The Skyrim Murderers Club

I’ll admit to having gotten fairly well sucked into Skyrim. It’s an expansive game, with seemingly endless quests and level progession. There’s a bug I hit which came close to convincing me to restart the game (rather than abandon it completely, see how insidious it is?), but aside from that the game has been nothing but entertaining for the most part.

And so yesterday, after clearing out a location of the people who were in my way (there were three separate quest item I needed at the top, and no way to get there but through the opposition), I decided to flip through my stats. I know there’s a section to keep track of all kinds of stuff like completed quests and minor things as well, and these are the sort of thing that make the numbers part of my mind get turned on.

So I checked my quest stats, and then scrolled down to my combat stats. The first one said “594 people killed”. The second one said “164 animals killed”.

I did a double take. Five hundred and how many? People? Holy crap. Going back to a Nordic medieval setting, nearly 600 people is the entire population a big-assed town, dead under my knives and arrows.

I’m not a big console gamer at all, but the tabletop and computer role-playing games that I remember have almost always been monster-heavy. Sure there would be bad guys, but in almost all cases the things you were fighting and slaughtering weren’t, by and large, human. Not so in Skyrim. I’ve discovered several dozen bandit cave and holdings, and cleared them all out. Most of these are quest locations, and so in the course of the game you’ll be directed to certain places and will need to clear them out completely in order to obtain one item at the far end. So it’s eliminating people, presented as “bad” because they’re bandits, done in order to get what’-his-name’s ancestral shield back.

So a little disconcerting, to learn that I’d put down more people in two months than Texas has in the last thirty years (about 480, for the curious), and more disconcerting when I scrolled down to my crime stats. There was the expected number of pickpocketings and trespasses and stolen items (me playing a thief-type character and focusing heavily on those types of quests), but at the very bottom was marked “Number of murders: 10”. I was insulted. I’m no murderer! Those other 594, they deserved it! They were bad people! And… I really needed that shield…

Seriously though, what bothered me most about that statistic, was that looking back at the cleared bandit caves and civil war battles and other things, I could not tell you for the life of me which ten people the game thought didn’t deserve to be killed. I mean, I deliberately avoided joining the Dark Brotherhood (the local assassins guild) because I didn’t feel comfortable killing people, even fake ones in a game,  for no reason. I’d like to think I’d remember offing people in cold blood. But nope, scratch that. I’m just as bad as any serial killer, since I don’t even know when I’ve done a bad thing.

What’s worse about the Bandits and Necromancers and Forsworn and the Silver Hand Cultists is that they respawn. Pick any dozen caves and you can go from one to the next in an infinite circle and always have more people to kill. Seriously, there’s only five or six hundred named people living in Skyrim, but you could slaughter five thousand bandits if you had the time. It plays like the most crime-ridden place in the world.

Maybe this is a newer trend in gaming? In older game the creators would have created a series of dozens, or a hundred, monsters to fight, and thoe would be the things that the quests sent you after. Now the bad guys all have human faces (except for the dragons, which have very big flamey-bitey faces). It makes me long a little bit for the old days of dungeon crawling, and made me go back and look through the tabletop role playing game I’m currently running, and scripting, to see if I’d placed the players up against human foes more often than monster ones (I hadn’t, it isn’t even close). Like I said, I don’t do a lot of console gaming. Maybe I missed a trend boat somewhere.

If they’d even provided some alternatives to killing it would be nice. I remember I descended upon one outpost from the mountains (following the direct path on my map, having no idea where the actual road might be), and found a niche from where I could liberally pepper the bandits with arrows without them being able to climb up and reach me. If you were a bandit, among a group of eight, and some guy in enchanted armor made out of the scales of a dragon he’d killed himself had just put arrows through six of your buddies without a single missed shot, would you really wave a sword at him and call him names from down below? Maybe you’d surrender? Given the epic scope of Skyrim as a game, would that sort of surrender mechanic really have been so difficult to add in? It would have given the game a greater sense of realism, and provided a greater range of character personality to play with. You could still play the leave-no-bandit-standing slaughterer of the oppressors, or you could be the gentle hand that culls only those too stupid to stand down.

So will I stop playing? Or at least stop taking out people? Nope. Lock me up and throw away the key. For now, I’m hooked.

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