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?

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.

Ridiculously Slow Skyrim Let’s Play: Slowing Down

The adventure begins.

It’s been a busy week, largely due to travelling for Christmas, and I haven’t actually played a lot of Skyrim. When I have played, I’ve succeeded in playing as slowly as possible. I haven’t even entered Whiterun yet; those who have played Skyrim will understand how little I’ve accomplished so far. For that reason I haven’t been able to put together any real-world content yet. In lieu of that, I’ll recap what I’ve done so far and explain the guidelines I’m following to keep my game play slow and steady.

Introducing Aemilian

Definitely not a Stormcloak.

My character, Aemilian, is a Redguard, or a dark-skinned human. Skyrim does not have classes, but I chose the blessing of the Warrior Stone (over Mage or Thief), which is the closest thing to selecting a class as this game gets. I wanted my character to be a human, but not a native of Skyrim, which ruled out Nord. I played a Breton the first time I played the game and decided to try something new. The Imperials seemed a little too generic.

I chose the Warrior Stone as a reflection of real-life values. Not that I’m anything resembling a warrior in real life, but I do try to take care of my physical self first. I work as a writer, which you might think puts me more in line with being a Mage, but I try to put my health above my work. A lot of people who lead intellectual or creative lives almost seem to deny their physical selves; that’s one reason I started Desdenada in the first place. I love to tell stories, but living stories in real life is always most important, and you can’t do that if your body fails you.

That said, I obviously consider intellect and creativity to be important parts of my life. I fully intend to develop skills related to the Mage and Thief archetype in Skyrim, but as a supplement to my Warrior skills rather than a main focus.

Laying Low in Skyrim

Working day and night.

In addition to playing slowly, I’m trying to play in character as deeply as I can. Skyrim is a vast open-world game, which gives me a lot of opportunities to make choices by putting myself in my character’s shoes.

The game begins with the player imprisoned by the Empire after being caught in an ambush against the Stormcloak rebels. Right before the you’re executed, a dragon attacks and you escape. That’s when you make your first choice: leave with one of your jailors, or one of the rebels?

I left with the rebel because my character was suspicious of what the Empire would do as soon as the immediate threat was over. That by no means implies he condones the Stormcloaks, however. At this point I can’t say whether I’ll join either side. I’m new to Skyrim and have no stake in local politics. My main goal is to steer clear of the Empire for now, which also means steering clear of the rebels.

That’s why as soon as I got to Riverwood, the first town you encounter besides the one that just got burned down by a dragon, I sold the Stormcloak armor I’d looted off a dead body. The armor I bought to replace it was of inferior quality. There was no game incentive for doing this – weirdly, you can walk right up to Imperial guards in Stormcloak colors and no one bats an eye. Still, I’m committed to roleplaying, and the last thing Aemilian wants is to be mistaken for a rebel.

That’s also why I spent most of my time in Riverwood learning the ropes of blacksmithing and alchemy. Aemilian isn’t sure whether the Imperials are going to be coming after the recently escaped prisoners and is going to be lying low for the near future. To that end, he needs to learn to be self-sufficient.

Meanwhile, the family of the Stormcloak I escaped with asked me to head to nearby Whiterun and warn the local jarl about the dragon. I left off right outside the gates. Aemilian will deliver the warning for the sake of the defenseless people of Riverwood, but what I’m really interested in is everyone else I’ll meet in the city. This is where the game really opens up, and looking forward to exploring Skyrim in earnest and finding my place in it.

Guidelines for Slow Play

It’s a beautiful world. Take the time to enjoy it.

Trying to do things slowly is usually harder than you’d think. I’ve recently gotten into the idea of mindful eating, something I desperately need in my life (my girlfriend often admonishes me, “You’re food won’t run away if you put your fork down.”). The conventional wisdom is that most people who attempt to eat mindfully never achieve it. Simply wanting to eat slower won’t work. You have to follow strict rules and take real precautions against distraction: eating in a quiet place with your phone and all other electronics turned off, deliberately putting down your fork after every bite and chewing with different parts of your mouth than normal just to make sure your mind stays present.

Simply saying “I’m going to play Skyrim slowly” probably wouldn’t do the trick either, so I put some guidelines together beforehand. First and foremost is to walk by default. Many Skyrim players probably have never pressed the key to toggle their character from running to walking. Sprinting does drain stamina but your character never tires from regular running, so there’s no game penalty for literally running across Skyrim in one stretch. I will let Aemilian run in combat or other urgent situations, but for the most part I think he’ll be content to walk.

In the same vein, I will never fast travel. I understand why it’s in the game and players would riot if it wasn’t, but it almost defeats the purpose of having a huge world filled with things to see and discover.

I’m playing on Legendary difficulty, the highest one. I’m not an especially skilled player, so this forces me to make sure I’m really, thoroughly prepared for every challenge I face. That means staying on top of skills like smithing and alchemy, keeping potions and other items stocked and keeping my gear in top condition. These are all things that will deepen my experience of the game.

I’m talking to everyone I see, picking every flower, and checking to see what’s behind every door and tree. This is just good gameplay anyway since you get most quests by talking to random passersby and find a lot of treasure hidden in weird places.

Finally, I’m reading the books. You find a lot of books just lying around in Skyrim, which offer a lot of lore about the world. Whenever Aemilian has a break from travel and adventure, he sits down in a tavern or a sunny grove and reads through all the new tomes that he’s collected.

I’ll play a lot more this week and next time I’ll have some real-life content for you. I can’t say what it will be yet, but that’s the beauty of an open world like Skyrim: you never know where your next adventure will lead you.

Introducing the Ridiculously Slow Let’s Play and Reintroducing Skyrim

Salvador Dali ant sculpture in Paseo de la Reforma
It’s pretty ridiculous.

Like my life, Desdenada is largely about subversion. Exhibit A: this whole blog stemmed from a desire to celebrate fantasy while simultaneously rejecting escapism. I’ve always loved video games but found myself apart from people who identify as gamers because I see games as a way to enrich my life instead of a way to escape it.

Even apart from the meta discussion of how games fit into my life, the way I play games is a subversion for many people. At least among popular streamers, “speed running” seems to be one of the most popular ways of experiencing a game. That makes sense in a world where everything is speeding up and attention spans are getting smaller. It’s a natural and logical expression of the modern age.

So of course I’m going to do the opposite.

There is No Hurry

Ancient stone stairway to the ruins of the pyramid of Tepozteco
It’s about the journey, man.

I won’t be the first person who tells you about the benefits of slowing down. Like mindful eating and loving-kindness meditation, it’s one of those things that everyone talks about these days but very few people do consistently. I’m not going to put myself on a pedestal here: the urge to go too fast is among my greatest weaknesses. Maybe I can blame it on my ADHD or maybe it’s just a character flaw, but I’ve spent most of my life feeling I’m a desperate hurry but not sure where I’m trying to go. I consider this a stroke of good fortune: because I have the problem worse than most people, I was able to identify it as a problem early on and start working to correct it.

That is to say, the ridiculously slow let’s play is not a vehicle for me to preach to you about my superior lifestyle. It’s an experiment, and an invitation to join me as I correct my naturally flawed lifestyle.

If nothing else, it’s also an excuse to spend more time gaming. In trying to optimize my life and productivity, I’ve naturally decreased the time I spend consuming video games and other entertainment. Unfortunately, we live in a golden age of entertainment and about 87 “must-play-can’t-miss-your-life-depends-on-it” games are released each year. Desperate not to miss out, I compensated for my limited game time by rushing through each game to get to the next. The logic made sense in my head, but in practice, I ended up playing way more games and not enjoying a single one of them. Eventually I came to terms with the fact I just won’t play some games, and I should focus on getting the most out of my absolute favorites. Still, it’s hard to enjoy even one game with extremely limited game time.

The obvious answer: if I can justify my gaming time as productive, it doesn’t have to be so limited.

Video Games Are Good for You, I Swear

A valley in fall near Lindeman Lake
It’s all about fresh air and World of Warcraft.

One of my other prominent character flaws is my ability to lie to myself about what is really a productive use of my time. Of course I’ll leap at the chance to spend more time gaming, so I had to hold myself accountable to the results. That’s one of the reason’s I’m doing a ridiculously slow let’s play, as opposed to playing games ridiculously slowly by myself. But let’s back up. What are the benefits I’m hoping to gain from this experiment in the first place?

The core tenet of Desdenada is that fantasy, including video games, is supposed to enrich your life rather than providing an escape from it. One of the main ways fantasy can enrich your life is through inspiration. I started writing too early for me to remember why I did it, but video games definitely inspired me to write certain kinds of stories. I got serious about fitness because I wanted to be able to do in real life what my video game heroes did on screen. I’ve broadly expanded my knowledge of the world and its peoples because the way certain cultures or periods of history were portrayed in video games inspired me to research them farther.

My attempt to get the most out of a game will be two-fold. By playing the game ridiculously slowly, by toggling the walk key and steadfastly refusing to fast travel, I will appreciate the experience far more and have a deeper appreciation for the world of the game. The main factor that will slow down my gameplay, however, is the fact I will be taking constant breaks from the game to translate my fantasy experiences to my real life. This will take a variety of forms: maybe I’ll dive deep into the real-life culture the setting is based on; maybe I’ll learn to cook the in-game cuisine; maybe I’ll even learn to fight with my hero’s favored weapon (no promises on this one but I’ll see what I can do). No matter what form it takes, I’ll hold myself accountable by sharing every step of the process right here on this blog.

But Skyrim Is, Like, Old As Balls, Dude

Misty mountains seen from Machu Picchu
The map said Machu Picchu but I’m fairly sure I ended up in Skyrim.

As foreshadowed in the title of this post, the first unwitting test subject for this crazy experiment is going to be 2011’s open-world fantasy blockbuster, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. With so many great new games coming out every day, why would I choose this ancient, though cherished, game?

Get ready for some more subversion.

  • Subversion I: This Is a Test. By definition, a let’s play is recorded and experienced as a visual medium. I’m not going to do that…not yet. I do have lofty ambitions for this experiment and one day hope to create video content of both the gameplay itself and the real-life content that goes with it. To that end, I’m going to save those great new titles for that later date and work out all the kinks with an old standby.
  • Subversion II: I’ve Played It a Little but Not a Lot. Another general rule of let’s plays is that you’re playing a new game, or at least one that’s new to you. Since I’m trying something so experimental, I’m going with a title I’m already familiar with. I didn’t play Skyrim as much as most people I know and there is plenty left for me to explore and discover, but I have played it enough to know it should work for this experiment.
  • Subversion III: I Don’t Love It. The whole point of a ridiculously slow let’s play is that I’m probably going to spend a billion hours playing this game. That said, the goal is to seek real-life benefits (with enjoying the game itself a close second). If I played a game I love too much, it would be easy to get sucked in and forget why I’m doing this. I think Skyrim is a solid and fun experience, but I’m more interested in learning about Norse mythology or climbing mountains for real than I am in playing the game itself.

The big takeaway is that, whether you love it or hate it, the fact I’m playing Skyrim is almost incidental.

The Adventure Begins

Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguascalientes near Machu Picchu.
Pack your bags…and dress warm.

Going forward, I’m going to devote each Friday’s post to covering my adventures in Tamriel and the real life adventures they inspire. Most likely, however, this experiment will influence the topics I cover on other days as well.

In the meantime, if you have played or want to play Skyrim, go ahead and share your experience. How did the game impact your real life? What aspects would you like me to delve deeper into, both in and out of game?

Most importantly…Stormcloak or Empire?