I remember the moment at which I finally snapped; I'd ascended some mountain or other, and kept dying. Eventually, the final, fraying thread of my enjoyment came apart, and I admit that I may have sworn like a taxi driver as I quit the game in a blind convulsion of rage.
Everything up until then had felt like a slog, reminding me of the times my parents would drag me along to their friends' houses for a gruelling marathon of smalltalk. I'd sit there, minutes tightening into weeks, while they intoned about, I dunno, wallpaper and work. Typically I'd retreat into my own head for respite.
On one occasion, I became so lost in some ridiculous imaginary scenario that I burst out laughing and spat a mouthful coleslaw all over the hosts' dinner table. Which, on the plus side, so embarrassed my parents that they concluded subsequently that I was old enough to look after myself while they went out.
Frankly, if that's what I'm doing while trying to play a video game, then I have to accept that the video game might not be for me. Indeed, the most fun I'd had up until the point I stopped allowing Skyrim to ruin my life, was running around a village in my pants... having thrown all my clothes and armour onto the roof of a house.
"Art" imitating life...
There were two main things which kept me going with Skyrim. Firstly, there was the feeling that at any second it was going to blossom into the amazing game that everyone had told me it was.
Secondly, I was seduced by the visuals, that sense of being in a big, open, world. I could appreciate the scale of the achievement, and didn't want to feel like I was dismissing what was, without doubt, the result of a lot of people pouring their energy and care into it. Of course, such games are ubiquitous now and, lamentably, Skyrim's graphics haven't entirely stood the test of time.
Consequently, the aspects I found troublesome before are now even harder to ignore.
Not only are the visuals - particularly the character models - achingly dated, but the combat is all trial-and-error, a maelstrom of desperate flailing. It's like attacking a bunch of department store mannequins with a long cardboard tube, while your wrist is attached to an elastic rope tethered to a bust of Terry Pratchett.
I'm forced to conclude that Skyrim is one of those games I rank alongside Dark Souls, in that I just don't get it... but I've yet to fully accept that. I want to believe.
I bought it again on the same promise of being transported to a massive world where I can do anything. I've had a really tough year with work, I'm horrifically burnt-out, and I could really do with escaping somewhere else for a while. Unfortunately, Skyrim, once again, has proven itself to be as much of a grind as I now remember it being. It's the precise opposite of something I can lose myself in; I battle more with the controls and the lazy world-building than I do the dragons and giant spiders and that.
I mean, it takes a particular sort of RPG to keep my interest at the best of times; fortunately, Zelda manages to circumnavigate most of the things I struggle with, adhering mostly to its own set of rules and customs.
Partly it's down to the fantasy genre itself. I appreciate that The Lord of the Rings was something fresh and groundbreaking when it first appeared, but so much subsequent fantasy just feels derivative and lazy.
And I say this as somebody who was obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons as a kid.
As a Star Wars fan, I know I'm on dodgy ground when I say I roll my eyes at the story and naming conventions of the RPG/fantasy genre. Three minutes into Skyrim on the Switch, and I was already spitting coleslaw at the screen, having met characters with names like Kelbroth, and Geldor, and Bronwin - a Greycloak from the Kingdom of Crannygust.
It doesn't help that it's so hard to ignore the world-building in RPGs, because so often you're forced to endure wearisome dialogue sequences - which are rarely, if ever, interesting, or even remotely human.
Nobody in a fantasy RPG ever talks like people talk. It's always that watered-down RP, presumably an effort to sound quasi-Shakespearean, or something... which authors of fantasy fiction believe sounds sufficiently olde-worlde to lend a certain gravitas. It's borderline racist.
Whether it's Skyrim, Witcher 3, or Dragon Age Inquisition, these games are always so far up their own mythos you'd need an enema to retrieve them. Rather than let the tale be told through passive storytelling, through actions and environment, we're presented with reams of texts - books, scrolls, things inscribed on stone tablets... plus interminable cut-scenes and godawful monologues.
The storytelling in the vast majority of fantasy RPGs is utterly, painfully, profoundly, almost without exception, dreadful.
WHO SHOT JRR?
Nintendo, as mentioned, gets it right. Everything in, say, Breath of the Wild is minimalist. Consequently, it's one of the few fantasy RPG series I get along with, because it isn't constantly bowing down to Tolkien.
But it's not just the story in fantasy RPGs I struggle with. It's all the other little tropes, which show so little original thinking, and are merely recycled from all that has gone before. The tired inventory juggling, the need to search every last chest, corpse, or cupboard for a few coins, or a loaf of bread, or a magic potion. These are all things which break the immersion for me - the constant collecting, the constant, nagging sense that you've missed something,
Then there's the crafting of weapons and other inventory items, the ridiculous multiple-choice conversations, the endless side-quests, the skill trees. The rifling around in other people's homes without consequence. Or with consequence. The random battles which interrupt your attempts to get from A to B.
And the forests and the mountains - oh, for pity's sake... please no more endless mountains and forests. I am SO over mountains and forests and caves and waterfalls in video games. Please. Stop.
All of it together, for me, makes playing most RPGs about as much fun as filling out a year-end financial statement while a semi-tumescent 16 year-old in a Neil Gaiman t-shirt reads from an annotated copy of Terry Brooks' The Fall of Shannara Book Two: The Skaar Invasion. Yes, that is a real thing.
In short: I wish I'd never spent forty quid on Skyrim for a second time. It has twice ruined my life.