Even if you’re not into video games or role-playing games, you’ve probably heard of Skyrim. I never played the earlier games in the series, but the accolades this one received were incentive enough for me to look forward to it. I watched a friend play it for over an hour. I felt so thoroughly immersed in the world’s beautiful scenery and deadly encounters that I couldn’t wait to play it myself. There were so many locations to explore, characters to meet, things to learn and challenges to confront. When I started playing it myself, I couldn’t help sharing some of the adventure with my son, telling him about some of the perils my character faced as I drove him to school. He loved hearing about it, but I wouldn’t even let him watch me play it. It was too complicated, as well as violent. I didn’t think he was ready.
Several years have passed since I bought the game. My son has matured quite a bit, so I thought he was ready to try out the game. It carries a “Mature” content rating, but to me it’s not nearly as deserving of the rating as many other games. I felt he could handle it without warping his developing mind if I supervised his play and steered him away from anything I knew would be too dark or gruesome. What’s more, I looked forward to sharing the adventure with him and helping him along here and there.
I started out by laying out some ground rules. He could only play the game if I were there with him to watch his progress. My decisions about what actions he could take and avenues he could pursue would be final, without negotiation. If I changed my mind about allowing him to play, there would be no argument; we would just turn it off, and I would give him a chance to play again at a later date. He agreed to all of the rules, and our adventure began.
The first part of such games is usually spent designing a character. I asked him some questions, so I could advise him in making his decisions.
Me: “What kind of stuff do you want to be good at doing in the game?”
Him: “I want to be really good at fighting monsters and really tough.” I heard that as: “I want to crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and hear the lamentations of their women.”
Result: an Orc, adept at using two-handed weapons and heavy armor.
The game began with his character riding in a cart transporting prisoners destined for execution. When his turn came at the chopping block, it was noted that he wasn’t on the list to be consigned to death. The officer in charge decided to take his head anyway, and my son’s response was: “What? She’s mean!”
Luckily a dragon besieged the town, and chaos ensued. My son frantically sent his character, Conorok, scurrying to safety at the heels of a sympathetic soldier. At one point, he had to jump from a breach in a second floor wall, declaring: “My parkouring skills aren’t very good.”
Finally free of his bonds, he was able to secure some weapons and armor. It came in handy when the two ran into rebel soldiers and had to fight their way through them. “This is intense,” my son during the melee. We took a little break, while I talked to him and gave him some pointers with the controls. He was excited, but didn’t seem overstimulated. He tried Conorok’s hand at some archery and was a little disappointed at the difficulty. I assured him that it would get easier once he got used to it.
Once their escape was made, I explained some of the finer points to him. I also tried to advise him against making some of the mistakes I had made when I first played. He seemed to take it all in, but he was still a little timid about exploring. “There’s so many things that can murder me so very bad!” I had to agree, but I told him that I would help him get to his destination safely and then he would have some help in his journey from an ally.
There are many parts of the game that seem only slightly more fun to him than I experience filing my taxes: buying and selling loot, working at the smithy to improve his weapons and armor, listening to other characters talk about the world’s politics and their petty rivalries. It’s all stuff I enjoyed about the game, but I admitted that there is some tedium to be overcome, and many of those tasks seemed to take a long time to complete.
The dragons really made it worth waiting. When he finally got to fight one, it took about 20 minutes of sniping with his bow and dodging behind cover. He was enthralled and nearly giddy with excitement. When the dragon was defeated, a soldier approached Conorok and said: “You did it. You killed a dragon.” My son simply replied, “Yes, I did.” Orc of few words.
I hope to offer up occasional updates to Conorok’s exploits, as well as funny or interesting things my son does or says during the game. It’s fun to watch him make choices, and it somehow makes me proud to see him take the heroic high road when these choices appear. There’s a lot more of Skyrim to experience before the adventure is over. Though I didn’t finish the game myself, I think I will enjoy it even more now that my son and I are playing it together. Hopefully we’ll see it through to the climatic ending.