Sweet Oblivion

A mere four years after its release, I’m finally having a look at Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Since it came out I’ve heard plenty about the game, pretty much all of it good, and even read some fairly in depth analyses of the game and how it functions. But I never played it, because I’m not really into the whole fantasy world vibe. Or so I thought!

Well, kind of. The thing about Oblivion so far is that it gives you that “you are a person in a world” feeling that so few games manage. It’s no surprise that Fallout 3, and particularly the first view of the Wasteland, is the other game that springs to mind here. I might give a nod to Far Cry 2 as well, but given that being a “person” in that game amounts to straight-up murder, it doesn’t feel quite the same thing.

What I’m enjoying about Oblivion so far isn’t really the fantasy setting – I’m already dying with boredom from the plot and the endless (endless!) scrolls and books about the history of the land, and the people talking about the rumours of blah blah blah please shut up. No, what I’m enjoying is that I’m a person standing in a particular location in a world, and I can go this way or that way, and a wolf might try to kill me, and I might find somewhere to camp for the night, and I might see a city in the distance, and the sunset might be particularly pretty from this vista, and I can collect some (so far) useless flowers, and on and on.

In fact, I might argue that it’s my very disinterest in the fantasy of the game, at least the overt “here be elves and scary demon dimensions” aspect, that has led to my particular enjoyment. Oblivion has been roundly praised for its sandboxiness, but it seems to me that a game can become even more of a sandbox when you find yourself indifferent to the grand narrative and even the lower-level narratives in it. In that situation you’re literally just in a world and not much more,  a situation that is rare-to-non-existent in video games and something I’ve often wanted to have a chance at experiencing.

And so, voila, Oblivion is a world and not a lot more that I can wander around in and perform my limited (but not too limited) number of actions. I especially like the slight intimidation and disorientation that comes with this situation. Obviously I could/should go and save the world, but given that I don’t care to, what, then, should I do? And the answer, so far, has been wandering around and most recently stumbling into a nest of necromancers in scary black robes. It’s a great combination of being a kind of naive innocent and existing in a dog-eat-dog world; it’s ripe for personal narrative.

Now if only I could get over my trepidation about breaking-and-entering and theft…

21 November 2010
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