This is something that’s been on my mind for awhile, but it wasn’t until recently that I decided I should sit down and write about it in earnest. See, I did something important a month ago or so. I saved the world. Twice, if you think about it. And nothing happened. Life went on.
Okay, so I didn’t save our world. I saved Skyrim. But I’m still rather perturbed about it, because it is the most anticlimactic thing I’ve ever experienced. I spent hours scouring the countryside helping villagers on their quests. I stole thousands of dollars of merchandise, picked dozens of pockets, altered hundreds of books, and picked a few hundred locks to restore the Thieves’ Guild to its former glory. I overtook the Dark Brotherhood. I killed a few dozen dragons, and then I killed the mightiest dragon of all: Alduin. I sundered the space-time continuum to travel to Sovngarde and meet the beast on his plane of existence, and I killed him and restored peace.
At least I thought I did. When I came back I was on the top of the mountain surrounded by Paarthurnax and his buddies, and they were like, “Good work.” And that was it. So I figured I should fix the whole Imperials vs. Stormcloaks thing, and maybe then I would feel better about saving the world. And maybe other people would, too. Because I didn’t get a single thank you from any villagers, even in dragon-ravaged towns, for killing Alduin. If anything, I had to keep my head down because of all that Dark Brotherhood/Thieves’ Guild stuff. Everywhere I went I heard, “Wait, I know you!” and I did wait, because I wanted to say, “Yes, yes you do; I’m the badass who killed Alduin and saved your world!” But as it turned out they knew me because I was a wanted man and I had to bribe them, or else kill everyone in sight.
So I went off and spoke with Ulfric Stormcloak and made Windhelm my new home. My affiliations with Whiterun were over, and I led the charge on that first fair city that had welcomed me in after I escaped from Helgen. I betrayed the Jarl and oversaw the change of power there, and then helped Ulfric take Solitude. I killed General Tullius and freed Skyrim from the clutches of the Empire. I returned it to the true Sons of Skyrim!
And when I went to talk to Ulfric, he said it would take some time for him to become high king, but now that the Empire was gone his chances looked good. He thanked me for my help, which was nice, but then… what?
I helped end the civil war tearing my country to bits. And life went on in Skyrim, much as it had prior to the war and to Alduin. In fact, I even got attacked by several dragons along the way. I found myself wandering aimlessly through the land of Skyrim, lacking purpose and function. Even when Dawnguard came out… wait. Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned!
So when Dawnguard came out I decided to become a vampire, some of the sense of purpose was missing. Sure it was cool to become a vampire lord and all, and sure, Serana was an alright companion, if a bit standoffish at times. We traveled through new environments in a new story and found new things. New weapons, new lore, new ideas. And we became allies and friends, and then decided to take down her father together and end his ploy to stop the sun from shining ever again. So yes, once again I saved Skyrim. And… nothing. Serana was happy her father was dead, at least. But there was no fanfare, no trumpets, no scrolling credits.
Above all, there was no sense of resolution. Yes, my objectives were complete, but there were always more: little things, seemingly insignificant tasks, guards to be bribed… I’d saved Skyrim three times from three different sources and still had no resolution.
The other day I took my frustration out on this by going crazy as a vampire in Whiterun. A guard recognized me as a wanted man, so I said I’d rather die than bribe him. It turned into a bloodbath. I kept letting loose my vampire lord abilities, because, why not? What was going to happen (or not happen)? And even when I finally shut off the game I didn’t feel any better, or any more resolved.
By being an open world and geared for exploration, Skyrim is paradoxically enjoyable and boring. There’s always something new to see and/or do, but even after doing the big things you’re left with no feeling of resolution. You’re as accomplished delivering potatoes to Riften as you are killing Alduin or winning the country for the Stormcloaks. The larger the world is the more there is to do, and the less I want to do any of it. I know in real life, life does go on even after huge feats of greatness; and I’m sure those who accomplish them feel a bit of a downer as a result. I imagine that once the thrill has worn off and they’ve gone home, these Olympic athletes will feel just a twinge of disappointment that it’s all done, even as they work toward their next accomplishment. In real life the accomplishment isn’t the end; in many cases it’s just another step.
But in games we’re used to getting that sense of having done something. We’ve worked at it, we’ve solved the puzzles, we’ve found the princess, we defeated the bad guy, end of story. And it’s hard for me to set Skyrim aside knowing that it’s unresolved, but I have to remind myself that it will never be resolved, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I don’t feel like a replay with a different character and/or different choices would really matter much, or give me that feeling I’m looking for. I certainly admire what a massive, beautifully done game it is, don’t get me wrong, but when all’s said and done I miss that feeling of being resolved.