There aren’t really any nasty spoilers in this but it’s meant to be read by people who have played the game and understand the references, or people who aren’t planning to and are willing to do a little research into it
I have found the exact moment where Skyrim ceased being a magical experience and became a video game. It is a frustratingly simple moment and it’s partially my own fault and partially the programmer’s faults. Maybe. Mostly my fault. I have done the same thing many times in the past without quite the same consequences, so I am a bit irked that this one time has become the loose brick that topples the wall. I accidentally started a quest I wasn’t meant to. The big one – fighting Alduin. I wasn’t ready to take it on, by any means, and I just fled the moment I realised it. Upsettingly, the series of events leading to it hadn’t allowed a spare moment to save, so just quitting or dying would have lost me an hour of progress. Unacceptable. So I fled.
The trouble with running from an active quest like this is that it keeps going even if you aren’t there to do it. It’s not just active in name, it’s actually active- all the time. If I’m down at the base of the mountain or anywhere near it, I can see a dialogue for the quest scrolling past as if I was right there fighting.* But I’m not there. I’m literally anywhere else in the game doing every other quest because I’m not ready for that quest yet. I want to have more fun. I want to get stronger. I’m not ready to “beat” the game.** I want to revel in my heroic epic a bit longer.
I still can, of course, it just irks me that the game is waiting for me to finish that one part. Every time I journey near that mountain and see that dialogue it’s as if the game is impatiently tapping its fingers on the table. Aren’t you finished yet? Jeez, you take forever.
Talos damn it, I was just enjoying an immersive environment and interesting storytelling and I don’t need your stupid gameplay to get in my way. I was having fun playing the game my own way and now you have to force me to play it like I care about the outcome – like winning the game is the point. The second a game reminds me with a whole-hearted slap in the face that it is in fact a game, I start to nurture a bit of a distaste for it, and unfortunately Skyrim has irreversibly done this. It didn’t do it on purpose and I can’t run after it with a rolled up newspaper shouting what it could do better next time to avoid this mishap again, because in reality it’s my own fault I’m bothered.
Why though? What other games or media have I based this expectation on exactly? The idea of a completely uninterrupted game is ridiculous; something always exists to break the spell. It’s not like the game has actually forcibly halted my progress just to shove me along its main linear storyline; it just feels that way to me. Everything else that I do between now and that quest is just extra stuff- filler- unimportant to the storyline in just about every way. But the thing of it is, everything up until then has been the same way. My favourite part of Skyrim- in fact, probably most people’s favourite part of Skyrim- is exploring and doing all the stuff you don’t have to do, just because you can. Up until now though I haven’t really thought of it that way, that stuff has just been the game to me.
Now I’m going to back up a bit and make a small confession: I did actually look things up on the Skyrim Wiki so I could proceed along the Main Quest more efficiently at the beginning. I did this because I cannot navigate Skyrim for crap. I will spend an entire hour jumping up a mountain before I realise I’m on the wrong side and I can’t get up that way. I will then frustratedly fast-travel to the nearest point that I think can get me to my destination and proceed to do the same thing again for another hour, unless I have at least a vague idea where I’m going.
However, while I did look up locations of some things (mostly areas to find the Walls) I did not look up the exact location of anything directly associated with the Main Quest. The reason I stumbled into my predicament was because I wasn’t aware that I had gotten so far through the main quest that I was being forced to play along with a large chunk of it. And perhaps that was the whole idea behind presenting the quest that way: to sneak it up on you so you are forced to make real-time decisions, but that wasn’t going to fly for me. After all, I was completely unprepared for it.*** So I made a real-time decision and got the hell out of there as fast as I could.
I broke the immersion myself by making that choice, but I’m still stuck with the knowledge that I have to go back and do it eventually (sooner rather than later, urges the game every time I wander into Ivarstead). So in the end I don’t have any real anger directed at Skyrim or its programmers, I’m just a frustrated little gamer who wound up stressing out over a quest for her own reasons. The part I never got to answer though was “why?” Not “why am I angry” because I cleared that up nicely but “why does it bother me in the first place?” I still don’t know, but it really does and from that moment on Skyrim just hasn’t felt like the same game to me.
*Only visual dialogue, no actual voice-overs, which is part of what leads me to believe this is partially a programming error. Not the quest running constantly, but my visual reminder that I’m not doing the quest- which is, of course, the root of my annoyance.
**I have looked it up and I know that this particular part of the quest isn’t the absolute end of the Main Quest, but it’s a big part and not something I could just dash into at level 34- a level 34 unbalanced mage, I should add. The fact still stands that the quest is pushing for me to complete the Main Quest even if it itself isn’t the end.
*** Maybe the game didn’t think so, but I knew for a fact I was going to die after the first few seconds of battle. I wasn’t even carrying the right weapon. Or wearing decent armour.