I’ve had an on-off addiction to The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) since first trying it during the Christmas holidays in 2015. I’ll go through periods where I’ll play it at every possible moment at the expense of other games, then I won’t touch it for several months.
The last time I properly played was at the start of this year during our streams for GameBlast20. Finding video games to play every evening for 50 days proved to be rather difficult but ESO was our saviour: not only was it easy to dip back into it with the absence of a steep learning curve, we were able to regularly hook up with a few friends who were playing at the same time. You’d often find me joining my other-half, Phil, and Tim and Jake from Timlah’s Texts & Unity3D Tech for a dungeon or two in the evenings.
It wasn’t all just fighting long-dead draugers and killing giant spiders though. Sometimes we’d leave the dungeons behind and do something completely different instead. For example, there was an entire session spent in what was essentially an ESO-version of MTV Cribs: after Tim and Jake showed us around their sprawling mansion and we’d transformed ourselves into monkeys using their Fan of the False-Face, they guided Pete on a tour through the various abodes available to players and then helped him decorate once he’d chosen a home.
After our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 had been completed in February, we put down our controllers and that was it for ESO. Pete had achieved what he’d set out to do and had finally levelled up a character enough to become a Champion; and I was eager to return to my beloved adventure genre, having not played many point-and-clicks over the past two months because they weren’t particularly great for streaming. Although the game was left installed on our laptops, we signed out and didn’t go back to it.
That was until earlier this month. As I wrote at the end of July, lockdown gaming was turning my hobby into a task that felt more like work and it was starting to feel like something I did more to just pass the time than enjoy. Add to this the fact that most of the upcoming releases I’d been looking forward to had been delayed thanks to COVID-19 and there was nothing I was absolutely itching to play; I was just going through the motions, because what sort of video game blogger doesn’t play video games?
A couple of weeks ago, Athena from AmbiGaming published a great post with the title Old Friends and New Adventures: COVID-19 and Comfort Gaming which talked about nostalgia and the exposure effect. She said: “We take comfort in the familiar. Our brains process a familiar event and recognise it as something that it has survived, and therefore it is not something that poses a mortal danger to us, compared to this Unknown Thing that, despite appearances, might not be as satisfying / benign / good for us.”
I think this explains why I found myself opening ESO once again at the start of August and downloading the latest patches. With uncertainty about my work and concern for my family slowly gnawing away at my sense of stability, I felt as though I was floating and waiting for something to come down (to quote Athena again). I wanted to do something to take my mind off everything happening around me and all these things I couldn’t control, and I needed that thing to be something which felt safe and familiar.
But instead of returning to my old character, I decided to create a new one so I could ease myself in with the early quests. Surely it was just a coincidence that this new Wood Elf rather resembled by old one and even had the same alliance and class! This time was going to be different though, I told myself. This time around I’d complete the areas I’d already covered in my previous playthroughs, then explore new islands with a view to sticking with it and perhaps finally completing all the missions.
However, I found myself still in the starting location of Vvardenfell several days later and not having done much outside of the first few main quests. I was far too busy running around the countryside with the important task of collecting butterflies and netches for fishing bait. If I’d jumped back into ESO yet again, I was going to do it properly – and that meant making sure I had enough suitable bait to be able to catch every single rare fish in each location and earn myself those achievements.
I have a long history with fishing in this game. I’d previously bagged the Morrowind Master Angler achievement during our 50-day challenge but failed to get the Grahtwood Angler title thanks to one lousy creature. I was struggling to get the Thrassian Eel and so, as you’re more likely to catch a rare fish when others join you, I enlisted the help of Phil. The only problem was that he ended up catching that flipping eel for himself every time we fished together while I walked away empty handed.
After a few weeks of hanging around the shores in ESO and wondering just how many insect parts one Wood Elf can carry, I think my time with the game may be drawing to a close once again. The situation right now may still be unsettling; redundancies loom at work although my position isn’t at risk for the time-being, the UK is officially in recession and the number of daily coronavirus cases is on the increase. But my brief break in Vvardenfell I feel a bit more able to deal with these things mentally now.
I’m also starting to feel that familiar itch of desire to play something again, to take on a new challenge and discover a new story. As Athena explained in her post: “…grabbing a new game, playing through it, and completing – or beating – it is a way for us to vanquish a fear of the unknown. After all, that’s exactly what we’ve done: willingly put ourselves into an unknown situation, and survived it, or, dare I say, even thrived in it, if we successfully made it to the end. And isn’t that a nice feeling?”
I recently downloaded Lighthouse: The Dark Being from GOG.com after hearing about it during the Ages Before Myst talk during Mysterium 2020 at the beginning of the month. I’m surprised I’ve never come across it before; this title was released in October 1996 as was Sierra Online’s response to the success of Myst and I think it might be just what I need right now. It has that comforting nostalgia I get from old adventure games, but it’s a whole new adventure I haven’t yet experienced.
I’m sure I’ll go back to ESO at some point in the future because I always do. And one day, I’m going to catch that damn eel.