Genius Loci

By Rob Dwiar

A grand tour of video game landscapes and gardens

Friday, 16 September 2022

Imagining the experience of ‘new’ landscapes

I recently finished watching the TV series ‘Vikings’ (finally - I had originally started it back in 2020 intending to binge it all before Assassin’s Creed Valhalla came out; I got to season 4 or so) and there’s a storyline at the very that caught my landscape eye, so to speak.

Generally, the series tells the tales of Ragnar Lodbrok and his sons and spans the years that the Vikings travelled far and wide to Britain, Ireland, Iceland, and beyond. At the end of the series, one of Ragnar’s sons travels as far west as possible, on the rumour that there is this great, lush, and untouched land; and he eventually arrives in the far northeast of North America with a few followers. The Vikings called this Vinland, and in the 9th century (in the TV series) or in the 10th/11th century (as is proposed as the likely time by historians) this landscape would have been basically untouched - or at least appear so to the Vikings who landed there. You get a sense of this in the tv series too.

As always, I drew a line from this to our real world when on a walk recently in the Mendips. Of course, none of our modern readily-accessible landscapes are ever new or unknown in the same capacity as that of Vinland as I mentioned above, but the similar landscape characteristics and features immediately led me to draw the link between them. Even if just to imagine it, and not truly feel it, the feeling and sense were quite strong, the idea (or emotions?) of experiencing a new landscape for the first time was something I immediately thought of.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla represents this sense too, in its placemaking, narrative, and gameplay. In a literal, on-the-nose sense, you too get to go to Vinland as part of the game - though not as one of the very first to step on it, and it’s only a brief visit in the context of the game - but you also get to feel a sense of travelling the landscapes and different countries, and experiencing them as new. From icy, snowy Norwegian bits to muddy English bits, to lush Irish bits, and more. This is one of the reasons I’m looking forward to including Assassin’s Creed Valhalla in Genius Loci; it visually represents some rather undocumented landscapes beautifully but also imbues the lands with that sense of journey and exploration. I can’t wait to break some specific places in the game down for you all in the book.

As a small aside, a recent announcement has revealed officially that the next instalment of Assassin’s Creed will take us to 9th Century Baghdad (as a prequel and backstory of a character introduced in Valhalla). This is going to be a compelling and beautiful setting for many reasons but, predictably perhaps, I’m already hopeful that we’ll see some gorgeous Persian and Islamic gardens and landscapes! Here’s hoping...

As ever, enormous thanks for the support already, and keep sharing and spreading the word. As for me, I’m off on a family holiday to Greece very soon and I’m already anticipating it forming the basis of my next update. Until then, thanks once again!

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