We live in very troubled times. Unemployment is higher than it has been in a generation and job numbers continue to be dismal; the stock market turbulently boils, destroying billions in wealth; and entire continents look to the rest of the world for bailouts. Still, there are pockets of economic hope. After a very positive October, video game sales continued to increase in November. During the week following Thanksgiving, XBox had its biggest week of hardware sales ever, moving nearly one million consoles.
Yet, in this period of bullish video game sales, there is some decidedly bad news. There is one game that is leaving a black eye on the gaming industry and single-handedly keeping us in a recession. Released one month ago, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has done more to damage our economy than a committee of congressmen with a wallet full of US Treasury credit cards and a case of whiskey.
I know what you’re thinking: it’s the second-best selling game in the world right now. In the first 48 hours that Skyrim was available, 3.5 million copies were sold, a number that has continued to grow. How can a game that will generate millions possibly be bad for the economy?
The answer is quite simple: Skyrim is incredible. The game’s world is so big and there are so many quests to complete that those millions of dollars in sales are being nullified by players’ lost productivity and lack of economic participation in the real world.
Bethesda, the makers of Skyrim, have once again outdone themselves. They’ve created a game so immersive, so epically epic, it takes over people’s lives. Once you step off that cart after crossing into Skyrim, it’s as if you have no choice but to keep playing – it’s that good. Plus, with its new monsters, this is one dance with dragons that actually lived up to the hype this year. However, this excellence has come at a heavy economic price.
I’d be remiss placing the blame squarely at the doorstep of Bethesda: they do not invest alone in this economic destruction. I freely admit my guilt in participating in this economically harmful game. In the month since Skyrim‘s release, I have logged more hours in the game than I can publicly admit without embarrassment (my most recent save may (or may not) have three digits in the total hours played). This weekend alone, I forgot about two obligations, blew off a dinner and a concert, and purchased no goods or services.
A few weeks ago, on Black Friday, that most important of all retail days, I did not contribute a single penny to helping our failing economy rebound. The same goes for Cyber Monday. Instead, I was busy stealing from others in my quest to help the Thieves Guild return to its former glory.
Just last Monday morning, while I should have been working, I was researching the best ways to spend perks. Instead of taking lunch with a friend, I sat at my desk and shared war stories with some XBox friends on Skype(rim). And, in an afternoon meeting, while I should have been thinking about marketing strategies for 2012, in my head I was going over my plans for assassinating a certain soldier with my battle axe-wielding Imperial striker, Flatulence, that evening.
I’m not proud to admit it, but personal hygiene has taken a bit of a vacation. On weekends, I rise before dawn and plant myself in front of the television. The next thing I know, it’s past lunchtime and I have a bit of a funk about me. Thankfully, I am not alone in my obsession. When I fire up my XBox and see my friends list, there’s a consistent list of “Skyrim” next to their names.
Despite the fact that I have been playing this game for more than a month, the end is nowhere in sight. Bethesda has said that there is nearly 300 hours of gameplay (before the meaty DLC becomes available), making me retroactively pissed off at all of those games with a 12 hour single player campaign that I’ve played over the years.
Skyrim’s hundreds of hours of gameplay may prevent me from contributing to the economy by keeping me occupied and unproductive, but it does damage in another way, too. Typically, during the busiest part of the game calendar, I would have played a half dozen games during the fourth quarter. Instead, I have played only one. Meanwhile, great games like Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Modern Warfare 3, and Saint’s Row 3 will have to wait.
However, it’s not all bad news. While Skyrim might be crushing real world productivity, in Tamriel, I am being incredibly productive. I own several homes, participate in countless transactions with merchants worth thousands of gold pieces every day. I manufacture products for sale in local markets and generally contribute to Skyrim’s society. I spend hours helping local governments eliminate the growing problem of wolves, bears, and frost trolls and protect capitals from the onslaught of dragons.
In the non-digital world and as I write this during the peak of holiday buying, The Official Skyrim Game Guide has only just fallen out of the top 20 books at Amazon and game sales continue to astound. Officially, Bethesda shipped 7 million copies and expects to see $450 million in return, a goal it will likely exceed thanks, in part, to its Game of the Year title at the Spike Video Game Awards.
However, beginning in January, Bethesda will begin making their Creation Kit, a downloadable set of development tools along with a wiki and how-to videos, available for free. The Creation Kit will be integrated with Steam Workshop so that players will be able to easily share their mods. Bethesda should be ashamed of itself. Clearly, giving away product to its loyal customers is no way to run a company, nor will it help a troubled economy.
While the link between Skyrim and a faltering economy are clear, the solution is equally simple. I call upon Congress, who don’t seem to be doing much these days anyway, to immediately pass legislation to prevent Bethesda from making any more games.
By eliminating video games with hundreds of hours of gameplay, gorgeous, stop-you-in-your-tracks landscapes, and deep and enjoyable gameplay, we can all return to being productive and contributing citizens. Bethesda has long carried a reputation for creating such games with deep stories and compelling characters. Gamers are helpless when expected to turn their backs to such products. If we put a stop to this destructive practice, only then can the United States rebound from this sagging economy and return to economic greatness.
Please join me in calling your Representative and Senator and demanding Bethesda be stopped from making games like Skyrim. Do your part – we’re all counting on you.