Why Skyrim is a Stormcloak in a Teacup

Written 22/02/2012. First posted here.

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MORE SPOILERS THAN WORDS. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Skyrim is not a particularly good game.

Not a terrible game, just a lazy one. It comfortably settles for mediocre with the occasional jaunt into pretty good or descent into god-awful. It’s not bad. It’s okay. It’s a horrendous brush to tar any creative property with: not so bad as to be entertaining, nor quite good enough for ‘decent’. The pity-prize of the praise world.

So why has Skyrim earned it? There is a lot about it to praise. Magic is fluid and extremely satisfying, Alchemy and Smithing both made for highly addictive little mini games, the Thieves Guild questline was coherent, and-

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Narrative Kinks: Surprisingly Safe For Work

Written 04/01/2012. First posted here.

What are Narrative Kinks? Well, for a start they’re not normally capitalised but I like them that way. You could almost say it’s a grammatical kink.

Narrative Kinks are story or world elements which push your buttons. While this includes genre to some degree, it’s a lot more precise and tightly focused – you don’t have a Narrative Kink for fantasy, you have a Narrative Kink for ‘rag-tag band forced together by destiny’ or ‘the clash between magic and emerging technology’. They range from being major plot elements to simple character types. For example: I really like non-combative male thief characters, to the point where I’m more likely to buy something if I know there’s one in it. A friend of mine loves settings where magic is treated as a science.

(Those being some of the less embarrassingly petty options, as anything from ‘the badass fighter needs rescuing’ to ‘meaningful conversations next to streams at night’ can count as Narrative Kinks.)

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How Not To Screw Up Writing a Gender-Neutral Society

Written 08/11/2011. First posted here.

When creating a world for the player to romp joyfully in, many writers start with the intention of making it a completely post-patriarchal society. Speciesism runs amok, class warfare may be rampant but whether you need a little extra in your breastplate isn’t an issue. It’s especially common in RPGs, where the designers are understandably disinclined to fuck over anyone who doesn’t want to play a dude. The problem is that they’re often not very good at it.

Oh, they try. Your badass barbarian babe won’t face a single gender-based criticism for solving every problem with her axe, but they’re not quite so on the ball when it comes to anything else. Visual differences are common: the tunic skirt cuts a little higher, the neckline a little lower. (‘A little’ is generous. Armour that covers Conan throat-to-knee loses two square foot of fabric when Sonja pulls it over her head.) This isn’t standard by any means – Morrowind clothing is the same badly-displayed monstrosity on everyone – but it is frustratingly ubiquitous.

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