When Home Becomes a Strange Place

Posted on: April 11th, 2014 by Arie Salih

In times of transition, I often find myself relying on different video games to provide me with some semblance of the feeling of home. Perhaps “home” is an ever-fading concept, the idea of both comfort and familiarity kindled by memories of a place or a person. In an ongoing anecdotal analysis, I’d like to attempt to recount my own experiences with discovering home spaces in digital worlds.


In odd ways, my apprehension with the loss of a resolute place to call home has been projected into my own playing style. I spent most of my days with John Marston meandering with my horse in the snowy danger of Tall Trees. There isn’t a place to lay low in Tall Trees- the nearest location is the Manzanita Trading Post, and even there things felt much too busy for my own tastes. A shopkeeper making inquiries about goods to sell, people passing through the cabins, lumber workers milling about and making small talk while smoking- Marston and I enjoyed the quiet. So I’d ride on the fringe of the Aurora Basin, into the shady comfort of the forest and Nektoki rock. Picking Violet Snowdrops as the snowflakes fell softly, I figured that this was a reflection of how out of place I felt. It was a gritty, long winter in the City. I wandered far enough into the Lower East Side, until the glitter of the East Village lights compelled me to find my way back into the familiar warmth of a run down hookah spot and my tiny apartment. It felt akin to the serenity of the campfire lit in the middle of the snowy darkness of the mountains. Tall Trees was an area I’d come to visit when it was freezing outside, and when my own inabilities to adjust to facets of city life resulted in dissociating from skyscrapers and strangers. By the moonlight, the fire kept us both hidden.


The Painted World of Ariamis was a departure from Anor Londo, where the open expanse of towers drifted towards the clouds. After being transported into a picture of dense horror, the campfire wasn’t the security I wished for, like it had been in the rest of Lodran. It was an impetus to explore, away from the warmth and into the snowy depths of the unknown. Among the hollow and the toxic, my Wanderer’s hooded form sifted through the dilapidated interiors and dimly lit steps. I’d descend into the Union Square station, and see traces of other hardened faces lingering past midnight, and step onto the rickety Q train. This was the grind for exploration. Sometimes I’d ride it without realizing that the call for the last stop at Coney Island approached. It was a window into another world – one which I grew to know better as I became more familiar with navigating the unseen. After many loops from the broken tower steps to the Phalanx doors, it felt oddly comforting wandering into the snow. The invasions by others happened infrequently, a stare or a glare and then off at the next stop. By the time I met Priscilla, exhaustion had slowly crept in. “If thou hast misstepped into this world, plunge down from the plank and hurry home.” The words echoed hollowly. Maybe this wasn’t the home I sought, but merely a simple respite from the city I chose not to explore. When I finally found the courage to wreak havoc, it seemed oddly fitting that she was invisible.


By the time the winter finally subsided, I packed up all my belongings and drove south towards Maryland. My grandmother had passed away in the beginning of the summer, and I was having trouble reconciling my own cultural identity inadequacies without her. I ended up in a new home, somewhere by The Bridge in Journey. It was a place for quiet meditation – to mend the broken bridge between discovering my Kurdish identity and reveling in androgyny. Although The Bridge is early on in the adventure, this is where I drifted to the most. The passing encounters with strangers involved drawing symbols in the sand and twirling in flight, as our scarves danced in the wind. I imagined, perhaps, that this was how we’d reach out to one another. Estranged from my own cultural place in Iraq, I am all too familiar with crude attempts to communicate in gestures and by waving. The ancient glyph hidden between pillars of cascading sand felt more like a place for a peaceful hide and seek game with others, and the freedom of movement felt ineffable. So I’d linger there, and wonder if the tranquility was shared between us.

It’s difficult to cohesively describe the gaming experiences that allow a player to become entranced, and feel a sense of “home.” This is a phenomenon that has allowed me to revisit unique digital spaces that feel safe and integral to my own existence.