In the world of big-budget video game developers, Bethesda Game Studios has the rare gift of consistency. Play one of its games and you know, more or less, what to expect from all of them: an expansive open world filled with every product a Staples and/or medieval Whole Foods ever sold, mannequin-like characters that will stiffly run through gunfire to ask you to deliver a magic cheese curd, and, most importantly, literature. Tons of books, letters, notes, and emails for you, the player, to read at your leisure, totally unbothered by whatever world-ending crisis you are ostensibly supposed to ward off.
I love all this writing. I love that there is so much of it, and I love that there is no discernable reason for the vast majority of it. Most of all, I love that the lion’s share of these books are fucking boring, with a few works spanning multiple volumes and over a dozen pages each about shit I will never care about in a million years.
This, to me, is a vital part of the appeal of Bethesda games. Even if I don’t care about the fictional exploits of Mehrunes Whoever, it is incredible to me that someone did, enough to write several hundred words that most people will probably ignore. They’re there because they should be. They’re there because Bethesda games are set in worlds where people read, and those worlds are made with the conviction that the player should be able to read many of those books — even the goddamn turgid histories that make me want to tear my eyes out. Maybe the characters of the Elder Scrolls games feel the same way about them!
All this is to ask: Where the fuck are the books in Starfield? What is this nonsense where you pick up a book — real neat that they’re still around in the future, by the way — and all you get is the first couple paragraphs and then a line about the book’s importance in the world??? Some of these books aren’t even fictional, but public domain works! What’s stopping you from putting all of Anna Karenina in your game, Todd Howard? Not concern for my hard drive, I’ll say! You’re already taking up 100 of my god-given gigabytes. What’s a few books that come free on every Kindle gonna hurt?
Going from the ridiculously expansive books and terminal entries of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls and Fallout games to the little blurbs that compose Starfield’s diegetic texts feels like a personal slight, a ridiculous assumption that just because I did not choose to read all those very long books in Skyrim that I wouldn’t read them someday. And while I guess it is understandable to fill your game with short things that players will read over long ones they will ignore, it has the terrible knock-on effect of implying that Starfield’s characters just don’t want to read anymore, turning me into a judgy Boomer.
In the interest of covering my ass, I should be clear: I’m aware that Starfield is a very big game, and I have only seen a tiny sliver of it with my dozen-plus hours of playtime. I’m willing to believe that I have not experienced all the literary material to be found in Starfield’s universe, and maybe I never will. I wouldn’t even bat an eye if Todd Howard put a whole-ass Library Planet in the game where I can read all six volumes of In Search of Lost Time and also Sam Coe’s favorite erotic fantasy series. Hell, add one later in a patch, after I’ve moved on! That would be a good prank on indignant pissants like me.