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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 n 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’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
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.
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.
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.
What could go wrong?