Skyrim is the game Commonsense Media calls a: “vast and violent RPG filled with moral choice and ambiguity” and they rate it “Not For Kids”, in support of ESRB. Interestingly, both parents and kids rated this game as “on” for 13 year-olds, which I believe is more appropriate. I will say the game’s not for all kids. Like with so many games (even supposed E for Everyone games), it’s important to know your child and to consider the following:
1. context and purpose of violence,
2. context and appearance of blood,
3. what constitutes sexual themes,
4. which objectionable word is used and in which context is it employed, and
5. what context do alcohol/drugs appear?
When Skyrim was placed on the table for my consideration and approval a few months ago the feature of the game that I found to be the most striking was its gorgeous graphics — the game animation, especially of the landscape and the world of Skyrim, is outstanding.
The most risqué content found in the game is found in mods, which are created by developers and the public. That said, not all mods push the envelope in controversial areas like the ones listed above. About a year ago, Bethesda released its Creation Kit for this purpose. Some reliable spots to find game mods are Steam Workshop, Nexus and ENB.
Another area of interest for parents should be whether the game is an online multiplayer. Skyrim isn’t, but with the help of Skyrim Online a player can interact with other players in a game. It’s in online multiplayers where your child may come across some of the most adult content, and it’s not an easy thing to regulate. At my house, there are very few of these gaming opportunities and another feature of Skyrim that I liked was its closed-play environment.
Recomomdations & praises
There are a lot of aspects of Skyrim that I like — a lot — which is why my son plays it in our house (a lot), and why we’ve bought the game as a gift for his friends. The epic story and mythology woven through the game is beautiful, as is the musical score. A bit about my game rating process: I always check out the graphics, plot, premise, and music first. And I’m a sucker for beauty (which my son knows, and he’s learned to promote these aspects of games with me first!).
As I said in an earlier post, Skyrim’s an action, role-playing open world video game. It provides upward of 100 hours of new play experiences as players explore its vast terrain. Players personalize their experience through every action and decision they make, which is both exciting and educational.
Kids practice anticipatory judgement as they learn about consequences playing Skyrim; choices they make affect the development of their character as well as the opportunities that come their way. During the game, players choose whether they will fight for an empire or for a resistance group. They can also play as members of many other groups, called factions, found in the open world such as the Dark Brotherhood or the Blades.
There’s so much to do in this game; players can choose to accept or decline quests as they explore bustling cities, small towns, lush forests, richly illustrated tundra, towering mountains, crystalline waters, and dark caves. Similarly, players can choose the virtual people with whom they’ll interact, which brings me to a possible point of contention: romantic encounters.
Possible Point of Contention: Romantic Encounters, Sexual Themes, & Adult Language
I’ll admit I was skeptical about the ability to meet mates in the game until I learned more about the reasons behind the activity and the player benefits involved in selecting a mate for marriage. (context is everything) As with non-romantic relationships and liaisons in Skyrim, if you take time to be nice and do well by the people you meet, they will be good to you — this usually translates into opportunity in one way or another. The benefits of marriage include: daily meals and gold (100!) as well as a 15% increase in skill experience. When I asked my son why he wanted to find a wife he told me without hesitation, “If you’re good to your wife she gives you riches and helps to make you a better player.” Sounds like a healthy, nurturing, and rudimentary love bond to me.
Some parents may be uncomfortable with the requirement that players sleep with their wives to gain skill benefits. To them I’d say, if you’ve been OK with your kids playing house with dolls etc. this element of the game isn’t likely to pose a problem for you because — unless your child is playing Skyrim with a mod — s/he’ll be literally sleeping platonically with their spouse (no hanky-panky).
NB: there’s some sexual reference in some of the dialogue between characters in the game and some of the outfits may strike you as too revealing. It’s not out-of-place for the genre, so if you’re comfortable with costumes in TV series like Robin Hood and Merlin you’ll be fine with what you find in Skyrim. The language is, for the most part PG-13, with the occasional reference to “whores” and sex (which may be lost on a 12 or 13 year-old). In any case, none of these occurrences represent a main focus of the game.
Is Skyrim inappropriate for kids?
It’s a complex game which may be beyond children younger than 12 years-old, to some degree due to content, but to a larger degree due to its level of difficulty. (How big a drag is it when your kid is frustrated by a game they just bought?)
Violence, Blood & Gore
While it’s possible to enact random violence, players discover that choosing to do so is of no benefit to them (and may detrimentally affect their game). This is a negotiable category because players choose their violence by the way they play. At my house, we’ve talked about and arrived at an agreement about acceptable fighting/defense plays as well as the unacceptable ones. I believe this kind of dialogue is always fruitful, and sticking to the rules helps to ingrain in my son the concept of chivalrous play (which is just good sportsmanship). Our practice may work for you, but if you’re uncomfortable with the freedom of expression in this area, you might want to steer clear of this game.
Use of Alcohol
Alcohol features prominently in Skyrim as a social and nutritional benefit. As with other aspects of the game, players can choose to drink in moderation — for benefit — or excessively — to their detriment. Maybe this is a point of objection for you, but I think in the context of the game, this aspect reinforces positive social choices.
In closing, I’m a fan of the game and I completely understand why it won Spike’s Game of the Year award and IGN’s Xbox 360 and PC Game of the Year Awards (2011). It’s a game that I never say “no” to at home for two reasons:
1. I really enjoy listening to it playing in the background (gorgeous musical score), and
2. Whatever parts of the brain it requires to play, it puts my son in a good mental place (as opposed to other games that seem to light his frontal lobe ablaze!).
VERDICT: RECOMMEND FOR SOME KIDS 12 YEARS PLUS
- Inaugural Commentary: SKYRIM (mommentaryongames.wordpress.com)
- Bethesda focuses on PS3 users: DRAGONBORN DLC RELEASE (inatwitter.wordpress.com)
- Live Action Skyrim Trailer (epicagames.com)
- Dawnguard Expansion Announced for Elder Scrolls’ Skyrim (epicagames.com)