Sexless in Skyrim
From The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Bethesda Softworks, 2011
From The New Inquiry:
You can die in Skyrim in the same way that you can die in all videogames, as a fleeting inconvenience for having lost a sword fight, a small technicality. Once dead you reset to the last save point, which returns you to your body and possessions unchanged. In the best cases the mortal human guiding the polygonal vessel will have learned some subtle lesson about swinging an axe a little more efficiently. If you’re resigned to remaining dead, the game keeps a log of save files preserving your imperishable self in suspended animation, a reminder that death is not an imperative in the game world, but a choice of the person entering it, admitting they no longer care to return to it. The player will die long before her character does.
So why return again and again to the thawing fields and craggy mountains in search of another diverting plot thread? Why expect meaning from the fractured story nodes scattered across the four corners when everything that surrounds them inform against their irrelevance? The standard answer is personal progress. The essence of role-playing games is not to simply pretend you’re someone else, but to delight in the joys of seeing your personal odometer turn over again and again. The game seduces players with an optimistic array of ascending numbers, which make the disorganized indifference of the world seem anomalous, an organizational oversight that can be corrected with a little effort.
It is an abstract mirror of sexual compulsion, pulling us toward an act with the momentary promise of order in disorder, a glimpse of the physical conditions in which it really might be desirable to think about never dying. The thought of immortality doesn’t resonate in quite the same way at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, alone with a computer screen or some oiled contraption designed to manufacture things that can’t fuck. In this other world, where death’s inevitability is slightly relieving, the insinuation of sex is everywhere. The happy hour mirage of lucking into a new somebody’s underpants, the unbidden curiosity at what Jones in accounting would look like naked and sunburned on a beach, the daydream of being alone in the supply closet with Danielson, VP of Sales, his fragrantly stubbled chin and gym-sculpted chest close enough to touch—they form a psychic webbing against which the tedium of daily productivity becomes bearable. Who could stand to work a job without the promise of that near-immortal comfort peeking through the cloud cover? Who could chase down the checklist of errands, transformed from spreadsheet order to fairytale geography, moving to point X, hitting button A, then being sent to another point X as if the previous one had been a misunderstanding?