Some of you may have noticed my Virtual Insanity column was MIA last week (or at least I hope you did for the sake of my own ego). A few may have also noticed that Friday was the official release day for Bethesda’s latest massive open world installment into the Elder Scrolls series: Skyrim. I can assure you there was no coincidence regarding the two. I missed my column because I could not pull myself away from Bethesda’s masterpiece. Don’t believe me? I logged forty hours over 6 days into the game. Considering I was still working eight hours a day on weekdays and sleeping (for a pithy 4 hours or so a night honestly), that didn’t leave much time for my actual life. And all I have to show for it is the shift assassin Stevonicus, pictured above.

For those who have never experienced video game addiction of this level, I assure you it is something to behold. My obsession with the game was to the point that even when I wasn’t playing the game, I was dreaming about the game, or telling other people about the game, or counting down the minutes to when I could return to the game. Before you write me off as crazy, however, you might do well to quickly Google other’s reactions to the game. Bethesda has achieved Matrix-level styles of immersion and cohesion in their fantasy world of Nords, warriors, wizards, and dragons.

That’s not to say that the game is flawless, because Lord knows it is not. There are glitches; my are there glitches. Awkward animations, characters stuck in dialogue loops (one king repeated the same phrase about rebels every time I entered his throne room), textures suddenly disappearing, companions that decide to stop in doorways and block your path. And I’ve lucked out overall. Some people have had important items and characters phase out of existence, like Morpheus has just woken them and returned them back to Zion or something. The combat can be mushy at times and if you’re a graphics whore you’ll find reason to complain. Worst of all, a bug on the PS3 has made the game unplayable for some after 40 or so hours (and for a game that demands easily 100, that’s a problem).

But none of this really matters. Videogames are never just the sum of their parts, and Bethesda has crafted a world that outshines any technical shortcomings. The world is massive, with thousands of people and things to do, and best of all, no invisible hand telling you what that thing needs to be. Want to save the world from dragons? Go on, hero! Want to become a master assassin? Of you go, you monster! Be the most powerful mage in the world? That cam be arranged. Want to drift from town to town doing odd jobs like a Clint Eastwood movie? Done.

Skyrim is the first game where I have truly felt that everyone can play the game in their own way. Past sandbox games have claimed this feature, but mostly that freedom boils down to “murder innocent pedestrians” or “don’t murder innocent pedestrians”. Skyrim hangs about in the vague, grey areas of morals, and leaves a lot of loose ends. This is a good thing. Because it’s those empty, lose spaces that allow us to step in and complete the narrative. In a way, Skyrim is about each players individual story. It’s a narrative tool, a way to build stories of man vs. monster in a modern world less concerned with either. It’s an entirely realized and extremely convincing world to explore. And it’s addictive as hell.

On to the news:

  • The other big release of last week, which rhymes with Ball of Doody, sold a piss ton of copies. Like $775 million worth of product. Making it the most massive entertainment launch of all time. I have been crystal clear on my general apathy for the series (not that I hate the games or those that play them) unless zombies are involved, but I’d be interested to hear what anyone else thinks of the game. Reviews seem to indicate its polished but mostly more of the same. And I may end up caving to peer pressure and snagging a copy, since most of the gaming world already has. Between MW3’s launch and Skyrim’s $400 million debut however, one this is for sure: blockbuster video games are HUGE business and here to stay in the entertainment world.
  • Nintendo is returning with two of its biggest franchises: Mario Land 3D launched this week for the Nintendo 3DS, reminding everyone that it does still exist, because I personally forgot. I’ve yet to meet a core Mario platformer I didn’t like, but I am not about to drop $200 on Nintendo’s handheld gimmick to find out. If I’m not near my consoles I’m murdering fruit and pigs on my iPhone. The latest Zelda comes out Sunday and has earned rave reviews, though personally I’ve never been a huge Zelda fan for one reason or another. It’ll be a big seller I am sure, but this late in the aging Wii’s life-span I can’t imagine it’s going to do much to sway players one way or the other. I may dust mine off if I can find Skyward Sword (the new game) for a good price.
  • Black Friday is just around the corner, and Joystiq has done us the solid of compiling the various deals into one page. If you’ve been holding out on games like Battlefield 3, Forza 4, Rage, or Gears of War 3, you’ll be able to get them for $30 at big boxes like Target and Best Buy. If you don’t mind engaging in gladiatorial combat with old ladies and soccer moms, you can yourself a nice pile of games to keep you busy well into the winter months!

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