Tuesday, March 07, 2006

'Round Here

I rarely feel
at home in videogames.

Playing them, yes.

But in-game, in that virtual space, home seems absent.


There are games which provide havens, breaks between the ebb and flow, the tension and release, small zones of comfort which rarely persist.

Most videogames are infused with a tremendous spirit of wanderlust.

A hero. Conqueror. Explorer. Blue hedgehog. Always fighting. Always expanding. Always searching. Always moving forward.

I have yet to find that space which I desire to not just occupy, but inhabit.

Narratives tend toward isolation of the main character, distance from an attachment point.

I may get glimpses of home, flashes of emotions.

A swell of nationalism during a round of Civilization while sending forth chariots from my capital.
That first glimpse of Orgrimmar as my young Orc Hunter made the long trek from his training grounds. CJ's arrival at his mom's house on Grove Street after a long absence.


But there seem to be disconnects in each of those examples.

The capital city is but a symbol, a focal point to rally around and protect. Orgrimmar is large and unfriendly, with no personal space, only streets on which to camp. CJ came home knowing that he was cursed with that old cliche, "You can't go home again."

Everywhere I look I see young orphan warriors looking to prove themselves, temporary bases to be built, defended and then abandoned, cities filled with zombies from which to flee, round after round of fights in unwelcoming surroundings. Or cities, nations, worlds at a distance, a layer of abstraction blocking a more personal bond.


There are things which home provides that nothing else seems to fulfill: a feeling of permanence, a safe space in which to perform rituals, an area for personal freedom and intimacy, a place where I can allow myself to feel totally secure (no matter how illusory any of these feelings might be). Plus it's where I numbly cruise the internet and watch far too much television. With my wife.


Seen in that light, videogames don't stand a chance at simulating home for me. Perhaps they might do better for someone with lower expectations.

I most often subscribe to the idea that a videogame can be a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

But the modicum of home they can and often do provide has been more than adequate. A glimpse here and there, for the protagonist, of a place often dreamed of but not yet found. A reminder that sometimes in the chaos there can be a stable space to collect your wits and soldier on. A splash of detail that fires a small ember of pride.

Just a little slice, that's all.


Chill said...

To be fair though, have you played games that tried to provide a home? Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, or something else? Unless you've tried to play a game of that nature, it would be like a person claiming that no videogames provided a dynamically created world and ignoring Roguelikes, an entire genre that uses that a a key tenet.

Johnny Pi said...

I played quite a bit of Harvest Moon on the PS2 and found it to be enjoyable, but far too task-based to really feel like home. I got the same feeling from both Sims games -- they're interesting and fun but still rely on the tension of management (which feels more like work to me).

I tried to be clear, but maybe I wasn't. I think games can provide slices of home, but at present they can't encompass the general concept.

Also, this was a highly subjective post. If Animal Crossing makes you feel at home, then that's great. I'd even envy you a little bit.