The Joy of Travel (in Videogames)

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There is something comforting about being “in transit”. I like being on buses and trains and planes and just being conveyed from one place to another. You can sit back, relax and watch the world go by. “I like the peace/ In the backseat”, as Arcade Fire put it.

I think the main reason is that you’re not really expected to be doing anything else when you’re travelling. I’ve never had to commute long distances, Leeds-to-London-style, so I’ve never been obliged to do work on a train. For me it has generally been for leisure and therefore I can spend the travel-time as I please; a welcome retreat in a world of constant stimulation and distraction.

My first recollection of having a similar feeling in a game was in my excitement for the release of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. I liked the idea of me and my chums hunkering down in our caravan and journeying from one adventure to the next – even though I was aware that that would actually make a pretty boring game and the fun itself revolved around the bits in between the travelling. I liked the concept nevertheless.

This was brought to mind in the time I’ve spent this week with Supergiant’s new game, Pyre, which offers the familiar opportunity to lead a mismatched bunch of companions on a caravan-based foray. Pyre actually offers a bit more time inside the caravan than FF:CC, albeit only while the caravan is stationary (I don’t quite get the same cosy feeling if the vehicleisn’t moving).  Still, the game captures the excitement of a travelling adventure quite admirably.

Some of this feeling is even captured in open-world games such as The Elder Scrolls Series, where one experiences the quiet anticipation of setting a distant waypoint and journeying through the wilderness to reach it.

Ultimately I suppose travel is a fundamental part of being human, harking back to our ancient nomadic routes. This is underlined by other art forms, which frequently employ the “travel tale” as part of their narrative to inspire a feeling of wonder in the audience (The Lord of The Rings, On the Road, Heart of Darkness). I’m happy to see Pyre using this technique in its unique graphic-novel-esque setting and hope to see more games packing me up in a wagon and sending me off to war.

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