There’s a reason that despite past failures, a disinterested consumer audience, and high buy-in price, the industry is trying to make VR happen. And it isn’t because of the fascinating practical applications for the technology. It’s because deep down inside, we all want our personal Holodeck. Since the first time I saw that magic room in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I knew it had more immersive power than any of the many books I buried myself in. The written word, movies, music, visual arts: they all invite us to visit a world not our own, but never are we allowed to live there.
But the day is soon coming where the line between virtual and physical lives will blur, and leading the way are the videogames we’re enjoying in the current generation. When I’m sad and need a respite, they’re there to sweep me away to a safer place, where pain is temporary, wounds always heal, and death can be fixed by reverting to an earlier save file. If you sit close enough to your big screen TV, it’s like you’re really there.
Here are my five favorite virtual tourist spots, my personal Holodecks of videogames.
Living in Seattle, there’s something to be said for having a tropical getaway to escape to on a rainy, overcast day. “So, you mean EVERY day in Seattle, Holly?” Yes, good one. That’s a really great joke you just thought of. On Saturday mornings I like to fire up a Far Cry game and creep my way through the underbrush while hunting for game, the bright sunlight bouncing off broad tropical leaves as I track predators across the warm verdant valley. The quiet methodic challenge of stealthily taking down entire outposts reminds me of chess, while the virtual setting allows me to indulge in the sport of hunting without harming innocent animals. It’s one of the most inexpensive vacations I’ve ever had.
The popular appeal of Rockstar’s ambitious crime investigation game LA Noire relies on a little something I like to call “era porn”. There are many forms of entertainment that indulge this pop fiction fetish; it has a long history of use in movies, and more recently TV has made handy use of it to create enormous hits like Downton Abbey and Mad Men, relying heavily on period fashions as the basis of their appeal.
And I’m a complete sucker for it, especially anything in the 1940s, the time during which LA Noire is set. While I’m well aware that 1947 was actually a shit time to be a woman (or a minority. Or disabled. Or mentally ill.), sometimes I like to doll Cole up in a snappy set of suspenders and have him drive all over Hollywood in a stodgy old Studebaker, listening to the Andrew Sisters on the radio as I admire the snappy handpainted signs of old Downtown. There was a lot to like about LA Noire, as imperfect as it was, and the ability to tour the post war era without giving up the luxury of my smartphone and access to birth control makes it among my favorite games.
You know what’s relaxing? Telling both the Empire and the Stormcloaks to fuck off and chasing a bumblebee from Riften all the way to Ivarstead instead. Is Skyrim relaxing because it’s a breathtaking journey into one of the most beautiful virtual worlds ever created? Or because I’m most aware of the Dragonborn’s immense responsibilities in the game when I’m flipping the bird to that tremendous amount of duty by plucking butterfly wings instead? Whatever the case, Skyrim has been my favorite trek through the woods since I first laid eyes on the amber sunset shining off the waters of Lake Ilinata.
I’ve yet to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing in Eidolon. I’m pretty sure it has an objective, but I suck at reading the map and to be honest, I didn’t buy it with the intention of completing goals or missions. Sometimes I click on the Walking Simulator tag on Steam and browse for games I can escape into. Eidolon caught my eye for its funky but gentle art style, and ambling through the survival game feels like a sleepy journey through a children’s picture book rather than a harrowing or stressful experience. It’s a surreal look at the beauty of Western Washington, and when the real thing is outside my window but covered in a shroud of gray, it’s nice to have a virtual surrogate. I hope I never figure out how to play Eidolon.
It took me awhile to warm up to the hazy orange dust of New Vegas after spending so many hours in the green haze of post-apocalyptic D.C. But after adding the challenge of Hardcore Mode and finding the Western Skies mod on the Nexus Forums, the game fast became the closest I’ll get to ever enjoying a desert. Have you ever fired up your Fallout file just to sit on a canyon cliff, listening to the Geiger counter click with every flash of lighting through a radiation rain storm? It’s even better when you’re smoking a cigarette while sipping a pint of whiskey, listening to the blues. I’d never make it in the real Fallout universe; my fear of needles dictates I’d be dead the first time I needed a Stimpak. But as a virtual tourist destination, I rack up some serious frequent flier miles.
Holly Green is a reporter, editor, and semiprofessional photographer living in Seattle, WA. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gameranx, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.