The Challenge of Agon


Home. You know where it is on your keyboard, but where is it in your games? This round table has elicited an impressive array of views on the topic of homes in games, and I have been consistently fascinated with the entries submitted.

Looking to myself, I’m surprised that none of my online gaming experiences (MUDs mostly) afford much of a memory of home. I do remember the Romulan temple I built on TrekMUSE at the firefalls of Gal’gathong (I built those too); I married some people there – as a priestess, you understand. It was my retirement after years of diplomatic service. Was it home? Only in the sense that it was highly personal to me. Maybe that’s enough.  

Wing Commander is mentioned in Jason’s post… I remember the Tiger’s Claw. Perhaps because I never owned a copy of the game, it doesn’t quite have the depth of resonance that it could have. But there’s something familiar there, a distant memory of something akin to home, and it’s not something that any other (single player) space game I’ve played has evoked.

The GTA games, and their derivatives, present playground worlds with places intended to be homes. You go there to save, and to get the law off your back by saving (in some versions). Do any feel like home? The abandoned airport in San Andreas, maybe. I go there often, and it feels familiar and welcoming when I arrive. It helps that it’s so far from each of my four girlfriends that they never call me when I’m there. But I can’t deny it’s the presence of a jetpack and an attack helicopter that are the real bribes for staying at the airfield. It is home only through familiarity, perhaps. But perhaps that is enough. 

What about the social sims? My wife and I really enjoyed building a house in The Sims. But it was never a home, because we never got to live there: the actual gameplay was so laborious, we never made enough cash to buy it. Housework to me is part of the cost of maintaining a home, not the essence of one.

Now Animal Crossing, that’s a different story! There, we definitely had a home – and we spent a tremendous amount of time arranging furniture there. The ability to personalise seems quite valuable in creating an impression of home. We even had neighbours. I had a bit of a crush on Mint, the green-furred squirrelgirl next door. The fact that we came back to our house every day to save enhanced the feeling that it was home. I didn’t feel the same way about my farmhouse in Harvest Moon so I guess that Animal Crossing got something fundamentally right with their houses.  

Looking at computer role-playing games, I have homes there too. For some reason, my pirate fortress in Skies of Arcadia still sticks in my head as home. I built it with my own two hands, and staffed it through my diplomacy. I got to choose which of my two female companions would have her face carved into the rock face. I slid down poles to board my ship. Come to think of it, my ship, the Delphinas, felt like home too. I think it was because I became so emotionally attached to it – familiarity again – although in this case, the attachment was as much to the people as to the place.

If games have not yet taken you to a place you can call home, perhaps it is because most games are more intent on making your blood race and your nerves fray than making you feel safe, secure, and surrounded by familiarity and friendship. Perhaps this disparity might serve to enhance your excitement by giving some contrast; it’s hard to know. Personally, I’d be more willing to consider a first person shooter that at least tried to give me a place I could call home, than one which puts me in a tunnel and asks me to kill everything in front of me. 

Home? Home is perhaps not a place, but a feeling. Home is out there… keep looking… you’ll find it. 


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I keep thinking that this concept of home applies more to a sense of things past. The more I look at games I've played that feel like home, the more I find that I'm looking back. And not just that, but I'm looking back for a certain fondness and familiarity. It's not unlike revisiting old haunts for the sense of nostalgia that they generate. You go back, remember the fond things, try to forget the hard and bad things. It feels a certain way. It's so very personal.

I remember reading a while back about a study that showed that repeat viewers of a show would come to produce the same facial reactions and neurological activity when they saw their favourite characters as they did when they saw their real life friends. I think the example was the show Friends. (Some extensive googling has failed to uncover the article though, so take my rememberance with a grain of salt!)

This is the real opportunity for home spaces that is being missed; the chance to interface meaningfully with players on social and emotional level. The Tiger's Claw did it for me; also the town at the foot of the tower in the relatively obscure Playstation release Azure Dreams.

The whole of Britannia did a fairly good job in the Ultima series, too: every time I came back I would be greeted by friendly familiar faces, everyone in Britannia knew who I was, it had been largely altered by my past actions, and it was (from VII onwards) full of customisable places that I could fill with my loot, get to know the neighbours, and kill off the people who were getting in the way of my fun. And yet it always, always, retained the capacity to surprise.

Home spaces should be customisable, should express the individual, should offer the player a significantly greater degree of power and security than they have elsewhere in the gameworld, and should be filled with friendly, constantly entertaining characters who retain a continuing capacity to surprise and continued incentives for interacting with them. Home is like Cheers - it's where everybody knows your name.

Duncan: I too noticed the nostalgia factor when writing my post... Given that we're talking about an emotional attachment, it's not wholly suprising that it is clearer in retrospect than in the present tense. Even in the real world, many places I have lived do not seem like home, even though they presumably were at the time; only those which I formed a genuine emotional attachment to seem like home - principally the family home I grew up in, and the places I have lived with my wife.

Greg: Although I never played Azure Dreams, I really liked its central structure, whereby the player builds a town on behalf of people who live there as a parallel progress structure to the main RPG progression.

Looking at what I cited as home, it's telling that most have significant NPC populations. The ones that don't feel less like home than the others (the GTA airport in particular), which suggests this may indeed be an important psychological factor in establishing 'game home'.

However, I can't help but feel it would be possible to have a hermitage or 'fortress of solitude' home in a game space - especially in a game whose core play was social.

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