Looking at places to live in games, it would be easy for the most magnificent, pompous and elegant palaces and castles to dominate any appreciation. But there is plenty of room to appreciate those residences that are tucked away, perhaps underrated, that are not major hubs or destinations and that are only subtle intrusions. Some draw a curious sense of attachment from players, eliciting a sense of pseudo-topophilia – a close relationship with a virtual land or place. The resulting effect is sometimes enough to cause the sentiment: if this place were real, I would live there.
Right in the corner of the Hinterlands in Dragon Age: Inquisition is the Grand Forest Villa. Its position in the landscape is not obtrusive or jarring, and in turn makes use of the surrounding Hinterlands as its grounds and gardens. Not only does it look fantastic in its geographical context, the residence fits the medieval-fantasy context, oozing grandeur and splendour. But it also serves a purpose: in the Dragon Age lore, it was built for a special friend of the Arl of Redcliffe to allow him to stay near Redcliffe Castle, but far enough away to not raise eyebrows or induce scandal. Designed to be elegant and bold, the Villa – which is a generous term – would have been a beautiful place to live. Even though there are no obvious living spaces on show to relate to they are there – probably within the thick stone walls that add a strange, yet weirdly complete juxtaposition of woodland villa aesthetic next to defensive fortress.
Its semi-open nature permeates its design. Opening up sides and boundaries has the effect of bringing the outside, inside – nowadays, think about homes that have entire walls made of glass to bring their garden ‘inside’ – blurring the boundary between indoor luxury and the pleasantness of nature, landscapes and plants. It also opens up expansive and brilliant vistas from the Grand Forest Villa, the importance of which is demonstrated by the design of designated viewing decks or points offering fabulous views over the lush and rolling Hinterlands landscape.
Nearby the Villa is a waterfall that literally falls through the residence into a shimmering lake, ensuring the sound of running water provides a continual soundtrack and the lush greens of plants and pine trees offset the greyness of the stone and natural rock – themselves merging into one another beautifully. The Villa’s own gardens come in the form of courtyards, which are fabulous culminations of spaces: one embracing the outdoors with a totally open central space complete with a feature tree, and a cloister-esque walk around it leading to a viewing platform (turret); the other a more inward-focused courtyard space within a roof and frames capturing views outward, but still maintaining a central focal point.
Also visible from the covered courtyard, alongside the traditional merlons and embrasures in the fortified walls, are angled roofs, ornately finished that provide a homelier feel, contrasting the defensive fortifications. There is something almost Frank Lloyd Wright-ian about these angles and rooflines – in fact the whole Villa is like a medieval version of Lloyd-Wright’s Falling Water house – as they draw the eye, create symmetry and order and form that is exquisite in its design and appropriate for the site’s setting. Combine this with incorporating the bare rockface and hillside for aesthetic and defense purposes, and the Villa has a near complete make up of beauty, function and character.
This excellence in residences is spread throughout Inquisition. It would be easy – and safe – to pick a spot in cultured Orlais or the glamour of the Winter Palace. But put these to one side and there are plenty of others to choose from. The Villa Maurel and Chateau d’Onterre in the Emerald graves, for example, are incredibly attractive, semi-hidden places to drop anchor. Their relatively-undiscovered nature comes from their abandonment and the way they are being ever so slowly left to nature’s devices – though not overrun – as the ancient elven land smothers the ‘High French’-looking architecture. Indeed, these places are grand, spacious and ornate, but their state of disrepair and emptiness appeal to their mystery and beauty as places to live. Here, perhaps because of the overgrowth, the plants are more obviously identifiable, but also add their own overall character to the place, very much heightening the sense of seclusion-in-nature and being in the depths of the landscape.
One of the finest locations in Red Dead Redemption is the wild and lush landscapes of Tall Trees. It is an unassuming place, not a major hub or destination, but it quietly played its part and its deep-in-the-woods feeling had a cool feel to it. Log cabins thrown about the landscape, gorgeous woodland and lakes and a seamless crossover and transition between lush landscape and snowy, harsh mountain- and hill-side environment, Tall Trees maintains its wild beauty but also shows signs of the inevitable reach and influence of the pioneers. As an area, it’d be easy to place a house in, but to keep in with the context of the times and the lands, one of the more solid-looking hunting lodges would be an attractive residence but so would the small and rugged Manzanita Trading Post.
Setting down here feels safe despite the location in the woods. It has a steady supply of goods and people due to the train station and a merchant. With the constant stream of supplies and the gorgeous, semi-removed-from-society location, it’s a great spot for outdoors-y people. However, in the long run it may be worth ensuring a sturdy log cabin is the main residence rather than the cloth tents – this seems dangerous and downright reckless.
Manzanita Trading Post provides a neat balance of hunting lodge-lifestyle, safe escapism and the American dream values of venturing farther afield into the wilderness and claiming it. The gorgeous surroundings would constantly provide one of the most aesthetically pleasing landscapes to live in, while also providing a respite from the stresses of pioneer-town life.
If it’s too isolated though, a case could be made for MacFarlane’s ranch or Beecher’s Hope. The cattle farm lifestyle seems relaxed (on the whole), there are still people in the area, and there is a oneness to be had with the landscape and a life made out of it. Even in such a vast, unforgiving landscape, such attractive places to live are clearly and pleasingly present.
The town centre in BioShock Infinite’s Colombia is a beautiful, joyous and stylish place, and – with the caveat of not having to subscribe to the attitudes of the society – would be a fine place to live. In the first instance, the Garden of New Eden is a tranquil place and an environment easy to imagine escaping to for peace, quiet and contemplation. The gardens come complete with flowering rose or camellia bushes, climbing plants, ornate architecture, sculptures, bare foot-pleasing lawns and water features – all the things that make a garden pleasant and attractive. Or, in this instance, a lot of common characteristics people would like in their own garden. At least, assuming this is a public garden, living in a nearby house or above one of the shops in the market would be ideal.
The more-populated New Eden Square area has a warm, lively feeling to it both literally from the sun, but also environmentally. It is a joyful, colourful and idyllic place with shops to service the inhabitants and gathering spaces for socialising. Everyone seems happy and pleasant. It certainly does the job initially of welcoming people to a ‘heaven on earth’ type society. There is a distinctly utopian feel to the communal area and the aesthetic brings about a certain, strong sense of nostalgia. There is something about looking back fondly on time periods and their characteristics that, though they are comfortably in the past, are still easy enough to imagine being immersed in.
Everything about the buildings, roads, paths and open spaces makes Colombia, and this part of it in particular, a splendid place to live. The Roma-esque architecture with colonial American influences makes it an architecturally desirable place to live and provides a compelling backdrop to life, so much so that one wouldn’t know the whole city was floating. Of course, the distasteful and discriminatory undertones of the place make it a culturally bankrupt place to live. In summary, the location is excellently designed, vivid, full of…