The game's emphasis on slow, positive, constructive play was a needed balm during a time when I had to stop myself from constantly doom-scrolling. Being able to inhabit a world where my landlord was a giant, overly concerned raccoon was infinitely better than worrying whether my roommates and I could pay rent to our very human landlord.
While the island life simulator lends a sense of productivity to our days spent cooped up inside (a sentiment I assume is shared by many—the game is still selling like hotcakes), the pandemic continues to get bleaker, with no indication that it will let up anytime soon.
It was this look into our abyss of a future that had me reconsider my life on Lil' Keim (the name of my island) and led me to impulsively buy The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, an open-ended action role-playing game where players are free to follow any quest, storyline, or existence they wish. No longer bound by the edges of my island, a perilous and seemingly unending immersive experience in the game has gobbled me right up.
Immediately—as a non-gamer—the experience of choosing my avatar made me think about the representations of Black avatars in music videos, a trend that has emerged over the past few years with some mainstream artists. In 2018, singer Kelela released a Sims-like music video about the "curiously complex feeling of pain" of your ex leaving you for a white woman. She smokes blunts, dances, and lets the wind knock around her gem-encrusted dreads. This year, rappers Aminé and Megan Thee Stallion released lyric videos of their avatar-selves hanging out with Young Thug or fighting bad guys.
Although those music videos serve to show off music, I think the question of being Black or playing a character coded as Black in a digital space is thrilling. In part because it hints at a greater universe that they occupy, one full of possibilities in regards to their sense of self and the world around them. What about the social construction of Blackness would be brought into this virtual world? What wouldn't? The utopian implications seem vast, to me.
Black gamers have consistently pointed out the racial inequities when it comes to Black or Black-presenting people in video games—from lack of "base" options to choose from to lack of inclusion more generally. Skyrim was specifically called out for its shitty lighting of the darker-skinned people in the game, called the Redguard. Even Animal Crossing only made it possible to adjust for skin tone recently and the Black hair options are still abysmal.
These racial issues with gaming aside, the immersive nature of Skyrim has me floored. Smoking a blunt and slaying dragons is much better than doom-scrolling.