Rather than marvel at digital houses we couldn't even dream of owning an armoire to put in IRL, let alone the whole building, we've turned our attention to the world of videogame apartments. These chunks of partitioned living are often just modular, nondescript spaces designed to house clues or bolster the sense of people living in a city, but occasionally there are apartments which offer up a real sense of their owner's character or palatial penthouses which ooze nouveau riche luxury.
We've handpicked a selection which stuck with us as beautiful, effective, weird, crass or some combination of all of those as we amble through the property pages of gaming. Use the arrows to navigate or the left and right cursor keys on your keyboard. Don't forget to wipe your feet as you come in!
Adam: It probably says a lot about me that one of my favourite fictional apartments might actually be a hotel room. And whether it's an apartment or a hotel room is kind of a moot point because it's actually one of many stasis chambers decorated to resemble an actual living space, and it's tucked away deep inside the Aperture Science facilities, adjacent to a whole bunch of deadly test chambers.
I like temporary places, so I probably naturally prefer hotel and motel rooms to apartments, though most of the apartments and flats I've lived in have only been familiar in passing. Six month leases seem long when you sign them, but when you find yourself preparing to move on and don't even have to repack all those still-packed boxes, you don't really think of those places as ‘home'. Or at least I don't.
And that's why I probably enjoy watching Portal 2's introductory domestic demolition. By the time Portal 2 begins, Chell has apparently been in stasis for around 27 years, longer than I've ever lived in a single place, but her ‘home' is wrecked within minutes of awakening. And all of that destruction is in service of a good laugh.
Brendan: Like the secret back room where heists are planned in Thirty Flights of Loving, there's a hideout here too. It has computers and machines and a radio and friends working with cogs and wires. But the apartments of those friends and your own gaff is just as interesting. At different points in the game you get a glimpse at these places, just enough to peep into your heistmates' lives. Lou lives in a tiny box of a room (actually, they all do) where she has a dozen photos of the three of you hanging on the wall. Her engineering certificate is there - she got it awarded at night school. A single mattress on the floor acts as a bed and a dirty mirror tries to make the place look bigger than it is.
Poncho's apartment is bigger, but only vertically. Because it houses two giant chalkboards one on top of the other, both filled with neatly-written code. To get to the bed in this room you'd have to clamber up a desk filled with clunky machines and computer equipment. There's three cameras on the desktop and bottle after bottle of developing fluid. But overall this room is tidier than your mate Lou's. Except for the clothes strewn across the floor and the semi-naked man snoring in the bed.
I think I like these rooms because I've slept in a number of tiny London boxes over the years. Twice I've had a room with a cabin bed, with my computer and miscellaneous papers gathered beneath it. Adults shouldn't have to do these things. So when I see the Nuevos Aires homes of QuadCow's hacker gang I have sympathy for them - but I'm also impressed. They manage to make such a small space look good.
Silent Hill 4
Adam: As Brendan said when he heard this was one of my picks, “the giant hole to a blood-besmirched reality really ties the room together”. He's not wrong. Well, he is, because that giant hole to a blood-besmirched reality actually pulls the room apart, and that's the kind of room I like. One that's unsure of itself.
I've never been one to leave many traces of myself around the places I inhabit, and that goes for bric-a-brac, posters and art as well as the kind of things that a blacklight might reveal. I'm not exactly neat and tidy, but my local footprint - as opposed to my global carbon footprint - is small. Whatever the opposite of a hoarder is, I am that thing.
Even though I don't believe in them, I'd rather live with whatever ghosts a building holds than eradicate all traces of them with a couple of prints and a throw from Dunelm. Silent Hill 4's room might be taking that to extremes, but for all of its scares and supernatural space-shifting, it looks a lot like a real place. The old complaint about Friends - how did they afford such large living spaces in New York on their wages? - doesn't apply here. The Room isn't extravagant or massive; it's small, worn and entirely convincing.
Alice: Bestest best balcony in video games, this one.
Ah, but how cosy the rest of the place is too! Whenever the sprawling murder case got on top of me, I'd return home to reset my brain. Land my spacecar on the roof, walk through the rain to the lift, bop the button and ride down to apartment 88F, be greeted at the door by my dog -- the best gal I'd ever seen! -- and feed her, then through the bedroom to the balcony for a few moments' reflection, and back inside to collapse into bed. Wake up, wash my face, and I'm ready to pound the streets again.
I didn't realise how much this home meant to me until I was evicted by The Conspiracy. I wandered the streets, not knowing where to go. I wasn't sleeping any more. My life had dropped out from beneath me.
Sure, Ray McCoy's apartment is a knock-off of Deckard's gaff but that was my home.
Alice: Elvin Green is blessed, really. Some might consider coming loose from reality and tripping across alternate worlds something of a curse, but who among us can open up a whole extra spare bedroom, add a breakfast bar, or even put in a balcony simply by spacing out?
It's his first (real?) apartment I like most, a slump of a home. His writing desk is surrounded by scattered papers and scrunched balls. Bottles, toppled mugs, and ash trays cover surfaces. Books stack up and tumble over. Crumpled boxes of a lost love's possessions sit in corners. Bin overflows. Rug askew, blinds bent. Tired Californian afternoon sun beats down. It's so lived-in it hurts. I adore this carefully-modelled mess.
Looking out the windows is smashing too. Peer through the crooked blinds to stare into the overgrown courtyard out back, palms and trees fenced-off between a squash of buildings. Out the bedroom, through the rungs and railings of a criss-crossing fire escape, is a shut-down cinema with a police car parked outside. From the lounge, a lovely view of the diner opposite, the record shop, cars cruising past, and- oh god, is that my landlady staring up at me?
Apartments should be in communities.
The apartments in electroworld and on Mars aren't half-bad, mind. Great domed balcony on Mars with views over the neighbourhood, spacetrees on spaceroofs.
The Dream Machine
John: I think this has to be the greatest apartment in all of gaming. I mean, it's literally the only gaming apartment where I've thought that thought without feeling ridiculous. (What IS this feature?) The first time I played the wonderful claymation and cardboard adventure I was utterly blown away by how real this place felt.
That was in no small part thanks to the relationship between the husband and wife living there, and the sparsity that accompanies all gaming abodes was justified here by their having just moved in, unpacked boxes all over. There are neighbours to meet, a basement to eventually discover, and the apartment is of course the key element of the game's fantastical setting. If anything, the apartment here is a crucial character. The more you play, the more you realise the building itself is so integral to what you're experiencing.
Fine writing, good excuses for sparsity, and the exquisitely hand-crafted real-life sets all add up to by far the best gaming apartment I've seen.
Pip: I'm not sure if I actually own an apartment in GTA Online. I know I've been in the apartments of friends because that's how you begin heists, and I've spent the amount of obligatory faff time while people install updates or fail to connect or struggle with servers and whatnot snooping around those. They're these hyper-luxurious, spacious non-homes. It's pretty much characteristic of the game, to be honest. You have floor-to-ceiling windows, views to die (or at least kill) for, televisions the size of a double bed...
They're these idiotically show-homey spaces where it's all about clear surfaces and monumental, conspicuous consumption but nowhere you'd actually cosy up with a book and a blanket. There are bookshelves populated with the same books everyone else has, the same plants everyone else has, the same clothing on display as everyone else has... I know that apartments have been added as well as other bits and bobs via DLC but my abiding memory is of these nothingy impersonal places. Because of how GTA screenshots work I don't have access to any of mine at the moment so I had to settle for an official image - apparently Rockstar don't like putting out pictures of the apartmentswhen there are cars to be looked at so the image above is the only one I could find and it's not really in keeping with my recollections but you get the idea.
Impersonal personal space is generally a problem in gaming. Homes are denoted by the same object-based shorthand – you have beds, sinks, fridges, some knickknacks, maybe some paintings on the walls. They're intended to show that a person lived here and had some vague preferences about wall decorations but this stuff turns into a real resource drain if you aren't careful so you use the same assets over and over in different configurations.
You might do some custom work for plot-specific homes or give players tools to customise their space if you're building that kind of game, but there's a lot of repetition. In GTA Online that feels right, somehow. If you're chucking money at stuff like homes and clothes, in the real world you might well end up using the same high-end stylists and designers and their signature style starts to shine through even if they don't mean it to.
I like to think of GTA Online as this weird bubble where there's only one or two stylists people go to for their interior decoration and they can only use furniture and decor from one department store and so the world has turned into this bizarre, samey apartment factory where everyone has the same decorative books.
Fahrenheit / Indigo Prophecy
John: Fahrenheit really goes to some effort to manage to earn a place on both a favourite and least favourite apartments list. In the latter is Tyler and Samantha's place, a seemingly deliberate (is it maybe worse if it weren't deliberate?) exercise in racism, with the game's black character living in a 70s Shaft-a-like monstrosity of stereotypes and lava lamps. It also has an entry for a middling list with Carla's ludicrously opulent digs, but the positive entry goes for Lucas's place.
It's barren, but it's believably barren. Lucas is a pretty broken man, recently dumped, exuding bachelordom. But stuff works! The taps fill glasses, the TV switches on, the exercise machine can be used, the stereo plays music. And he'll pick up and twiddle with his guitar. It feels a little showroomy, but at the same time is far more interactive than your average gaming flat.
Of course later you use that guitar to minigame your ex into bed, because Fahrenheit can't miss a chance to be gross.
BioShock 2 Multiplayer
Pip: I never played BioShock 2 (there was an injection in the first one which ensured I was never going to go near either of them ever again) but in looking at an old article about places to live in games I saw some screenshots of the multiplayer apartment for BioShock 2 – a space steeped in the game's characteristic art deco aesthetic and with little fish swimming past the lounge windows.
Obviously THAT was the catalyst for me immediately installing BioShock 2. I did nearly close it all down immediately on seeing a syringe onscreen but thankfully nothing came of that.
It's a ghost town as far as the multiplayer itself goes so I can't tinker with it to see what effect playing actually has on the space if any. But I spent a really lovely few minutes just wandering round and enjoying being in the apartment. A significant part of that is because of how different BioShock's aesthetic is to most games. I've seen any number of tedious shacks/sheds in any number of post-apocalyptic survival games containing the same metal-framed beds with grim-looking mattresses, but it's rare to see anything like BioShock 2.
In the fiction the rooms are on loan to you while you test things out for Sinclair Solutions which would explain the impersonal nature of the furnishings. It's more like a hotel than a home. A hotel where you can look out of the window and see kelp waving and bubbles rising.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments
Pip: The apartment at Baker Street stuck with me from when I saw footage of the game before it even came out, which tells you I must have found it pretty eye-catching as in-game flats go!
It's an apartment furnished with all manner of Holmes's paraphernalia as well as lots of general detail. There are net curtains which actually provide a bit of texture, bundles of newspapers crammed onto shelving, all manner of information pinned to the wall above the analysis desk, a bed with the covers drawn down to air it out a Philodendron in the peak of condition near a window, and lots, lots more. It's a place which manages to give the impression that this particular man actually lives there.
I really like how rich and over-the-top it seems in comparison to so many other in-game homes. It's messy but not dirty (presumably thanks to Mrs Hudson's feelings on the matter) and positively bulging with tributes to Holmes' ridiculousness, hints at his virtuosity and references to his esoteric interests. It's a shame that the rest of the game turns out to be an awkwardly implemented riff on a hidden object adventure with no true hidden object scenes but it has a delightfully furnished apartment.
Pip: Sunset uses the idea of visiting an apartment just before sunset to perform tasks in your role as a housekeeper. It's through little interactions you have with the objects and changes you observe from the window that your character forges a relationship with her unseen employer and the game tries to pick into ideas of privilege, resistance and power along the way.
Taking the real estate mantra of "location, location, location", you might not be entirely convinced to move to Anchuria what with the military coup going on in the city, but the game juxtaposes that with this hyper-stylised, absolutely over-the-top bachelor pad inspired by a 1970 edition of Playboy.
It's an absolutely decadent place, filled with gorgeous period detail and the fact that you always visit just before sunset means everything is bathed in warm evening light. You also see it change gradually over the course of the game which means you start to feel shifts in the atmosphere of the space as a result.
[Disclaimer-ish: friend of the site, Leigh Alexander did some consulting on this game. I didn't know that when I wrote about it previously but I do now.]