I swear on my honour that I can be a sensible gamer. I do know how to play games properly. It’s just that, now and then, I am compelled to ignore the path the game has laid out for me. It’s why people think I’m so cool and rebellious. [Turns imaginary cap backwards]
Spore and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion are significantly different games. One is a game a God Game where the player controls the ‘evolution’ of a species from primordial soup-dweller to galactic dominator; the other is an action role playing game set in a mythical-medieval world. Yet there is one very clear similarity between these games where I am considered: the way I misbehaved when playing them.
This is the third week of me admitting my misbehaviour. In Dishonored, I was way more violent than the game suggested I should be. In Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, I lost all sense of respectability. As for Spore and Oblivion, I actually started playing both games as intended. I put lots of hours into each game, following the rules for the most part. However, despite several play-throughs of both games, I have never finished either of them. I would deliberately quit both games at a certain point, and go back to the start.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
I bought Oblivion during my year of training to be a teacher. The first school my university sent me to was in North Wales. I was a long way from home and friends, so I bought myself the game to pass what little time I had in the evenings between lesson planning. I knew Oblivion was a big game, so I expected it to last until I returned to university. In fact, I was nowhere near finishing the game by the end of my placement, and it was quite a while before I could play it again. When I did finally return to Cyrodiil, two months later, I felt that I should start from the beginning.
So I began anew, refreshed and renewed, moving briskly through the opening segment of the game. In the moment where the player-character emerges from the sewers to face a gorgeous, green landscape I realised I was going to play differently this time. In my first run through I only went to a location if a primary or secondary objective was there. This time I was going to go exploring instead. I stopped by the citadel first, got myself set up with average armour and a few potions. I then walked out of the city in the opposite direction of the markers that pointed towards the ‘real adventure’.
This wasn’t a deliberate attempt to avoid the story missions, but rather an attempt to avoid another half-finished game. By this point I was settling into my second school training placement (this time in South Wales) and I knew I wouldn’t have time to finish the game with what little free time I would have. I’m a completionist at heart, and I just didn’t like the idea of playing half the game, stopping for a few weeks, and then trying to pick the game back up. Which, given the fact that I’ve never completed the game, seems so silly now.
So my supposed ‘hero’ became a true vagrant, wandering through forests, stumbling into caves and nosing around the homes of townsfolk. If I found myself in a place with a mission nearby, I’d give it a go, but otherwise the evil corrupting the world was left to its own devices. I was the worst kind of hero.
When my teacher training year was up, I started to play other games between visits to Cyrodiil, and I soon realised that Oblivion was becoming my game to relax with; a game I could play off-and-on, usually when I didn’t want to concentrate too much. If I was half-watching a movie or listening to a new music album or chatting with friends online, I would play Oblivion. There was no sense of urgency, no drive to complete the story, only the exploration and the adventure. This was a game that I could unwind with, as long as I ignored the fact that I was meant to be playing the saviour. Oh, I would complete the occasional story mission, if I wandered into it. NPCs would often remind me of incredibly vital, urgent and world-altering quests that needed to be done, but they never seemed to mind when I turned up several in-game months later to announce the task was done.
There were two attempts made to fully complete the game, but both times were undone by glitches. In the first instance, I was unable to finish a side quest that would cure me of vampirism. It was only a sidequest, but if I was going to complete the game after all this time I was going to do it right. The second time, a NPC refused to acknowledge my completion of a quest. She simply stood staring at me, refusing to present me any form of dialogue option. And I went off exploring once more…
And I’ll bet when you saw the name of this game alongside the word “misbehaving”, you thought I was going to talk about something else. You know what I mean: you thought I was going to talk about all the penis shaped aliens I made, didn’t you? You should be ashamed. I only did that once.
The more I heard about Spore before its release, the more I began to believe that this was THE game for me. The stories and promises wrapped around this game were so close to the description of ‘my ideal game’ that I began to suspect that Maxis had bugged my house. This would become my first big gaming disappointment.
I was painted the picture of a game that allowed the player to mold a species from the ground up. Beginning as an amoeba fending off nasties, advancing onto dry land as a multi-limbed animal living among other creatures, before finally raising your species to a tribal state. Slowly but surely, that tribe would progress to a mighty civilisation able to take over the entire world and then finally reach for the stars to conquer other planets. It didn’t just sound awesome; it was the awesome I always wanted.
What I got however, was far from what I expected. The Cell, Creature, Tribal and Civilization stages were essentially mini-games. Within two hours my species had dragged itself onto the beach, formed a society and launched into the stars. What I had hoped would be an epic saga of survival and conquest was but an introduction to a vast sand-box game set in space. My hopes of forming a culture and history around my invented species were dashed. My mighty expectations of those four ‘stages’ stood tall over the reality.
I spent, at most, one hour in space. I threw a few rocks around, abducted a few animals, and met a few alien species. All told, my first attempt at the game lasted three hours in total. Nevertheless, I reckon my total time with Spore was ten times that amount.
I’m sure many people who played the game would attest that the Space stage was a brilliant part of the game. I’ve been told that the game is gigantic beyond that point. But that’s not the game I wanted to play. I wanted to ‘evolve’ a species, see how my character designed walked and interacted. I also wanted to make sure that my parents didn’t think they’d wasted their money buying me a video game (it didn’t happen very often).
So I played the part of the game I was interested in. I began as a teenie weenie organism, swimming amongst the slightly bigger, teenie weenie organisms. I’d speed through as quickly as possible to get to the Creature Creation screen. And it was here that I spent most of my game time. Pulling and prodding and sticking new bits on my monster until I felt I’d make something unique, and then off into the field they would go. I’d watch the thing plod or hop or crawl across the island making other creatures their friends or their dinner. They’d soon form a tribe…and then I’d restart the game.
In the end, I must have created at least fifty distinct characters. Whilst I should have been exploring space and building new worlds, I was playing god in the most basic sense. In many ways I was a child playing with the box the toy came in – happy to stick with only the first fraction of the game. I was expected to soar into the galaxy; I was more interested in seeing how many limbs I could get onto a malformed zebra-crab.
I often think back to the game worlds I abandoned. The world within The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has no doubt fallen to the outstretched tendrils of the darkest evil, as my vagabond lies against a fire-scorched tree stump, wondering where that screaming is coming from. Within Spore, countless primitive species huddle around crudely constructed campfires, looking up at the stars, and grunting about how they thought there’d be more to life than this.
Maybe one day I’ll go back to Cyrodiil and finally save the day. Maybe I’ll return to raise a chosen species to greatness. Maybe one day I’ll finish…the…y’know, I still haven’t playedSkyrim. I should’ve really played Skyrim by now. Yeah, I’m going to go play Skyrim.
Thank You For Reading
Have you really enjoyed playing a game but never had the urge to finish it? Did you have a similar experience playing these two games? How else have you misbehaved when gaming?