A year ago, writer Patrick Lenton shared a story on Twitter about finding a dog in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Its owner was dead. He adopted it because he’s “not a monster.” He quickly grew to love this very good dog, which would eagerly (and at times foolishly) charge into battle with him. As Lenton started tackling bigger foes, like giants and very grumpy dragons, it became clear that his pooch was in danger.
He put aside his world-saving adventure to make a new home for his dog. It became a sprawling journey far more entertaining than the plot of Skyrim itself.
worst part of Skyrim was when I found that dog whose owner died in a cabin, and then I of course had to adopt the dog bc i’m not a monster
— Patrick Lenton (@PatrickLenton) April 5, 2016
Lenton’s thread went viral on sites like BuzzFeed back in 2016, but it’s resurfaced thanks to a tweet from Silicon Valley actor Kumail Nanjiani. It’s impossible to verify that the situation played out exactly as Lenton tells it, though it does fit within the game’s rules for pets: if you want a dog in your house, you need an adopted child to claim it. The thread is a wonderful story, if only for how well Lenton tells it. His simple wish to save his dog becomes a comedy of errors as he tries to build a perfect home, adopt kids, and hold together a happy family — going to any lengths for his pet.
Lenton wasn’t forced to adopt this dog. He’d lose nothing if he let it die (except a piece of his soul, I guess). His struggle as a player is as admirable as it is hilarious, but it’s entirely of his own making. It’s a testament to the power of emergent stories, narratives that players themselves build in open worlds. Look no further than modern games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a Skyrim-like experience. The best moments in the game have nothing to do with following the main quest. They’re about collecting horses, sharing unexpected deaths, or accidentally setting a forest on fire with a bear.
I played Skyrim back when it was first released in 2011, albeit very briefly. I loved my Khajiit hero, Punkin, for his tufted ears and perpetually puzzled expression. I even enjoyed the game’s variety of goofy bugs — except the one that stranded me on a mountain, after my horse inexplicably slid away as though it were on an invisible conveyor belt. But, eventually I got bored and ditched the game. My mistake here is a simple one: I never took the time to venture beyond the game’s main objectives. I chained myself to the rails of a single ride instead of venturing through the entire amusement park.
Skyrim came out about six years ago, but the game continues to thrive. It’s been ported and remastered beyond its PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 launch to the latest generation of consoles. It’s even coming to the Nintendo Switch. If you’re curious why it endures after all this time, look no further than this story about a man and his virtual dog: a perfect and charming tale made possible by the weird possibilities of an open world.
Lenton has said on Twitter that even after all this time, he still gets chased away from the home he built. He might not see his dog again, but at least the story has a happy ending in real life.