Dragons are better than you and your world.

As one real, tangible, living and breathing door closes, another virtual, fantastical, not at all real door opens. The great Lovely Girl Pursuit of Summer/Winter 2011 has come to an end, largely due to her no longer being available. It’s a minor irritation – so it is an irritation – but generally it’s not the catastrophic disaster that old me would have allowed it to become. Life goes on, plenty of fish, platitude, cliche, stereotype. This is a real thing, a real thing that has happened in the real world. Actual, physical door closed. Meanwhile I had exchanged many, many Xbox games in order to own Skyrim, in which there are dragons.

Dragons, you will have noticed, are not real. If we all look deep inside ourselves we know this, we also know they never were real. Sorry. They should have been real, but they weren’t. Deep breath, accept, move on. Fortunately however, the universe has balanced this hard truth with technological entertainment, specifically video games. Due to faceless, money grabbing, bastard forging corporations, I can wear Mana regenerating armour, swing a massive sword imbued with the power of cold and – crucially – I can walk with dragons. As long as when I say ‘walk with’, I mean ‘kill all of them indiscriminately’, which I do, so that’s ok. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (to give it its full title) is amazing. If you don’t know what it is, firstly: you can stop reading now, seriously, this will bore you and you will think less of me, and secondly: how? The advertising campaign has been pretty heavy handed, encompassing billboards, magazines, television and creating an actual dragon. Ok, no, not creating an actual dragon, but they should have.
In the game you play either a male or female adventurer, tasked with saving the land of Syrim from the fire centric attacks of the recently-not-extinct-any-more dragons. Unimaginative creatures dragons. The world you inhabit is what media types describe as ‘living and breathing’. It isn’t, obviously, at least not in a literal sense. There are preprogrammed townsfolk milling about, miles of countryside, wilderness and mountain range to explore, and a plethora of oddballs to cut to ribbons or explode with magic. Amazing. You can buy houses, work, shop, build relationships, take side quests, slog through the main story, and any combination of the the previous and more. It’s quite a commitment. It requires dedication, affection, time and effort to progress in this fictional, not at all real world, the engaging gameplay and distracting narrative need input, and that’s the thing that draws you in: the need to see more. Strangely though it’s also what usually puts me off this sort of endeavor.
I’ve played many huge, sprawling games – from GTA to Fallout 3, from The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind to Fable. I’ve played them all but only completed Fable, because Fable was a very light title, it asked very little of me and gave me horns and almighty power in return. Other titles demanded too much time, I just didn’t care, or they were simply too hard to bother with. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but reality is a bit of a grinding bore occasionally, sometimes for extended periods of time, so I never used to be able to cope with a form of entertainment that wanted me to invest as much thought and energy and thankless choring into it, as reality already did. I wanted to blow shit up, relatively easily, again and again. So why am I suddenly more hours than can be healthy into Skyrim? What has happened that has made this sort of thing appeal, because let me make it clear: large segments of this game (which, if played to completion, can rack up more than 100 Earth Hours) are spent walking around, doing basically nothing. For hours. Cumulatively.
It can partly be attributed to the vastly improved graphical capability of games consoles and PCs, and also to the eagerness of many modern adventure games to play out like high end cinema. I am instantly visually engaged, during many of my long walks in Skyrim I have mentally remarked on how real it can look. I am mentally engaged through story telling that’s no where near as dreadful as it used to be, carrying you through the hard times, intriguing you enough to bring you to the closing credits. However, there is another thought that claws at the back of my mind. Now, if forensics needed to find a serial killing thought, and the only way to narrow the suspects down was to match their claws with the claw marks left on the back of my mind – CSI style – they would struggle because of the mess of claw marks left by previous, scrabbling thoughts. Still, this one stands out.
What if I’m just more bitter and alienated than I was. I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking “is that possible?” Well. Haha. Really, though, what if, as I get older and more battered by life, as the years slide by and concern, regret and disgust pile up, what if I become more attracted to virtual lives. Even now I can feel my brain fighting with my thumbs. My brain wants to remind me that there are better, more constructive ways to spend my Sundays. My thumbs want to press brightly coloured buttons until a dragon dies and I am a hero. Then my brain goes “alright then, let’s do that.” A lot has happened in real life in recent months and years, some of it wonderful, some if it absolutely revolting. The revolting seems to scar to an extent the good cannot heal, so changed are we. Then there’s a world of dragons and that. Have I mentioned how good dragons are? I reckon the escapist in me has accepted he can’t escape me, and is moving on to plans that involve taking me with him. Bastard.
There’s nothing I can do of course. I think I’m going to end up pouring whole days into my heroic alter ego, the man known only as Prisoner, because I pressed the wrong button when I had to name me. I’m enjoying it, and for the moment it does allow a certain, subtle sensation of satisfaction that is lacking in other areas. God that looks sad. Much worse written down than in my head. What I’m basically advocating here is a world in which we all hook up to an altered, more exciting and fantastical version of what we have. Like the Matrix, but with swords and poorly animated faces. Or Existenz, which is excellent. A future in which we are aware of the lie though, so that we can enjoy the deceit. With dragons.

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