November Roundup: ‘Home Sweet Home’

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

Perhaps, if you are like me, this Monday is hitting you like a ton of bricks. Perhaps, if you are American like me, you are also feeling the additional strain of returning to “real life” after a long holiday weekend. Perhaps, if you are like me, you’d much rather be curled up at home – maybe even visiting somewhere the feels like a home in a game. But, if like me, being in your real or virtual home isn’t possible right now, I hope you’ll find solace in this edition of Blogs of the Round Table where we talk about “Home Sweet Home” and the places we carve out in digital spaces:

There are many games that allow players to carve out and claim a space to call their own. Unlike customizable avatars, these places become part of the fabric of the game environment. We can travel away from them, packed with gear for battle, or we can travel back to them in search of a bed to rejuvenate our bodies, souls, and possibly our magika. They can be urban or rural. They can be ours alone or communal spaces. Much like real homes, they are what we make of them.

Tell us about homes you’ve made in games. Have you built a home and started a family in Skyrim? What music did your Commander Shepard relax to, and what fish were in the tank, what models on the shelves? What makes your Animal Crossing home distinctly yours? Why is your guildhall the best guildhall in all the MMORPG land? How long have you defended your camp in Don’t Starve? Basically, if you’ve carved out a space to call your own, or if you’ve turned a house into ‘Home Sweet Home,’ we want to hear about it.

Let’s kick things off with Critical-Distance’s own (and my Blogs of the Roundtable co-host), Mark Filipowich. Over at BigTallWords, Mark takes at look at the way space makes meaning in games specifically by analyzing Left 4 Dead and Curtain. Though the games are quite different, both games deal with the player as “focalizer,” according to Mark and,

In both, the player is able to control how the game is taken in and their player-character’s values through the data they absorb. But in both cases, that same data only holds meaning when the player accepts the system and takes in the data according to the system they’re participating in. Furthermore, this is only scratching the surface of how ludic actors break away from the player’s subjectivity through the limited ways they are capable of acting.

Moving from space to place, Tom wrote about The Lords of Harmondale’s aptitude for creating a sense of place in the game. According to Tom, the game creates places that are in harmony with the cultures inhabiting them. Not only have the regions been crafted to ideally fit and reflect the race that inhabits it, but through this strong sense of place, the game encourages the player to feel connected to and at home in the location of Harmondale. He states,

Harmondale becomes more than just the place where you repair, sell items and take care of business: that can be done anywhere. Harmondale is your home in-game, where your diverse band of nomadic adventurers lay their roots. Out of all the events going on in-game that are out of your control, you have a corner that you control the fate of.

Elsewhere, The Rev considers how living style, or home environments, can reflect us as players. In both life and games, The Rev admits that homes are places to put things you don’t want to carry around. Yet, despite this detachment from the sentiments of home, The Rev talks about carving out a space in Civilization 4. The Rev concludes that after spending so long playing the game:

I feel a strange sense of pity for my computer-generated rivals. I tweak the settings, shuffle the maps, install mod packs, and set arbitrary goals for myself to keep the game interesting. But I must face the truth eventually – I have grown to fill every nook and cranny of this home. Every modification to the scenario simply expands my power over the total set.

But I submit that this is another case where, as in The Rev’s home, function meets function.

Next, at As Houses, Leigh Harrison discusses not only a specifically memorable corridor in Resident Evil 2 which, for him is the video game embodiment of melancholy, but how the memory of it differs from the actuality of the game. Leigh describes the corridor as a space that, viewed from the memory of the place, offers “a false promise: safety – but to no end,” but which  is actually “just a corridor.” Leigh states,

If I had played all the game I wouldn’t have seen a beautifully evocative vista embodying sorrow, hope, longing and learned resignation, I’d’ve seen this: a wall at the end of a corridor which separates it from another corridor, both of which are lit by a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling – of a corridor. A pointless corridor that never had anything near as interesting to say as the things I ascribed to it.

Over at Minding Games, Ava Avane Dawn, takes a nostalgic look back at The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Lamenting that, while a game can be beaten multiple times, the experience of not having beaten it exists only once, Dawn analyzes the way she lingered in the game space and the places she called home there. Dawn admits she still, in a way, returns to the landscapes:

From time to time, my present situation harkens me back to Hyrule, implores me to find old homes and stay there a while and listen. And I do, albeit not in any formal sense which involves controllers and cartridges. I barely even know why that is. But what I do know in my heart of hearts is that I will be forever returning to the 32-bit Hyrule of my childhood, and even if I do so by adult means, I’ll always meet my younger self there, my link to the past.

Next, morbidflight reflects on building and creation, and concepts of natural and unnatural structures in Minecraft and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The driving question for morbidlight is:

What it means to make things in a generated landscape in a game created by a team of people. What it means to be a person, and have a conversation with other people, through the process of creation. What it means to find something like home in that.

Elsewhere, Jamey Stevenson considers the way time and circumstance alter our perception of home and what constitutes home both in games and in real life. Jamey argues that only Mother 3 has come close to replicating the suble changes time makes to our real life home in games. Jamey observes:

There’s one and only location in a game I’ve played that succeeds in encapsulating all of these crucial elements of how we identify with our hometown: Tazmily Village in Mother 3. The portrayal of Tazmily is masterful in terms of how it introduces both subtle and blatant changes to a location that the player repeatedly returns to at different times over the course of their journey.

Lastly, is my own submission piece written about The Long Dark and how my position and immersion in the game changed over time and as a result of the place I was finally able to construct as my own. I write:

I realize that, in the gas station, it stopped being me vs. her, and it stopped being “we.” In the gas station, it had become “I.” I had staked a claim on the gas station. I’d survived here for 10 days. I’d endured the boredom, the tedium, and the long dark. I’d become the survivor.

I want to thank everyone who participated in this month’s theme, and I encourage you to add the Linkomatic 5000 to your blog by copy-pasting the following code to your blog:

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It’s been a pleasure to read your thoughts and to feel inspired enough (I didn’t initially intend to submit anything of my own) to join in too. I hope you’ll not only consider joining Mark in next month’s (equally great) theme, but that you’ll spread the word and encourage others to do so too. Thanks again and happy blogging!