As a kid, I loved pretending to live in other people”s empty houses. Everything was already in place: the foundation, the furniture, and maybe a treasure chest or two. All it needed was for someone to come along and make it into a home. Saving the world from a cosmic evil or a giant space parasite can take its toll on a child. When that burden became too heavy, I would zip to the nearest town and find someplace quiet to hole up for a few days. Oh, and don”t worry – this all took place inside the imaginative realm of video games.
From Chrono Trigger to Final Fantasy, every big role-playing game in the “90s had at least one or two homes that were basically abandoned. They were full of somebody”s stuff, sure, but that somebody never bothered to show up. I would co-opt these spaces and make them my own, a virtual pillow fort where I could act out my own little domestic dramas and storylines.
Earthbound is the clearest example I can recall, and its opening area of Onett is full of nice, empty homes. I”d squat in one of these and invent little errands for Ness and his friends to go on. Maybe they”d go grocery shopping together down at the general store, and then stay up late playing games together in their new pad. At times like these, the game”s plot couldn”t have been further from my mind. Using only my imagination (and a few sprites), I would dream up delightfully boring scenarios that the developers could never have intended.
Reflecting on it now, I think the fun I got out of doing imaginary chores with my virtual characters stemmed from the same place as pillow forts or tree houses. It”s the fantasy of independence, the act of pretending you”re old enough to do what you want, when you want, especially if that means eating a whole tub of ice cream and staying up past 11 PM. Within the realm of video games, I had complete control over the lives of my little avatars, so it felt natural to have them act out my own day-to-day fantasies. Because that”s what we all want as kids: to be older, and to have more control over our own lives.