Among the games of today Skyrim is the rarest kind of jewel. It is an experience that should be had by anyone who loves video games, and the story-line, moral choices, character development, atmosphere, and sheer gorgeous beauty of the world you are exploring make this game one of the best I have ever played. As a hard core gamer all of my life, I look at this game as a once-in-a-decade occurance. It is unique, it is individual (a very rare thing in games that are becoming increasingly fixated on only the multiplayer experience) and it is beautiful.
But that's not the point. I am a young adult, after all, and this game, as a M Rated game, is targeted towards me and middle to older teens. Is this game appropriate for children? In some ways possibly more so than most M rated games. In other ways, it is not so much inappropriate as perhaps over younger children's heads.
This game is a very difficult game. It has difficulty settings, of course, but the complexity of the world and the problems the character is presented with, the sheer vastness of an entire land to explore and dozens of quests to fullfill, make this game a likely bewildering experience to many children younger than 12, and only if those twelve year olds are experienced or fairly experienced gamers. There is a way of thinking that goes along with experience with games, and they will need critical thinking skills, trial and error, patience, and technical skill to be successful at this game. While it is extremely rewarding to wander into the wilderness of Skyrim, weak and practically defenseless and without knowing anything about the world you are entering, I entered that world as an experienced and confident gamer, and suspect that the experience would be overwhelming to younger children who do not have much experience with video games. There are just so many things to do, become, try.
Which brings us to the moral choices dilemma. It is true that in Skyrim, you can choose to become anything from the noblest man or woman to ever walk to earth, to the lowest, cruelest, piece of scum. There are many levels of gradation, unlike many games in which the good/evil moral choice aspect is presented in a way that makes you either totally good or absolutely bad. For example, you could choose to save a man from a bandit's onslaught, and yet pickpocket random people on the street. You can donate your money to homeless beggars, and then join an assassin group and kill for money. There are many moral choices in this game. To many to count. And that is why I think, in the end, this game is better than a game in which you are forced to play by default, a completely good hero or a mean antihero (as in the Grand Theft Auto games).
The kind of moral choices in Skyrim can seem scary. After all, what if your child chooses to play as the worst kind of character, a merciless killer, who would kill innocent men and women on the street to rob them of their money? First of all, the fighting in this game is far less violent than most games now days. There is a little spurt of blood, and then the body falls, completely intact (unless it is beheaded, and even then, the animation is nothing that most 12 year olds haven't seen worse of in movies or on TV). Some people I know play the game in this way and find in enjoyable. But many other people find an excersize in morality, as they try to become a genuinly good person and make decisions that will benefit those around them. It means more to be a hero in Skyrim, because you can choose not to. IT means more to choose not to lie, to choose to help someone who needs it, to choose to make a character who embodies some aspect of how you would hope to live. But at the end of the game, the character is just a character and the world is just a world. RPG's can teach us things about ourselves, and Skyrim is one such obsticle course through which we can practice steering our morality.
So this is my recommendation:seriously question whether this game is appropriate for your child if they are under 13 and not an experienced gamer. However, if the kid is 16 and older, this game might just end up being their favorite game ever.