Genius Loci

By Rob Dwiar

A grand tour of video game landscapes and gardens

Friday, 20 August 2021

Of weddings and harvests

It’s supposed to be the most gloriously sunny and warm time of year but both have proved somewhat elusive across our UK landscapes - particularly in any great measure. It’s been a pretty unreliable summer.

It’s a time of walking in fields of wheat or barley for me, my wife, and the dog - something so evocative and also a key bit of iconography from my favourite film, Gladiator - and also outdoor events, weddings, and, of course, harvest. And all this, and the weather, came to the fore recently. I have two best friends and we play online games at least once a week together. One is a farmer so is right in the middle of harvest, and one was getting married last week. Thus both were keeping a keen eye on the weather. In fact, all three of us were in a strange position of wanting it to both be raining in one part of Essex - to give the farmer some time off to attend the wedding - and a glorious summer's day in another part - to ensure the wedding was not ruined by wet weather. It all just reinforced the fact that when you have events in gardens or landscapes, or when your very livelihood is literally in the landscape, the weather is friend and foe, but ultimately, overpowering and influencing.

It all worked out fine, of course, but reminds me how important a part the climate and weather have in creating a landscape’s use, function, level of enjoyment, and sense of place. 

In games, I have been taking a small break from large landscapes and returned to an older game on my PS3: Dead Space. This sci-fi horror game from 2008 was recently announced to be getting a remake in the next couple of years, but I wanted to go back to its eerie, claustrophobic spaceship, the USG Ishimura, and experience it as it was first imagined. I wrote about this game a while ago for Eurogamer and how it effectively used close-quarter design. (Spoilers: it uses it brilliantly, creating an exceptional setting thick with its own genius loci.)

But just like a great Elder Scrolls game reveal at the very beginning of Oblivion or Skyrim, coming out of something so claustrophobic, and then getting released back into a wonderful and expansive landscape is something of an experience in itself, so I’m looking forward to a belated return to a lush, green, and verdant virtual landscape again soon.

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A summer sensation and action that never gets old or tiresome for me.....

 

.....And nor does the famous imagery from Gladiator

 

The wonderfully characterful Bruisyard Hall, a 14th Century place, host to the wedding I mentioned.

 

 

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