I make no secret of the fact I am a geek, if the name “geek therapist” had not been already taken on social media I probably would have used it myself. It was therefore with a certain amount of excitement and anticipation that I looked forward to the Skyrim Anniversary Edition, I mean who doesn’t want to go fishing whilst a dragon attacks a troll in the background!
Skyrim is what’s described as an open world role playing game. You quest across a nordic landscape, of often stunning beauty, can marry, adopt children, fight giants (if you adhere to the frankly irrational anti giant prejudice of the jarls) , build your own mansion complete with alchemy tower and library, and generally live your best life. Currently I am exploring that most millenial of experiences, doing as many side gigs as possible so I can finally afford my dream house in Falkreath – why yes, I will deliver that portion of frost salts to Wayland in Dawnstar for 50 gold, just call me uber-potions.
One of the things most fans of Skyrim share though is the knowledge that the main quest line, well it kind of sucks. There are actually two main quest lines, one where you can fight in a civil war as either Stormcloak or Imperial. The problem here is you have to choose between ultra nationalist “Skyrim for the Nords’ ‘ type, who complain about foreigners coming over here and taking our jobs, or straight up colonial oppressors banning local religious practises. The only side I would want to fight for are the Forsworn who have been displaced as so many indiginous people have, and now are demonised and forced to live on the edges of the occupiers’ settlements.
The other main questline involves travelling to the Nord equivalent of Valhalla, meeting a few gods and heroes and shouting at Alduin, the world slaying dragon who can be defeated by an outbreak of grumpiness and a loud voice. Pretty much the only way to not enjoy Skyrim is to barrel through the main quest as quickly as possible, as it will leave you with a feeling of “Is that it?” you defeat Alduin.
I was struck by the usefulness of this as a metaphor for how we approach life as I played yesterday. So often we are told that the point of life is the main quest line – graduate, get a job, marry, have kids, settle down with the Volvo in the drive and the deep sense of “Is that it? ” nagging away at us in the dark corners of our soul must be pushed down and ignored. We rarely pause to ask if this is even the quest we want to follow, if the reward is worth it, or if we have just assumed that this must be how we live our lives. To push the metaphor a little further perhaps we need to ask if more joy and fulfilment would come from the sidequests, self chosen and self directed.
Some of you will be familar with the concept of queer time. Denied for so long those temporal markers of adulthood queer people are often framed as perpetually immature, even whilst a queer childhood was denied to most of us. As Halberstam says in his book In a queer time and place
queer uses of time and space develop… in opposition to the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction.” Queerness itself is “an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices
The Skyrim side quest insight reminds me however that all people, of all genders, relationship styles and sexualities, can make the main quest mistake. Whilst queer people may have been denied the right to follow the main quest if they so chose, many cis het people live lives as their own NPCs (non playable characters) denied, and denying themselves autonomy and agency. In not realising that it is OK to ignore the main quest, to focus on what those with power in our society have designated to be irrelevant side quests, so many people end up looking at their lives and saying “Is that it?”
Most binaries are, once we examine them, false ones, constructed to keep us in narrow boxes, unaware of our own strength and beauty. Perhaps the main quest, side quest binary needs to also be looked at in this way. Constructing our own meaningful lives has to start with the question – is this how I want to live? Is this where my time, energy and resources will go? For some people the main quest line will be the path they want to take, but we all need to know that other, equally valid options exist. They aren’t less relevent sidequests, just different ways of leading fulfilling and content lives.