A Game For All Seasons

Choosing the perfect summer beach read is an art form. You need a book that’s interesting enough to read for long stretches of time as you sit out in the sun, but also something that’s easy to put down when it’s time to go for a swim or do other beach things. The book itself, physically, is also important. The beach is a place for sun-bleached paperbacks that can handle at least one more year’s worth of salt and sand, wind and water. So year after year I return to my favorite dogeared copies of murder mysteries whose murderers have already been discovered and arrested countless summers before.

A few weeks ago, Soha Kareem joined us on Justice Points and mentioned that she was playing Skyrim again. I made an offhand remark that it seemed like several people I know have returned to playing Skyrim ever since the weather started to get colder, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that (admittedly unscientific) observation since.

Skyrim was released in early November of 2011. I played my wood elf archer through much of the winter of 2011 and into early 2012.  While there are occasional green forests to explore, the vast majority of the land is buried deep in a white, Nordic winter. Running through a blizzard that limits your vision to a few feet in front of your face is a common occurrence. When you step out of the cold and into one of Skyrim‘s inns or castles, you find roaring fire pits with a roast slowly cooking above them, and a gathering of locals warming themselves while they take turns singing.

Simply put, Skyrim feels like winter.

Skyrim Blizzard

Ok, granted it’s a winter that includes bloodthirsty dragons and mythical powers, but winter nonetheless. Winter comes, the weather gets colder, and suddenly I want to play Skyrim again. I want to immerse myself in the isolation and the quiet, the sound of horse hooves crunching on snow. I want to wander through the blizzards and the mountains in the warmth of my own home, but feel the chill of falling snow just the same.

Seasonal influences on our media are nothing new. We talk about big summer blockbusters at the movies and we know that fall sweeps are a crucial time for any TV show that wants to stick around for another year. In much the same way that summer is traditionally a time for reruns of our favorite shows, summer was also always the time for the doldrums between major content drops when I was playing MMOs regularly. Since World of Warcraft was the MMO where I spent most of my time, I’d use those slow summer months to “take a vacation” to other MMOs that seemed interesting but that didn’t necessarily have enough appeal to pull me away from a WoW raiding cycle. Even now, when I feel that my interest in MMOs is generally waning, I still resub to Star Wars: The Old Republic or play a few weeks of The Secret World over the summer months. WildStar capitalized on this idea when they released on June 3 of this year – directly in the middle of one of the longest content droughts World of Warcraft had ever seen.

Similarly, Hollywood knows that now is a great time to put out horror movies, and clearly the gaming industry realizes that as well with games like Alien: Isolation, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and The Evil Within all releasing within the span of a few weeks. Late September and all of October are times when we already enjoy scaring ourselves more than we usually would, and it makes sense that games would appeal to our Halloween spirits. My pre-Halloween traditions currently include pulling Dracula and The Historian off my bookshelf – it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine replaying an appropriately terrifying game, too.

Surely industry research must exist that narrows down precisely which game genres we prefer at different points of the year. Do we want heavy narratives during the fall and winter because that’s when we are used to watching serious TV dramas? Do we prefer lighter fare during the summer because we spend more time on the go and out of our houses? In that vein, do we play more mobile games during summer months because we can do so while we travel or spend time outdoors?

Skyrim is a fairly direct interpretation of this idea in that it is set in literal winter. But it’s not simply that I want to play a wintry game as it turns cold or spend all my summers vacationing in a tropical island game. There’s nothing about Alien: Isolation that points to Halloween as such, unless there’s an unannounced upcoming DLC that features a skeleton suit for the xenomorph. What matters more than the actual setting or visuals of a game is whether it is evocative of the feelings we associate with certain times of the year.

So this November, when I’m finally ready to surrender to the holiday season, I’m going to curl up under a blanket on the couch with a giant cup of tea, like I always do when I’m ready to watch Love, Actually again. (Judge me all you want – it’s my favorite Christmas movie.) Then, maybe this year I will start a new winter tradition that’s as fitting as scarves and eggnog – I’ll start to play Skyrim again.

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