Are immersive games like Skyrim too addictive for their own good?

share to other networks share to twitter share to facebook
Skyrim's Dragonborn next to the 'addict' meme

A growing trend in the past five years among game developers and publishers is to use the game world itself as a selling point, touting each and every game as having an ‘immersive, living, breathing, and adapting world’ to get lost in.

Now, we know as gamers that a lot of this verbal sales pitch is exactly that: an advert, so we expect exaggerations, half-truths, and a whole assortment of bolstering through advertising lingo.

Advertisement

But what of the games that do provide that sense of immersion? A world where you can be what you want, where you can interact not only with the people who inhabit this land, but also the flora, fauna, and the terrain itself? To a lot of people, this is the ideal virtual landscape to insert themselves into to create a perfect escape from the stresses and problems of everyday life.

Time wasted or time well spent?

To most people, the escape that video games provide is just harmless fun: a needed self-care activity to help work on mental health. But if we take a step back and look at some of the data that these games provide, it can turn into a rather eye-opening outlook on virtual escapism and the possible dangers.

Skyrim's Dragonborn walking through Riverwood
The world of Skyrim seems very much alive
Advertisement

If we take one of the best-selling role-playing games of all time, Skyrim, and delve into some of the statistics of the player base, some worrying numbers about the amount of time people have spent in that corner of Tamriel start to appear. I do apologise in advance, as this next section does contain some math.

Todd Howard, the game's director, stated in an interview with The Guardian last year that “Skyrim has had 60 million total players – millions of whom are still active, every month.”

That means that numbers-wise, almost the entire population of the UK has played Skyrim. Combined with the statistics from Steam that tell us that the average Skyrim player has played for 75 hours, you get into some rather large numbers very quickly.

If we take these as an average, over 4.5 billion hours have been spent playing Skyrim. If we process the numbers further, we discover that over half a million years have been spent just living in this one virtual world.

A group of Skyrim NPC's in a tavern in Whiterun
Skyrim NPC's may seem real but are very much pre-programmed
Advertisement

That is a ridiculous number. And that's only in one game. If we add other open-world RPGs such as The Witcher 3, Fallout, and Minecraft, we've suddenly lost millions upon millions of years to these digital worlds.

As mentioned above, these are only the averages. Some people may barely have played past the iconic intro. But others will have thousands and thousands of hours invested in these games to the point of basically living inside a world made up of zeros and ones with predefined NPC actions and lifecycles. Which begs the question: Is real life just too boring?

Now, this isn’t a criticism or even a want for change. I myself have over 3,000 hours invested across a multitude of Bethesda’s worlds. But when they say it takes 10,000 hours to master something, maybe investing that time into something with more of a payoff would make more sense. But who am I to say?

To be very honest, a world where you can shout a bandit off a cliff, become the archmage of a college of magic, or even become embroiled in a war between gods, kings, demons, and dragons can seem a lot more exciting than the work, eat, sleep routine of everyday life.

Advertisement

Or maybe it’s just because Skyrim has affordable housing.