Over the summer, I played short games. Bastion took me less than 15 hours, I beat Rogue Legacy in 20 hours, and spent 23 hours to get an “A” license in Burnout Paradise. And though I may not have collected every collectible, I felt fine with my progress, completing seven games to my satisfaction. It was a relaxing experience as I could just sit back and listen to podcasts in the background. When I tried playing Fallout: New Vegas, I couldn’t quite sink into it. My attention span just couldn’t cope with missions that demanded several minutes of walking between action, and the barren wasteland felt even more barren because I encountered few enemies in my 20-minute playthroughs. I started to think that maybe I had grown out of all major label games in favor of smaller indie games. It turns out that I had just forgotten what it is that I like about large-scale RPGs.
Then, as I was researching fictional religions for this week’s Three By Three, I fell down the rabbit hole. When I went to look up the Elder Scrolls mythology, I planned to just look for information on the Daedric Lords. I wound up finding so much more. Within the games Oblivion and Skyrim, the only two that I have played, the gods are mentioned infrequently. Sure, you do a few tasks for the Daedric Lords, mainly killing their enemies, but the “Nine Divines” are not mentioned very much. Even though each god has a different temple within each city, they are simply referred to as the gods. The only backstory the player ever hears is the fact that Talos used to be Tiber Septim, a former emperor. In reality, there are different religions for the Kahjiit, the Bosmer, the Dunmer and the Nords. The Argonians don’t even believe in the gods, rather choosing to believe in reincarnation through the sap of the Hist tree. And as I started to read about these religions and the history behind the world, I began to become engrossed. I sat in front of my computer, reading about the creation of Nirn, the planet where Tamriel is found. The complexity of these stories are amazing, with the details hidden within games and quests. After the creation, I began looking towards the stories of the Daedric lords. Then the origin of the races of Tamriel. Then the disappearance of the Dwarves. Four hours later, I emerged from my room.
There is something about intricacy in a fantasy world that excites me. I suppose that in a way, my love for fantasy universes stems from the fact that I enjoy complexity and wasted intellect. The sheer number of hours needed to create the backstory behind a fabricated universe and to tie together events with new mythology is breathtaking. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien created a list of the kings of Gondor that went back 50 generations before Aragorn. The historical tapestry that Tolkien wove was enormously impressive, yet paled in comparison to his linguistics. Tolkien was by nature a linguist, and he loved creating new languages. In fact, for The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien crafted twenty-four languages, each with its own set of grammar rules. These languages added little to the real world, yet the effort that Tolkien put in and the enthusiasm that he felt for his own work was and still is contagious. Not only did Tolkien create languages replete with grammar, he also created alphabets that used completely foreign characters. Though absolutely nobody would have noticed or cared if he had taken a shortcut, Tolkien went about things the hard way, choosing perfection over ease. As a result, his universe does not contain mere stories, but carries history within the language and the writing. He sacrificed his time and effort for fictional characters in a fictional realm, and we notice because he worked with such a passion, a passion that few of us could hope to achieve.
Whenever I look at a universe, I always look for the depth of the background elements. When I read Game of Thrones, I memorized the houses. When I played Mass Effect, I spent most of my time navigating the codex. I like big-budget worlds and RPGs because they give me a history and set of rules with which I can explore. Even though interactions with NPCs are limited to scripted dialogue, when the world is fully fleshed out, I feel more fully immersed in the game in a way that I cannot by just interacting with the landscape using my character, a feeling that is reaffirmed with the knowledge of history. The universe feels more culturally significant when it is given a history and a language, allowing me to gain some insight into the mind of the people. And the thing is, the amount of work necessary usually denotes the sort of money associated with large-budget games. But most of all, I want the makers to be as excited to make the game as I am to play it.