I’ve got to do a better job of breaking up the “Grandpa Burke Tells the Rest of the World What To Do, Dammit” posts with more fun stuff. I mean, these days, the best blogs I’m reading are several great comics-oriented blogs rather than the Very Serious Academic blogs.
So, if you’re not playing Oblivion, and you like computer or video games, you should be playing it. In fact, if you’ve never played a computer or video game, you might want to think about giving Oblivion a whirl, if you have a PC that meets the technical requirements. There’s some stuff involved that is counter-intuitively part of the deep “grammar” of computer role-playing games, but the game also delivers a lot of immersive pleasures that I think even a non-gamer could appreciate.
If you’re one of those who haven’t played this kind of game, or any game, the basic gimmick is that you create a character to represent you in this world and jump right into the game. You start in prison, meet the Emperor of a vast kingdom who happens to need to use the secret passage in your cell in order to escape a gang of magical assassins, and get plunged into the world from there.
The difference between Oblivion and the vast majority of other games of its kind is the openness of the gameworld and the often beautiful naturalism of its visual design. In a way, its closest cousin is not another fantasy role-playing game, but Grand Theft Auto, in that you can go anywhere and do almost anything within the geographical confines of the setting. It’s different from Grand Theft Auto is that you can play a highly moral character if you want, in fact, that’s sort of the default “moral setting”. But everywhere you go, you get the sense that life is happening all around you. Computer-controlled characters move around, conduct business and conversations of their own, come and find you if they have business with you, and so on. There is a main storyline for you to follow, but you can also ignore it and become part of a huge number of smaller peripheral stories, which often present you with some interesting choices about which side to take.
My daughter Emma and I have been playing quite a bit of it together. It is fascinating to her like no other game she has seen so far. She’s very strict about forbidding her character to steal or do anything dubious, is obsessively protective of her character’s horse. She is adamantly collecting a huge amount of rat-meat taken from giant rats that her character has destroyed, despite the lack of usefulness of the meat.
She refuses (so far) to advance the main storyline as it involves chasing down some demons in the rather scary alternative dimension of Oblivion. I think that’s good–I went in there last night with my own character after she was asleep and the images involved are a bit strong for her. Occasionally I have to lead her away from other things. I had to maneuver her out of the room when her character started a mini-quest that turns out to involve a gang of female thieves who lure unfaithful men out to a remote farmhouse by promising them a liason only to rob them when they show up. I was sort of impressed by the writing of this storyline, which could easily have had that typical cheesy geek-male prurience but didn’t. Otherwise it’s turning out to be a great game for me to play with her collaboratively.