(CN: Morbid musings on death)
I mentioned in my post on Borderlands that the setting really bummed me out and made it tough to look forward to continuing the game. Despite the high-tech galactic society, Pandora is a rocky desert wasteland and looks more like a post-apocalyptic stage than anything – crude structures, corrugated iron everywhere, open piles of trash, putrid standing water, chemical barrels, and so on, all in a place that nobody would choose to live. A huge dump that people somehow scrape a living from.
That made me realise why I prefer certain biomes in games – especially MMOs – and hate others. It is all to do with the question of: in which ways would I prefer to suffer? How would I prefer to die?
The zones that I dislike the most, the zones that make me uneasy or freak me out or just avoid when I can – those are the zones where I would be legitimately afraid to suffer through in reality. The zones that feel alien to me. There are three main varieties of those.
I loathe desert zones in games. This is because I cannot imagine ever living – or spending a significant amount of time – in a place without an abundance of fresh water. Dying of thirst is a real fear for me, and I don’t handle the heat very well either. The main problem for me in Borderlands was that it was almost exclusively this kind of biome. I had to limit the length of my play sessions in Fallout 1 and 2 because of this effect, too. The Egypt zones in TSW were a nightmare to complete for me.
I am putting most of the blame on the extremes here, the sandy, rocky, barren wasteland where nothing grows beyond the occasional oasis. I am a little more comfortable with the savannah-type biomes, the endless prairies. They might offer similar dangers as the desert zones regarding water scarcity and heat, but the presence of all that scrub and grass just offsets some of my fears.
Although there is a lot more water in these zones, it is almost always still, fetid water. I think there are two main fears for me in these biomes. One is the heat and humidity combining with the perpetual dampness to promote fungal rot and disease, or infections via insects and leeches and whatnot. This was my main reaction to Zangarmarsh in WoW’s Outland. The huge fungi – in fact the fungal theme throughout the zone – just horrified me and made me want to get through it as quickly as possible. I know a fair few people who think Zangarmarsh is one of the most beautiful zones in Outland, if not WoW altogether, and I just shiver. I can’t see it.
The other main fear for me in swamps and marshes is a slight crossover with the next biome: underwater threats. Mostly crocs and snakes. Also stuff like sinkholes and quicksand. Basically not being able to trust the ground you walk on, or not being able to see the ground you walk on because of the water. The water in these biomes is always opaque, meaning you can’t just be diligent about watching where you step – you have to have faith. I don’t have that kind of faith.
I hate hate hate underwater zones. I am of the firm belief that deep water is an alien environment for us – we are intruders at best, hopelessly unprepared and unequipped at worst. Note that this is under the sea, since I can’t remember any game where I have been in a freshwater zone like a lake. I think the reason I would hate being in this environment so much is that you are basically reduced to relying on your sight for everything. Hearing and touch and smell are pretty much useless in detecting threats when you are submersed. Yet, literally everything else in the environment is adapted to it and thus has an advantage over you. For some reason, that extra dimension of threat vectors – down – freaks me out a little too.
Although I held this fear before I started playing TSW, the familiarity with the Cthulhu mythos that it has begun has done nothing but cement my position on this.
The “Good” Stuff
To show that this is not all just a list of me being afraid of danger, let me go through a couple of harsh biomes that I actually quite like.
The Frozen North
I love these zones. Snow, mountains, glaciers, ice caves, you name it. Whether it be an alpine zone like Iron Pine Peak in Rift, a winter wonderland like Whitevale in Wildstar, or a mountain fastness like Dun Morogh in WoW, it all appeals to me. Even the harshness of Icecrown or the eternal winter of a game like Little Inferno make me comfortable, in a way. The reason? I wouldn’t mind dying in such a climate. I would much rather freeze to death than succumb in any of the ways detailed above. Being cold isn’t the torture that thirst and heat is, to me.
The Dark Woods
I suspect that a lot of people like forest zones, and I would bet that nobody is surprised to find that they are my favourite biome. But I wonder how many feel that way when the forest turns dark and spooky, haunted even? I’m thinking Duskwood in WoW, and the Shadowy Forest in TSW. To me, even when they are corrupted or harbour darkness, forest zones still feel like home. I might not want to die, but unlike the zones above, I wouldn’t be regretting ever coming here if I did.
Does all this make sense? Does anyone else base their reactions to biomes on stuff like this, or am I alone?