Some guards nearly cut my head off, but a dragon attacks the town. I escape, get some armor, kill some zombies and listen to people go on about places like Morrowind and Oblivion. I feel a little lost. I walk around a lot. I get frustrated that I can’t climb all the mountains.
And then some other guy writes a review for my website. I get bogged down helping care for a one-month-old. I put my review copy of Skyrim on the shelf. I quit being a professional journalist.
But Skyrim won’t give up on me. A buddy, who exclusively plays terrible Super Nintendo fighting games, asks me at a bar if I’ve heard of this new game where you traverse a world the size of Minnesota. I hear hipsters explaining it to less in-the-know hipsters at Phoenix food trucks. My brother plays a Youtube video of a girl singing the Dragonborn song. On repeat.
A week or so into stay-at-home fatherhood, I run out of Breaking Bad episodes. I desperately need something to do during long babynaps. Skyrim has been waiting for me.
I kill a dragon. I learn to shout in a dragon’s voice. I become a thief, a blacksmith and an enchanter. I kill a bunch more dragons and forge armor from their bones. I buy a house, decorate it and marry an intrepid local businesswoman. People name-drop Cyrodiil and Jorrvaskr and Stormcloaks and Daedra, and I know what they’re talking about.
I don’t do it all at once, of course. The Champ wakes up. I pause. I save. I shut down. Some nights I fire it up again after Champ and Mommy hit the hay. I turn down the volume and turn on subtitles. Skyrim doesn’t mind.
I’m always up until 1:30. I mean to come to bed earlier.
I’m maybe two-thirds of the way into the main story, and my save file says I’ve been playing 180 hours. If that were true, it would be more than triple the time I’ve put into any other videogame. But I know this number includes long hours when I left the game paused to change diapers and warm up bottles. Skyrim lets me switch from the steel horned helm of the Dragonborn to “dad hat” at any time.
Mass Effect 3 comes out Tuesday. Saving the galaxy is going to feel all urgent. Two releases in, I’m so emotionally invested in the characters that I’m gonna have to turn up the volume and hear their every word. I’m going to get a text from the next room: “Could you please turn it down a bit?”
It may be a while before I return to my quick-hit days and leisurely nights in dragon-infested medieval Minnesota, but I’ll always appreciate the way Skyrim eased me into parental gaming. Skyrim was patient. Skyrim let me decide what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be.
And now, before I learn too much about being a good father, I’m gonna go decapitate some dudes with my unholy fire axe.