Distilled Reality

I don’t like to brag, but I own a lot of video game houses. I’m the owner of five residences in the province of Skyrim alone, and in Albion anything bigger than an anthill has my name on the deed. Some of my many electronic properties were even built with my own two thumbs, like the mansion I designed for my Sims or the low-res countryside villa I constructed in Minecraft (from cobblestone I mined myself).

I still own my 300,000-gil mansion in Costa del Sol, one of the first video game properties I ever bought.

Given my depth of experience in the arena of virtual home ownership, I wasn’t terribly concerned when (back in the real world) my wife and I recently bought a single-family house for ourselves and our two children. Moving into our new home, however, I quickly realized two things:

  1. We own a lot of crap, and most of it is very heavy to lift.
  2. The countless hours I’ve spent playing games like The Sims and Minecraft have led me to very seriously misjudge the amount of time, expense, and effort required to establish a suitable residence for oneself and one’s family.

In other words, it appears that owning all these video game houses has done fairly little to prepare me for buying an owning a house in the real world. Upon reflection, I’ve realized part of the problem is that certain key parts of the homeowner experience have not been adequately represented in gameplay.

Hey, if it can hold up a Honda Civic, then it should be able to keep my cabinets from falling off the wall, right?
(Yes, this is really how I fixed my kitchen cabinets.)

For example, despite the province of Skyrim’s incredibly low real estate inventory (which apparently consists only of five houses), I didn’t have to engage in any multiplayer battles against other prospective buyers who were all competing for the same property. When playing Fable III, buying a property in Albion never involved filing a mountain of paperwork in order to get a mortgage, whose underwriting inevitably would have unlocked entire new dungeons full of paperwork for me to navigate. And don’t even get me started on the lack of a plaster repair game mechanic in Minecraft.

I suppose what we’re really talking about here is a question of immersion. Video games often talk about being more “immersive”, but to be honest I’m not always sure what that means. In a truly immersive version of Skyrim, for instance, upgrading the blacksmithing perk would have required the Dragonborn first to complete a five-year apprenticeship, and exploring the frozen mountains of Winterhold would probably have involved less enchanted loot and epic battles with dragons, and more crushing loneliness and frostbite. With these changes, I’m not exactly sure what kind of game Bethesda would have ended up with, but somehow I doubt it would have sold 10 million copies.

Here’s an MLS photo of “Breezehome”, a little place I own in Whiterun. It’s an historic Scandinavian-style cottage in a great school district, provided you don’t mind your children occasionally being eaten by dragons.

My point is that people like video games not because they provide some sort of alternative “virtual” version of reality, but because they provide something far better than any virtual reality: distilled reality. Like the corresponding physical process, the distillation of reality that video game designers perform removes the impurities of the real world (like taxes and wallpaper removal), leaving us with an invigorating aqua vitae chock full of action, mass murder, puzzles, instant gratification, and bizarrely athletic plumbers.

Regrettably, like any libation, distilled reality must be consumed in moderation, lest its side effects lead to unfortunate consequences. In my case, getting drunk on booze or reality both result in similar kinds of behaviors, including (but not limited to) unpredictable fits of anger, horniness, and the firm belief that I would probably be able fight a dragon. Nevertheless, there’s nothing like a bourbon Manhattan and some Gears of War deathmatch to take the edge off at the end of a tough day… and like my distilled spirits, I don’t expect I’ll be giving up my distilled reality anytime soon.

What Do You Think?