The mycologist in me would love to see even more realism in Oblivion's fungi. While I'm aware I'm in the minority in finding excitement in an ultra-realistic mushroom-hunting game, I see no reason why the mushrooms in Oblivion could not hew even closer to reality. Why not assign poisonous mushrooms damage-dealing properties or allow players to ingest edible mushrooms for a small health boost? In a world as similar to our own as Tamriel, why not have the mushrooms appear in the same micro-environments they do in the real world? Doing so would only increase the realistic backdrop of the game.
Of course, this level of detail requires prerequisite knowledge by the designers and would strain an already massive development effort. The designers must draw the line somewhere. Ultimately, the plants in Oblivion are a backdrop in service of the gameplay - namely, advancing through various quests and battles to save Tamriel. "If we want the player to feel more 'at home' or safe, or comfortable with their surroundings, we might model something very close to reality. Conversely, if we want to whisk them away to a far off place, or if we want to make them fell slightly ill at ease, we might err on the side of the fantastical," says Berry.
Although influencing the atmosphere of the environment is a fine and effective use of real-world models, I wonder what the result would be if instead of spurious narratives (anyone else tired of saving the world?) games drew from the much stranger realities of biology and science for inspiration, not just a backdrop. Mushrooms alone contain a diverse and startling world wide enough to support any number of science-fiction-like narratives. Take Cordyceps, a fungus that not only infests and kills ants and small bugs, but also causes them to climb to the top of nearby plants before they die so that the wind can spread its spores.
There may be little overlap between mushroom hunting and gaming, but they share a paradoxical nature: They are both viewed as diversions, and the knowledge gained from either pursuit rarely has any application outside of itself. Both can easily suck hours (or years) from your life and are thought of as at best a quirky habit, or at worst as a total waste of time. Yet both also offer a sense of immediacy that we rarely experience in our day-to-day lives. They are escapes, yes, but they free us from the prisons of ourselves and return us to the unmediated present. Whether this escape happens in the blue phosphorescence of a cave in Oblivion or a moss-covered forest in Washington State, I never feel I'm wasting time.
Zach Miller is a Seattle-based writer, poet and mushroom hunter who is currently working on a children's novel. He may be contacted at quietsputnik[at]yahoo[dot]com.