Friday, March 31, 2006

The 'Bliv

A single goblin guards the entrance to the mountainside cave. Didn’t these guys get the memo? You’d have thought some kind of wilderness telegraph – signal fires, smoke signals, the babbled stories of blood-soaked survivors, maybe? – would have spread the word, put every monster horde, brigand band and necromantic coven from Bruma to Cheydinhal on notice that there’s a half-naked, homicidal human female, fresh out of Imperial prison, rampaging through the hill country armed with nothing but a wicked fireball and a goblin’s head on a stick.

I burn the sentry down and give the still-smoking corpse the once-over. A battered helmet that looks like a repurposed cooking pot and a couple of coins – slim pickings, but you’d be surprised how it adds up at the pawnshop. Besides, it’s not about the money… it’s about building a brand. The legend of Naked Fireball Woman isn’t going to weave itself.
“Are you growing a moustache?”

The inevitable discouraging question. Can’t a guy stop shaving for four or five days without being accused of “growing a moustache”? I’ve had better things to do than shave, bathe, eat and attend to my professional commitments… fantastic things. I’d been watching the calendar like a radar screen for months – years, even – tracking this time like an incoming missile: the arrival in my life of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, successor to champion time-destroyer Morrowind.

Wednesday afternoon to Sunday night… a little over four days, and the relentless gametime clock shows just shy of fifty hours. In a normal week, a week without dungeons to delve, monsters to stab, and character-creation options to fiddle with endlessly, what would I have done with fifty hours? I can’t remember. Probably nothing. These hours are better, anyway: they’re faster. And with the 360’s wireless controller I can stretch while I play, arms extended way behind my head, so the deep-body ache’s not so bad...
Over the course of solving a murder mystery, rescuing a shopkeeper’s daughter and taking a trip to Hell, I’ve come to understand that I’m the smartest person in the world. I’ve seen a noble knight spend five minutes walking into a wall, feet treadmilling on the courtyard dust as he tried to force his helmeted head through the stone. I’ve seen an archwizard standing on his breakfast table, babbling the same inane greetings over and over. I’ve seen a bandit in full plate armor trying to hunt deer for dinner, chasing them with a battle-axe, on foot.

And the shit these people collect! I do a lot of light-finger work on the side – “pick it up if it’s not nailed down,” and all that – and let me tell you, the disappointment gets to you. Breaking into some magnificent castle’s basement vault after hours of casing the joint, timing the guards, setting up the job, positively drooling over all those chests and crates and cabinets only to open them all and find five golds, a couple ratty skirts, a rusty dagger… and a dozen or so pairs each of shears, tongs and calipers. I’m new to this part of the universe, so I don’t know what kind of fad it was that swept this land and left every basement and storage closet cluttered with these three tools. Maybe it was the same fad that left a copy of Darkest Darkness on every bookshelf.

Being surrounded by shears-hoarding morons is kind of lonely, but it could be worse. I could be surrounded by people just like me: fireball-flinging killing machines running everywhere, obsessively leveling up, looting like maniacs, taking time out only for playing dress-up. Given the choice, I’ll stick with this society of slack-jawed automatons.
Friends drop by like opposite-day interventionists, tempting me away from work (which, technically, this is) with lures of liquor and marijuana, using the wonderfully warm, beautifully sunlit spring days to weather-guilt me into going outside where trees, clouds, water and dogs are really real, not just wonderfully realistic. It sometimes works, but gaming for this long at a stretch leaves you painfully unable to cope with social realities. Not only do you get a terrible case of gameface – when the game gets dark you can see it reflected in the TV screen, staring blank and hollow-eyed back at you – but you get irritable and depressed. It’s shame-based; you know you’re losing life and love by the minute, and there’s just no excusing it.

So sunset smoking conversations on the Laurence Decore Lookout turn dark, toward subjects like the unsustainability of first-world consumer culture, the pending collapse of our civilization, the coming Mad Max age.

“Well, then,” I say, tapping the bowl out on my boot heel, “we'd better get back to learning how to use primitive weapons and kill anything that gets in our way.”
You know, this world is really pretty. Just a minute ago, I came upon a beautiful mountain lake shimmering in the dawn, fed by the frothy white tumult of a roaring waterfall. As I strolled through a little meadow toward the shore, a small group of graceful deer startled out of the underbrush and bounded across my path. I neatly blasted one with a fireball; roast venison’s the main ingredient in my signature healing potion a la chasseur.
My days with Oblivion have put some distance between my roommate and me, and not only because I blew off our biweekly Cleanday Funday housekeeping date to fight skeletons. She simply doesn’t like videogames; she can’t stand the repetitive sounds of clashing combat, the constant snarls and growls of monsters, the screams and moans of the dying.

So, when she comes into the room to hang out for a bit, I try to make it the most peaceful game possible: watching the moons rise, listening to the night-birds, quietly walking through forests and fields gathering mushrooms and salad greens.

It was pleasant, and a nice way to and this madness: tomorrow, I’ll put the disc in her hands and instruct her to hide it away from me until May.
You know what I hate about the drones that populate this world? No matter what you do for them, no matter how long you know them, no matter what intimate secrets they share or have pried out of them, they never call you by name. Sure, I’m Naked Fireball Woman… but that's all I am, and somehow it’s not enough.

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