There’s a bug in Skyrim where you can get out of Whiterun’s walls without going through the gate. You have to sit on a barrel right at the entrance and leap over, timing a pixel-perfect pirouette through the air so you can get to the blocky terrain on the other side. Why? Because there’s a hidden chest in some rocks ‘round back. You can loot a merchant’s entire catalogue of goods without spending a penny, and it doesn’t count as stealing. It’s highway robbery without the highway or the robbery.
Skyrim is chock full of quirky little bugs like that. They don’t break the game or make it a headache to get into – it’s harmless fun and part of why Skyrim has the longevity it has. It’s not because the developer envisioned or meticulously planned out a ten-year release, but because the community tore into every single nook and cranny to find the most obscure glitches and tricks. Countless video game urban legends were born in Skyrim. It was for many in my generation the equivalent of passing around a sheet of paper with cheat codes or saying you could make Lara Croft nude in Tomb Raider.
There was a very prominent rumour circulating in the early 2010s that you could give your companions a giant’s club. I swear I have memories of doing it – or at least bragging that I did – but I can’t seem to replicate it. The idea was that you would tell your follower to pick up a specific club at a specific giant’s camp and they would be able to wield it, clobbering dragons with a ten-foot stick. It didn’t appear in their inventories, you couldn’t take it and use it yourself, and it wasn’t even registered in-game as a weapon, so how does it work? I don’t know, and any videos of it are a minefield of mods, so it’s hard to tell how authentic this legend really is, but I don’t care. It’s the memories of trying it out for hours on end and chatting about it in the lunch hall at school that sticks with me. It’s my version of Mew under the truck in Pokemon Red & Blue.
Bugs don’t have to be this big bad boogeyman. They’re part of video game culture. Yet they’re also something that developers want, and should, try to iron out, but not all of them can be. That’s okay. Some will slip through the cracks and some players will push the boundaries in ways developers cannot predict – leaping at a wall from a specific barrel until you hit the right slither of an opening? I don’t blame Bethesda for not catching that. It’s hardly an obvious oversight. But bugs shouldn’t be demonised when they’re harmless like this because they only serve to make a game all the more special. Cyberpunk 2077 crashing over and over and making my PC sound like a jet engine? Bad. Headless NPC still trying to kill me? Good.
Tripping up the Greybeards when they use Whirlwind and propelling them off High Hrothgar, forcing mammoths to fly, putting buckets over NPCs heads to rob them blind, inviting dead friends to weddings, mannequins walking around your house and scaring the shit out of you, riding a horse on a dragon – the list goes on. We all have fond memories of these things as much as we do slaying Alduin, assassinating the emperor, or joining a cult of vampires off the shores of Solitude. Bugs are a part of a game’s character, even if they are unintentional. Bethesda might not have planned for giants to send players rocketing into the sky, but I wouldn’t have it any other way – we all remember our first encounter with one sending us hurtling into orbit. They wouldn’t be as special without that in their arsenal.
But bugs are more than just dumb fun and good memories – they’re also an integral part of speedrunning as players find the most fascinating ways to break a game’s systems so that they can bypass whole swaths of progression to quickly reach the end. I remember learning the camera trick to walk through walls in Dark Souls, letting you bypass both bells so that you could go to Sen’s Fortress from the get-go. Before you know it, you’re in Anor Londo fighting Ornstein and Smough with a broken straight sword and a whole load of regret. But hey, when I get back, Quelaag won’t seem so tough. Skyrim’s no different – players use silver platters as keys to get through locked doors. Silver platters!
It’s absurd. But in a way, it lets us connect to these games, to the developer’s work, more than anything else. We aren’t just doing what’s set out for us, we’re going beyond that to engage with the systems and tools behind the scenes, learning not only the world and its lore but the building blocks that make it tick. That’s beautiful and it’s why I feel so at home in Skyrim.
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