I want to play a game about tourism. It’s odd that I can fight in so many wars, across so many continents, planets and timeframes, but I can’t simply take a stroll around a city orf national park, taking photos and writing postcards as I go. I’m sure there are games about tourism but they’re probably adventure games, or hidden object games. Something will be in the way of the pleasure of being in a place simply to be in that place. From Street View to The Crew, I’m looking for my next grand tour.
Games are many things but at their root, they are forms of recreation as well as challenge and tests of skill. I have plenty of games that test my skill – I’d like a few more that recreate recreational activities, and tourism seems like a fine place to start.
There’s a crossover with walking simulators to an extent but a game about tourism would provide more than a place to wander in. There would be a guidebook, providing objectives of a sort in the form of landmarks to see and museums to visit. There would be expenses to pay and an inventory to manage, as well as the possibility of a party of adventurers to control, relationships and all, during road trips and weekend breaks.
I use the Assassin’s Creed games as tourism simulators. Wildly inaccurate though they may be, the historical places are beautiful and it’s even possible to tick off locations as you visit them, with a little description added into the memory banks for your troubles. If the Animus existed, it would surely be repurposed as a Total Recall device, allowing people to take vacations in places and times otherwise impossible to visit.
The lure of driving sims often crosses over with tourism as well. How many people want to play The Crew simply to see the sights? Jim has written about Fuel’s world as a place for touring and I play Euro Truck Simulator in a similar way. As much as I’d enjoy exploring a city, I’d love to have a game about a road trip, a coast to coast simulator, with no races, no puzzles and no narrative arc other than the story of a person or group of people intending to have a good time.
I treat Google Maps like a game. Pick a city or town, or have the internet choose a location for you, and then search for the nearest hotel or bar. Trace the points in between. Find the nearest train station or Greyhound Bus depot and find the next actual vehicle leaving from that point, by consulting actual timetables. Plot a route across the US or Europe. Find the unknown routes between your current place in the world and your childhood home.
Since the addition of historical images, Street View has become a beautiful respository of melancholy possibilities. A street photographed in 2013 might look almost identical in the 2011 shot, except for a couple of different vehicles parked in front of houses. Closer examination of those points of change reveals other differences – a new front door, a redesigned garden. A ‘For Sale’ sign.
Whether there’s truth in the telling or not, the few clues add up to possible stories and as well as facilitating armchair tourism, Street View is a place for unusual acts of detective work. Meaningless and mundane they may be, but they’re triggered by at least some of the same impulses that crackle through Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings.
A game about tourism wouldn’t necessarily be a game about travel – it would be a game about seeing things, usually for the first time, and of interpreting those things. Monuments, museums and the history of streets and houses would be a part of it, but it would also capture the moments that are only mysterious because they are outside our own lives. A train loaded with commuters takes on new significance when the details of that commute, and the people performing it, are unknown.
I think we’re coming closer to the possibility of tourism as a perhaps unintended aspect of many experiences. Procedurally generated places have the potential to be new and strange forever, and in the handcrafted worlds that they create, developers are often facilitating the simple act of admiration.
This photojournal shot within Grand Theft Auto V might be my favourite document about games this year and Other Places is a regular source of delight. Observation and admiration allow us to explore the world at a pace out of keeping with the familiar beat of work, play, sleep. They also allow us to see the fringes, jettisoning the perfection of a postcard for the messiness of life occurring at the edge of the object that we attempt to frame. Rome is not the Colosseum.
I’m always looking for new places to explore, with my actual legs as well as the thousands of virtual bodies and vehicles I’ve crammed my mind into over the years. Games have always provided a perfect environment for exploration and admiration, but I’d like to play something that is dedicated to just those things. I can’t remember a game describing my character as a tourist and giving me free reign to discover new worlds since NetHack. Time for that to change.
Let’s finish with a snippet of Whitsun Weddings so that Larkin can embarrass my every turn of phrase.
and it was nearly done, this frail
Traveling coincidence; and what it held
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power
That being changed can give. We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.