Return to Skyrim

I actually forgot to post it a week ago or so, but Eurogamer's Tony Coles chronicles his return to an abandoned The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's playthrough, and takes the opportunity to offer some thoughts on what he thinks Skyrim represents. Here's an excerpt:

At launch, Skyrim was both a pinnacle for video games and evidence that AAA budgets can still leave room for poor quality control. It claimed a rightful position as the state-of-the-art for freely interactive virtual worlds, but did it with many a glitch, bug and "immersion breaking" script clanger. But those bugbears (or calamitous game-ruining disasters, depending on your luck) don't diminish the achievement - Skyrim offers the greatest freedom and the finest resolution of world we've ever seen in a mainstream videogame. GTA 5, for all its gloss and swagger, still can't let you pick up an apple, let alone shoplift the contents of an entire shop by putting a basket over the keeper's head. That jape, discovered early on in the game's life, evidences Skyrim's chief mandate - to explore what you can do and what you can (or want) to be.

This is perhaps the most important value of video games as a media distinct from all the others. It's inviting you to explore a rich land on your own terms, and makes huge allowances to let you find and define your own way. In this context, Skyrim represents the last great landmark in a three-decade march of truly great games that transcended their peers. All the way from 3D Monster Maze, via Elite and Mercenary to Ultima Underworld and the original TES games, Skyrim is, perhaps, the finest expression of video games fulfilling their true (and unique) potential that I can think of. And that's coming from a Fallout fan that hates goblins and dragons. Despite the generic fantasy elements, Skyrim the best "consolised" game design of the last generation.

Skyrim's big win is more than something to be glad for - it's as much a signpost to the future as it is the contemporary champion. In many of the last generation's most-lauded games, the idea of "what's next" is painfully obvious. It's in climbing the increasingly steep slopes towards parity with films and TV. The question that's rarely asked is: to what end? To be just like whatever edgy box-set US pseudo-soap is in vogue? To have virtual humans that look and feel like real ones,, where the sole aspiration is to inspire emotion or offer provocative choices in how a story plays out? To finally be "as good" as literature, theatre, films and TV? To me, that's a hollow aspiration.