Books, How's This Book?, Video Games

The Books of Skyrim: World Building Gone Too Far

Is this cheating? Yes. But also no. In case it isn’t clear yet, I’m kind of desperate for material.

In recent years, Bethesda has come under fire for… a lot of stuff. Frankly, I could write fifteen whole articles on the matter. But I’m not going to. Because I’m of the unpopular opinion that Bethesda games have never been all that great!

Why do I suddenly smell smoke?

However, I can see the appeal. I’ve always been a sucker for a good open world game. Unfortunately, Bethesda games have never scratched that itch for me. They do, however, have one interesting little detail that I’ve always liked: history. Specifically, through the books.

Literature is a great tool to use in fiction to build your world. You can use it to build on the culture and history of the land in an organic and interesting way. Hell, just writing a book’s title is enough to at least create intrigue! It’s a fun way to flesh your world out without simply dumping the information onto the audience through exposition.

It’s a particularly strong tool to use in a video game. Sure, most players are just gonna blast through whatever books they find without reading them. But an attentive player will take their time. They’ll read all that text to get any insights into the world that they can. Don’t believe me? Just look at all the furver around the lore of Dark Souls! People go nuts over that stuff!

Which brings me back to Skyrim. There are a lot of books in this game. None of them are as long as a full novel (thank fucking God), but the sheer quantity of them more than makes up for it. Reading them all will take just as long as it will to collect them in the first place.

These stories do a lot to flesh out the world. Don’t believe me? Then let me run the numbers! There are, in total, I shit you not: 820 readable books! That equates to several hundred thousands of words! Some of which give you extra stats and spells, others of which are only there to expand on the lore. Books, letters, diaries, scrolls, you name it, they’ve got it!

Shout out to the eight credited writers for this game that put all that shit together.

Now, the quality of these varies as wildly as the game’s functionality. Some of them are incredibly fascinating insights into the world’s history, or just fun bits of fantasy fiction within fantasy fiction. Others are history texts so boring they make real textbooks seem like water in a desert.

This is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s incredibly impressive just how much the creators wanted to flesh out the world of their game. And they did a (mostly) incredible job of it! It makes the setting feel that much more lived in!

Because the gameplay sure isn’t gonna do it.

On the other, what the fuck? Like, what the actual fuck? Why would you write 820 readable books? Why the fuck would you write an academic paper and put it into a video game?!?! You expect me to read this shit?! Why do you hate your writers like this, Todd?!

This is what happens when a video game takes the Tolkien approach. However, I do think it works better here than it does in a fantasy novel. As you play through the story yourself, and it’s completely optional, all that extra lore is nice. Plus, you can reward players who do the extra reading by having it come into the gameplay.

Although I can’t understand why people would want to read a book and play a video game at the same time. Generally speaking, it’s one or the other.

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