Games are made of a combination of five aspects: Chance, competitiveness, adrenalin, mimicry, and social. And I plan on looking at how Skyrim deals with each of them. In this episode, I’ll focus on mimicry, aka role playing.
Skyrim is the fifth Elderscrolls game, which is a fantasy adventure game. It feels like you’re playing Dungeons and Dragons, except alone and on the computer and damage is purely based off your character’s level and your own skill, rather than a role of a dice and decision of a dungeon master. You have more control. Both Skyrim and D&D you can level up your character to increase your damage, health, etc. You have items and do quests. There are at least seven linear story lines in Skyrim, and many medium and micro quests. Many are unrelated.
Elderscrolls started off with “arena”, a game where teams would fight but have some quests in between travels to teams. The quests became more popular the game changed from a fighting game to an adventure game. The next game was Daggerfall, which let players choose their character’s class. Basically, fighter, mage, or archer. Third was Morrowind, which the article “From Hunt the Wumpus to EverQuest: Introduction to Quest Theory” describes the quests as Concurrent, and being place and objective-oriented. This means you can have multiple quests happening at the same time, and quests are based off certain places and objects. The fourth game is Oblivion, which improved from previous ones and made improvements for the firth and most current game, Skyrim. Skyrim scrapped the choose your class, only allowing you to choose your character species, looks, and sex. This may seem like less roleplaying, but it makes it easier to switch if you’d prefer something else halfway through a game. And I much prefer the start of Skyrim from Oblivion, partly because there’s less design.
Role play games are though of as pretending to be something you’re not, and have been around for a long time. Even before Dungeons and Dragons you have a whole history of make believe. Apparently pirates use to have mock trials and people would play different roles in the fake court, the Han Dynasty was said to have historical reenactment, and some of the oldest games like chess are wargames, which means role playing military. I’ll call those simple role playing games. A lot of games fall in the grey area between simple and complex.
Elders-rolls games are a complex role play. This means you can choose their looks and play style. Think about how in chess you have rooks, bishops, and a horse. A complex RPG would let you choose which ones you can make your army up of, or in single player RPG, choose what type of combat your character does or weapon they have. Unlike in the previous Elderscroll game, where in Oblivion you would choose the character type near the start, in Skyrim you work towards one. I believe this reduction in complexity is to get players in the game quicker rather then spending a lot of time picking out minute things that people may want to change later anyway. Skyrim may not have the choice, but it also doesn’t force a person into something at the start, which means you can switch your role playing mid game, or even mid battle. In fact there’s very little forcing you to do anything in Skyrim. Part of a complex role play is that you can be who you want to be, Skyrim tries to help players play as different adventurer types. You can play as a mercenary, wizard, assassin, vampire, thane, it’s up to you. There are guilds with their club houses to help role play as closely as you want.
And if you need more authenticity then that, on consoles except the Nintendo Switch, Skyrim supports mods. There are plenty out there to make you feel like a real adventurer, from mods that force you to eat and keep warm to mods that increase disease severity. A popular one is an alternative start mod, where you can choose what to start as and where. This means you can get straight into the story line you want, or instantly feel more like a certain role by starting off with the appropriate armour and active quest. You can even change your species and Avatars even further with mods.
A character with customised looked is called an “avatar”, which help to make the game more personal. To quote Chris Moore, “Avatars are a co‐presence which externalizes our personal experiences, interactions, utterances, and gestures within digital objects”. Personally, I like giving my fighters a scar on their eye. Avatars help in Role Playing in if we want to imagine our character to be strong, we can make it so. If we want them to look like us, role play ourselves as an adventurer, we can. The character creation helps when playing the game a second time. There may be dungeons you’d enjoy more to try and pass with stealth, so now you have to start the game all over again as a rouge.
Skyrim gives you the option of choosing from different species. One, a cat like humanoid called Kajit, has special abilities to see at night and start off with a higher stealth skill. Things like this also help role playing a little. You feel more like a high elf when you can regenerate magic faster and more like a Breton when you resist magic. But you can’t have them all, which leads on to a vital part of role playing.
You have to choose. You can’t just be sent somewhere doing a bunch of tasks and accept them, games have to be voluntary, and for it to feel like your character is real, you have to give them choices. In Skyrim. If you’ve played Skyrim you’ve chosen your species, looks, fighting style, quests, and so many things to make the role feel real rather than a fetch and pay style game. The more choices, the more complex. You can choose which side of the war to fight, or to kill bandits or innocents. Everything in Skyrim is a choice. The quests are merely there to persuade you to have a certain role.
Moore, C. Marshall P.D, and Barbour, K. 2019 ‘From Player to Persona’ Persona Studies and Introduction’ Wiley.