Have you ever wanted to forget something you’ve played and start fresh?
I’ve lost count of how many games I want that with. No matter how many times I revisit Ocarina of Time or Nier Automata, nothing is ever able to recapture how mystifying those games were when I first played them. Once you’ve beaten a game, it becomes just that: a game. It’s not that same mystifying adventure you had the first time around, and any attempt at recapturing that initial feeling of discovery soon gives way to rote repetition.
Your brain won’t let you enjoy something the same way twice—that’s just how it works.
You Can’t Go Home Again
Unfortunately, that makes some games almost impossible to revisit, and for me, one of those games is 2011’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Back in high school, there was this period of two or three months where all I really did after class and rehearsal was play the smash-hit, 2011 RPG. There was something magical about going home each night, embarking on an adventure, then reconvening the next day to talk it over with my friends. For a brief period of time, it felt like we were really part of that world, and that our adventures in it had tangible weight to them.
But the near-decade since has changed that. I still enjoy Skyrim, but its flaws are more transparent than ever in 2020. These days, it plays more like a relic than the innovative open-world adventure it was at launch. To enjoy the game now is to excuse umpteen caveats that undermine the experience, like the sparse combat or the dodgy level progression system—not to mention the infamous jank. Yes, it’s still an impressive achievement, but it feels like a more fragile experience these days—something that succeeded in spite of its glaring faults.
I don’t want to remember Skyrim that way, though. I want to have that same adventure again, with the same sense of wonder and awe I felt back when I was 17 and 18. When I see a mountain and—of course—climb that mountain, I don’t want to think about the broken physics that got me to the top or the flickering textures I saw along the way. There was a thrilling liberation that came with being able to go anywhere and do anything in a 2011 game, and I want that back.
That’s why when I downloaded it via Game Pass, I knew I had to do something that would make my experience brand new. Something that would give me a different perspective, and allow me to focus on details that I might not have since I was a kid.
Naturally, I turned to weed.
In The Green
Full disclosure: I only really started smoking this year.
It was kind of a logical endpoint to my first major foray into therapy, through which I realized that I have a lot of unresolved trauma, and loads of anxiety and depression over said trauma. That’s on top of my ADHD, which is undiagnosed and unmedicated in adulthood, but something most teachers I ever talked to told me I have. So, since moving to a weed-legal state, I’ve all but abandoned my previous anti-drug stance and have embraced frequent recreational pot smoking to counteract all of that.
The weird thing is in that time, I’ve actually become a better person who has more friends, does more things, and puts out better work. Sure, part of that has to do with how I smoke (never close to work and never before I have to do anything job-related, like reviewing a game,) but it’s mainly been due to how weed helps me re-contextualize my thoughts. Getting high puts me in this headspace where I simultaneously feel my feelings and work through them more objectively. This not only helps me cope, but gives me the tools I need to actually understand, process, and let go of my own feelings in a healthy way. It’s been liberating, to say the least, and I feel like a stronger, more capable woman at the end of 2020 than I did at the start of it.
This was the version of me that I wanted to bring back to Skyrim. Not the insufferable, little narc who played it in 2011, who scoffed at anyone who would ever dare touch a joint, but the 420-friendly trans girl who thinks we should probably legalize most drugs. I figured that if anything was going to help me process this game differently, smoking a ton of pot was a safe bet. Plus, weed and Skyrim is a thing. Trolling through Reddit, you’ll find threads about how the best way to play the game is stoned, or how some players can’t enjoy the game until they toke up. That same conversation goes back to the game’s launch period, too, as you can find numerous convos about it on IGN and GameFAQs boards from almost a decade ago.
There’s even a cheeky cannabis mod, which I didn’t play with but seems pretty fun regardless.
I was convinced. If I was going to revisit Todd Howard’s whimsical world of fantasy tropes and fantastical bugs, I needed to pay my girl Mary Jane a visit. Here’s what I smoked over the course of two days:
I couldn’t decide whether or not to be scientific here, and to list out exactly how much of each I smoked. However, I felt that being so methodical would defeat the purpose of this fun little experiment. Suffice it to say, I, uh… smoked a fair bit. In addition to that, I ate two large homemade edibles, courtesy of my lovely girlfriend. When I asked how potent they were (like a little nerd,) she just shrugged and said, “I dunno, it’s some kind of hash oil.” Whatever the case, they fucked me up pretty thoroughly, and gave me a sort of elevated, floating high—like I was hovering over the couch.
Bong in my lap, edibles at my side, and freshly ground flower on the table in front of me, I locked eyes with the screen and prepared to both revisit and rediscover Skyrim.
“Hey, You. You’re Finally Awake.”
Here are a few of my notes from my several hours of play. Please note that I don’t remember writing about half of these.
- “I’m in high school again. Mystified at how beautiful and alive this world feels. My mouth is literally hanging open.”
- “Dragons are so much more jank than I remember, but they’re still terrifying and feel satisfying to conquer.”
- “I’m playing a new game and comfort food all at once.”
- “No music adds atmosphere.” (Note: I disabled the game’s music in light of composer Jeremy Soule’s rape allegations.)
- “Treating this more like an exploration game. I’ll sit and stare at the water for a while, play with animals, try to climb. Just explore and talk to people and have a good time.”
- “Combat feels so stressful and scary.”
So, here’s how this went down.
My first edible kicked in right around the point where your head’s about to get chopped off, so that messed me up. When the dragon swooped in and started laying waste to everything around me, my blood pressure rose and I sprinted through the opening in a dissociative haze. The game’s early combat encounters stressed me out, and coming face-to-face with big spiders actually gave me a panic attack.
Look, I hate spiders, okay? Hate them.
Once I got out of that opening and into Skyrim, I followed the main questline for a while. Returning to Whiterun was an emotional experience for me, like returning to your hometown after several years away. There’s that sense of familiarity you can’t shake, coupled by the gentle pain of seeing things change in your absence. On instinct, I ran to find Lucia—the little orphan girl you can adopt later on. I cried when she asked me for money and felt a thick lump rise up in my throat. I remembered how much taking care of her meant to me as a teenager, and how much I wished I could just give her a home right at that moment.
After that emotional reunion, I went through the main narrative beats for a few hours. I got my early Dragon Shouts, killed some dragons, talked to some monks, and… um, got lost on a snowy mountain for about an hour. See, I got distracted by an animal while hiking up the mountain, and ran off into the piney woods to chase it. Unfortunately, roving gangs of Frost Trolls broke up my fun, and I had to run and jump through the snow-capped hills to avoid guaranteed death. There was something nostalgic about this, though—bounding across the game’s map without any clue where I’d end up.
That held true the more I played (and the more I smoked, of course.) While I continued to do side quests, explore dungeons, and raid bandit caves, I mostly just walked around Skyrim on foot with Lydia at my side. At one point, I found a babbling brook that flowed into a tiny stream, and I followed that stream to a large river. I walked along the river for a bit, taking small breaks to stare up at the clouds or to play with a passing fox. Eventually, I stopped at a small waterfall to stare out into the water and think about life for a while. Quiet moments like this punctuated my experience, and brought back vivid memories of being utterly entranced by the unpatched 1.0 version on my threadbare PC in high school.
For the first time in forever, I took in every sight and relished every encounter like I was a kid again.
The Dispensary Has Wares If You Have Coin
After spending two days with the game like this, I’ve concluded that I’m exclusively going to replay Skyrim while stoned.
The difference in my enjoyment was night and day. I’d tried to go back to this game before—on two better PCs, on Switch, and in VR—but it had never been like this. I didn’t fall into the same traps of trying to grind out the best loot, or obsessively doing every side quest, or getting burnt out on the iffy main quest line. My adventure was entirely my own, as I took my pretty orc lady across frozen tundras, up perilous mountain ranges, and into dens of terrifying monsters. I explored, I plundered, I befriended animals, I went for long swims, and did about ten dozen other tiny things I can’t quite recall.
For all intents and purposes, this finally felt like a new game again.
Going forward, I legitimately can’t wait to do my favorite parts of this game under the influence. Playing through the Dark Brotherhood quest line is going to freak me out all over again, and I’ll almost certainly bawl when I help Saadia escape her oppressive government. With uninhibited emotions taking the wheel, and my trademark cynicism cast off like dirty laundry, I can finally feel the same way about this game that I used to.
So, if you find yourself wishing you could play something again for the first time, check your local laws and see if you can score yourself a few grams of the good stuff. I almost guarantee the game you play won’t be the same one you remember.
… Or maybe one you remember at all, actually.
Next: Cyberpunk 2077’s Careless Depiction Of Suicide Ruins One Of Its Best Characters
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