This piece is by Kit Riemer, MD, PhD. She submitted some personal context along with it, as this is a personal review, and requested I make it an optional read. I've attempted to use the magic of "Java Script" to do this: you can see this first section of the piece by clicking a button, like in "Home Stuck." A TL;DR is "I get sick a lot and started playing Skyrim to cope with severe nausea and anxiety."
I am ill. My illness has been going on since nearly two years ago, when I found that I could no longer go for walks or drive a car without a sudden and intense urge to vomit plus an indescribable and perpetually retraumatizing sensation of like, generalized but also highly specific doom and decay. No one knows why this is happening, and after a year and a half or so of doctors’ visits and suicidal depression, I found I had mostly adjusted to not leaving my home. (You can imagine, or maybe you can’t, how it felt watching everyone else adopt my lifestyle in the early days of the pandemic.)
One of the doctors I saw diagnosed me with anaplasmosis, rocky mountain spotted fever, and lyme disease. She prescribed me 75mg of minocycline twice daily, which I took for several months, experiencing a gradual increase in episodes of nausea that occurred not when I was outdoors, but in the relative comfort of my own home. These episodes were multiple-hour ordeals during which I’d gradually feel worse and worse until I’d jog to the bathroom and just like hang out there for an hour or more, taking showers so the tactile sensation of too-hot water would distract me from the constant wondering whether I’d eaten something bad or caught a bug or was dying of lyme disease or was just severely mentally ill, and vivid picturing of sludge moving up and down my digestive tract, eventually giving way to boredom and fatigue. I tried all sorts of nausea meds, herbal supplements, motion sickness treatments, etc. It sucked!
I say that in the past tense like it’s over, and it isn’t really, but I did find something that helped: I took a trip to the ER after a particularly bad multi-day episode and while IV-dripped, watching Titanic on a very small television with my mom, I met with a nurse who prescribed me ativan. Doctors who are frustrated with their inability to solve the strange and varied nature of my illness basically default to throwing up their hands and/or attempting to treat my resulting anxiety/depression, and so far I’d ignored them, but I decided I literally couldn’t feel worse and gave it a try.
Taking ativan at the beginning of one of these episodes seemed to help, or else the episodes started getting better on their own, but they were still very nasty and debilitating and it was difficult to get my mind off of how gross my insides felt. I couldn’t really read, I didn’t like being around people, and I was getting sick of melting my skin off in the shower, so I chose to finally activate the special edition of Skyrim I’d bought on Steam for like $5 multiple years ago and play that, since I didn’t mind the potential association it would form in my brain with feeling suicidally miserable. I thought I had gotten all I ever would out of the game, and now I could use it like a Sudoku or one of those miserable little brain puzzle apps, just to like distract myself.
Playing Skyrim in a cool, dark room became a sort of ritual whenever I fell ill. It helped an awful lot.
Here is what I did in Skyrim during the 165 hours I played it in the last few months whilst severely nauseated and unhappy.
At First I Played As A Mage
People play Skyrim as a mage, right? There’s a “mage stone.” In fact, aren’t the three character archetypes the warrior, thief, and mage? I had seen someone on Youtube beat Skyrim with just a shield. Surely playing a magic user would have its benefits.
It didn’t! Playing Skyrim as a mage completely fucking sucks. Maybe it gets better at like level 20. I never found out because I kept getting murdered after running completely out of magicka seven seconds into every encounter.
This, as the kids would say, was not it. I swiftly made an orc stealth-archer and commenced a new playthrough.
I Don’t Know If It’s Important, But I Was Not Playing As Myself
When I’m playing video game RPGs, I’m not typically actually “role-playing.” That is, I don’t have a distinct character in mind who I’m trying to emulate and make choices as. I just make the choices that seem morally right, rational, or like they’ll lead to the most interesting result. This time, I decided to play as someone who was basically rational, like me, but more willing to do kind of suspect stuff, like entrap a priest so that the enemy of his deity could torture him and rip out his soul.
The RPG I’ve played the most times is Fallout: New Vegas, which has a sort of karma system (individual factions and towns will like/dislike you based on your actions). I’m kind of in favor of systems like this, because in Skyrim, the dissonance between my actions in a place (for example, escaping Cidna Mine in Markarth and slaughtering scores of guards alongside my fellow prisoners) and how people treat me in that place (literally the exact same as before, except maybe there’s some one-off dialogue from the guards about how it was an oopsie that they framed me for murder and trapped me in the mine/prison in the first place) makes everything feel weird, like there are no stakes to anything storywise.
I can kill Nazeem, a respected farm owner and man-about town (and huge prick), and after paying like 1000 gold everyone will just go back to treating me the same. No one will mention him again, even after I hurl his lifeless body into the town well in view of crowds of onlooking shopkeepers and citizens. Is this because I’m the Dragonborn, savior of Whiterun? I haven’t tried, but presumably it’s the same if you murder a civilian at the beginning and end of the game. Pay a fee or go to jail for a bit. You can never commit a crime warranting the death penalty, which is curious, because the game begins with your character sentenced to die for… trying to cross a border?
Every Time I Make a New Character, I Forget How The Claw Puzzles Work
I don’t have anything else to say about this.
I Have Been Radicalized Since The Last Time I Played This Game
I tried to pay attention to the politics of Skyrim this time around. Basically, there’s an Empire that rules over Tamriel, which encompasses various provinces, including Skyrim. Previously, the Empire was at war with the Thalmor, a group of elves who seek to subordinate non-elves in Tamriel. That war has since ended in an uneasy treaty, and now the Empire is at war with the Stormcloaks, a faction of Nords lead by Ulfric Stormcloak, who previously fought for the Empire against the Thalmor. The Stormcloaks oppose outside leadership (they’ve got sort of a King-In-The-North type of deal) from the Empire but especially from the Thalmor, who they totally despise. Actually, everyone seems to despise the Thalmor. They’re real pricks, who with the Empire’s help are up to activities like banning the worship of traditional Nord gods.
So you think, great, I support rebel causes and such, I will join the Stormcloaks. But Bethesda has introduced a factor to complicate this decision: the Stormcloaks’ rebellion stretch goal is to force all other races out of Skyrim, leaving only the blonde, blue-eyed Nords. Kind of heavy-handed!
Basically you can support the Hometown Nazis or the Foreign Power. It’s a bit like the decision between Caesar’s Legion and the NCR in Fallout: New Vegas. Actually, it’s a lot like that, but the Thalmor are apparently so loathsomely voice-acted that many players choose to support the literal Nazis.
In Fallout 4, Bethesda moves a little beyond this dichotomy of shit vs. shittier. I hope that’s the case in whatever comes after Skyrim.
Okay But What About Actually Reviewing The Game
The game is fine. It’s like water, or sand. It has become an essential, ignorable part of the landscape, something your eyes brush over, as a result of the new AAA technique of perpetual updates and social media blasts and DLC rather than making new games. TES 2 (Daggerfall) and Morrowind were separated by a span of six years, a pretty long time. Oblivion only took four years, and Skyrim came out five years after that. Now it’s been over nine years since Skyrim first came out, although it’s been rereleased so many times it’s a meme, including six (!) years after its original release, and again for VR, etc. It’s like Minesweeper or something. It should come with Windows, and with every purchase of a flash drive.
Movement feels sort of wooden and awkward, but it’s pretty par for an RPG; I’m just spoiled from games like Titanfall 2 and Destiny 2, where motion and climbing are major parts of gameplay. In Skyrim, you can’t jump while sprinting, which is my biggest criticism of the game. Every time I play, I re-realize this and lose brain cells trying to figure out why they’d do that. If you worked on Skyrim or otherwise have some information about this decision, don’t get in touch with me, but do find the person responsible and put their dick in one of those desktop metal-balls-on-strings toys so it crushes their dick. Casey can you find a photo of one of those things and add it below? Thanks.
EDITORS NOTE: No :)
While you’re running through the main quests, which takes 25-30 levels, it feels like there’s a lot to do, and the game flies by. After you’ve completed these, you can run repetitive clear-the-dungeon quests for factions like the Mage’s Guild, Companions, etc., or you can do misc. tasks, which often involve collecting quantities of ingredients for shopkeepers, killing bandits, or retrieving treasured gear from dangerous locations. Of course it gets repetitive, but at this point I’d also been playing for over a hundred hours, so the bang for your buck is excellent.
By level 35, most of your brain power is devoted to figuring out how to sell all the shit you find. Unless you spend significant level-up points on Speech, the vendors in the game won’t have anywhere near enough money to buy the items you recover, and you’ll spend a large percentage of your playtime fast-traveling between the cities with the most shopkeepers, parceling out your goods, and trading with your companion/pack mule.
Compared to the Fallout games, the romance options suck. You can apparently marry certain characters if you have a specific amulet. I’ve just found out about this, and I’m testing the waters with an orc warrior named Borgahk the Steel-Heart by hurling her off cliffs and into draugr-filled dungeons to see if she’s worthy of my hand. But there’s not really any romantic dialogue or progression. You just get an amulet that’s like the equivalent of one of those bandanas gay men would put in the back pockets to advertise their sexuality and kinks in the ‘80s, and then if another orc happens to be into watersports, they’ll ask to seal the deal and there’ll be a ceremony. The lower-stakes, more organic friends-with-bennies thing that happens in New Vegas and Fallout 4 is a lot more fun.
Marriage vs. friends with benefits is a great metaphor, because Skyrim is stifling and dutiful. There are few laughs or pleasant surprises. That’s ultimately the defining thing about Skyrim that makes it the perfect game for a housebound, mentally ill do-nothing: it’s extremely self-serious, somber even. Each character is engaged in daily backbreaking labor, or anxiously stuck in a destructive financial arrangement, or part of a cult that meets in secret and dines on human flesh. The feudalism of Skyrim has no fantasy attributes, really. It is a universe engaged in perpetual war—often on the basis of race—and its citizens are perpetually in desperate need of assistance: they beg the Dragonborn to rescue a kidnapped relative (isn’t this the job of the Thalmor/Empire’s oppressive police state?), or to gather reasonably common ingredients for them (shouldn’t the free market provide an amount of each good appropriate to the need?). The game does an excellent job reflecting the reality of capitalism. The fantasy element, I suppose, is that the Dragonborn transcends class by virtue of their superpowers, and takes advantage of this liminal class-state to move amongst the peasantry and the nobility alike, to speak directly to the Jarls of each city, an unthinkable honor for anyone not blessed with the power of, uh, yelling loudly, and to choose the civil war’s winning side (and the future of the province). It’s worth noting that literally no matter what world-shaping changes you wreak on Skyrim, stopping the end of the world or ending a war or whatever, the material conditions of the citizens obviously don’t change. In 2011, the technology and manpower probably didn’t exist to create a game where something like this was possible, and even if it had this might not have been desirable.
It suits the perpetually chilly, greyish atmosphere of the game, then, that you wander the province, a stranger and god amongst the inhabitants, leader of any number of clans, schools, and factions with the power to un-immanentize the eschaton, but yet you can’t give 2000 coins to a farmer complaining about a poor crop yield, or a single mother whose husband went off to buy supplies but was killed by bandits in the mountain, or one of the permanent beggars in the major cities who, when you donate a literal single gold coin to them, bestow on you something called “the gift of charity,” which improves your Speech by 10 points. The world of Skyrim is at its core unchanging, subject to no god’s hand (even the gods need your help to accomplish petty tasks). It is the perfect digital depression cave for someone who has no effect on the world or its inhabitants, someone who lacks essential capabilities.
experience: 165 hours, apparently