By Alec Meer on June 26th, 2009 at 6:42 pm.
Something a little different (and a lot more serious) today, as I attempt a spot of pop psychoanaylsis on my own roleplaying habits. This won’t be the end of my now-traditional comedy escapades, however.
I’ve stolen clothes from corpses. I’ve made an old woman run up a mountain. I’ve hidden drugs in the cellar of a religious organisation. I’ve beaten up adorable animals. So many adorable animals. But.. what am I? As I finally approached the outskirts of Balmora, second-largest city on this hostile island, questions about my purpose and my nature weighed heavy upon me. This much I knew: I was named Loaf, a Dunmer by birth, and an Agent by trade. Beyond that, I was simply a empty cipher at best, a irritating clown at worst. At least, I realised, this was probably why I’d been slowly but intently wending my Machiavellian way to Balmora these past few days – somewhere amidst its hubbub, grime and crime, I hoped to find an answer to that most ultimate of questions. Why am I here?
Balmora is a strange city. It’s small, but so labyrinthine that it nonetheless feels strangely overwhelming. Much of this is down to the river that bifurcates it into two – creating a very rough divide between the small houses and bars on one side, and the mansions and shops on the other. If there is a class divide here, the people don’t outwardly show it. Nonetheless, quiet conflict is at the heart of Balmora. It’s in the uncomfortable adjacency between the Fighters Guild and the Mages Guild, the festering rivalry between the Thieves’ Guild and its fellow criminal organisation Camonna Tong, and it’s in the constant, sinister patrols by the golden-armoured Hlallu Guards. Balmora is peaceful on its surface, but secretly fuelled by aggression.
I struck up conversation with a few passers-by – including the first Orc I’d seen in this land to date. Without fail, they encouraged me towards the Fighters’ or Mages’ Guild. Now, much as I craved belonging and purpose, this didn’t seem right. I wasn’t a mage. I wasn’t a fighter. These sounded far too noble. So, what was I?
The South Wall Corner Club, a dingy bar on the wrong side on the river, provided me with an answer of sorts. As had become my wont, I was in there looking for things to steal. Nothing was especially standing out, so I struck up conversation with a catwoman called Sugar Lips. I was not inclined to lay any sugar upon her furry lips, alas. Perhaps more alarmingly, she didn’t waste any time in mentioning she was part of the Thieves’ Guild.
I was startled – surely one wouldn’t just announce one’s criminality to a perfect stranger? Perhaps this was some sort of test. I elected not to inquire further about the Guild, for fear of violent reprisal, and instead moved on, troubled – intrigued by the prospect, concerned by the possible repercussions. Then I cast my mind back to Fort Stupid, and how its halfwit religious zealots had openly declared their cultism. Ol’ Sugar Lips might well be a master thief, but that didn’t mean she was any less short on common sense than her bible-bashing chums down the road, did it? Alright, Sugar Lips. Sign me up.
Okay. Bear with me here – that fourth wall’s coming down for the rest of today. Normal service resumes for the next instalment.
In any RPG, I’m drawn towards thief/thieflike classes. It’s not something I’d really thought upon before now – it’s just what I do. Some guys are wizards, some guys are barbarians, some guys are Amazonian she-hulks in furry bikinis. And in the game. I’m a thief. Why? Well, it’s for at least one of these reasons:
- I’m a kleptomaniac. While I don’t steal stuff in reality – bar the occasional digi-purloined DIVX – I am worryingly prone towards collecting things. Books, CDs, DVD, comics, toy robots, pet rodents – all of these are things I’ve briefly, obsessively collected in ridiculous numbers. In a game like Morrowind, I want everything. The idea of missing out on something fun, something powerful, or just plain something nags at me. Thievery is the easiest way to get my hands on any and everything.
- It’s my game, so I expect to be allowed to take and use what I please, not to be restricted by some external mechanic or internal morality.
- I find the challenge of sneaking, stealing and escaping undetected more thrilling that simply fighting a man to the death.
- I find the challenge of fighting a man to death upon failing to sneak, steal or escape undetected yet more thrilling.
- It’s a more meaningful interaction with NPCs than either fighting them or listening/to reading their canned speech. I’m attempting to outwit them, I’m potentially inspiring a reaction from them, and I’m creating a personal anecdote concerning them that all the pre-written dialogue in the world could never match.
It’s all of the above, clearly. Being a thief is how to make a game in which much depends upon fighting be based upon a dramatically different and far more subtle discipline, and one that usually relies on genuine human guile as well as raw statistics.
So I joined the Thieves Guild, of course.
My existential crisis was averted: I was no longer a paltry pickpocket and troublemaker, forever one step away from an ASBO. I was A Thief. And I would be proud of it. Well, I would be eventually. My first official mission, sadly, was to steal a diamond from an old lady. Aaargh. Perhaps I should have been an Official Old-Lady-Botherer rather than an Agent.