I just got back from my home town (Santa Rosa), where I attended my beloved grandmother's funeral and reception.  A famous poet once said "you can never go home again," and I think I finally understand the weight of that statement.  A couple of years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter and everyone at my work was talking about lay offs, I freaked out and called my grandmother.

"Nonnie," I said to her over the phone at lunch, fighting the nausea of pregnancy-induced "afternoon sickness", "What if I lose my job and I can't pay the exorbitant rental and living costs and we become homeless?!" (Obviously, the so-called "crazy preggo hormones" had gone a bit to my head).

She replied, "The house is always here.  You can always come and stay with me."

And it was that simple.

In most of our lives, we know of a place that goes by a different name depending on who you are, but is a true "Home Base" for us.  It's a place where you are always safe, never judged, and where you can go without worrying about being shooed away.  You can collect your thoughts, eat something nourishing, and rest your weary feet and soul for a couple of magical moments and be ready to keep going afterwards.

This has been making me think- largely about how prolific our idea of a "home base" seems to be in the public consciousness that it is a common fixture in most games.  The way that this is done tends to be somewhat different, though, depending on what sort of feeling that the game designers would like to convey as part of the story and game in general..  I shall explain below.

Who wouldn't want their home base to be in a tree?

Home Base Tactic 1: Origin House/Town/Area

Most of the time, in a game, you have an origin place.  Usually, within the confines of this house, home, city, etc, you've grown up to a certain extent, and you begin your journey in a simple tutorial to get you acquainted with gameplay mechanics and controller scheme.  While this is logical-as the game designers want you to actually know how to PLAY the dang game, there is also a psychological aspect as well.  When you begin most games that use the "home town" as your beginning (Pokemon, Fallout 3, and Ocarina of Time are all good examples of these), you're able to learn more about the character, and assume a generally supportive and loving past that at least extends until you get past the "tutorial" level.

There is a lot to be said about growing up in a fairly uneventful, safe environment (Hint: If you see a character saying "*SIGH* Nothing EVER happens around here!" then RUN, RUN FAST).  First of all, you generally start out with a positive worldview about everything.  The character is more likely to be sheltered from some of the more brutal and senseless experiences that occur in the natural world.  Due to this, the blind and somewhat naive optimism of the character can be refreshing as well as help the player become accustomed to this new world that he or she has been thrust into. 

If you ever secretly wondered if you might be a NPC, just look above your head and check for a bubble with an icon on it....now tell me, can anyone explain what it means when the bubble over my head has a picture of ME on it?

Home Base Tactic 2: A Place that Isn't A Place

In some games, such as the Disgaea series, you get a place where you are transported when you are not beating main levels or extra dungeons (such as the Item World).  In this area, you can walk around freely (unlike the grid-based approach in the regular maps), and there are various things you can do (such as talk to people, find treasure chests that are hidden around the area, buy stuff, sell stuff, unlock music or summon the Dark Assembly).  Basically, when you're in this "home base" area, you won't be getting attacked or surprised by anyone, and the story won't really advance.  In general, it's where you go to do maintenance and make special decisions regarding what is being equipped and where you're going next (advancing the story or powerleveling in the item world?)  You can also do things such as find hidden switches or treasure chests, both of which add a level of uniqueness to the home base world area.

I've always said that every pause button needs a butler.

Home Base Tactic 3: Build it into your pause/main menu scheme

When my husband was playing through Fable 3, I was amazed at the pause screen.  Instead of simply freezing and showing the word "PAUSE" (like in most Mario games) or popping up a menu for switching out items (such as in the Legend of Zelda games), you go into a fully interactive home base called the "sanctuary"-a place where you retreat from the monsters and the baddies of the universe- where your own private butler awaits your every command.  This is a very useful place because it is designed not to be a stressful environment. 

If you are getting tired of where you are in the game, you can chill out in the pause menu for pretty much as long as you want for a change of scenery or you can tweak all of your settings and change out gear, outfits and the like.  While other games have done this before to some extent, only in THIS instance do you have an actual character to talk to, who helps you out and tells jokes!  There is a lot to be said for compassion when you are down and out-and this game provides you with a place that not only is peaceful but is literally only a button press away!

Please bear with me if I get a bit huggy....

In conclusion, I would have to say that the idea of "home" is more than just a place where you sleep or put your stuff when you're out getting more stuff (GEORGE CARLIN REFERENCE ALERT).  It's a place where you spend time basking in the warmth of the company of the people you love.  It's the place where you can feel comfortable enough to speak your mind, to make mistakes without fearing retribution, and to generally kick back and decompress.

When I left my grandmother's home this evening, I felt a deep sense of loss deep in my stomach, in some dark undefinable trench of my soul.  While the house is still there, I feel uncertain as to what will happen next-will that home still be there for me to rest my weary feet and replenish my sense of well being and calm? After all, I cannot consider my parent's home to be a "home base" in any true sense of the word as the main feeling I get when I step in the door is an overwhelming self-centered vibe from my mom, who seems to want all of us kids to leave and never come back so she can fill all the rooms with her useless crap and clothing that she never wears but doesn't want to get rid of. 

There is a place that isn't just a place, but is also partly made up of the people who are there with you.  I keep trying to find it, but it's a difficult process.  I will have to say, though, this blogging community has a facet of that home base feel-and it gives me courage and strength to feel that no matter where I go, you are all only a mouse-click away.


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So, what is your own personal "home base"?  Where do you go when you need to get away from the stress of the world?

And what is your favorite "home base" scheme in a game?  Do you like them or do you feel that they are too gimmicky?