The drums pound. The lights flash and set the smoke aglow. The crowd claps and cheers in anticipation. Then everything bursts into life. Lions roar, performers soar, cannons fire, swinging higher, knives are thrown and flames are blown until finally each performer converges on their mark.
The fabled eagle cries. The target is killed. The audience applaud.
You are playing Assassin’s Creed.
Assassin’s Creed is murder made theatrical. Death comes not as a result of silent assassinations but circus executions; a choreographed routine by a brotherhood rigorously trained and skilled in their art. But this art is different from the discipline in which I am trained. This is not stealth. This is stealth entertainment.
Skyrim lives and breathes, active on every level. The skies, the land and the shallows each accommodate monsters both mythical and actual. Under the shelf of a vibrant sky a medley of colours stretch a restless landscape upon which the elk graze and the mammoth ramble. Salmon soar upstream as the torrent surges below and hawks glide across the face of the sun, casting shadows across the backs of the sleep bears below.
Above the surface Skyrim is beautiful.
Such beauty is immediate, apparent from the very first scene. Only after time spent exploring will the player realise that Skyrim‘s beauty is only skin deep. It does not extend beneath the surface. There are places not penetrated by light, where the objects do not glisten, where Skyrim neither lives nor breathes.
When I’m not hiring and killing prostitutes, jacking and crashing cars, or ruthlessly gunning down helpless, disabled civilians due to a feckless overexposure to violent video games, I like to kick back, relax, and play some video games. It’s the perfect way to unwind.
But amidst these barbarian broadcasts urging all players to repeatedly stab everyone they meet in the face or heart, video games transmit an altogether different message. Saturating the minds of gamers with the most potent and dangerous weaponry known to man – knowledge.
Throughout my life I’m perpetually enlightened by a medium considered by many to be corrosive to the mind. There are studies relating gaming to the improvement of cognitive abilities, hand-eye co-ordination, logic, memory and multi-tasking. But in addition to these less tangible attributes, video games spray out facts like an edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica thrown in a petrol powered wood-chipper.