The Topography of Risk: Time and Punishment in ‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’

Image 1: Giant, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

“Failure adds content by making the player see nuances in the game.”1
—Jesper Juul

“I wonder if I can kill that giant…”2
—Ozrek, Skyrim player

In “Fear of Falling: The Many Meanings of Difficulty in Video Games,” Jesper Juul outlines a detailed theory of the role of failure and difficulty in tempering and enriching the gaming experience. For the purposes of outlining his theory, Juul more or less explicitly limits his discussion to casual games; however, I believe that his model of punishment and the correlation between difficulty and enjoyment requires certain adjustments to long-form gaming. The notion of punishment in game such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is heavily mitigated by elements of time, especially the save point and the nonlinear narrative. Juul acknowledges at least the first of these two gaming elements near the beginning of his essay, but redirects his attention and leaves room for further discussion.

I would argue that the introduction of temporality to a video game, particularly in the form of the save point and nonlinear goal structure, changes the tenor of the gamer’s relationship with the game. The possibility of temporal manipulability, generated by the save point and the nonlinear narrative, transforms a video game from a deadly gauntlet of obstacles into a four-dimensional map of gradations of difficulty. Ultimately, this form of gameplay (and the system of punishment that accompanies it) converts challenge and failure into an elaborate bartering of time. Skyrim exemplifies this relationship: no one truly loses at the game, but the efficiency of a player’s success will depend heavily on the temporal investments made. Continue reading “The Topography of Risk: Time and Punishment in ‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’” »

Welcome to Andy’s Clubhouse: The Pursuit of Excess on ‘Watch What Happens Live’

Andy Cohen, Watch What Happens Live

When asked to describe the format and tone of his late-night talk show, host Andy Cohen stated, “I think it is just a weird combination of people. You don’t know what is going to happen. I think it is a Fellini movie mixed with Wayne’s World.”1 As improbable, and even ludicrous, as this statement might sound, it is in fact an accurate description of the outlandish and eccentric offerings of Watch What Happens Live. An extension of Bravo’s successful Real Housewives franchise, most specifically the franchise’s annual reunion specials, the nightly talk show largely is composed of questions from at-home viewers via phone calls, text messages, Facebook, and Twitter.

While WWHL posits itself as an innovative, interactive talk show, in actuality it is a blatant marketing tool for Bravo’s reality shows, NBCUniversal’s scripted shows and Universal films, and key network sponsors. The show’s interactive component and web-based “after show” also attempt to capitalize on the new phenomenon of cult television shows with highly devoted web followings in the form of fan websites, virtual communities, and message boards. Cohen has seamlessly placed WWHL into this type of online fandom by structuring the show as a sort of “on-air chat room” in which die-hard fans are able to interact with their favorite Bravo stars, as well as each other, in order to speculate about the direction and content of future episodes. Cohen has skillfully used the platform of WWHL to brand himself as a new and approachable reality star and pop culture celebrity with aspirations of hosting more well-established shows for traditional broadcast networks. Cohen and WWHL’s growing popularity among American viewers and industry professionals signals a growing change in the configuration of the late night talk show universe—one that attempts to mitigate aggressive advertising techniques by increasing viewers’ direct engagement with the show’s content and stars. Continue reading “Welcome to Andy’s Clubhouse: The Pursuit of Excess on ‘Watch What Happens Live’” »