Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Homesick for Games

When I stayed home sick as a child, my regular ritual included laying on the couch and watching The Price is Right or Fantasia. I don't know why these two in particular, but almost without fail, if I were feeling unwell, I would gravitate towards a game show and a Disney film. That simple, mundane, repetitive experience, brought me comfort.

Today, certain games now provide that dull warmth I associate with sick days. While growing up, Sundays were reserved for naps, Calvin & Hobbes, and long game sessions. Now when I imagine lounging about my house on a lazy weekend, I think of JRPGs, something long and time consuming.  Chris Dahlen recently captured this simple pleasure wonderfully in his recent Polygon article: "The mechanics of a game mimic the scaffolding on our real everyday lives. The big moments aren't the most important ones."

One of the reasons I was recently drawn to the idea of fatherhood in games, particularly in Heavy Rain, The Last of Us, and The Walking Dead, is because all these games portray the little and seemingly pointless moments of life. Ethan playing with his kids, Joel chatting about ice-cream trucks, or Lee brushing Clementine's hair, all capture the ordinary. Those moments trigger something in me that reminds me of home, or the idea of home, at least temporarily. These are no spandex-clad heroes or demigods. They're normal folk who, like all of us, create defining moments in little acts of kindness or care.

Other games also trigger a calm comfort in me. Any of the Professor Layton games, Harvest Moon, most point-and-click adventures, they all involve simple systems and repeatable tasks. The reliability of these experiences and their low stakes create a sense of ritual. Surely part of Animal Crossings allure is finding joy in the mundane rituals of picking fruit. I ridicule tedious games all the time, but much of the attraction is in doing these seemingly boring actions. Repetition is the mechanic of comfort. These games create a sense of normalcy through play.

In two weeks I will be moving again. Yesterday, as I packed my belongings into cardboard boxes, I considered getting rid of my old PS2 and pile of games. I haven't touched those things in years, and many of them are available online in some capacity. Nevertheless, I'll be taking my collection with me. Maybe packing puts me in a sentimental mood, but those games, even if they remain in my closet forever, give me contentment. They remind me to be grateful for the little rituals found in play.

When I'm all settled in, I'll get back to hallway shooters and overwrought fantasy worlds. For now, I want the comfort of home.

No comments:

Post a Comment