Mountains Of Change: Skyrim’s Ability To Vary.

For over 153 hours my Wood Elf, Randy Stardust, picked locks, sneaked and killed from afar in the world of Skyrim. Randy took the reins of both the Thieves’ and Assassins’ guild, conquered Alduin (the main foe of the main quest line) and crushed the Stormcloak rebellion as an Imperial Legate. In short, Randy was a bad ass. There was no foe, nor group of foes, in the world of Skyrim that could best him. Randy saw the blood of his enemies and sadly, many of his friends run underneath his Dragonskin boots. His heart had grown cold and dead due to the amount of death that followed in his Dragonborn wake. He had quietly been searching for an end and this week, he embraced his death.

Randy was not defeated by any virtual foe. No dragon can clam fame from his demise. Randy just simply lived too long, in my mind. I had grown tired of Randy and his exploits. I had grown tired of killing my foes with an arrow from the shadows. I was tired of serving the Imperials that had almost signed Randy’s death warrant just as he was born onto the Skyrim landscape. No, Randy met his demise because gaming is one of the best deterrents to monotony. Randy died so another could live, and overwrite his saved game files. Born is Kegels Grip.

One of the last pictures of Randy Stardust.

Kegels Grip is almost the antithesis to Randy Stardust. An Imperial with a hatred for his own kind (they were going to hang him for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time) and a thirst for magic – Kegels desires power and an Imperial to use it against. Preferring to stand out in the open rather than skulk in the shadows, Kegels would rather dual wield spells while encased in armor than pepper targets from afar. Kegels is a battlemage and one of the best examples of the amount of variation today’s games can bring to today’s gamer.

A very green Kegels Grip.

Kegels Grip not only represents my inclination towards humorous word play but my appreciation for the level of variance one can pull from well designed games. Entirely new quest lines are at my fingertips because of the path I have chosen for Kegels. Past enemies are now friends and friends are now enemies. New adventures present Kegels and myself with new rewards. Within the first hour of Kegels life new locations, within Skyrim, were highlighted to visit – even after spending 153 hours exploring the world as Randy Stardust, may he rest in peace.

Part Emperor Palpatine, part Dragon, all Kegels Grip.

The ability to reinvent yourself is not unique to PC gaming but the ability to do it so quickly, is. It may be the end of Randy Stardust but in his death, appreciation for creation and change would not be as evident. In many ways Randy’s death helped enable the creation of Kegels avatar. Randy provided a standard to completely run away from so even in his death, parts of him live on in Kegels Grip. Gaming is a platform of constant change that one embraces rather fears. The ability to change with excitement in a virtual world makes it easier to accept change in the real world and embrace it as well. Here’s to change, both virtual and reality based.

Tag! The Orc is “it”!

Randy Stardust, the Wood Elf, upon his horse.

Do you recall the games we played when we weren’t playing video games? Kick the can? Flashlight tag? Freeze tag or variations of it, like TV Tag? Family holiday gatherings always sparked these ‘All-American’ multiplayers, mostly because where the family gathering was being held didn’t have a gaming system (grandparents). I am not complaining. My memories of these spontaneous tag engagements, at a grandparents or aunt and uncles, are some of  the best memories from my youth. Many of these games were prompted to end with a call from famished parents wanting to start dinner, and wanting to get home. However, our games didn’t end until the last person made it to “base” and was safe.

If you have ever played a tag based game then you almost undoubtedly have seen or been involved in the car standoff. You know the car standoff, everyone has made it to base except for one individual and all that stands between them and safety is the person that’s “it” and a car. The two siblings/cousins jockey for position around the car, mirroring each others movement, always ending up opposite one another. Someone finally falters and is unable to match the other players pace and flinches, the person makes it to base basking in applause, leaving his sister in the dust.

I had this exact moment unfold in front of my eyes but, while playing the video game The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. I was thrown back to my childhood memories and was giddy. Yes, I was giddy. I squealed like a little boy playing tag, just making it to base. My Wood Elf, Randy Stardust (Randy, after Stan’s dad in South Park. Stardust, after David Bowie’s alter ego – the combination of the two sounding like a porn stars name.) had sneaked his way up a large stone flight of stairs leading to a ruined temple entrance. Randy was on a mission to return a ‘Golden Claw’ to a brother and sister owned trade house and the bandits of this claw had supposedly taken refuge in a ruined temple on a mountainside.

Randy is not one for full frontal assaults, unlike his porn alter ego, so he sneaked his way up the mountain and the steps. Just peaking over the apex of the stony stairway he spied a bandit mumbling to himself about the cold, Randy happily put him out of his misery with an arrow from distance. Looking around, Randy overtook the last step and cautiously peered through the blustery snow that swirled and engulfed the temple entrance. As he moved to the entrance voices cried out and an arrow buzzed by his ear, bouncing off the pillar behind him. “Shit,” Randy’s pupetmaster said out loud.

Two hulking foes had rounded a corner of the temple exterior and behind them was a   supporting archer. Randy is not well suited for a confrontation of this kind so a little improvisation was required. The archer luckily stayed back far enough that his arrows were of little concern but the two massive brutes on a direct path to Randy were a different story. Like Legalos, of Lord of Rings fame, Randy loosed three  arrows in quick succession taking our the lead bandit, whose speed was his misfortune for the first and last time in his life. That left the most dangerous of the two surviving bandits bearing down on him.

All that stood between me and the mass of muscles, brandishing a giant polearm, was a sarcophagus sized stone. The stone, that was once part of an arch that sheltered worshipers from the weather, was now going to shelter me from my foe. As he rounded the corner of the stone I mirrored his movement in the opposite direction. When he changed directions so did I. It was then that it dawned on me, I was back in the yard of my grandparents playing tag. Instead of a car dividing the two foes, there lay a stone. Instead of my sister opposite me, there was an ugly, snarling, Orc, with a dentist’s nightmare overbite (not too different from my sisters appearance during her more awkward years).

When both are wearing glasses the similarities are uncanny.

In this car standoff both players are armed but Randy has the ability to reach out and hurt. While we jockey back and forth, I quick fired arrows into the Orc’s chest. As the Orc slowly drained of life, I flashed back to my grandparents’ hazardous driveway (it consisted of concrete that was poured over a century ago). I knew the battle was won when I looked across the car into the tired eyes of a loved one. There steps, in attempts to match mine, had become clumsy. Their frustration and exhaustion became obvious as they slipped on gravel and tripped on uneven concrete. One last “juke” and they would be too slow to compensate. Now, looking at my sister the Orc, I could see the same frustration and exhaustion in his green eyes.

Another arrow floated harmlessly overhead. I took my time lining up the next shot, knowing it would be the finishing blow. The Orc across from me swung in desperation from the other side of the stone. As the head of his weapon just passed the halfway point of the swings arc, an arrow to his head ended his life.

I took a moment to appreciate how an encounter in a brilliantly made video game had caused me to flashback to fond memories of my childhood. I quickly out shot the depth perception deprived bandit archer and safely made it to base, while being bathed in applause.

Skyrim's version of "base".