So, I've been trekking through the completion of Skyrim over the past few weeks, doing a little here and a little there. I like the game, though I have some fundamental problems with it. One of the problems that I have with the mechanics of the game is a problem that crops up fairly consistently throughout modern games (and some media) depicting fantasy and that is this: there's a total lack of triggers for any kind of magic.
What the hell does that mean? Well, I believe that in the interest of not having to come up with a fake language or translate everything into joke Latin (and where video games are concerned to not force the player to wait through a short phrase or possibly get killed while reciting a spell) or maybe even out of a fear of Jack Chick-like satanist proportions, spells don't exist anymore in video games or even many fantasy films. They have simply faded away.
What do we have in their place? Something that appears to be psychically summoned magic, a force that obeys the beck and call of whoever is concentrating really hard right now. You see, for me, part of the thing that makes magic magic is the inherent linking of ritual, particularly the word. The Shouts of Skyrim seem more like magic than what wizards do in the setting. After all, magic is the working of the will upon the world through speech and gesture—isn't the working of the will on the world through concentration just psychic manifestation?
I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but don't the so-called "spells" of Skyrim (and many other games that share this fault) look like they just think about what they want to do and then point? That seems rather anticlimactic and un-magical to me. Where's the ritual? The mystery? The secret occulted lore? I suppose you could make the argument that preparing your mind to walk the paths that allow these things to manifest is hard and requires study... but I can't see anything that looks like an intrusion of the spell-structure into the physical world. What the hell exactly is written in those spellbooks you can buy in Skyrim? Thought-patterns?
I'm not sure why magic became a casualty in modern fantasy. Is it because them kids want faster gameplay? Maybe something that looks and feels and sounds like guns but with fancy projectiles? Its it because of the Satanism scare and the shying away from anything that could be classified as "actual magic" (what a stupid phrase, it makes me sick to type it), or because the developers of games and writers of films are just too lazy to consider what magic should look and feel like?
I can't answer that question to my satisfaction, but I feel as though my observations can be borne out in any one of a hundred examples. Maybe I'll think up some more later and share them with you, if anyone wants to discuss the issue further.