I have a confession to make: I like to play video games. Specifically, I like to play role-playing games (RPGs). I’m sure this makes me a geek, but there’s no denying it. My current favorite is Skyrim, part of the Elder Scrolls series. It has everything RPG fans like in a game: scenic vistas, epic stories, bad guys & monsters to fight, magic, loot, and crafting.
Yes, crafting. In Skyrim, you can make things. You can make potions (poisonous or beneficial). You can make weapons. You can make jewelry. You can make food. With the newest expansion, you can even create your own house, complete with greenhouse, garden, and beehives. Skyrim scratches the homesteading itch in more ways than any other game I’ve played. (Those of you with more RPG experience than me might have another opinion.)
Even with this large variety of crafting available, the actual act of crafting can be repetitive. When you make a weapon in Skyrim, you pick a design from a line of predetermined designs. There’s the “Imperial” line, the “Dwarven” line, and the “Elven” line, among others. Each of these has the same range of weapons; 2 types of swords (single- and double-handed), a dagger, 2 types of axe, a shield, a bow, and more. Each of these weapons requires certain raw materials which you must collect before you can make the weapon. Making the weapon is a matter of selecting an option in a menu. Similarly, when you make a potion or a recipe, you must collect the appropriate resources, select the resources from a menu, and press a button to make the item.
This type of crafting has two main problems: lack of creativity and lack of skill required. Instead of selecting from a catalog of similar items, I want to design the weapon myself — the size and style of the blade, the designs on the hilt, and the materials used in construction. I also want to make my own recipes for potions and food. And instead of hitting a button to create an item, I want the game to require skill in crafting. I’d like to maintain the appropriate forge temperature and swing the hammer. I want to prepare the ingredients for my potions and boil them in a pot.
This type of immersive system-driven gameplay is coming. Programmers will develop more sophisticated simulations of these various tasks. Gamers will be able to design their own weapons and share them through integrated marketplaces inside the game. They will be able to mix custom potions and create custom recipes, and the games will require skill in making these things.
For me, though, all of this crafting is but a fun diversion while waiting for the ability to do these things in real life. Why should I create virtual recipes when I can cook myself? Why make virtual potions when I can brew at home? Why should I hone my skill in video-game weapon manufacturing when I can learn blacksmithing, traditional timber-framing, and carpentry?
If you’re not sure about this whole homesteading thing but you like games, try Skyrim or another game that has a decent crafting system. Figure out what you like and dislike. Then, find out how to do these kinds of things in real life. I think you’ll find that real-life role-playing is much more fulfilling than any game.
Now excuse me, I need to go collect mushrooms and herbs for my Invisibility Potion. I’m hunting dragons.
Update: Since this post was written, I’ve embarked on my real-life quest as a craftsman. Read about it here.