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Had one of the most intense experiences of my gaming career while playing
Skyrim. The Hearthfire expansion lets you build a house out in the country, and
also lets you adopt up to two orphaned children to live there. Your options for
interacting with the kids are pretty simple: "Go play outside," "I brought you
a present," "Time for bed," etc., but it's just enough to make you feel
responsible for their well being. So one day, I tell the kids to go play
outside while I'm working on remodeling the house. The afternoon slips by, and
I haven't heard a peep from the kids, so of course I feel compelled to step out
and check on them. They're just outside the front door. All seems well. Then I
round the corner, and staring straight back at me is a club-wielding giant.
Even before I draw my weapon, I whirl around and order the kids inside the
house.
Of course, my character goes on to dispatch the giant, and the "kids" were
never in any real danger; Bethesda makes all child NPCs invincible (probably
out of fear of the screenshots sickos would post if they could be harmed). But
that was probably the single scariest moment I've ever experienced in a video
game, because if that giant had killed my character, the natural narrative arc
is that the kids, whom I've plucked out of poverty and taken responsibility
for, would be next.
I later learned that Bethesda spawns giants by the house on purpose, to give
you something to defend your livestock (and your family) against. But this
first encounter felt 100% organic, and just enough dialog options were there to
reproduce what I'd have done in real life. Skillfully done, Bethesda.
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