The new blockbuster, from the comfort of the couch

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The Khajiit, a race of cat people in the world of Skyrim, a 3-year-old video game, are just as compelling as anything coming out of Hollywood this summer.
The Khajiit, a race of cat people in the world of Skyrim, a 3-year-old video game, are just as compelling as anything coming out of Hollywood this summer.

by Brian Clarey

It’s summer blockbuster season in movie theaters right now, which this year means a slew of superhero adaptations, some Disney action, a few blatant cash-grab sequels, an obligatory rock-star biopic (James Brown!) and an Adam Sandler movie. And I have plans to see exactly zero of them in theaters this summer.

Not that I don’t love movies. I do! I watch them with my family all the time — mostly on Netflix or HBO. My theater experiences are mostly relegated to the local stuff: film festivals or limited releases, and I love a good filmmaker Q&A afterwards.

Because most movies are stupid — I’d rather binge-watch a season of “Orange is the New Black” than see Adam Sandler ride an ostrich. And if I really need to hear a song from Frozen, my little girl can handle the request.

So while it’s possible that my sons and I will book a couple Saturday afternoons for the new X-Men and Guardians movies this summer, we’ve already decided that we’ll be spending the bulk of our screen time playing a 3-year-old video game that we’ve had lying around since Christmas.

We didn’t buy Skyrim, the massive role-playing game and fifth in the Elder Scrolls series, when it first came out, right in time for Christmas 2011, because we were still playing Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which was capable of sucking a hundred or so hours of play from each user. Also, we are not a family that buys new video games, unless Batman is involved.

We’re not alone. The used video-game market is just as lively as trade in the new ones. And Americans spent almost $21 billion on video games in 2013, compared to about $11 billion on theatrical-release movies.

Video games cost more — a new title can run more than $60, while a premium movie ticket goes for about $10 — but we buy just one copy of the games for the whole family, while a trip to the movies could run $75 for the five of us, depending on how much popcorn and stuff we get.

There’s a time differential, too. My oldest son, who years ago eclipsed me as the best and most dedicated gamer in the house, has already invested 36 hours in Skyrim, and he’s barely scratched the surface of the dense and layered world. We’ll each probably invest a couple hundred hours before we’re through, searching for artifacts, completing quests and slaying frost trolls. Fortunately, he’s a vampire lord by now, so he’s having a pretty easy go of it so far.

My youngest son has become a werewolf, which I think was the right decision for him at the time. I’m also proud to say he’s going to college, at the Winterhold College of Magic.

Me, I’m just an itinerant redguard exile trying to make my way in this strange, wintry land.

Oh yeah, Skyrim is super nerdy: orcs, elves, dragons… the whole bit.

It’s also cinematically fantastic, with sweeping landscape views and unbelievably rendered characters, giving it a high entertainment value. Watching one of my sons play a couple hours of Skyrim is almost like watching a Tolkien movie. Video games have become so elaborate, I’m even considering putting them in italics.

It’s a cliché for people of my generation to marvel at how far video games have come since the old days, so I won’t indulge except to say that nearly everything about the business has changed — even the joysticks.

Back in the day, we used to pump quarters into consoles for three lives. Just like we used to stand in line to sit in a dark room with strangers to watch the latest summer blockbuster.