Genius Loci

By Rob Dwiar

A grand tour of video game landscapes and gardens

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

The bones of winter landscapes

Winter landscapes are some of my absolute favourites - in real life and in games. Despite being relatively empty (the use of ‘relatively’ is important when looking at winter lands) there’s often a deceptive amount to actually see, identify, and appreciate.

I often refer back to the Frederick Gibberd quote “If someone tells me he is a keen gardener I ask to see his garden in February. Has it become a barren waste? Or does it still retain its form?” when thinking about winter landscapes and gardens. I am always interested in seeing the ‘bones’ of a garden or landscape in the winter - if the place doesn’t retain its form, spaces, proportions, and structure in some way then it’s a bit of a disappointment. What’s more, true winter beauty really can be designed into gardens, leaning on those elements which provide said structure.

And all this was reinforced recently on a larger scale when I spent the past weekend on friend Sam's farm in northwest Essex, near Saffron Walden. With everything looking ‘scruffy’ and a bit sorry for itself, it’s the hedgerows, tree lines, and occasional man-made features which retain the entire landscape’s structure.

The hedgerows, in particular, demonstrate this with the rectilinear demarcations as clear as day in the winter months And these are some of the oldest planned landscape markers too: one of the rows on Sam’s farm is 200-300 years old, thus they are genuine historical landscape features, and ones that can be fully appreciated in the winter; marking the bones of the farm’s landscape…

I wrote an article on the power of winter landscapes in games for Eurogamer back in 2017, and it remains one of my most favourite articles I’ve written. It’s also going to be one that will be re-looked at and re-written for the ‘Collection of Articles' pledge level for Genius Loci, too - so I can enjoy it all over again. I picked out a few games that do winter well and for different reasons: Skyrim (naturally) has a fully winter-setting and features symbology and a deep connection with winter lands and specimen trees; Dragon Age Inquisition’s Emprise du Lion region has magic and architectural bones woven through its wintry landscape; and The Witcher 3 demonstrates genuine winter landscape recreation in all its details, from geological bones to very specific plant choice and growing conditions. These are special winter landscapes in games; I can’t wait to revisit them in the aforementioned article, and also shed light on many more in Genius Loci.

And before I go, many of my friends and colleagues also put stock in playing a winter-themed game during our own real-world winter and Christmas time - it just feels right, mirroring one with the other, and ‘more right’ than any other time of year for some reason. I started what was supposed to be my ‘December and Christmas game’ on the 3rd of this month - Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. It’s set during Christmas time in New York and really scratched that winter itch. However. I’ve already finished it and so now need to find something else to dive into, sink my teeth right in, and hit that wintry beat that I so enjoy!

Thanks again for your support so far, and I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

(PS. We hit the big 30% mark recently! This is exciting and greatly encouraging, so thanks once again. And, before you finish your Christmas shopping, remember you can buy folks Unbound Gift Cards - these are excellent means through which more folks can pledge to, erm, particular books.....that are titled 'Genius Loci'.....) 

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