When a Game Just Feels Like Home


#1

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/d3ejk7/when-a-game-just-feels-like-home

#2

Perhaps in a different way than is intended, this is something I feel like people feel about MMOs and other persistent online games. Once you spend enough time in a space, particularly a shared social space, it becomes completely and inescapably familiar. Some games literally let you set up a home with furniture and mementos. I’ve been playing Black Desert online for a couple of years now, and I definitely feel like there’d be some real nostalgia around Velia when and if I ever quit the game.


#3

I find that a lot of BioWare RPGs have great spaces that feel cozy and safe, even if the actual aesthetics don’t necessarily feel that way. The Normandy (SR-1 and SR-2), the Ebon Hawk, and DA:I’s Haven all felt delightfully pleasant and welcoming due to your friends just hanging out and being at ease in those spaces. And I love how those spaces are used to de-escalate tension in between action-heavy missions, and how violating it feels when those spaces are trespassed by enemies and interlopers. I suppose it is similar to the Kreuzbasar, although the “don’t trust anyone” mentality of Shadowrun made it so I never felt at ease in any space during the campaign.


#4

I definitely feel this way about some of the common/popular locations in Runescape where I spent countless hours in highschool bullshitting with friends while chopping trees or training. It’s not quite the same sense of established place as a narrative game, but when my friend who I played with and I reminisce about our childhood we lump those locations into the real places we hung out. Like, remember the diner, and that friend’s basement, and those Yew logs in Edgeville?


#5

I feel like the world of New Vegas is my go-to game when I’m feeling homesick. I moved away from the actual desert but walking around Goodsprings and climbing mountains always brings me back to where I grew up. Plus, I have the option of two queer followers which is a plus.


#6

Morrowind. Hearing the mournful cry of a silt strider to the backdrop of game’s gently lilting ambient music. The sunrise/sunset over Seyda Neen. The weird bug and yam based foodstuffs you find everywhere. Even cliff racers.

The line “Nestled atop the cliffs that rise from the Sword Coast” - the first line from Baldur’s Gate also feels a little like coming home.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that I played both games quite a lot aged about 13-15


#7

Nothing has done this for me in years like the Kreuzbasar did when I played Dragonfall recently.

I think there are a lot of boxes that need checking for this to really work. It has to be a place you return for rest and a break between tension, a place where characters live who are never on your team, a place where things happen, a place where it’s obvious things have been happening before you were here … a place with its own life that you can take part in, and also that feels like there’s a space for you in it (even if it takes some work to fit in it at first (in fact that might even work better!)).

And then the art, or the descriptive text, or whatever it is in that game – the set-dressing – needs to reflect this by actually feeling like a place people live in, instead of a series of sterile hotel rooms. I think this is why (imo) it didn’t happen much in earlier generations – it would take a lot of work to make 8 or 16 bit tiled worlds have the right amount of clutter in them. There’s only so much you can do with big ol’ pixels.

And THEN, the writing has to hit the right balance, too, and show that the characters are there for more than just to hold up the scenery.

I don’t really know what else to put on the list. Dragonfall should win an award or two.


#8

Ooh, ok, I got one.

I’m showing my age, but I loved the city of Shapeir, capital of the Katta (cat people), in Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire (1990). (I don’t think I played it on release though, in defense of my agedness.) The entire game was set inside the city. It was (I think) deliberately difficult to navigate in – lots of winding small tunnels, you really needed a physical map to get around. You were staying at an inn (owned by friends from the preceding game) and went about your business in the city, whatever it was, and always have your cat-people friends’ inn to come back to. There were shady deals to be done in alleyways, you could be a criminal if you wanted to, or try to be a fancy adventurer, etc etc.

It also had a day-night cycle and the calendar was important, a la modern Persona games. I loved the palette. It all felt cozy and small and a little bit of a mess, like it should. I had to rewatch a little bit of it on youtube to remember this, but every time you got back to the inn every night they brought you a meal, and it was different every day, different visitors would show up and you’d talk to them, things would happen in the city over time … it felt like a real place.

Of course, I was also very young when I played it. But it still looks pretty neat on Youtube. And not nearly the kind of death-trap Sierra games were famous for being – it had a very different feeling from the Police/Space/King’s Quest series(es), as far as I remember.

Note: maybe the game wouldn’t fly today with its exoticization of an imagined arabian culture etc but I thought the cat people were pretty cool when I was a kid.

Images (including the very big and pretty physical map) (spoiler-free)

qfg2-a
(the inn)

qfg2-money
(a mysterious encounter in the back streets)

qfg2-poet
(a travelling poet does his thing in the inn one night)


#9

GREAT pull.

Quest for Glory is my all-time favorite series and you’re right, they did an incredible job at this in every one of their games. None of them were too outside the box in terms of fictional worlds, but they are very thoughtfully constructed and full of wonderful little details. Also, each game in the series takes place in a significantly different setting but they maintain a sense of universal continuity which isn’t really something I’ve seen in a lot of series.

Imagine if you carried a single character and a few close NPCs through all of different worlds of Elder Scrolls in a way that made them feel like they co-exist in a single universe. Obviously they’re silly adventure games and grand RPGs, but it was a very ambitious series in the way that it constantly reinvented itself within its framework.


#10

Probably the three that I consider managed to succeed in this the most, at least conventionally, are Shadowrun Dragonfall, Hong Kong, and DA:I. Shadowrun Dragonfall’s Kreuzbasar and Heoi in Hong Kong succeed for very similar reasons. You return to them repeatedly, talk with the individuals (and not always get along with them). The world from the top down perspective is littered with details, particularly creative ways of finding spaces to grow crops. These merchants, random members, they become like neighbors that you talk to between doing jobs. DA:I is a bit different in that what I think helps it is how there’s scenes where your companions actually engage with one another and at times you even have scenes where everyone in your crew has a card game gambling contest which really gives a sense of community that’s rather restrained in most other places.

MMOs succeed in a different way but I think a part of the appeal is very much a sense of familiarity, home, and companionship… and being an asshole to other people for some. For me the mmos I spent the most time with were Runescape and Maplestory. For Runescape, it was Varrock. For Maplestory, it was Henesys. Frankly it really wasn’t the in game content as much as the people that spent time there. The folks lounging on digital seats at Henesys just chatting, the people selling merch, committing scams, chopping trees, and just chatting with one another. It was unpleasant at times but I also remember just chilling online in these places talking with folks I only knew on those games.

Finally, I want to mention New Vegas. It’s peculiar because in a lot of ways it doesn’t seem to fit into this question. Your character is a drifter, your companions are drifters, and once you are done with quests in a location there’s not much of a reason to stay there or even return at a future point. For example, once you are done with the early game quests related to Goodpsrings, you are mostly done with it as a location. The only place you will return to frequently is Freeside and The Strip that involve numerous loading screens and in general feels underpopulated. Then there’s the problem that in many ways the NPCs of Bethesda rpgs feels off, puppeteering as though the thin strands holding them up could be cut at any moment.

Despite all that I mention above, and I certainly think those are things that make this a peculiar place to posit this. I can’t help but feel a deep fondness for the Mohave. I visited Las Vegas recently and, one of the things I wanted to do the most, was do the “loop” that exists in the game. To drive to Sloan, Goodsprings, Primm, Nipton, what Novac is based on, Searchlight, Boulder City, Hoover Dam, return to Vegas. To go to Freemont (which is what Freeside is supposedly), to visit the Red Rock Canyon, etc. Ultimately I only went to Vegas, Goodpsrings, Red Rock, Boulder City, and the Hoover Dam (on an unrelated note if you ever want to go to a really beautiful natural park the Valley of Fire is beautiful). But what I was hit by was this fondness for the Mohave at large. This peculiar sense of nostalgia and familiarity with these places in the real world that I have never been to only experiencing a digital approximation, and a drastically downscaled version of it at that. Even the airport had me feeling almost embarassed at the giddiness at it. If I were to dig deeper, it is a game that also just came at the right time. A time where I was in a dark place and also coming to terms with the fact that I was queer, and the game has a surprising amount of non-straight characters. So it’s not really a neighborhood. It’s not really a city. But in a strange way the entire Mohave has a warm familiarity to it and I am fond of returning to the game, starting up in the little town of Goodpsrings, to talk to the kindly doctor and the other inhabitants before taking the road to New Vegas again.


#11

This is the early Pokemon generations for me. I can draw you a map of that whole game from memory. I’ve probably spent over 1000 hours in Kanto and Johto and the Sevii Islands. I even made up entire Shonen style fan fiction arcs involving the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four. Which if asked, I could talk about for hours still because I know it all by heart. (Silver is the final bad guy and is out to capture Arceus, in case you’re wondering. Also Oak is evil.) The sounds of the Pokemon Center and Route 1 are my childhood.

Hell, I’ve probably spent more real time hours in Kanto and Johto than I have at apartments I’ve lived in. It’s why even though the details around Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee seem really mixed, I’m also way down for that nostalgia.


#12

This is the Tower in Destiny/Destiny 2 for me. Even without a customized personal space (something that I would really dig), the look and music of the area is uniquely comforting after spending over 600 hours between the two games.


#13

Pokemon Gold - not the first video game I ever played but in the first ten. Certainly the first rpg I ever played. Revisiting it always calms me down.

Glitch though, Glitch was home in a way no other game before or since has ever been for me. I can’t put my finger on what exactly it was that made me feel that way though. Kinda the whole thing? Having a character that wasn’t gendered helped too.


#14

Animal Crossing New Leaf became a home away from home in many ways. I’m sure it was deliberately designed that way.
Let me share something:


It’s the most cumulative time I’ve ever put into a game.
It wasn’t one particular thing that makes it so appealing that I can zero in on. Nintendo has been honing this series for a very long time.
That third most game with 122 hours is Harvest Moon New Beginning which when I think about it ticks a lot of the same boxes.


#15

My heart will always be at Castle Dunan from Suikoden 2. I had never played an RPG that could make you feel like you were building a community larger than yourself, not just increasing the roster of your party. It wasn’t just restoring the place and getting shops and mini games. It felt like it was showing you every character had a real life outside the battle field. It blew my mind at the time.


#16

There’s a few places in games that feel like that to me. As others in this thread have said, the social spaces in Bioware games, particularly the Normandy in ME and Haven in DA:I are just soothing places to explore and exist in. I also have a lot of fond memories from Destiny of going to the Tower after a long night of raiding, checking out my new, hard-won equipment, or lamenting my shitty loot drop luck.

But what’s really been a great ‘home’ game for me lately has been Sea of Thieves. While there’s no ‘safe’ area in the game from other players, there’s something that’s become incredibly calming and almost ritualistic about loading into a new session. I spawn into the outpost tavern, run around and stock up on supplies, equip my ship cosmetics, select a voyage, raise anchor, and see what the sea brings me.


#17

For me it’d definitely be the room that Cid puts you up in - in his castle in Lindblum in Final Fantasy IX

tumblr_njsgmdHhNX1u84keqo1_500

Something about the whole city of Lindblum and the Castle was so cool - and homey. It was so massive and the “clock-work” like elements and mechanicalness of the whole city was really neat.

Lindblum just felt like such a relief, because it was such a challenge for the party to even make it there. It was a good pause and felt comfortable and safe - before the game got intense again.


#18

Midgar from Final Fantasy 7 made such a huge impression on me. I don’t think I can point to any particular details as responsible - I suspect it had as much to do with my age and inexperience with the genre as anything else. One thing I think is quantifiable, though, is what a great job the game does of delineating those opening hours from the rest of its play time.

The moment the world map appeared, what I thought of as The World was suddenly cast as more of a tutorial section. From the characters left behind, to the shift in the story’s aesthetic and scope, to the way the very sky darkens on approach from the outside, the game does so much to communicate a sense of Then and Now. That marked difference just heightens the sense of Midgar as a simpler time and comforting setting (for the player, if not the characters).

Then, on a pure aesthetic level, there’s a rooftop stage from Jet Set Radio Future which I can’t name, but whose calming colours will be burned into my brain forever.


#19

Co-signed re: all the home bases in Bioware games – plus a shout-out to Megaton (and your house in it) in Fallout 3. I always enjoyed going home, tidying away my belongings, decorating a little, telling Dogmeat he’s a good boy, then turning in for the night. It’s such a relaxing break from desperate nights of sleep in unfamiliar territory.

And I’m surprised no one has mentioned Stardew Valley! Particularly after nightfall, with the cozy lights of your house, the furnace humming away, putting away the chickens at night, saying hi to your dog, then going to bed. Again, it’s a really soothing loop.

Domestic pets, being able to decorate the space, and it representing a safe haven are all the hallmarks that make a video game place ‘home’ for me.