I wrote this post for several reasons—to pour out my geekiness in a place other than Facebook; to show how much video games can inspire the imagination; and to acknowledge the 2012 National Day on Writing, which is tomorrow, organized by the National Writing Project. I’m a journalist, a researcher and a writing consultant, so writing is a huge part of my life in the context of my career. But it’s also something I incorporate into all of my personal interests, like gaming, and at the end of the day, I love writing most when it allows me to explore different aspects of my self and stretch the limits of my own imagination.
I promise I play games other than the Elder Scrolls franchise. It’s just that during this time of year, I tend to delve into fantasy, so I end up reading mostly fantasy books, watching my favorite fantasy movies, and playing fantasy games. I guess it’s the cold weather that makes questing, wielding swords and bows, and wearing cool armor so appealing. The Elder Scrolls games were a huge part in making me want to research games in grad school, and what’s great about these games is that they essentially offer an endless amount of gameplay. I was pretty into games like Neverwinter Nights back in the day, but the Elder Scrolls are much more effective in bringing to life an entirely open world to explore. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t play these games as a kid because I would have never left the house. It was hard enough prying me away from my books.
Last year I did a research project with the National Writing Project about how educators can use certain types of video games—RPGs, like Oblivion, and sand-box games, like Minecraft—to inspire narrative and creative writing. My argument, backed up by many other game scholars, was that character creation and exploration in virtual environments can help students develop their own stories, using framework established by existing media. (I guess, in a way, it’s also an argument for the benefits of fanfiction.)
As a writer, this applies to me, too. Reading and writing were my passions long before I started playing games as a kid, but the reason I enjoy games as much as I do now is because they tell stories in a very dynamic and active way. I’m pretty picky about the games I choose to invest my time in (but I’ll try anything once!). I prefer single player games because it feels more like reading and writing—the independence allows me to navigate through fictional worlds on my own, making choices based on my own decisions.
I just got the new Skyrim DLCs (downloadable content), Hearthfire and Dawnguard. They’re both awesome because they provide a ton of new content and opportunities for gameplay. Hearthfire allows the player’s character to buy and build a custom house, which requires the player to collect supplies needed to build aspects of the house. This DLC also makes adopting children an option, and players can add other people to their household, like a bard or a steward. For people like me who love the role-playing aspects of this game, this has been a lot of fun. I’ve built a house for what I refer to as my “main” character, Arcadie (my lifelong gamertag/web name, taken from a Francesca Lia Block character), the one with whom I’ve logged the most hours and completed the most quests. Because Arcadie is the arch-mage of the College of Winterhold, the leader of the Dark Brotherhood and the Thieves Guild, the Harbinger of the Companions, and the Dragonborn, among other prestigious titles like thane of pretty much every city on the map, she doesn’t have a clear personality. The game encourages players to focus on particular skills, and while I started off doing that at the beginning, I more wanted to just conquer as many quests as I could. I’ve lost sight of who I want her to be in this universe. In this sense, she is very much aligned as a chaotic neutral character on the alignment chart, because she is both good and evil.
Dawnguard revolves around the premise of vampires vs. vampire hunters. There’s some cool new gear, like new armor and weapons (crossbows!). But with Dawnguard, I wanted to change up my gameplay, so I made a new character with a much more focused story in mind. Her name is Asha, which is my nickname in real life (and also an homage to Asha Greyjoy), and she is much more chaotic good. Using a mod, I was able to bypass the main quest altogether, so I don’t have to worry about fighting dragons. The mod starts off with character creation, and then shows that the player is locked in a cell next to a statue of Mara, to whom the character can pray for a new life, allowing the player to choose a storyline to explain their character’s starting point.
I chose that my character was “beaten and left for dead”–she has facial scars, so I thought this would give Asha a reason for those, and it also sets her up to be a somewhat reserved but opinionated character. She also has war paint, because, well, war paint is awesome. She is a ranger and a hunter, and has only a hunter’s bow and a dagger as her weapons. She only wears armor she crafts herself out of animal hides.
She wouldn’t mind finding a spouse because she wants to adopt the homeless little girl in Whiterun, so she’ll need a house, and she wants a house where she can practice her alchemy and maybe grow some plants. She loves wildflowers so she picks them whenever she finds them, and she has an affinity for sweet rolls and big pieces of steak. She prefers the natural to the paranormal, doesn’t like magic and thinks vampirism is a corrupted form of humanity, which is why she’ll align with the Dawnguard. She also won’t ever steal or kill unless she is attacked.
I just made this character last night, but I’m trying to stick to a strict role-play, like Chris Livingston did with The Elder Strolls. It’s been really fun so far living within these limitations, and it will be fun to develop more of a back story for this character based on the way the game progresses. Perhaps I’ll use it as inspiration for my NaNoWriMo book. I’ll probably be documenting cool things that develop with this character, but if this is too geeky for you, I understand.
And hey, if you have Steam, feel free to add me and we can talk about games! My username is Arcadie, and my avatar is the Mirror’s Edge logo.