So I finally beat Skyrim.

Well, I’m using a flimsy definition of the word beat.

Skyrim, if you’re unfamiliar, is an open world RPG with no real clear cut goals or finish lines. There are major quests and plot lines, but there’s no final credit sequence where the game spells out “ta-da! You’re done forever! Go do something else!” It’s open-ended the entire way, and you more or less make your own goals.

(Also, in fairness: if you’re unfamiliar with Skyrim, this post will lose some of its luster. Not all, but certainly some.)

Skyrim (and its associated game series, Elder Scrolls) are notoriously difficult to ‘beat’.

Why are these games so difficult to beat? Two reasons: (1) The main thing to do in the game, often referred to as the Main Quest, is a tiny portion of the game (and often the least fun bit of it. All the other things you can do in the game tend to be way more fun. (2) All those other things? There are literally infinite quests. People have spent hundreds of hours in this game and not touched the main quest.

This is, in many ways, the appeal of the games: you’re not railroaded along a specific set of story beats, you’re just dropped into a vast and detailed world and are given the freedom to explore and conquer it however you wish. This tends to be a thoroughly joyous and exhausting experience – people will jump into Skyrim and lose themselves for hours upon hours.

(As context: Morrowind, one of the previous Elder Scrolls games, is probably my favorite game ever. I’ve never beaten it.)

So I like to give myself one game to beat a month, as a way to channel my leisure into something concrete. (I’m weird, I know.)

And January’s game was Skyrim.

I’ve played Skyrim a bunch of times: this was probably the fifth or sixth character I’ve started. But this time, I was actually going to beat it.

I planned everything out: I was going to tackle the Thieves Guild, then the Dark Brotherhood, then the Civil War, then the Main Quest. A week or so each, a quest or two a day. Nice and piecemeal. It felt vaguely like planning out a dev sprint.

And I did it! I’ll spare you the boring details, but on January 30 I slew Alduin (uh, spoilers I guess) and did it. I beat Skyrim!

I’m happy that this happened. I enjoyed my time in Skyrim and now I get a sense of completion. I can put it down without feeling vaguely guilty.

The thing about Skyrim, though: the quests aren’t actually that great. Like there are some very cool setpieces – Blackreach is now one of my favorite video game experiences – but overall it’s pretty rote. The quests tend to be the least imaginative parts of the game.

My favorite parts of playing Skyrim weren’t any of the things that carried me through to the sense of completion. It was the things in between the quests: stumbling upon random farms and towns, picking alchemy ingredients on a forest path, seeing a weirdly placed skeleton and spending a moment imagining what brought it there. That’s what was really fun: getting to bounce around a world.

Anyway, what this has to do with anything: I’m trying to be more intentional with my video games, which is of course an absurd phrase but if I’m spending like twenty hours a month doing a thing then it warrants some kind of analysis, right?

I’m trying to be more intentional with my side projects, too, and it’s good – shipping things, getting to exhale mentally, building up a roster of successful projects. All of that stuff is really great.

But sometimes I miss just not caring about any of that. Sometimes I miss just getting lost in a world, with no real desire to find an end date or a finish line (whether it’s a new technology or a world with dragons.)

Anyway, off to play Lufia II.

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