I have wanderlust. In college, I found like-minded companions in Dean and Sal from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. In one passage, Sal recognized why he felt compelled to travel and explained that he had “no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there was nowhere to go but everywhere, rolling under the stars.” I still relate to his sentiments; however, my lifestyle does not always permit sporadic adventures. Now when I feel the need to hit the open road, I turn to video games for adventure and exploration.
Amanita Design’s point-and-click adventure game Botanicula features the story of creatures attempting to save the tree they inhabit from parasites. The charming, whimsical team includes a personified mushroom, acorn, twig, seed, and feather. Other critters the team encounters include bulbous bees, snapping beetles, and lumpy flies, among others. As the group wanders, they come across clever clues to find missing puzzles, such as the sound of leaves rustling or signs carved into tree stumps. Jakub Dvorský, Amanita game designer and director, said the game itself “is about exploration, solving funny puzzles, meeting strange tree creatures, and listening to music.” As I ventured from the tops of trees down to the roots, I knew I did not need to stay in one place for too long.
Game designer Edward Key’s wanderlust spirit inspired the creation of Proteus, an audio-visual exploration and discovery game. Key grew-up near a ridge of hills called Whinfell, and his view of faraway places, “the simple contrast between seeing a place from a distance and standing in that place,” fascinated him. He further explained that “getting lost in games seems pretty rare.” Key wanted a game that avoided a frustrating, negative experience of being lost. In the game, I wandered from pixel-like green pastures to vast, desert-like landscapes to the open sea. The seasons and time of day changed throughout the game. For me, watching the moon slowly fade off the screen and the sun simultaneously rise proved especially serene. Composer David Kanaga’s ambient game soundtrack enhances the free, wandering feel of the experience.
Often playing in any video game world that is new can inspire wanderlust. In middle school, I played the third version of the formula series Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? for the sole purpose of visiting new countries. The game included guided tours of various locales, essays on each area’s culture, and maps. I eagerly anticipated new assignments, as that meant travel to new locations. The ACME agent might ask, “Can you take a new case right now? Hearts are bleeding in Sweden, gumshoe.” Some gamers note the correlation between travel and video games. Travel writer Kara Santos named her motorcycle after Final Fantasy character Chocobo, because like the creature, her motorcycle provides for more occasions to explore.
Writer J.R.R. Tolkien noted that “not all those who wander are lost.” Video games present vast landscapes, unique societies, and different interpretations of place. So take a moment to play a video game and discover new things about yourself and the worlds around you.