The Imaginary Places We Call Home

July 4, 2022

Returning to Kamura

Today I turned on Monster Hunter Rise for the first time in probably almost a year. I spent an hour trying to remember how the most basic controls worked, what anything was in my inventory and so on. More importantly, as I walked through the hub village, a deep wave of sadness came over me.

I’m sure this is what people who play the farming games or animal raising games must feel.

A billion untouched new DLC quests appeared in a list. I felt a little like the adult child who left home without a word and showed up, years later, the unresolved duties and expectations left behind. The characters, of course, were the same, and unlike those games that track time, there was no field of dying crops or villagers leaving the town.

I know this is the sadness of our times, of the pandemic, and more, all just hitting me at an angle, but it’s still a real feeling, even if everything is a parasocial projection.

The Power of the Late Sequel and an acknowledgement

One of the truths hidden in The Neverending Story movie, is the way we, humans, interact with fiction. Fictional worlds, settings, characters, exist because we help manifest it in our imaginations. Fiction IS a subjective experience, to a level. And one of the things the Neverending Story touches on, is that perhaps fiction works best when it acknowledges that to a level, too.

When a TV show or movie franchise decides to do a sequel or start up after years and years, just as often there is a tendency to do some kind of “reintroduction” or a “welcome back” within the structure of the story. I don’t think we need a full paint-by-the-numbers recopy of a past work (“Now the unlikely Chosen Jedi will fly a spaceship and blow up the big bad spaceship against all odds”), but I think smart types of echoing or “rhyming” on past ideas and perhaps some acknowledgement that the audience has changed is important, too.

The fictional world, the story, is a place we visit enough, and it can become a type of home we return to. Unlike the real world, where “returning home” is a city that is changed and often a house that is in less repair than when you left, to perhaps find something like an attic or one room that is “mostly unchanged” and the weird disjunction between “the world almost familiar” and “years years ago, untouched” – fiction can mindfully make more graceful introductions to us for “this is what you remember, but here is a room you’ve never seen” tied together well.

The Imaginary Homes We Build (With or Without a Map)

Tabletop RPGs, of course, are naturally a medium where you leave and return to a world, over and over. Perhaps each place is mostly forgettable, like levels in a throwaway mobile grind rpg. Maybe they’re unique and sit in your mind, and you always wonder what they’re like or how they could change as the game evolves. Every week we also generally have lost a bit of the memory; things jumbled, real life kicked our dreams aside for responsibilities and troubles.

Worse, if you go months or years between play. People get sick, have to move, raise families, and more.

Not everyone holds the same memories of that home. Not everyone has the same touch points as what was the most magical, amazing part. And, because it is fiction we’re creating as we’re experiencing it, as we change, the stories we make change drastically too.

In certain ways, we can never go home. In other ways, we can build these homes anew, if we have the mindfulness and will to do so.

Building Bridges

I’m hoping some of the new ways people run RPGs will help us also find new ways to make returning to these worlds easier. I think having stuff like a campaign wiki or a common page where notes and characters are visible can make it easier to refresh one’s mind as a group, or reminisce and keep the memory embers burning. I know a few RPGs have decided to make a “ritual” to help cement experiences of play, and I think if we can find ways to turn what often is “bookkeeping and homework” of tracking events/situations into a natural flow of play, it might be easier as well.

Anyway, this has been me mostly musing about a wave of unexpected feelings that came from going to a fictional village I haven’t seen in a year. Assuming the nation hasn’t completely fallen apart by the time the pandemic ends, I imagine a lot of us might find ourselves starting up RPGs, or hell, visiting real towns we haven’t seen in years, and finding the same “I’m home but I’m home sick” hitting us all at once.

On note of homes

Also, to do something a little different than normal, if you found this post enjoyable, or if it has sparked some ideas for you in your own games or design, please consider tossing a few dollars to my friend who is in the midst of both a housing and a health crisis. She’s trying to come up with about $300 but if you can send $5, $10, or if you’re fortunate enough to give more, it would mean a lot.

%d bloggers like this: