March 30, 2020

No Place Like Home: Dwelling and Being at Home in Digital Games

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In the past few weeks, the world has taken quite the turn. The World Health Organisation is actually recommending people stay home and play videogames and schools have closed with University of Malta teaching remotely for the rest of the semester. The Institute of Digital Games has provided a list of free educational games and resources to help parents and young students learn while they are stuck at home, but as research institute we can offer more food for thought while you’re at home.

Staying Home: Casey, Martin Heidegger, Yi-Fu Tuan and Christian Norberg-Schulz

While most of the world is staying home, what does home mean? In order to examine players’ relation with with digital game worlds Dr. Daniel Vella turns to the works of philosophers Casey, Martin Heidegger, Yi-Fu Tuan and Christian Norberg-Schulz. Research in game studies has focused on the analysis of these virtual worlds through examination of the movement through it.

“Nevertheless, we find ourselves lingering on a bench in Life Is Strange (Dontnod Entertainment 2015), resting at a bonfire in Dark Souls (From Software 2011), returning to the decks of the Normandy between missions in Mass Effect (BioWare 2007) or to our bombed-out shelter in This War of Mine (11 Bit Studios 2014), gathering materials to build a stronghold in Minecraft (Mojang 2009) or decorating and furnishing our rooms in Animal Crossing: New Leaf (Nintendo EAD 2012).” - Daniel Vella, Ludotopia

Animal Crossing and Minecraft: Cases Studies of Homes in Games

There are a number of aspects related to home evident in present in both Animal Crossing and Minecraft and highlighted by the philosophers Vella grounds his examination, namely the act of pausing and lingering, the act of building and organizing the ‘dwelling’, the feeling of familiarity, and identification of the ‘centre’ accompanied with the distinctions of inside and outside.

Animal Crossing allows for this pausing and lingering with their park benches which serve no functional purpose but just to linger in that moment creating a pause in the virtual world the player is inhabiting. Both Animal Crossing and Minecraft have two forms of building that are prominent parts of the game and locate the player a ‘home’ for the duration of the game. There the player is (directly or indirectly) tasked with improving it, contributing to philosophical aspects of home-building.

As Vella concludes “[…] games can not only re-enact our practices of being at home, but, in doing so, can represent to us these practices and senses of ‘home,’ and lead us to reflect on – and, perhaps, to engage critically with – what is entailed in the idea of being at home.”

Dr. Vella’s full chapter is available for download at PhilPapers for those interested in a detailed reading. If you’re stuck at home playing Animal Crossing, it might be the ideal academic reading material!

Game Studies Book: Spaces, Places and Territories in Computer Games

For a full exploration of specialty in games, Vella’s analysis is a chapter in a pioneering game studies book edited by Espen Aarseth and Stephan Günzel titled Ludotopia. Ludotopia moves away from the debate on narrative nature of games and instead focusses its attention on the experience of the virtual space and place.

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