Genius Loci

By Rob Dwiar

A grand tour of video game landscapes and gardens

Friday, 19 November 2021

A Genius Loci update - from a friend

I’ve mentioned before that one of my best friends, Freddy, and I play games together online regularly - sometimes as a pair, and often as a three with another close friend. However, Freddy and I have been exploring the glorious and chaotic world of Far Cry 6 at the moment, taking in the beautiful island-nation of Yara. On a recent trip through the tropical landscape, Freddy offered to write my next book update, speaking as a player of games, a landscape enjoyer, and an early backer of Genius Loci. RD

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More than ten years ago I met Rob Dwiar, and for every one of those years he has supported me. That friendship means that I was always going to support his book. But that support from Rob isn’t the reason I am excited to read the book. And though I could write hundreds of words about how much Rob has done for me, this book isn’t about our friendship, it’s about video games, their spaces and environments, and what they can mean to us. And games mean a lot to us now, perhaps more than ever, as they helped millions - me included - over the past couple of years. They have provided the chance to explore places and the world in a way that just hasn’t been possible.

Video games have long been part of my life. I remember my first experience was playing Frogger on the Commodore 64, and while Frogger didn’t have much in the way of a landscape, many others did. The following years have been filled with ever more expansive, interesting, beautiful, and detailed worlds: I have taken CJ up Mount Chiliad on a BMX, I have skied down Himalayan peaks, I have explored the depths of the tropics in search of treasure, ridden a horse across Mexico, and explored ancient palatial gardens. However, what always stays with me are the places. The detailed environments and the powerful placemaking in them are what makes games mean something to me.

Those places, landscapes, and environments define games for me as much as the characters and the story. However, be it a rich and lush jungle, a vast expanse of desert, or an overgrown and dilapidated city, they always have more impact on me and my experience when I believe it, or see that it is at least rooted in reality. 

And that’s one reason why I am so excited to read Genius Loci, because of this desire to know more about games’ environments, the reasons why they are so beautiful, and why they have such impact and power. Rob’s experience of landscape design and video games, and unique perspective that blends the two, is going to give readers access to this and help to broaden appreciation and understanding of the virtual worlds created for us. I’m also deeply interested to read Genius Loci to find out why these worlds and their gardens and landscapes can feel so real, why I come back to these vivid worlds, and why they can appeal to us on an almost emotional level - we all have favourite real-world places and landscapes, but many of us have our favourite in-game places and landscapes too. I want to know what makes this come about and how this is achieved.

Back on a more personal level, Rob even talks about the power of video game landscapes when we play online. Over the past two years when Rob, our friend Sam and I have played online we have covered post-apocalyptic urban environments in The Division 2, the Pacific Island-esque Auroa isles in Breakpoint, and also the gorgeous (if a little empty of activity) world of Anthem. Every time we play, Rob shares insights on the landscapes, how it fits in with the game’s lore, or what particular plant species there are, or how a particular landscape needs to work for gameplay. He always has incredible knowledge to share, and now he is going to share it with everyone.

 

Freddy Hillinger

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