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Game of The Generation - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The greatest art makes you look within.

Even though the transition into the newest generation of gaming consoles has been a gradual, whimpering affair so far, it’s pretty clear that the previous generation is wrapping up its final encore. To look back at how the PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360, and Nintendo DS thrilled us for years, PixlBit brings you our Game of the Generation series. Our staff has picked their personal favorite, most influential, most impactful games to highlight as we bid adieu to what was.

You might see the same game show up more than once, or the same staff member posting multiple entries in this series, but we didn’t think it was appropriate to create an artificially limited structure to praise the games that we hold dear. Join us as we embark on this journey with Graphic Designer, Justin Matkowski.

The choice of Game of the Generation is a complex matter. Far more than a culmination of art direction, immersive mechanics, and a satisfying sensory experience, a favorite title strikes a particular resonance with the gamer as an individual. A favorite work contains an X-factor that makes it more than the sum of its parts. The reason that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is my choice for game of the generation is a multi-faceted one. While it would be a crime not to address the lush visuals, incredibly immersive open-world, and achingly beautiful soundtrack, my primary  focus is on that X-factor -- what Skyrim's lead designer Todd Howard has mentioned as the crucial factor in a game’s developmental process: how it makes you feel.

Video Games are art (we’re not having this argument), and particular works find a way to meet us in our lives in a way that creates a complimentary experience: art imitating life, or perhaps, the other way around. When I received Skyrim in the mail, I was in a place of peaceful self-reflection. I had found my best friend and love of my life, and she was enriching my life in ways I never thought possible. My few-months-old niece was giving me a newfound sense of responsibility and excitement for watching new life come into the world. "Winter was coming," but it held no ominous connotations; it is a favorite time of year for me, and I was looking forward to digging into an immersive gaming experience while I did some soul-searching, pondering where these wonderful changes in my life would lead me personally and creatively. Little did I know that Skyrim would be my perfect companion in such an experience, and since then, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim would go on to become not only my favorite game of its console generation, but one of my favorite works of art, period. 

In Skyrim, YOU are the protagonist, and your created character is your avatar for this world.

Skyrim was my first foray into the world of The Elder Scrolls, and when my black Mohawk-adorned Wood Elf looked out at the horizon after narrowly escaping a dragon attack on Helgen, I was instantly enamored. Those of you who are familiar with my gaming tastes know that I am a steadfast supporter of player-authored narrative. At the core of player authorship is choice and individuality, and while the influence of Bethesda’s open-world epics is apparent in everything from the latest Assassin’s Creed to the upcoming Witcher 3, player authorship in much of contemporary top-tier gaming more or less equates to a level of choice that Castlevania III championed a quarter of a century ago. The notion of choice and player self-expression has sadly taken a back seat to heavy-handed (and often poorly written) storytelling that is on the level of the latest hackneyed Michael Bay blockbuster.  

Thankfully, Skyrim eschews modern gaming’s obession with Hollywood screenwriting and cookie cutter set pieces in favor of giving players a digital canvas to weave their own epic. There are no immersion-shattering imaginary walls preventing a player from exploring the world, and no obtrusive, directorial cut scenes that wrench control away from the gamer; just your map in your satchel, your sword (or spells) in your hands, and the horizon calling to you. Perhaps after spending so much time with Skyrim I took its open form and freedom for granted. It led me to consider if Bethesda had instead adopted the “cinematic”, directorial, narrative-driven approach of much of modern gaming, and I gained a whole new appreciation for the bravery of Bethesda, their incredible team of artists and coders, and their confidence in the player to traverse this beautiful Nordic realm of Skyrim at their own pace. 

Of course, all of this emphasis on exploration would not be so gratifying had Bethesda not created a thriving, lore-rich world for the player to lose themselves in. Skryim’s aesthetics and themes marry The Elder Scrolls universe with Scandinavian lore and legend. Spending a snowy night in the beautifully ancient city of Windhelm, wandering the open plains and dense forests beneath the aurora borealis, and traveling to the other-worldly realms of the Soul Cairn and The Forgotten Vale are all fulfilling, enchanting experiences with a scale and grandeur that most titles could only hope to attain a percentage of. This is a fleshed-out world, with detailed provinces that are home to different climates, races, political and religious beliefs, factions to discover and join, and of course, dragons. As another reviewer put it, Skyrim feels like a world that has existed long before you arrived, and will continue to exist long after your journey comes to a close. Bethesda broke up the world visually in a way to keep things interesting; from autumnal forests and snowy mountainscapes, to foreboding underground caverns and long-forgotten dwarven ruins, there is literally a ton of sights to behold and I wanted to see them all. 

Usually simply sword fodder in other games, in Skyrim, even the Dragons have a purpose, emotions, and intentions.

The physical realm of Skyrim completely embodies the spirit of adventure, and I felt that at any moment I could stumble upon a long-forgotten tome, an incredible set of armor, or a new character and quest that would change the course of my journey altogether. The stark, cold climate of the continent is also a great companion to the gray morality of this world; don’t waste your time waiting for a cohesive explanation for who’s the “good guy” and “bad guy”, because you won’t get one. This is a complex and divisive world, filled with characters willing to commit atrocities in the name of the “greater good”, nationalists who will justify their bigotry under the guise of patriotism, and even a wise dragon who would prefer the genocide of his kind over their tyranny once again befalling the realms of men.

That is only one piece of the experience however, and the other, equally important aspect is “who do you want to be?" As I was asking myself the same question at the time, Skryim stood as an incredible opportunity to craft a character that served as my avatar in this world while I contemplated my own personal growth and re-evaluated my ambitions and priorities. The amount of options in customizing your character is staggering, and they offer fantastic possibilities in terms of player authorship. While I honed my knowledge of magic at the College Winterhold and found honor among outlaws in the Thieves' Guild, ever present in my mind was the question of “what type of person do I want to be”, and that transcended my Skyrim experience. I have long held the philosophy that you do not “find” yourself in life, but rather you build yourself. The person that you are is a culmination of choices, ideals, preferences, and knowledge, and hopefully the individual you become is someone that you can stand by, call a friend, and be proud of. By allowing the gamer to build a nuanced and individualized protagonist, Bethesda exemplifies the individuality of interaction that is championed by video games, unable to be replicated by any other artistic medium.

By releasing Skyrim's Development Kit, Bethesda gave every willing fan the ability to improve, alter, and participate in the creative process that makes Skyrim so special.

As immersive and enchanting as Betheda's open-world epic is, modders have made it even better. Skyrim's Nexus Community is a shining example of the bright future of video games as both an interactive art form and a culture. By embracing the modding community (which we feature here at Pixlbit on The Elder Scrolls Forge), Bethesda has taken the next step in terms of player authorship and encouraging the creative nature of gaming and community camaraderie. When they released the Skyrim development kit on Steam, they gave the keys of the kingdom to the gamers. What has transpired since then is the creation of an astounding amount of incredible content that both enriches the Skyrim experience and reinforces the passionate and inquisitive nature of gamers around the world. In my opinion, this is a glimpse into gaming’s future:  When the fiscal bubble of Hollywood screenwriters, CG cut scenes, and bloated marketing budgets finally bursts, the creativity and ingenuity in the gaming community and culture will be the torch to the light the way to the future of this art form.

So, to address Todd Howard’s perspective, how does Skyrim make you feel? It makes you feel that the world is a massive, beautiful place that beckons you to discover and tempts you to chase the horizon. It reminds us that there is always knowledge to be learned, a tale to share, and an adventure to be had. It tells us that we write our own legend, and dares us to branch out in an effort to better know ourselves and to leave our mark in the world. Most importantly, it informs us that the answers we seek in life can often be found by simply doing what we love and immersing ourselves in a great work of art. For these reasons, and so many more, The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim stands as my undisputed Game of The Generation


 

Comments

KnightDriver

07/29/2014 at 04:13 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I got a Xbox 360 for Oblivion when that came out, but I found that I tend to get lost in open world games. As much as I enjoyed Oblivion, I always had trouble completing the main quest lines 'cause I'd wander off and do my own thing. In a way, I didn't care because I always like to create my own story in these games. So, my experience of Oblivion led me to want to play Skyrim, but I had some reservations, so I still haven't played it; however, I feel like I've played it because I had daily conversations with a coworker about it. Skyrim was a phenomenon when it came out. I met so many people who were playing it. Now it's $5 on Xbox Live. It's truely the end of a generation.

So what about Elder Scrolls Forge? More content please. Here, I'll add some myself.

 

Our Take

Justin Matkowski Graphic Designer

07/29/2014 at 04:45 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I always found the element of wandering off, exploring, and running into sidequests/building my own story to be far more exciting in terms of open-world games than strictly following the main questline. I completely the main questline in Skyrim, but I definitely took my time doing that :) I would obviously heartily recommend picking it up if you haven't yet; this game is built FOR wandering around and exploring the world.

Glad to hear your asking about the Forge! I'll be firing that series up again shortly, and thank you for the inspiration - Giant WereDragon vs. Flying Dragon = awesome beyond words!

KnightDriver

07/30/2014 at 02:38 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

I own Skyrim, just need to find the time. 

I really like the mods that effect the mood of the game through adjustments to lighting and the environment. That video highlighted character mods and funny stuff you can do there, but I like the ones you spotlighted in the previous Elder Scrolls Forge articles better.

Justin Matkowski Graphic Designer

07/30/2014 at 08:40 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Why thank you! I am also a big fan of visual/environmental enhancement and alteration mods.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

07/29/2014 at 10:44 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I love this game, but I haven't finished it yet.  I'm still exploring.  I get distracted by stuff as I play.  I just love wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere.  the atmosphere is a lot more interesting than Oblivion, and gives me the same feeling I had when I played Morrowind for the first time.  

Great article, Justin!

Justin Matkowski Graphic Designer

07/30/2014 at 08:39 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Thank you Matt! I absolutely love the atmosphere of Skyrim, especially how the music accompanies the environments and tone of the experience. Have you been to the "Forgotten Vale" or the "Soul Kairn" realms yet? If not, you, my friend, are in for some serious awesome!

Matt Snee Staff Writer

07/30/2014 at 08:53 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

I don't think so... I will try to find them!

Justin Matkowski Graphic Designer

07/30/2014 at 10:56 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

I should note, that both the Forgotten Vale and Soul Kairn are a part of the Dawnguard DLC. If you haven't picked up any of the DLC yet, you won't be disappointed if you do; Dragonborn also has you exploring the isle of Solsteihm, which is a wonderful callback to Morrowind and without spoiling anything, also features some content that wouldn't be out of context in an H.P. Lovecraft tale.

Chris Yarger Community Manager

07/30/2014 at 04:06 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I have fond memories of this game.

One of the fondest though is when I played through and beat the entire game using only my fists as weapons.
'Tis was a glorious day

Justin Matkowski Graphic Designer

07/31/2014 at 08:57 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

I remember you telling me about this awhile ago, and how much of a badass did you feel like after defeating a friggin dragon in a FIST FIGHT?

Chris Yarger Community Manager

07/31/2014 at 09:44 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

I am the ultimate bad ass when it comes to Bethesda games.

I have yet to play an open world Bethesda game and not beat it with my fists at one point or another. Hell, I even wrote the Guide to Badassery column here on PB detailing how to effectively punch some heads off in New Vegas!

GeminiMan78

07/30/2014 at 08:50 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I just jumped back in to Skyrim the other day. To me calling Skyrim a game just does not do it justice. It really is more of an expirence or an alternate life almost. Many games will let you make a avatar and such, but Skyrim some how puts you into the shoes of your avatar. There is a certain grittiness and realness that pulls you in. Like NPCs have names and lives yet if they die they are gone, where as in most games the next time you show up in town they would simply respawn. It's details like that subtle as they may be that still impress the shit out of me. It will likely take me years to finish this game with my current character, never mind the potential for tons of other play throughs with new toons.

Justin Matkowski Graphic Designer

07/31/2014 at 09:01 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Agreed - the level of detail and to the degree that Skyrim feels like a living, breathing world never ceases to amaze me. I think what really creates a sense of immersion with open-world games is to make the player feel as if they are NOT the center of world; if a game makes you feel like you are just a participant in a living, thriving landscape, and not the sole catalyst for change and growth, than that creates the most believable world. 

Alex-C25

07/31/2014 at 05:08 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Hopefully my laptop can play Skyrim once I buy it. I was very amazed with the videos I saw of it.

Justin Matkowski Graphic Designer

07/31/2014 at 09:02 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

I hope so, too! It would actually be worth splurging a little more on memory and a graphics card just to be able to run some of the incredible mods that are out there.  

xDarthKiLLx

07/31/2014 at 06:12 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

This was the first game I ever put over 100 hours into.  It was glorious.  The Daedric quests are badass.

Justin Matkowski Graphic Designer

07/31/2014 at 09:05 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Put about 400 or so hours into my first character play through, and never once did it feel like work or I was just going through the motions. Considering how many games today have your interest dwindling about 15 mins to a half hour into playing, this is truly an impressive feat. It isn't only the amount of content in Skyrim that is impressive, but how damn fun, rewarding, and engaging most of that content is!

And agreed, the Daedric quests are quite awesome - do you have a certain favorite Daedric artifact? 

F1r3inth3H0L3

08/02/2014 at 12:04 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Going a bit against the grain of the rest of the comments, I never could get into Skyrim. To me the open world aspect to Skyrim made it feel as though I had to "find" the story, which did not sit well with me at all. To me it was more of a chore to play Skyrim than it was fun. Open world games in general are just that way to me.

Justin Matkowski Graphic Designer

08/02/2014 at 10:29 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

It's all about what kind of experience that a gamer as an individual enjoys the most, and generally each gamer has their own set of priorities in terms of what they are looking to get out of a title. Personally, I feel that when games are strictly bound by directorial narrative, the gameplay tends to take a back seat. I am a serious lover of retro games, and I think a lot of that has to do with the art direction and gameplay being the emphasis, as opposed to the medium trying to shoehorn film-style narrative into gaming. Some gamers don't mind a lack of emphasis on gameplay as long as the narrative is rewarding, I seldom find the experience enjoyable.

Not to say that I believe open-world games are always better, or that they are the end all be all of player experience; I find GTA4 to be one of the most overrated games of all time, and I have really enjoyed TellTale's Walking Dead so far. I do love how open-world games let the gamer experience the world at their own pace, and I'd certainly take Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption, or Dark Souls any day over David Cage's work.

Thankfully, between the vast catalogue of retro titles to today's fairly varied gaming landscape, there truly is something for every gamer that will satisfy their own personal tastes. To each their own! 

F1r3inth3H0L3

08/02/2014 at 10:55 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

True. And I don't think Skyrim is bad at all, just not my type of game. I did enjoy Red Dead Redemption quite a bit, it was more straight forward with it's story.

Metal Gear Solid is my favorite series in gaming and with Phantom Pain going open world, I do not forsee that from stopping me from playing it. In fact, I loved Ground Zeroes.

Justin Matkowski Graphic Designer

08/02/2014 at 11:52 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Have you played The Witcher 2? It has a really good story with lot's of variation due to player choices/allegiances that actually effect the plot. I think you'd enjoy it!

Connecting with an open-world title is very dependent on individual player tastes and overall preferences towards art direction, tone, etc; it has to be a world the player as an individual wants to explore. It's the reason I could never get into the GTA series.

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