“Play will be to the 21st century what work was to the last 300 years of industrial society – our dominant way of knowing, doing and creating value.”
- Pat Kane, The Play Ethic
Skyrim came out when I was in the middle of writing my first book. I’d been working at a mobile gaming company, following the industry closely, until my co-author and I quit everything else to make interviews and write for a month.
My clever sister spotted Skyrim’s release and bought the game for me to look at (no touching) until we’d finished the book.
We ended up writing for six weeks instead of four. All I remember of the last two weeks is my aching back. And looking at the Skyrim cover on the living room table.
When the book was done, I got to play. This is what I learned.
1. Follow your curiosity
When creating a character, I don’t want to choose. I’m tempted to collect a set of skills that I’m interested in instead of focusing on one thing. Definitely tells a story about how I’m tempted to work as well. But when I find a mission to accomplish, the focus follows.
Trying new things has brought the most interesting people and work in my life for years. That’s why I recommend sidetracks as long as they have a direction (onwards & upwards).
It may not make the strongest character (or a clear career path) right away, but in the long run I trust Francis Ford Coppola on this one: “You don’t have to specialize - do everything that you love and then, at some time, the future will come together for you in some form.”
2. Ask questions and listen
In a world like Skyrim, there are hundreds of characters with stories to tell. Ask questions and listen well to win their trust. I often do it to learn about script writing and character building, but sometimes it pays off when I least expect it.
It’s better to communicate too much than too little if you want to build good relationships (or companies, unless you’re Apple). Yes, it takes time. But asking and listening are the cheapest ways to prevent misunderstanding and stupid mistakes.
3. Notice details
Most guys I know run through their game like it’s a race, trying to finish as fast as possible. I’ve never done that. I want to explore every dark corner and secret stash and get to know the game before finishing.
Someone has designed all the rooms and caves, written all the dialogue in the taverns, programmed all the graphics, and I feel like I want to appreciate that work. When it’s done well, the details tell the story of a purpose that’s bigger than I am.
It’s true you can finish fast and always go back, but it’s not the same. I’d rather try fun stuff, experience as much as possible, enjoy being on the journey before I know how it ends.
4. If stuck, do something else
I made a lot of mistakes in building my character (see lesson one) and got my ass kicked in the last cave so many times I lost count. She was too weak. No spells would change it. The two monsters from the future were killing her again and again.
So I walked around, did nothing for a while and then took on smaller quests. That’s what I do when I hit a wall in my creative work as well. And again, often the solutions find their way into my consciousness when I give up and do nothing or do something else.
After a while I let Skyrim go. I never finished the game, but it doesn’t bother me because I played for the joy of playing and learned a lot about worldmaking. All projects are not meant to be finished. Some fail. It doesn’t matter. Doing something does.
5. When you’re on top, stop to appreciate the view
Sounds like a given, but it’s easy to forget. When all you’ve done is climb and kill wolves for what feels like ages, you only smell the blood on your coat and want to move on. Or maybe you rode up and the trolls are still around chasing you.
Try to find a peaceful spot to take a look at the mountain you’ve climbed anyway. Finally getting there always feels different than you thought it would before the climb. Sometimes you’ll spot more dragons to hunt on other mountains nearby.
Important extra: Dragons look way more dangerous than they really are
You must face what scares you the most. The deepest dungeons usually hold the most precious lessons. The ugliest, biggest dragons force you to ask for help and learn new tricks. When they’re dead and burning to ashes, you’ll be wondering what was so scary about them in the first place.
Oh, and don’t think you know all dragons even if you’ve slaughtered many. One of them may turn out to be a friend and a mentor.
(The amazing images from Dead End Thrills)