gotten around to beating the game. I’d played over 65 hours with the character, but I’d yet to actually beat the game. I was just having too much fun. I was exploring dungeons, stealing stuff (lots and lots of stuff – 7589 things by the game’s count), doing quests for the citizenry, and generally giving people a reason to talk about the ‘Hero of Kvatch’.

All the talk about the game made me pick back up earlier this week, and for tonight I’d decided I would beat the game again. It took me a lot less time to do this go-round, and the end boss was actually cake for my super-leet thief-warrior. I came loaded for bear, but shouldn’t have worried. He went down like a chump. Even so … and even though I’d already beaten him once … it was a total blast. I celebrated my victory by buying the most expensive house in the game, a 25,000 gold piece mansion in the town of Skingrad. There are display cases in the house, and I set up little examples of my adventures to remind me of good times. Here, I put the armor from each of the major cities; taken from the fallen at the epic Battle of Bruma. There, I put the armor taken off of the fallen Jauffre and Baurus, good friends I’d known since I busted out of jail at the start of the game. In another, I put the staff and robe of the final boss as momentos. I dropped a glowing, humming Oblivion stone on my desk to act as a paperweight, and filled another display case with the hundreds of keys I’d stolen over my career. This is why games are cool. This is why gaming is cool. Jedi may not crave adventures and excitement, but gamers do. This is the real deal; I have the chotchkes to show for it.

As you can imagine, though, setting all this up (and that pesky killing the boss thing) takes quite a bit of time. I sat down at my desk around 9:30 or so, and when I stopped playing to help Katie with some wrapping I said to myself ‘Gosh, I hope it’s not 11:00 yet.’ The cruel, cruel clock said it was already 12:30. I’d spent three hours arranging digital fiddly bits inside the non-existent manor-house I own in a figment place. This sort of ‘gaming fugue’ doesn’t happen to me very often; I can’t let it, it’s a bad place to review a game from. Just the same, I had some things to get done in those three hours.

On the balance, I’m glad I’m a gamer. Sometimes … just sometimes, mind you … I wish games weren’t getting so good.

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One comment

  1. I used to love playing games like Final Fantasy 7 and the like. But the older I got, the more I realized that I didn’t want to play games that tugged on the strings of emotions anymore. Well, unless it was table top role playing–I’m a sucker for that style. The reason was that I had had most of those emotions happen to me as I progressed throughout my life, and reliving them wasn’t appealing anymore since they just aren’t as powerful as when they happened in real life. These days, I want to have fun while I play, and not think of it like escapism anymore. To that end, I play a lot of older games like Joust and whatnot–simply because it is fun, and when I’m done I don’t feel like I’ve just shoveled hundreds of bodies into a mass grave and covered them over with dead babies.



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