I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight, I guess, when I saw my first UFO. Maybe not even that old, since Star Wars came out when I was around four1, and I define everything in my life from that moment, and I wasn’t thinking about Stormtroopers when I saw it. Call it 1978, then, when I saw the UFO gliding silently back and forth just above the backyard fence line. Back then, there was nothing but vacant lots behind us, so I had a clear view, and there was no mistaking it: it was a narrow band of white lights rotating vertically in the air as the craft itself moved silently back and forth, almost as if it was looking … or, maybe … hunting … for something.
It was night, and I’d never seen a UFO before, so I had no way of knowing how far away it was. At one moment it seemed little more than a speck in the distance; the next, it might have been hovering directly over the fence. And while that would have made it a very small UFO, that wasn’t much comfort to a pre-K rugrat who was witnessing an alien invasion in his own backyard.
Naturally, I ran inside screaming at the top of my lungs. Fortunately, and further proof that life rarely meets its full potential for comedy, the babysitter didn’t faint or have a panic attack. Instead, she pointed out that what I was seeing was a night-flying advertising plane:
I don’t know if they even have them anymore, but back in 1978, advertising planes were the hottest thing next to the G Channel Saturday night movie2. During the day, they’d tow banners for for insurance companies and tire stores. At night, using esoteric technology we still do not fully understand3, they’d use a lighted banner that ran across the wings:
Tell me that isn’t a UFO. OK, maybe the propeller noise gives it away, but my personal UFO was too far away for me to hear that.
Ever since that day, I’ve had a fascination with lights in the sky, like the reflections of car headlights across low-lying clouds (my second UFO sighting) or the test-firing of a Polaris missile of the Pacific Coast (seen at the drive-in, which went the way of the Edsel, the dinosaurs, and the G-channel movie).
Which is why Skyrim is messing with my head.
But I think Skyrim’s visual style makes those lights more tempting – I’ve walked through parks that looked a lot like Riften, but I haven’t yet walked through the urban ruins of a post-apocalyptic city4,, which means there’s less to relate to in the darkness of Fallout.
So very often I’ll be roaming around Skyrim late at night and I’ll see, off in the distance:
And … I … just … can’t … help … myself! Like a moth to the flame … and usually with the same results, ’cause it’s not like anything wandering the wilderness of Skyrim is looking to sell you Amway insurance5.
Granted, the light isn’t in the sky, precisely, but it makes up for that by reminding me of a jack o’ lantern. In fact, maybe it’s not just lights in the sky, but lights in the darkness, or unusual lights in the darkness … the actinic glare of streetlights, or the dull tint of taillights; even the cheerful glow of a porch light is too common, too expected. But the flickering orange grin of a jack o’ lantern in the warm velvet night of October, or the electric flash of a radio tower aircraft warning beacon… something is happening with them. There are secrets to be found.
In Skyrim, those secrets are usually fatal:
But I just can’t help it! I see a flash in the darkness and I wonder if it’s a video glitch, or maybe the alcohol is beginning to dissolve my optic nerves … then I see it again … is something there …? There is! And it turns out to be a pyromancer hurling flaming death at a dragon, all of which had nothing to do with me.
That’s part of the appeal, I think – you don’t expect to come across activity at night, in the wilderness. You’re not expecting anything to be happening, out there in the woods, except for the occasional wolf. Fantasy is about the forgotten, the lost and lonely – ancient dungeons, untravelled wilderness. And especially at night, when horrors abound, you don’t expect to see people about. And the glow in the distance is the mark of something active, often something intelligent.
Of course, when those others are a void demigod and an Elder dragon, that’s probably a party you don’t want any part of:
So I’m trying to restrain myself, although I’m not sure why, since in any video game, the general rule is, if you can see it, you’re gonna have to kill it. Which makes me wonder why Lydia is always screaming “I’ll kill you if I have to!” ’cause, c’mon Liddie Bug, it’s not like there’s some other way this fight is gonna turn out.
I thought I had a pretty good handle on my peculiar obsession, until I moved up here to cow country. From what I hear, there are more UFOs than people up here, and the only reason we have any cows left is because the aliens won’t go near all the secret military bases. Now I find myself listening to the police scanner and watching the horizon for that telltale glow. Which is when Skyrim decided to go meta on me, because I went outside last night and discovered …
… my neighbor has a drone.
Yeah, this is not gonna help the schizophrenia.
- Yes, the original New Hope one, back in 1978. I’m old.
- The G-Channel was the cable company’s TV channel. Back when cable had those A/B switch boxes. It played a movie on Saturday night. One movie. Usually five years after it was out in the theatre. And that’s what was happening, on Saturday night. Nothing like the G-Channel movie and a big bowl of popcorn drowned in butter, salt, and MSG. Then you’d go play Space Invaders on your Atari 2600 with the wood paneling. Hey, all you kids get off my lawn!
- Roswell space alien technology, is what we now think.
- Post-apocalyptic suburbia, yes.
- Do they even have Amway anymore? Or is that another of my antiquated 70’s references?