The Men Who Stare At Mountains

The Men Who Stare At Mountains

Skyrim provides players a chance to experience "the sublime" without ever leaving their home.

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Opening quote is totally about boobs. Read it again with boobs in mind, you know Im right.

Excellent article though, really well written and I look forward to seeing more of Rick's work.

This was a pretty excellent article: Thanks!

For me though, I have to say that Skyrim is more akin to an existientialist moment. We are thrown into the world, and the absolute freedom that we encounter can cause a sort of nausea..almost.

I mean, the whole world is so large, and you have so many options that narrowing it down is a feat in itself.

Hmmm. Food for thought. Does "the sublime" also start out fresh and exciting until everything eventually starts to run together into a homogeneous slog and you feel more like a traveling salesman than a hero?

llafnwod:
Hmmm. Food for thought. Does "the sublime" also start out fresh and exciting until everything eventually starts to run together into a homogeneous slog and you feel more like a traveling salesman than a hero?

But of course, good sir!

For what is the sweet without the bitter, what is the cold without the warmth, what is light without the darkness? There is a duality in all things, and one cannot have one without the other. [/philosophical babble]

I like the point Mr. Lane here wants to present. Not a very long time ago, we defined graphical capabilities with pixels as placeholders for our own imagination. Now, we've managed to expand graphical capabilities to the point where we're able to experience worlds as real and life-like as the one we're very familiar with. While this is certainly not an incentive for video games to just harp on graphical reedits with the same game over and over again (and I'm not pointing fingers... CoD), it's really nice to just stop fora second and realize how we've managed to create games of such scale and magnitude.

And not just Skyrim. Games like Battlefield 3 and Saints Row both have very vast and unique worlds, with excellent detail given to each texture that adds a sense of depth that was not available in games five, ten, or thirty years ago. Putting it in perspective, video games have come a long way in such a short time, and I don't think we've appreciated it as much as we should.

They spiced up dungeon areas with pretty big open areas in side caves and then show of the engine with the lights coming through the ceiling. But then there are even better scenes where you exit a dungeon, a unknown cliffside, middle of the night and aurora borealis lighting the snowy landscape ahead, also the mentioned first sight of the Whiterun valley and you see this giant open space or the sight of Solitude as you exit the foggy swamp and see the giant city on the cliff, with eagles soaring through the sky and ships in the harbour...

Again the graphics are not the best today, but there is enough of atmosphere and the mood and imagination. Yes on the closer inspection you can see the textures and polygons, but there is enough of the untangible and magical and...sublime.
And you know what - I rarley get that in games.

Interesting article.

I stare at mountain goats when I play Skyrim.

Those soulless, square pupils haunt my dreams... D:<

Certainly, the participation in a game can help with the appreciation of the sublime. And that's quite possible the most pretentious sentence I've ever written, but let's continue anyway.

I would argue that a certain amount of artistry is required to get the full effect. Simply having a magnificent vista or object is not enough. The presentation of that object is also important.

Take the Old Republic. There are some fairly stunning views in that, if you look at it intellectually. Colossal statues, and massive city-scapes along side mountains should be a feast for the avid explorer.

But they're not... often the magnificent views are ignored because of the more pressing matter of the guys shooting at you in the foreground. Take the Unfinished Colossus hub on Dromund Kass. No special panoramic paths are taken, and I was actually shocked to find myself at the foot of the giant statue without realising. The dark statue against the dark sky, along with the very busy foreground and bright HUD meant that such a huge thing was missed.

But even if you set up a panoramic shot, if you handle it badly you will lose the effect you're going for. On Ord Mantell, there is a quest which takes you to a high place to deliver something, simply so you can view the next area and be impressed by it's scale. But since this place only has the one quest, and it's such a long jog from anywhere important, the grandeur is lost in a haze of impatience and annoyance. (The communications platform I think, if you want to have a look).

I think Skyrim's advantage is the relative sparsity of mobs, and focus on free form play. Players have more time to sniff the giant roses, without feeling like they are being kept from goals, and without having their attention brought to five metres in front of them by generic rebel slave groups. But I think that the potential for connection to the players is lost by not taking a little time to design likely player paths. A small crescendo in background music, a small hill disguising the sight until exactly the right moment... these things can greatly help with and emotional response of wonder.

Not to say that every tiny detail of a game should be over-designed... but it would be a true test of artistry, and a sign of a master craftsman if they did.

Now excuse me, I'm going to go shower the pretension of myself. *sniff* I smell like hipster.

I agree with Rick. Thanks for bringin a well founded perspective into this particular subject.

I think we all need to give an obligatory nod to Shadow of the Colossus in relation to this subject. While the game uses the sublime in its presentation, it also utilizes it as a tool for storytelling. The vast, empty grandeur of the Forbidden Land (in addition to its intentional silence) provided the player time to consider the great harm they are causing, and the eventual implications of their quest. This experience, I would argue, has not since been paralleled in any game.

Great article. I would have personally noted that that the choice paralysis is also present not just in questing but also in simply how to explore the world itself. When you can nearly literally go anywhere, where to go becomes a question of it's own. Though that is perhaps the subject for another article entirely.

One aspect of the article I appreciate is that it makes no real attempt to delve into the details of gameplay. Some people love how Skyrim actually plays, some don't, and yet the sense of place and majesty that the game provides is bound ot have the effect the author describes on nearly anyone willing to give the game a try.

Never would have thought to bring a study of Longinus into a discussion of Skyrim. Though, personally, the real beauty is in its skies, not in it's mountains or tundra. The aurora affects above, and how they change from location to location, and even vary in intensity with altitude, always strike me as more sublime than most of the river passes and waterfalls that freckle the landscape of Skyrim. Contemplating the complete vastness of the land just helps the mind.

Fasckira:
Opening quote is totally about boobs. Read it again with boobs in mind, you know Im right.

Excellent article though, really well written and I look forward to seeing more of Rick's work.

You...I...but...! But I was being good! I hadn't thought about them all day! Why would you do this to me? Do you realize I'm now forced to compare the sublime beauty of the mountains with the wonderous glory of boobs, and now irrevocably have the juxtaposition of "sublime" and "boobs" affixed in my mind?

Not that it wasn't already, I'm just pretending to make a point.

as someone doing a politics degree I was surprised to find existential theorists in an article, but I definitely approve

 

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