If you have been around for a bit and maybe read my author blurb, you may know that I’m an avid gamer. While I don’t do it professionally, I like working on and designing games and I love playing games. It’s a hobby I’ve enjoyed since the early days of Nintendo’s SNES home console, but became absolutely integral to my life when a friend introduced me to a game known as Baldur’s Gate, while I was spending the night at his house.
Baldur’s Gate is exactly the type of video game you’d expect it to be based on that name: a deep, fantasy role-playing game set in one of the main Dungeons and Dragons universes, the Forgotten Realms. It was released in 1998 and I believe I first got my hands on it somewhere in late 1999 (way back when being nerdy was REALLY not cool). I spent months begging my mom to let me get a copy after my initial all-nighter with the game. Finally, with my own money, I managed to snag a copy of Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn from Wal*Mart sometime after its release in September of 2000.
I’ll never forget endlessly leafing through the manual for the game in between getting to actually play it (this was in the days where game manuals were actually manuals, not just legal mumbo jumbo). I envisioned every possible character I could create and all the amazing spells I was reading about. I tried to understand the confusing rules that governed the game: a simplified version of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rules (yup the table-top game). Acronyms like THAC0 and AC flew through my brain.
But all of that nerdy stuff, was unimportant when I finally got a little bit of time on the computer to actually play BGII. I was transported to a world of high adventure, magic and political intrigue (most of which was way over my head at the time). I met fascinating people like Minsc, the jovial though quick to anger fighter who always carried his miniature giant space hamster, Boo, and crawled through the foulest of dungeons. I roamed the streets of the beautiful city of Athkatla, capital of Amn. Needless to say, I was hooked.
It wouldn’t be until I met Kim and really started travelling a lot that I would understand what it was that drew me initially to games like Baldur’s Gate and why I still love the video game industry as a whole today. My family took a few vacations and we did more as I got older. I even got to go on a trip to the UK with the People to People program, but when Kim and I started taking any excuse we could to go out and explore the world, that was when I got that old feeling again. That unbelievable high that hit me as my band of characters first stepped blinking from Irenicus’ dungeon into the shining streets of Athkatla.
I’m not sure when it specifically hit me – probably as we hiked around Mendenhall Glacier during one of our excursions on our honeymoon to Alaska. It didn’t take me long though to add up that I love video games because while I’m not escaping to amazing places physically, I am mentally. Sure, movies and books give you a bit of that escapism as well (and I love both of those things too), but there is something special about your participation in a game. Movies and books are largely passive.
It’s this participation that has led me to more conclusions about travel and life. Games have come a long way since Baldur’s Gate and in recent years have started telling stories in our world. I’ve seen faithful recreations of places that I haven’t gotten to go to yet as the fidelity of games has improved, but I’ve also experienced things that happen in real life that I will in all likelihood never experience. I’m not just talking about fighting in wars or extreme sports that I have no physical right to participate in – I’m talking about the fascinating adventures that some people embark on when just living their lives.
Games like Gone Home (2013), which starts with the simple premise that you are a teenage girl who is returning home from a year studying abroad late at night and you find your family missing, have taken environmental storytelling to new highs. Gone Home features no combat and has very simple mechanics (you can walk and you can pick items up) and at its core tells a story that I found both timely and important. Seriously, if you haven’t played it (or maybe you don’t even play games) check it out. It takes around 2-3 hours to beat and is very easy to get through. If you do decide to play it, do your best to go in blind – don’t read reviews or anything because it will ruin the game for you.
It is games like Gone Home that really can help us understand each other better, but also show us that every day life can have quite a bit of adventure packed into it. That’s why I am writing this Digital Escapes series. I hope that these articles will help people understand the “byte” in Byte-Size Travel and help show people why I think that video games and travel go hand-in-hand. Games are an especially great hobby for those of us who don’t get to travel all the time – they can help us travel even when travel doesn’t suit the 9-to-5 and allow us to explore situations and places that no amount of travel will ever allow us to – games don’t surpass travel, but they can certainly elevate how we travel and how we feel in that downtime between trips.