Life Skills Deep Dive

When last we left Aemilian, he had just arrived in Falkreath at the behest of the local jarl.

Yesterday I replicated Skyrim’s addictive skill-based leveling system in my real life. So far, it’s working: the fact I’m actually writing this blog two days in a row is proof of that. In my last post I wrote about the philosophy behind that decision; today we’ll dig into the nuts and bolts.

Graduated Level Gain

Instead of reporting directly to the jarl, he got wasted and woke up….

The basis of Skyrim’s–and many other games’–leveling system is the graduated difficulty of attaining each level. When you start playing, you gain levels and skills essentially by breathing. This frontloaded reward gets you hooked. Successive levels get harder and harder to attain, which keeps you playing long-term and makes higher levels feel more rewarding.

I want to retain this aspect in real life, but don’t want to make tracking my skills too complicated–this is supposed to be fun, not work. To that end, I came up with a simple formula for each skill; as I discussed last time, for example, I gain a skill in Writing when I write n x 1000 words, where n is the skill level I’m trying to attain. I can level from 1 to 2 by writing 2000 words in a few hours, but leveling from 99 to 100–writing 100,000 words–could take months.

In Markarth?

In addition to the 18 individual skill levels, I’m tracking my real life Character level. This formula proved a little trickier. I wanted to go with n x 1, where n represents the number of skill points I’ve gained that level. Unfortunately, I only have 18 skills, each with 99 achievable ranks (they each start at 1). I suck at math, but I did eventually figure out leveling all skills to max would fail to get me to level 100. To resolve the issue, I went with the formula n divided by 3, rounded up. Getting to level 2 and 3 each require leveling up one skill by one point, then rank 4, 5, and 6 each require two points, and so on. This is fairly unsatisfying, since each block of three levels are equally difficult to attain, and the upper levels are not as much more difficult than the lower levels as I would like. I could solve this with a much more complicated formula in which leveling higher-level skills would earn more progress toward the next character level, but like I said–tracking needs to be simple and fun for the whole system to work. For now, this is good enough.

Building a Skill Tree

On my way through the market square, I saw a woman murdered by a religious zealot.

When choosing the actual skills I would track, I was faced with a decision: do I build a one-size-fits-all skill tree that anyone can adopt, or custom build one tailored to my needs? I went with option two, and I wasn’t just being selfish. Choosing skills applicable to my own life, and teaching you how to choose your own skills, means we both get a lot more use out of the whole idea.

Then a stranger slipped me a note, claiming to have information on a deep-seated conspiracy. An interesting mystery….for another time.

I’ve always believed in the Mind/Body/Soul model of personal development, where you make efforts to improve your mental, physical, and emotional/spiritual well-being and aptitudes. That means my own skill tree mirrors the Skyrim split of Warrior/Thief/Mage skills. Others will prioritize differently. An intellectually-inclined person might collapse all my physical skills, such as Running, Push Strength, and so on, into one, if her goal is to exercise enough to stay healthy but is not concerned with building strength for its own sake. Then she might split my Learning skill into a number of particular subjects, such as History, Math, Science, and so on, to fill the place of the missing skills.

And now, the skills themselves:

Karate, Pull, Push, Lift, Leg, Run

Yoga, Mindfulness, Self-Care, Upkeep, Art, Journal

Blog, Spanish, Learn, Write, Piano, Cook

A lot of these choices might seem arbitrary, and some definitely are. I’ll get into the rationale behind each one next time. For now, you should be able to start thinking of what your own skill tree would look like.

Good thing I had enough on me for a new horse.

Meanwhile, let’s catch up with Aemilian’s latest adventure.

Ridiculously Slow Consequences

I like waterfalls.

By “adventure”, I mean mostly a bunch of walking. After taking the eccentric Sam Guevenne on in a drinking contest, I abruptly woke up in an unfamiliar temple (which I had apparently trashed the night before). After tidying things up, the priestess told me I had mentioned something about Rorikstead and that I should look for Sam there.


It was quite a trek.

Rorikstead? That’s a fair distance from Falkreath, although come to think of it, I don’t remember a temple of Dibella in Falkreath. Where am I? Stepping outside, I found myself in Markarth, at the far western extreme of Skyrim. It’s a beautiful, labyrinthine city, and I look forward to exploring it in the future. Right now, I have business to attend to, and Sam can go find himself for all I care.

Let’s try this again, shall we?

Had I not been following the rules as laid out in the Official Desdenada Ridiculously Slow Playbook, I could have fast traveled back to Falkreath in a heartbeat and gotten on with my journey. As it is, the walk back took up pretty much my whole play session. It made the consequences of my night of debauchery feel real, and even though I’m impatient to see the jarl, I definitely enjoyed taking in the sights between the two cities.

We shall.

Check back next time, when we finally find out what the Jarl of Falkreath wants with me….


Skyrim Life Skills

You can find all sorts of stuff while exploring Skyrim. Like this beacon of a demonic goddess.

Despite not considering Skyrim a particularly great game, I find it strangely addictive. At first I thought it might be the world: in gaming, as in life, I crave exploration, travel, and discovery. However, my love for exploration is inextricably linked to my love for story. I like exploring partly because I like discovering new characters and stories, and seeing where they lead. There’s a lot of pretty stuff to find and look at in Skyrim, but the game’s relatively hollow stories take some of the thrill out of exploration.

Still gotta fix this tree at some point.

The real answer became clear when I looked at how I was playing the game. Rather than being motivated by quests or stories, I anticipate leveling up certain skills and unlocking new perks. Usually, the leveling process is one of the things that interest me least in the game. The skill system is one thing Skyrim really gets right.

Today we’ll look at how you can apply that system to your real life.

Do What You Love

Back on the road again.

There are games that I enjoy far more than Skyrim, like the Witcher or World of Warcraft, that could learn a thing or two from Skyrim’s skill system. The draw isn’t the skills themselves, or the fact that you can level any skill rather than being constrained by class. The magic is that the skill improves when you use it.

Travel takes a long time in Skyrim when you keep your speed toggled permanently to walk….

You can specialize in alchemy skills in the Witcher, which of course I do every time, but the only way to improve those skills is to go and kill enough nekkers and complete enough quests to level up. World of Warcraft does have professions, including alchemy, which do level up when you use them. But as far as class abilities go, it doesn’t matter if you’re a warlock trying to summon stronger demons or a rogue trying to develop more effective poisons–you learn these new abilities by killing boars and completing quests. Not that leveling in these games can’t be fun and addictive in its own way, but Skyrim is a step up. If I want to be a better alchemist, I make a bunch of potions and my skill goes up, allowing me to make better potions.

….but it’s worth it to enjoy the view.

The skill system doesn’t just motivate me to do alchemy, though. Buying ingredients for potions is expensive, and when I run out, I need to go find reagents in the world or complete jobs to get more money to buy them. Leveling up my alchemy skill, more than the game’s story or world, is what motivates me to go out and quest.

Love What You Do

At least I’m going the right way.

If this system inspires me to sink countless hours into developing fake skills, could it inspire me to sink at least a few hours into useful real life skills? I decided to find out.

I selected a range of skills that broadly reflect the skills available in Skyrim as well as my interests. To reflect Warrior skills like weapons and armor, I went with skills like running, lift strength, karate, and so on. Since no amount of practice has ever allowed me to wield real magic, I substituted Mage skills for more spiritual ones, like mindfulness, yoga, and self-care. Thief skills are things I technically could in real life, but lockpicking and sneaking don’t have much application in my day-to-day. I replaced them with mental and creative skills, like writing, Spanish, and art.

Spotting a building in the distance, I thought it would be a safe place to spend the night.

In Skyrim, skill points and character levels are easy to attain at first, but become progressively more difficult. I modeled this progression with a set of simple formulas. To level up my writing skill, for example, I must write n x 1000 words, where represents the level of skill I’m trying to attain: I have to write 2000 words to go from 1 to 2, then an additional 3000 words to get to 3; getting from rank 50 to 51 will require 51,000 words (in addition to all the words from previous ranks). Alternatively, I may level up by completing n writing exercises from various how-to books I own.

I was wrong.

I’ll get into the skills in more detail later. For now, the question is: does it work? Well, I started tracking my skills today. It’s just past lunchtime, and so far I’ve meditated, written a journal entry, did laundry, and read a chapter of a book. Now I’m writing this blog post, and I’m about jump in to writing my novel.

So far, so good.

The Road to Falkreath

Why are there ALWAYS bandits?

After slaying my first dragon last time, today’s play session brings it down a notch. We left off last time as Aemilian went to investigate a fire. Instead of another dragon, he found a camp full of giants and their mammoths. I need to get a mammoth tusk for Ysolda, but I wouldn’t stand a chance of taking them on. Instead I sneaked through their camp and looted a chest, hoping they might have a tusk lying around. They didn’t, but I found a strange beacon, through which the Daedra Prince Meridia demanded I pay a visit to her shrine. Interesting.

Yeah dragon you better run.

On the way back to Whiterun I heard some disembodied voices shouting at me. When I met once more with the jarl, he told me it was the Greybeards of High Hrothgar, who had summoned me for training. He insisted I go at once, but I have other plans.

My new home?

I set off down the familiar road between Whiterun and Riverwood, but this time followed it toward Falkreath. I stopped to kill some bandits on the way, and spotted a dragon wheeling overhead. It was night when I arrived, so instead of going directly to the jarl who had summoned me, I stopped by the local tavern. Immediately, some stranger challenged me to a drinking contest, and I took him up on it.

I’m always down for a drink or two.

What could go wrong?

DRAGON!!: A Worthy Adversary

This doesn’t look good.

Despite my general aversion to the Main Story Quest in whatever guise it takes, fighting dragons will always be cool. It’s one of those immortal cliches that will never get old. A while back I did a post on why dragons appear in almost every European and Asian mythology, and dragonesque figures appear in most of the rest of the world. I came to the conclusion that dragons represent the awesome and terrible might of nature. Early European cultures saw nature, and thus dragons, as something to be fought against and overcome. Early Asian cultures saw dragons, and the nature they represent, as forces to respect and learn from.

Dragons in Skyrim are something to be fought and something to be learned from. In addition to being a metaphor for nature, they’re also analogous to something that strikes very close to home for anyone working in a creative field.

Dragons are creative competition.

Lethal Creativity

Mirmulnir: the Hemingway of destruction.

There’s a scene in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris in which the protagonist asks my personal hero, Ernest Hemingway, for feedback on his novel. Hemingway says he already knows he’ll hate it: either he’ll hate it because it’s bad, or he’ll hate it because it’s good and that makes him competition.

Something to respect…

Most creatives have a love-hate relationship with others in their field (in addition to with themselves). Anyone with talent is simultaneously a mentor and an adversary. When I read a great novel, I am both learning how to write better and confronting an enemy I must overcome if I want a greater share of the spotlight.

…something to fear.

This all sounds pretty cynical, but ideally competition between creatives can be friendly and constructive. I use terms like “enemy” because we’re looking at this through the lens of Skyrim, where my character and dragons are literally trying to kill one another. Competition between writers is usually nonlethal and can result in both writers getting better at their craft.

Enter the Dragonborn

Umm…is this supposed to happen?

What does all that have to do with dragons? In Skyrim, dragons are masters of the thu’um, a magical kind of shout. Rarely, and with great difficulty, humans can learn to wield the thu’um. After slaying his first dragon, it is revealed that Aemilian (or whichever character you make) is Dragonborn, a mortal with the soul of the dragon. The Dragonborn can learn shouts instantly by absorbing the soul of a vanquished dragon, making him the only mortal capable of learning a wide variety of shouts in a single lifetime.


Though this is the part that originally put me off Skyrim–nothing ruins an open-world sandbox adventure faster than discovering you are the True Ultimate Hero of Prophecy and your destiny is already Written in the Stars–it does serve nicely for my metaphor. Like an aspiring writer, Aemilian has taken his first step toward mastery in a complex and challenging craft. This puts him in competition with dragons, whom he must vanquish, but also learn from.

Off the Beaten Story

And all I ever wanted was to pick flowers and brew potions.

I’ll keep my in-game recap brief, since anyone who has played even a little Skyrim already knows what happens: a dragon attacks a watch tower outside Whiterun, I go out with a bunch of guards to kill it, I absorb its soul and learn my first shout.

I will say that, on legendary difficulty, battling a dragon is truly epic. Any of its attacks can kill me in one hit, including its breath, which can’t be dodged–the only way to survive is to dive behind cover. When I ran out of arrows and had to finish the fight with my mace, each step needed to be executed perfectly to avoid being eaten.

Before returning to Whiterun to tell the jarl what happened, I am distracted from the Main Story Quest by a glimpse of fire in the distance. Another dragon?

What’s this, now?

I must investigate.

An Opportune Moment

The road to Bleak Falls Barrow.

I often give my posts terrible titles. Last time, I came up with what I thought was actually a pretty good title, then forgot to explain what it meant in the post itself. Luckily today’s adventures offer a chance to revisit and expand upon the concept. When last we left Aemilian, he was about to embark, reluctantly, upon the Main Story Quest. Then something unexpected happened.

A Place to Call Home

Opportunity knocks.

Just before I set out for Bleak Falls Barrow, a courier arrived, bearing a message from the Jarl of Falkreath. He has a job for me, and will reward me with a title and, more interestingly, some land to build a house on. I don’t know a thing about Falkreath so I can’t say just yet if it’s a place I’d like to settle down, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

Main Story Quest–we meet at last.

When I titled my last post “Head Down Eyes Open”, it was in reference to following the main story instead of more interesting side adventures–a metaphor for real life, where you sometimes have to do the work that is available to you., rather than the work you want to do. In these cases, you just have to put your head down and get it done.

As usual, bandits.

At the same time, you should keep your eyes open for new opportunities. If you’re already working toward your dream job, you don’t have time for anything else. If not, it’s a perfect time to explore your options and yourself, taking whatever “side quests” present themselves and opening yourself up to new experiences. The jarl’s letter caught Aemilian at a perfect moment, after he put his personal quest on hold.

Not So Terribly Bleak

I like waterfalls.

Bleak Falls Barrow itself is nothing special, but it did a lot to reward my commitment to the Ridiculously Slow philosophy. When I played Skyrim before on a much lower difficulty, the bandits and draugr that haunt the ruin were more a nuisance than a threat. This time around, every encounter was deadly, and I noticed details I’d missed before: pools of flammable oil on the ground, for example, as well as jugs hanging from the ceiling which could be shot to start a fire.


I didn’t notice these clever aspects of the encounter design before because I simply didn’t need them. Taking it slow and playing on the highest difficulty not only increased my enjoyment of the game, but also forced me to increase my skill as a player.


And So On

Skeleton king, word of power, you get the idea.

Other than that, there’s not much to say. I fought my way through the rest of Bleak Falls Barrow, learned the first word of my first shout (the infamous Fus Ro Dah), found the ancient tablet the jarl wanted, and returned to Riverwood.

Sounds suspiciously like another Main Story Quest to me.

There I was accosted by an orc who wanted me to join the Dawnguard, an elite group of vampire slayers. As a player I know this is the beginning of Skyrim’s first expansion, which I’ll definitely get to eventually. As far as Aemilian is concerned, it’s just another lead, and not one he’s especially interested in.

Nice night.

I returned to Whiterun, meeting some khajiit merchants outside the gates. Then I made my way to the jarl’s keep–and scarcely had I told him of my success than a guard came bearing dire news.

Dire indeed.

The main story is about to heat up….

Head Down Eyes Open

One door closes…

What do you do after you fail? In general, but especially for creatives, the way you respond to failure can shape your whole life. As much as you might fear failing itself, what comes next is even worse for many people. Failure is a sign that you need to improve, to build yourself up, to do the boring legwork before taking another stab at victory. For Aemilian, this means putting his personal quest on hold and doing some errands for the Jarl of Whiterun.

More or Less a Shortcut

Who do they even rob up here?

After my defeat at the hands of the hagraven last time around, I fled down a side path and found some interesting ruins. Unfortunately, I wasn’t out of the woods just yet. The ruins, like most ruins in Skyrim, was filled with bandits. Seriously, I’m not sure how this works on a logistical level: I’m pretty sure there’s more bandits than working citizens in this kingdom. How do the citizens even produce enough for the bandits to rob?


One by stealth…

I tried to get the drop on the bandits, the only tactic that had worked with the witches, but there wasn’t much cover for me to hide behind and I couldn’t take all three of them in open combat. Fleeing once more, I slipped into a tunnel below the ruins and found momentary safety. I came upon two sentries and assassinated one with my bow. I engaged the other with my mace–and won.

…one by steel.

Small Victories

At least there’s no bandits down here.

My triumph over the bandit sentinel was a small thing, especially considering I had to get through the rest of the tunnel with a mixture of sneaking, archery, and outright running away. Still, it was the first time I’d engaged a human enemy in hand-to-hand combat by myself and won–which was how I’d originally planned to play Aemilian.

Nevermind, I prefer the bandits.

Later in the tunnel I came to the lair of a giant frostbite spider. I whittled down its health pool with my bow–hiding between every shot–until I ran out of arrows. Then I finished it off with my mace in a nailbiting confrontation (the spider had greater range than me and could kill me with a single hit). Again, a small victory, but I was slowly building up my skill in one-handed weapons and light armor (as well as my skill as a player with the game’s combat system). Even as I was struggling to flee the witches who had defeated me, I was building up the skills that will, hopefully, one day allow me to take them on.

Um, yeah, I’ll pass.

Emerging on the far side of the tunnel, I was accosted by some bizarre icy ghost called a wisp mother. Fleeing down the side of the mountain, I literally dropped into the camp of some more bandits. Like the sentries in the tunnel, I took out the first with archery sneak-attacks, and vanquished the second hand-to-hand. Finally, I found myself back on the road to Riverwood.

Sorry to wake you.

Lessons Learned

Helgen, where it all began.

After a brief rest in Riverwood, it was time to climb the mountain up to Bleak Falls Barrow, where I will continue the Main Story Quest I have so far avoided. Aemilian’s journey thus far parallels the journey a lot of creatives will face early in their careers. It can take time to figure out how to make money doing what you love, but in the meantime, you still do have to make money. If you find yourself stuck in some menial day job, you’ll probably jump at the chance to start making money through your art. Failing, and finding yourself back at the menial day job for the foreseeable future, can be extremely demoralizing.

Riverwood, also a place.

Although delving into an ancient Nord barrow searching for lost artifacts is exciting as far as day jobs go, it isn’t what Aemilian wants to be doing. Yet it’s a sensible goal, for now. Not only is it a good chance to build up the combat skills I’ll need when I return to Orphan Rock, but I can use any monetary reward from the jarl to better equip myself.

Time to rest, relax, do a little birdwatching.

The worst part about working a day job is it feels like it’s taking time away from working toward your dream job. That doesn’t have to be the case, though. Even the most disparate jobs can have skills in common. Going back to an earlier example, let’s say you want to be a photographer. Until you can make ends meet with your camera, you’re stuck working a cash register. This is actually an incredible chance to build up your customer service skills, something you’ll need in spades to run your own photography business. Meanwhile, don’t look at the earnings from your job as just a way to pay bills until you make it. Put a little aside every month to invest in your career, saving for new camera lenses, a domain for your website, or a logo for your business. Once you see how your current job feeds directly into achieving your dreams, you’ll have a much easier time coping with failure and pressing on.

A drink and a song go a long way.

Take some time to think these lessons over while Aemilian recuperates in Riverwood. After a good night’s sleep, we’re off to Bleak Falls Barrow…

Difficult Witches: A Failure in Three Parts

O Kynareth, noble goddess of the skies…please send help.

I didn’t find the actual gameplay of Skyrim very fun when I first played it seven years ago. Now I see the problem. I can’t remember what difficulty setting I was on that first time (probably whatever the default is), but it certainly wasn’t very high. This time around I’m playing exclusively on the highest setting. To be honest, the combat mechanics are still pretty janky, but the world has a new sense of danger about it. Every encounter is deadly, and every decision I make about Aemilian’s combat style matters. Though Skyrim allows you to change the difficulty setting at any time, I didn’t waver–even when I died a ridiculous number of times–and had a much richer experience as a result. This is just as true in real life, and I hope Aemilian’s latest misadventure will convince you against taking the easy way out.

Deaths in the Afternoon

Even one witch was more than I could handle.

Venturing toward Orphan Rock, where I hoped to find the hagraven wielder of the special dagger I need to heal the tree back in Whiterun, I was set upon by a coven of unfriendly witches–and immediately died. I knew Legendary difficulty was going to be hard, but didn’t realize that, at least at this early stage of the game, it meant almost anything that managed to touch me would instantly kill me. After a few more deaths I learned how to effectively dodge the bolts of ice and fire the witches hurled at me and closed to melee distance. I attacked, only to find each swing of my trusty mace barely scratched the witches’ health. Their daggers didn’t one-hit me, but two or three swings would do the trick. How was I supposed to get in a few dozen blows before they could nick me twice?

Adopting a hit-and-run strategy, I managed to lure one of the witches away from the others. Even one-on-one, my odds seemed hopeless. I managed to whittle down her health with quick hits before sprinting to safety, but it was rough going. In the end, my salvation came at the hands of some wandering Stormcloaks, who helped me finish her off.

Suddenly I’m more sympathetic to the Stormcloak cause.

One down, but countless more between me and my objective, and I can’t count on outside intervention for each one of them. I’m going to need a new strategy.

A Change of Pace

Let’s try this again.

Yesterday I talked about the importance of choosing your own path rather than having one forced on you. Ironically, today I’m going to talk about the equal importance of having circumstances forced on you.

The goal in sight.

I had a vision for Aemilian’s combat style when I started playing. I thought I’d build a ranger-type character, focusing primarily on one-handed weapons and light armor skills, with a bit of alteration and restoration magic sprinkled in. After dying to the witches of Orphan Rock a hundred times, I realized those skills just weren’t going to work in this instance. Instead, I ended up sneaking around the woods and mountain ridges, picking the witches off one at a time while creeping closer to Orphan Rock itself. I didn’t set out to play an assassin-type character, but circumstances demanded it.

Death from the shadows.

One response to this would be to curse the game for not allowing me to play the character I want to play, but I opted for the opposite reaction. I was still playing a warrior character, but experiencing the story of a warrior who encounters a foe he cannot overpower, and must scramble to survive. Let that be a counterpoint to yesterday’s lesson: you should choose your own goals, as Aemilian chose to help the church of Kynareth, but do not become rigid in how you accomplish those goals. Use all the resources available to you, and be grateful for obstacles that force you to grow and learn new skills.

Close call.

Harnessing his newfound skill in stealth and archery, Aemilian reached Orphan Rock itself, and his greatest challenge.

To the Bittersweet End

Not exactly welcoming.

I had hoped I wouldn’t actually have to kill the hagraven to retrieve the enchanted dagger Nettlebane. Maybe she would simply have it among her belongings. This was not the case. Steeling myself, I attacked the hagraven with everything I had–and died a dozen more times.

Nope, no Nettlebane here.

The hagraven was even stronger than the witches in both magic and melee. The rock on which we fought was too small for me to maneuver effectively. Worst of all, I couldn’t engage the hagraven without alerting other witches to the battle, and it was impossible to fight their leader while dodging their spells at the same time. I gave it my all, but in the end I had to admit defeat, making a break for a passage through the mountains I had noticed earlier.

Stronger than she looks.

This adventure didn’t have a happy ending, but I wouldn’t call it a sad ending. In fact it was no ending at all: I will return to Orphan Rock some day, when I am stronger and better equipped for the challenge. This only makes my goal more meaningful, and motivates me to become better.

Live to fight another day.

In life, as in Skyrim, difficulties and failures are the surest path to success.

Quest Accepted: An Adventurer’s Journal

For many creatives looking for meaning in life, this random NPC encounter is Skyrim’s most relatable character.

In addition to philosophizing about how my experiences in Skyrim can inform my real life, one of my goals with the Ridiculously Slow Let’s Play is to actually do things in the real world inspired by the game. We’ll start simple. One of my main goals for 2018 is to get into the habit of keeping a daily journal. There are many ways to keep a journal. It can be a record of events, a spotlight on things you’re grateful for, or even a creative exercise in stream-of-consciousness ramblings. I’m going to try something different–something that will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s played an open-world RPG.

Your Personal Quest Log

My quest log says West, but my heart says North.

Yesterday I talked about how I found some of Skyrim’s storylines more interesting than others. Specifically, I felt more drawn to a trivial “Miscellaneous” quest than the game’s main story. That got me thinking: what makes games so appealing, even addictive, is that you always know what you’re supposed to do. Even in Skyrim, where the whole point is that you can explore a vast open-world at your own discretion, there is something comforting about carrying a log full of quests that you can refer back to at any time, a handy tool that places little markers on your map and tells you how to move forward.

In retrospect, we can order the events of our lives into neat narrative threads, seeing how one thing led to another and got us where we are today. In the moment, it’s just a lot of chaos and noise. When you follow a quest in Skyrim, you know it’s going somewhere. Regardless of whether it ends happily or not, whether you succeed or fail, you know in advance that you are doing something that the game considers Meaningful. In real life, you might meet a Mysterious Stranger or apply to join some Heroic Organization–and never hear from them again. In a game there is guaranteed to be closure. Even if the stranger comes back and tries to rob you or you fail the organization’s entry trial, that’s somehow more satisfying than getting invested in something that eventually turns out not to matter.

Life is not a game, or if it is, the writers need to be fired and replaced with someone who comprehends the basics of narrative structure. Until then, it’s up to us to write our own quest logs, and it’s up to us to do it right. That means only accepting quests we have control over. For example, let’s say you want to be a professional photographer, so you decide your main quest is to get your friend’s cousin to hire you to photograph her wedding. Two months before the big day, the engagement falls through. You’ve failed your main quest for reasons that have nothing to do with you. A simpler and better goal would be to leave it at “become a professional photographer”. Opportunities will come and go, but as long as you keep working toward your goal, you’ll be making progress on your own personal adventure.

A Purpose in Skyrim

Maybe I’d be more interested in this quest if the wizard who gave it to me wasn’t, like, just the worst.

Back in Tamriel, Aemilian is looking for his place in Skyrim. I’m not familiar with the world of the Elders Scrolls games and don’t know enough about Hammerfell to construct much of a backstory, so I’m keeping it simple: Aemilian was caught poaching and fled to Skyrim, where he was then mistaken for a Stormcloak. Now that I’ve escaped both Redguard and Imperial justice, I can shift my focus from running and laying low to figuring out what I actually want to do with my new life.

After seeing how much depth and texture alchemy adds to the world, I decided to dabble in the game’s other tradeskills.

The Jarl of Whiterun and his court wizard have their own ideas: they want me to go to Bleak Falls Barrow and recover some artifact that has something to do with the dragons coming back. With nothing better to do, I agree. After learning the basics of arcane enchanting, catching up on some reading, and exploring the city, something more meaningful catches my eye.

Apparently to fix this tree, I need the sap of another tree, which can only be collected using a special dagger used by hagravens to sacrifice hapless tree-creatures.

Danica Pure-Spring, a priestess of Kynareth, implores me to help her revive a sacred tree in the city square. I’ve established Aemilian as a hunter and alchemist who lives very close to the land, and Kynareth is the goddess of nature and patron of travelers. This quest isn’t just something to do. It’s a purpose.

A Purpose in Mexico

Retracing my steps toward Riverwood.

While Aemilian raises his steel in service of Kynareth, I’m busy starting my own quest log in real-world Mexico. It doesn’t take a lot of soul searching to find my main story. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Technically this blog is writing, and I’ve even worked as a professional content writer before, and I wouldn’t count either of those as achieving my purpose in life, so I need to get more specific. I want to be a published author. Except I already am, since my first collaborative, ghostwritten novel was recently published. That doesn’t fulfill my purpose either. What I really want is to publish a novel I wrote entirely by myself, and under my own name.

Don’t look at me like that, Main Story Quest. I’ll get to you eventually…

It’s a goal I’ve had since I was about five years old, so it’s not a huge revelation. The exercise is helpful, however, in changing how I see the story of my life. Humans naturally construct narratives out of the events they experience, and it’s too easy to give these stories downer endings. I’ve started and scrapped countless novels in my life, and it’s natural to see these each as self-contained, negative narratives: “This is the story of how Evaric failed to finish a novel.” In other words, a string of failed quests.

Property values in Helgen really went downhill after that whole dragon incident.

But I have the power to define it differently, marking these as the ups and downs of a more meaningful, lifelong quest: “This is the story of how Evaric struggled, learned, grew, and became a successful author.”

“Who made these neat rock formations?” I wondered. I’d soon have my answer…

At least that’s how I hope the story ends. Check back tomorrow, as I march on toward the elusive ending of yet another novel and Aemilian marches toward the sinister hagravens of Orphan Rock…