I was going to ask her to marry me.
For aiding his city (I killed a dragon, nbd) the Jarl of Whiterun made me a thane, a title of nobility, and gave me the opportunity to purchase a home in the Plains district. He also assigned me a housecarl – essentially a bodyguard. What use the apparent last in a line of born dragonslayers would have for a bodyguard seemed limited, but I was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Even if this particular gift horse happened to be a surprisingly attractive Nord named Lydia. Shield and sword in hand, she set off dutifully alongside me, and together we explored the vast and snowy countryside. She seemed born for this kind of adventuring, and was clearly thrilled to be far away from the predictable safety of the Jarl’s palace.
If we stumbled upon something truly remarkable, like the ancient Eldergleam tree, Lydia would comment on its splendor. And her intuition about imminent danger was impeccable. I came to rely on her company – as well as her sword – at my side.
While practicing my craftsmanship at a blacksmith’s forge one afternoon, I made a simple silver necklace, and on a whim, gave it to Lydia. It had no enchantments, no special protections or enhancements would be bestowed by its use, but she put it on anyway. That’s when I knew.
We had together just slayed a Blood Dragon atop Skyborn Altar, and we had scarcely caught our breath when the summit decided to punish us further. From a hitherto-unnoticed casket nearby, a long-dead Dragon Priest punched its way out and attacked us relentlessly. I’d never seen such powerful magics before. I fought like a coward, peppering it with arrows and shouting fire at it for probably a good 10 minutes, depleting nearly all of my support resources in the process. when it was over, all that remained was it’s golden helm, which I dared not put on for fear of turning into one of those things. And that’s when I saw Lydia’s sword on the ground.
I searched frantically for her. Perhaps she’d retreated, or had been gravely injured. Suddenly, behind a felled tree I found her, collapsed in a heap. She was dead.
I want to explain something to you, whoever is reading this: I’ve owned this game for just over a week. All of those things happened. None of it, outside of the first paragraph, is considered part of “the story,” i.e. the game’s central plot. All of it, however, resonated more deeply than any other “story” in any other game I’ve played. Ever.
Here is the moment where games show their hand as a truly unique storytelling medium. There are countless other films, books, and even games that have utilized the trope of “the sudden death” to emotionally engage the audience. The important distinction here, what sets Skyrim apart – in this regard at least – was that Lydia’s death was not a planned emotional manipulation. It was not “supposed to” happen at a given plot point. Rather, circumstances that I dictated through my actions and decisions led me to that snowy mountaintop, standing over the body of a close companion. In other words: it was my fault.
That we are at a point where a game can make you, as a player, feel truly responsible for your actions, is almost incomprehensible. Especially in light of the fact that some games – other recent releases, in fact – are scripted to the point where you almost feel the game would be better off without your interference.
In Skyrim, there often is no correct way of doing something. Lydia’s death wasn’t a “mistake,” I cared only for my own safety and neglected her’s. If I had acted differently, she might still be alive. This wasn’t an “error” or a “glitch,” it was an honest-to-goodness bad decision. Of course I have an out: I could just reload my last save, bringing Lydia back from the dead. It literally would have never happened. But that feels inauthentic; insulting to the genuine effect that that turn of events had on me, and how it will color my adventures going forward. Skyrim is not about doing something “the right way.”
It’s about doing something.
game of the fucking year.