Colder Outside: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Seasonal Play
There is a chill in the air here in Georgia, now. Only a few weeks ago it felt like you could cut the humidity out of the air with a knife. The weather changes here quite fast, it almost feels like whiplash, but I am wearing fall clothes now. Nights are longer, days are shorter, the leaves are changing, but it is that slight chill in the air that means so much to me. I love cold weather—fall and winter are just the best—and I tie so much of the media I consume with the seasons. Part of me used to do this without thinking about it, but now I go out of my way to play, read, and watch stuff that reminds me of the season that I am in.
Seasons, to me, are more than just changes in the weather. They involve sense memories, nostalgia (I know, I know), colors, music, and more. Fall to me is walking with a hot coffee in hand as I peruse my local bookstore as the sun starts to set. Fall (and winter by proxy), where games are concerned, is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The tundra and snow-swept environments of Skyrim envoke a specific feeling of seasonal existence that moves me quite deeply. Seeing the sunrise in Whiterun as folks move to and fro reminds me of those cold, sunny mornings that come in the dead of winter. Everything is still, save for a few people going about their day walking to work, jogging, or walking to class. The orange, green, and brown tones of the forests and tundras beneath the snowy mountains in Skyrim hint at a sort of bucolic autumnal perfection that is occasionally broken by large castles or monsters that roam these serene lands. The sounds, too, ground me in the fall. Birds chirp, wind swells, creeks flow, and smaller woodland creatures go this way and that way. There is a connected beauty to it all.
And where sound is concerned, muting the game’s soundtrack is the ethically sound thing to do (the game’s composer, Jeremy Soule, is a noted sexual abuser) and it helps to unlock the natural simplicity of the game’s subtly overwhelming soundscape. Just the sounds of nature existing are enough to transport me to my own feelings of fall and winter. As I play Skyrim during this time of seasonal change, I can look out my windows and see leaves falling, the trees swaying in the cold breeze, and the sun setting at an earlier hour. Skyrim evokes that in such a way that I cannot help but be drawn to it. It is a game and a world that I just enjoy existing in. I beat the main quest ages ago and have done almost every sidequest of note. Having played the game for over 300 hours means that I am not really drawn to its quest lines anymore. Instead, I just let my character exist within the game. I walk from town to town, hike up into the mountains, hunt small game with my bow and sell the meat and furs in various towns, and my trials as a hero have slowly given way to the everyday connections of existing in this fantasy world. Yes, sometimes I see dragons and giants, but more often than not my character can just be found walking along a stream as I just take it all in: the water, the mist, the sun rising, and the sound of a woodpecker in the distance. That is what The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is for me.
I am most drawn to seasonal play when it concerns the natural world and how the seasons change landscapes. We often tie fall and winter to holidays but seeing such things represented in the media that I consume does very little for me. But when nature is represented in a heightened sense where seasons imbue every facet of it, then I am interested. I see nature every day, I jog along woodland trails multiple times a week, and yet I cannot get enough of it in games, specifically. Digitally recreations of nature, both mundane and fantastical, does so much for me. I enjoy seeing realistic renditions of the natural world, but I love when it is more painterly and fantastical. Skyrim walks that line well to where realism is never ugly. And so when I see fall and winter represented therein, I become all the more moved by it. But the bucolic hyperrealism of, say, Red Dead Redemption 2 does very little for me. Seasonal transitions do not make me feel inclined to return to that world. Yes, fall and winter are represented in that game to the point where it looks and feels familiar, but in some ways, it is too familiar. Hiking a mountain in Red Dead Redemption 2 is just hiking a mountain, but doing so in Skyrim might lead me to a castle that is lodged within the orange and green-hued tundra backdrop of a mountain valley in the transitional period between fall and winter. Imbuing the fantastical with the relatable beauty and mundanity of nature—especially the cold and windy stillness of fall/winter—is much more appealing to me than just recreating fall/winter as it is.
So, as we ease more and more into the fall I will continue to find chilly solace in Skyrim. Seasonal play is a funny thing because it is so different for each person, and often what we consume during the chillier months is so tied to our past in ways that I find hard to explain. For me, it might be because I often feel happiest when it is cold out and some of the best times in my life are tied to cold weather, or maybe it is just because I am a sucker for the image of leafless trees blowing in a cold night’s wind. Either way, the days are growing colder and shorter and I am finding some solace in that—I hope you do, too.