Discreet Cosine Transform

A few thoughts on ruby, video and other things

A Sense of Place

One of the things I always particularly loved about D&D, and fantasy in-general, is the sense of another place, the feeling of being there.

However, I think that sometimes who are not fantasy fans might assume that the definition of a “fantastic place” must mean something filled with a lot of danger, or even a place filled with truly fantastical things. I think video games have indeed helped perpetuate this - a “good level” in a video game often is exactly that: filled with danger and fantastical things. Floating islands, erupting volcanoes, enemies around every turn, etc.

That is not what I necessarily enjoyed though. Think instead of the early scenes in Peter Jackson’s interpretation of The Fellowship of the Ring - all those scenes in the Shire. What a wonderful job Mr. Jackson did of visually creating a place that fit the voice-over describing the peacefulness and contentedness of the hobbits. Isn’t that Shire a place you want to be? A place you want to spend time?

There were many such places in AD&D 2nd Edition - the Forgotten Realms, of that edition, had many such places. Yes, it had places filled with danger and intrigue too, but it was very much the type of fantasy that makes it easy to imagine a beautiful forest glen, a high mountain pass in spring, a trading port on the sea on a clear blue day. The more fantastical places had some sense of that too - Sigil, in the Placescape setting, always seemed like a great place to be to me. Yes, a little more “danger around every corner” then perhaps some of the Forgotten Realms, but still, it was easy to imagine an Inn or other gathering in that metropolitan city that was just as much a source of relaxation to its urban inhabitants.

I guess what I really mean by A Sense of Place is anywhere that you can experience with more senses than just your eyes - of course, something that AD&D excelled at because you imagined so much of it (versus say a movie, which I think has a bigger challenge to make you feel that place with more than just your sense of vision). If you can almost feel the breeze on your face, or smell the food vendors, and you get an actual tingle that says “I want to be there”, that is what I mean.

While I do think that is in a strange way harder in a movie, where best efforts can still generate an image that to you feels like looking at a picture, not being there, there are some very strong examples of this in movies as well. Ridley Scott particularly excels at it, in my opinion, and movies like Blade Runner really put you there.

Interestingly, supporting the idea that calling on the viewers imagination makes this more effective, I think some anime movies are perhaps the absolutely strongest film-examples of this. The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Wings of Honneamise, and most especially Spirited Away are some of my favorite examples. If you can’t sense the feeling of being in the bath house in Spirited Away - smell, taste, sight and everything - I might go so far as to say your crazy.

Which is all to say, that at least for me, good fantasy and good role playing are not necessarily about constant danger, and don’t need to be so fantastical as to be unrecognizable. I will go so far as to say video games (which, don’t get me wrong, I do love) are a poor model in some ways for table-top role playing. The pacing, the intent, and the way they confront your senses are generally different. There are a handful of examples of video games that are slower paced and have a true sense of exploration over constant jeopardy, but I doubt those were the games you thought of when I first said “video games”.