We have stopped kidding ourselves about the possibility of leaving the house again. It’s horrible out there, with chemtrails, and giant rats and those people who keep asking if you’ve had an accident in the last three years. It’s only really when we check our connection speed that we remember that we even HAVE a hometown. It might be shitty. It might be really nice. It might rain choux pastry out there for all we know, that door remains firmly locked, and buried behind mountains of unpaid bills and pizza menus.
PROBABLE SPOILERS AHEAD, so make sure to play these ten games in their entirety before reading, or grow a thicker skin, or something.
Wutai – Final Fantasy VII
The world of Final Fantasy VII is a singularly depressing place, mainly due to the irresponsible actions of one of the stupidest companies in videogame history. Midgar is a soulless, sprawling, industrial nightmare. North Corel is an impoverished shanty-town built in the shadow of a giant and prosperous casino. Cosmo Canyon is full of hippies. But head and shoulders above all these urban shit-stains sits a town so fucked up that the game doesn’t even bother making you go there. Wutai.
Now, Japanese RPGs aren’t really all that great at social commentary. It all seems to follow that old familiar Godzilla pattern. The evil thing we don’t like is generally represented by this huge monster/robot, with a tendency to trample over the things we do like, represented by our people, houses and pets. Final Fantasy VII does have those huge monster robot things, but they represent the evils of industrialism or some shit, so they can’t be used again. What we end up with is Wutai, a nation VERY much like Japan (in the same shape as Japan, in the same geographical position as Japan, with the same architecture as Japan and with those fishing nets everywhere) having the ever-living shit kicked out of them by a massive global power in a massive global war. After having their salad well and truly tossed, Wutai was overtaken completely by Shinra corporation, and turned into a huge, and shitty, resort town, like if Disneyland was renamed “Red Indian World” and they charged spoiled, fat American kids 10 bucks a pop to ride a rollercoaster made from the bones of the Sioux.
Which is what makes it one of the worst places to live. We won’t even bother to mention how much it would suck to live in a house made of paper when any idiot five-year old can spit fire from their fingers, but when the entire country is being used as a corporate get-away, it becomes beyond intolerable. The bars and eateries would be full of middle-management dipsticks talking about how they’re seeing the REAL Wutai, going on primal scream and fire-walking retreats in the middle of the sacred mountains, and drunkenly demanding that the temple guardians do something honourable for the camera. Even Yuffie, officially the stupidest character (even when compared to a cat balanced on a stuffed toy) can see the problem here, even if she tries to solve the problem by stealing the magical capabilities of the only people actually fighting America. Shinra. Amerinra.
Your Ship – FTL
Okay, so it’s not a city or a country, but for the hapless residents of your faster than light craft in the strategy escape-em-up of the same name, it’s home. Which is terribly unfortunate, because it’s one of the worst places to live in the entire universe. Their mission is hard enough: Get from one end of the galaxy to the other without being caught and killed by rebels, pirates, slavers or any of the other absolute cunts that inhabit this particular region of space, floating around the cosmos with the sole aim of ruining your day in a variety of interesting ways.
Crewmen don’t last on board your FTL ship, no matter how safely you play things. As it’s a rogue-like, their place on board your ship is heart-rendingly transitory, and it’s not quite as easy as hosing the charred bones of a doomed red-shirt out of the engine room before hiring a new guy to push the buttons. Crewmen are hard to come by sometimes. They’re expensive. They have names, not to mention vital skills that you end up depending on. Pretty soon, you’ll find that losing your gunner or your shields expert leaves you gliding around space with lower chances of survival than a bikini model in Tehran.
Unfortunately, the universe is a tricky place, full of the aforementioned cunts, so with every jump through the system your ship makes, your crewmen run afoul of something or other that threatens to blow them up, skewer them, or starve them of oxygen. They don’t get to sleep, and only end up leaving their posts when some horrible squibbly space-monster beams itself on board with the intent of chewing them to death. The closest they get to rest is standing in the medibay while nano-bots inject things into them, healing them and making sure they get to survive interstellar hell just a little while longer.
And it gets worse. In an update to the game, a system is added that doesn’t even let them rest in death. Cloning chambers remake them from the ground up almost as soon as they’ve been…well, ground-up by whatever latest horrible monstrosity decided to take out its frustrations on the lone, desperate cruiser.
Most don’t make it. They’re the lucky ones.
Columbia - Bioshock Infinite
Putting aside the ham-fisted racial tensions of Bioshock Infinite’s Columbia, you’d think that life in the clouds would be pretty sweet, if you happen to be just the right kind of Baptist. But even a cursory glance around the magnificent aerial neighbourhoods tells us that this simply isn’t the case. The city, originally built to showcase US exceptionalism, while all the UK had was some shitty palace made entirely out of crystal, was basically constructed to answer the age-old question “what if the world’s fair was actually interesting?” As it turns out, Columbia wasn’t just about firing everything America wanted to showcase up into low-Earth orbit where nobody could fucking get to it, but it also happened to be a fully-loaded military installation, capable of blasting several kinds of shit out of anyone that was stupid enough to make an enemy out of a country that had quantum propulsion in 1912. Anyone moving to Columbia would, even before setting foot on Aero Firma, have to come to the realisation that they were basically moving to an advanced military outpost. When this installation seceded from the United States, Zachary Hale Comstock decided that the best way to spread the word of his personal brand of religion was to separate yourself from everyone else on the planet by a number of vertical miles.
Now, there are some things about living there that might be fun (in case you’re wondering, my own personal favourite would be throwing glass bottles of urine out of the window, then reading about the death toll at ground-level in the newspapers the next day) but the overwhelming horror lies not in the circumstances of Columbia, but in the everyday experiences. Even after spending a few minutes there as Booker, we’ve been forced to sit through several cringe-worthy and one-sided discussions about what a lovely sunny day it is, despite the fact that it’s always a sunny day when your house lies above cloud level. Go to the tiny overcrowded beach, and we’re forced to endure the goggle-eyed fish stares and homo-erotic small-talk of young men in straw boaters who constantly offer to dress you up in swimming trunks for their own sordid entertainment. The one saving grace is the sheer amount of booze and cigarettes that people leave lying around, but even that’s probably due to the fact that everyone’s too scared to get drunk. in case they fall off the side of the road and end up embedded in the pavement somewhere in Wisconsin. It might be a clean and tidy place to live, but even the fucking robots can’t stand piping up with horribly-politicised chatter. Living in Columbia would be like living in a version of the Matrix designed by Bill O’ Reilly. While thinking of that night he spent with Mitt Romney. While Sarah Palin watched.
Kilika – Final Fantasy X
I don’t want to sound insensitive, but when you live in a world terrorised by a massive murder-whale, and you make the decision to build your entire town on rickety stilts with far more of a sea-view than you should have, I can’t help but think that you’re courting disaster just a little bit. It’s the equivalent of hiding from a bunch of ravenous wolves inside a cocoon of fresh meat, or trying to escape a horde of hipsters by taking refuge at an open-air ukulele festival.
It’s not even as though they HAVE to do this, or that it’s just some weird waterspout fetish that’s specific to the people of Kilika. They’re only taking most of the blame because they seem to have the cheapest building materials of all the doomed urban centres of Spira. Almost every major city in the world has been built up right next to some endlessly-wide expanse of ocean, despite the fact that every single person on the planet (minus one idiot protagonist) knows all-too-well the danger that Sin poses. And yet, the people still act all surprised when the damn-near indestructible travelling smitestorm comes rolling through their general store, fucking up the ether displays, getting the eyedrop cabinet all shaken up, and drowning grandma. Well, this is their own fucking fault. It’s the real-world equivalent of repeatedly trying to set up a shop selling stained glass windows across the Bakerloo line. Regular as clockwork, you’re going to get all your shit smashed in, and after the sixth or seventh rebuild, you’re going to start looking a little bit like a div.
It’s hardly victim-blaming, either. Not when there are plenty of land-locked areas in Spira where they could live, and not have to scoop quite as many mangled corpses out of the kid’s inflatable blitzball rink. Those stupid ogre things live in caves, and they seem to be doing pretty well, if you don’t count the non-whale-related genocide. In fact, there’s a whole, massive expanse of beautiful greenery smack in the middle of the northern continent that is objectively the nicest, safest place in Spira. The Calm Lands. But instead of building as many housing developments as they could on that land, the people of Spira decided it might better serve them as a great open field for people to graze mutant chickens in. With a gift shop in the middle of it.
Silent Hill – The Silent Hill series
The town of Silent Hill is apparently in Maine, which explains a lot, and for obvious reasons, it’s one of the worst places to live. Back in the day, it was able to sustain itself on the noble industries of fishing and coal-mining, but with the advent of the 21st century and the closure of the mines, the town has eked out as much of a living as it can on the tourist industry, but with woefully inadequate dedication. There’s an amusement park, but it’s never open, with the rides being shockingly out of date, and a lawsuit waiting to happen. If you want a more sedate getaway, there’s Toluca Lake, but the parking options are limited, and there really isn’t much in the way of attraction for tourists, indicating the supreme laziness of those on the Silent Hill Board of Tourism. The Silent Hill Historical Society does what it can, operating a small museum and tour of the civil war prison northwest of the lake, and though they do manage a very atmospheric experience, the exhibits just aren’t worth a visit unless you happen to walk by.
The apartments of Silent Hill are kept in a quite shocking state. Obviously in-keeping with their lacklustre focus on tourism, the Silent Hill town council seems to demand that the buildings be well-maintained on the outside, but this stringent policy certainly does not stretch to the integrity of indoors spaces. Paper-thin, crumbling walls have been a constant source of stress and infestation, and residents have long complained over the cheap locks used on interior AND exterior doors, which are prone to breaking easily. Housing in the suburbs of Silent Hill is a lot more impressive, but still too pricey for many of the residents, and in such limited supply that many of the better houses stay in the same family for generations. The strong Church presence in Silent Hill only adds to the woes of first-time buyers.
Medical facilities are equally ill-equipped, making do with machines and amenities that are out-of-date by modern standards and don’t seem to be capable enough to deal with the emergencies faced by a modern hospital, or able to deal with anything as threatening as, for example, third-degree burns. Schools are limited also, and many find that they, like the hospitals, can’t offer the services of many other towns, such as the neighbouring Brahms. Many schools are faith-based initiatives, and set their own standards for curriculum.
The world of Pokemon – The Pokeymans series
Okay, so admittedly we’re not big ‘pet’ people. In our dubious care, dogs tend to get lost. Cats get mangled by cars, fish starve to death and sea monkeys explode. So, having to take care of needy battle monsters isn’t exactly our idea of fun, either. The world of Pokemon, however, seems to be geared solely around this one pursuit, to the detriment of everything else on the planet. Want to go for a walk? You’d better take your strongest fucking beast with you, if you want to survive that. Lose something in the tall grass? It’s gone. Forget it. The world of Pokemon is a lawless one, with a severe wildlife problem. Of course, rather than devote any time to solving this problem, and maybe making the world suitable for human habitation again, the professors of the world seem content just to catalogue these horrible creatures, and make sure to arm children with their own hideously powerful monster slave, to keep them safe. A bit like US gun control laws, really.
Giving children access to massively destructive forces in handy pocket-sized containers isn’t exactly the best idea. Having trouble with a school bully can be bad enough without his pet fucking Geodude helping him work you over in the locker room after classes. The only sure-fire way to keep that from happening would be to get your own. A fighting type. Maybe train him up and make him stronger. But then again, that bully is already having these same thoughts, and a monstrous arms race becomes inevitable. Soon enough everyone on the fucking planet is busy trying to make sure their army of level 100 Raichus patrol tirelessly to keep their garden secure from invaders.
Even as an adult, you’re screwed. Every business on the planet has something to do with Pokemon, and if you’re not one of the many millions of ‘pokemon trainers’ (a strange mix of hunter, pilgrim and itinerant drifter) or have tried and failed to become the ‘very best’ then you’re pretty much fucked. You’ll likely end your days working in a Pokemon breeding centre, fluffing up the ditto and wondering where your life went down the shitter.
Omega – The Mass Effect series
Hives of scum and villainy™ seem to be a staple of sci-fi epics, for some unknown reason. It’s hard to imagine that the most evil bastards of the galaxy would happily allow themselves to be herded into some gigantic floating shithole, where they can be as evil and bastardly as they like in the open, while having to contend with all their evil bastard rivals who want to take their little slice of evil bastardry pie. It seems far better to be an evil bastard in some nice area of the galaxy where people have nice things, and nobody expects it, but then again, we’ve never been inter-galactic crime lords.
Omega is one of these places, and it really doesn’t do itself many favours, either. It’s not difficult to spot, built on the underside of a huge asteroid, but it’s also covered in red strip-lighting, which is space-code for “this place is a fucking dump”. There doesn’t seem to be much on Omega, save a handful of stores, a poorly-placed nightclub and a couple of shit apartments. Despite being so small and pointless compared to any of the other cities in the Mass Effect universe, it seems to be the one that most of the mercenaries want to recruit from, no doubt low on their average quota of screeching homeless Vorcha. Probably due to the fact that these weird space-goblins don’t live long anyway, they seem to have chosen to hang around on the station with the lowest survival rate. Even a stroll along the main street can get you gunned down by any number of the multi-coloured mercenary outfits that infest the place, looking like a gritty remake of the power rangers.
Even if you manage to make it home at the end of a long, hard day of trying not to get killed, the mercenaries don’t stop there. They’re quite happy to come into your living quarters and smear plague all over your stuff, at the behest of their weird, skittering masters’ penchant for building up their human collection. Quite why the collectors would want any of the humans stupid enough to live on Omega is beyond us.
All in all, you’d have a better chance of a decent quality of life trying to build a log cabin on a reaper’s back.
The Strip – Fallout: New Vegas
If the height of high society was to live in a small, dirty section of a city populated entirely by amoral machines, drunken squaddies and jittery prostitutes, then Glasgow would be a very different place. Fortunately, it isn’t. And Fallout: New Vegas’ Strip is even worse, because the world is living in a constant state of nuclear hell after the bona-fide apocalypse, and STILL everyone seems to have it a lot better than you do. The people of Novac live in a motel in the middle of nowhere, waking up to the sight of a rotting plastic dinosaur every day of the lives (without anyone bothering to repaint it, we might add), but at least it’s quiet. The citizens of Goodsprings have to live next to a compound full of sadistic murderers, but at least they have a school, and a water well and a doctor who can fix a nasty case of ‘being shot in the head’.
It’s difficult enough to get to the Strip, and if you haven’t cosied-up hard enough to the thinly-veiled American military metaphor, they won’t let you use their magic train, and you’ll have to trek through West Side, the Strip’s poorer, more desperate little brother. Only after successfully navigating streets full of seedy zombie prostitutes, tetchy drug-addicts and heavily- armed Elvis impersonators are you shaken down by an angry robot and pushed into the Strip proper, which is pretty much the same, but smaller and angrier. Having spent most of the game trying to get there, you are left with a seething sense of disappointment and regret, much like a staunchly-religious believer dying to find out that Heaven looks an awful lot like Sunderland.
There’s precisely one nice-looking casino on the strip, but it’s been closed since forever (except for the one guy), leaving the average citizen the option of gambling at a handful of shit-tier gaming venues with the worst thematic design since ‘old uncle Mengele’s family planning clinic and great American BBQ hut’. The only other options for entertainment are a tour of a bunker just like that one your parents were forced to live in, a mostly-abandoned workshop and a couple of military buildings that you’re probably not patriotic enough to enter. At least if you stay in Primm to gamble to could while away the hours making drunken passes at that cowboy robot thing.
Albion – The Fable series
The world of Albion stands as a rousing testament to just how much the British people loathe themselves, and another example of pesky social commentary. It all started off so nice. Rolling fields and hedgerows were the order of the day, where cheery, rosy-faced blacksmiths would quaff pewter mug-fulls of warm, chunky cider and talk about the indiscretions of their neighbours in thick regional accents. Barring the odd town-razing (which everyone is too polite or too drunk to talk about), it was a peaceful land.
Then, heroes turned up. Oh, sure, it was okay for a while. They’d run about and right wrongs with the rigidly black-and-white moral systems, returning teddy bears to crying children and sometimes commit a cheeky indiscretion in some unfortunate farmer’s chicken coop. Then they became more numerous, more powerful and infinitely more stupid. They’d run around the countryside aiming farts at the poor unfortunate townsfolk, who’d have no option than to clap merrily and act delighted with their idiot antics because they also had a bloody great big sword and could reduce said townsfolk to a small puddle of EXP orbs without breaking stride.
Then, these ‘heroes’ became more prevalent, and the dark days were well and truly upon Albion. They stalked the burgeoning towns, ‘seducing’ the people into bed with claps and games of patty-cake, and the people had no choice but to comply, no matter how many STDs they carried from the last time a hero visited them in their room at night, striking a cool pose and demanding mass-coitus. The heroes bought up every property in the land, and the people had no choice but to accept. Wherever a hero went, artlessly fiddling with a lute or flexing their muscles, the people had no choice but to placate them with gifts.
By the time the industrial revolution had hit Albion, it was too late. The heroes had become kings, and by that time, the people had been reduced to a quivering mass of dull-eyed beast-people who barely noticed when half the populace disappeared to build a gigantic magic phallus, or the other half got eaten by nightmare slime, no doubt too busy trying to avoid the whimsical murder-wrath of a man with an obscenely huge crossbow and an oversized chicken suit who’s come to ‘save the world’.
Gotham City – The Arkham series
Let’s face it. The populace of Gotham city must be of the very strongest breed of dyed-in-the-wool masochist there is. The kind of masochist who views the victims of auto-erotic asphyxiation as ‘just playing around’ and describe medieval torture devices as ‘cosy’. They’d cast a single appraising eye (the other one having been lost in the deathtrap of whatever psychopath was attacking the local Walmart that Sunday afternoon) over the world’s nastiest shitholes and shake their head as much as their neck brace would allow. In a world full to the brim with superheroes, it takes a very specific kind of person to live in the one city where their superhero not only doesn’t have any powers, but is also a borderline mental-case.
The bright side of this decision for citizens of Gotham is that the city doesn’t have to put up with much in the way of tourism. Property prices might also be at an all-time low for new buyers, but there are also going to be those days when you can’t leave the house because a guy dressed like a penguin has threatened to release bird-shaped anthrax bombs live on TV. It’s bad enough living in a real-world city when someone leaves a bag unattended at a bus station, but Gotham’s Finest have to get on edge about everything. Find a brain-teaser, a pair of something, or an exotic flower, and it’s DEFCON-Double–Oh-Shit for everyone in that section of the city. Even if the good guys prevail and avert the weekly massacre of hundreds, the perpetrator would be out the revolving doors of Arkham Asylum quicker than you can say ‘don’t bother with Rorschach tests, because he’s MADE OUT OF CLAY’.
Not to mention those long periods over Christmas where city-wide curfews are in effect because even the goddamn snow has a vendetta against you, the fact that none of the buildings have been renovated since 1921 and the sad realisation that your only hope is a shadowy urban legend that might just as easily break your neck too, depending on who you hear the story from. In all, we wonder why anyone bothers to live in Gotham at all, rather than living on the streets in Metropolis, or Keystone. At least if you get murdered by a supervillain in Metropolis, they’re statistically less likely to be wearing a fucking moth costume.
WASDuk writer Arkworthy once lived next door to a guy who was scared of chemtrails, but it was really just a bunch of neighborhood louts spraying cans of febreeze all over his windows. Arkworthy didn’t say anything because he’d taken out several loan applications in the guy’s name, and didn’t want to get his new segway repossessed.