Where the Heart Is

The Use of Home in Video Games

by Mark Filipowich

12 March 2013

 

Leene’s bell chimes three times from the town square and a teenage adventurer is awakened by his mother, a cadet at Skyloft’s knight academy throws together his belongings and dashes to his practicum, a busty archeologist hones her skills on an obstacle course in the gardens while her gremlin of a butler scuttles behind her carrying a light midday meal. These are the first scenes we see of three characters in three different games. In these opening scenes, we meet the star characters in their homes, seeing how they live day-to-day when they aren’t adventuring. Games have long been good at world-building through locations: towns, monuments, castles, skyscrapers, markets, schools and squares are structured to illustrate a sense of setting that often carries over to character building, but surprisingly few games explore their protagonist’s home.

In the openings to Chrono Trigger, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and the tutorials of the early Tomb Raider games, the protagonists’ homes establish the status quo. We know from the first frame that we see them that Crono and Link are well behaved, well off, slightly slothful, mute teenage boys off to enjoy another day in a good life. We know that even though Lara Croft enjoys every luxury of a British manor, she’s dedicated enough to her physically demanding job to dedicate a substantial portion of her property to maintaining her strength and ability. When these characters answer their calls to adventure, the player has an immediate sense of their motivation and the kinds of lives that they’re trying to protect. It makes sense for them to run off to save the world because we’ve seen that their day-to-day lives are worth defending.

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