On The Small Thrill Of Seeing Your Home In A Video Game
When I finally got around to watching 2004's Shaun of the Dead, once it had been released on DVD a year or so later, I was well aware of what to expect. Jokes, blood, some slapstick stuff, more blood, and so on. What I wasn't expecting, however, was to see my house in it.
At the time, I was living in Crouch End, north London. I knew that Spaced - the sitcom that Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright and actors and writers Jessica Hynes, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost had really made their names with - was filmed not so far from where I'd laid my proverbial hat. Its external shots, anyway - the house that features in the show is in Kentish Town, and the gang went on adventures around Camden, too.
I knew, too, that Shaun of the Dead was set in London - north London, specifically. But north London's a big place, so I was surprised, indeed, when I saw that Shaun's house - which he shared with Frost's Ed and Peter Serafinowicz's Pete - was diagonally opposite my own. I could step out of my front door and see it, right there. Both of our addresses were Nelson Road, N8.
And the shop that Shaun goes to, where he first spies the stories of chaos and horror on the day's newspapers: that was my local shop, just a few doors down. It didn't actually sell newspapers, BTW - that, much like the whole zombie apocalypse situation, was made-up for the film.
But this isn't a movie page, Michael. So, moving on... More recently, I've had the somewhat rare thrill of seeing my home in a video game. Well, not my house, exactly, but my current hometown of Brighton. 2010's Blur remains a terrific racing experience on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It features Mario Kart-style power-ups and combat but uses licensed cars, and includes tracks set around the world. It takes the player to Barcelona, Los Angeles, Tokyo, the Californian ghost town of Amboy... and Brighton's seafront.
Watch Blur Brighton gameplay on YouTube, or via the video embed below (embed may not display on some devices)
Developed by the now-defunct Bizarre Creations - the Liverpool studio was acquired by Activision in 2007 and closed in 2011 - Blur takes a fair few creative liberties with the layout of Brighton, in order to pit vehicles against each other across a series of exciting events. It spins drivers around on themselves, taking them off Kings Road - the strip right by the sea - and down onto the beach itself, hurtling beneath the (very much open) Palace Pier and past the (disastrously burned-down) West Pier. Please, do not try this in real life. You will drown.
But while this definitely isn't an accurate depiction of Brighton, there are landmarks enough for locals to feel at home. There are the piers, of course, but also a version of the Brighton Centre venue, and the cinema/nightclub complex beside it. The building that is currently The Harbour Hotel is visible (assuming you don't blink), likewise another stay-the-night building a little further down the promenade, the Queens Hotel, with a way through to The Lanes running away to its left. A takeaway on the corner of Ship Street retains its blue sign, but is rebranded from a fish and chips place to 'Brighton Kebabs'. The lampposts and the railings, the seaside shelters and the bollards: if you know Brighton, it all feels real enough.
Blur's London levels are obviously London, too - but they're not set in a part of town that I've ever known too well, namely Hackney, so they never connected with me like the Brighton stages did. When I play Blur today - which I still do, from time to time, despite its lack of 360-to-XBO backwards compatibility - it's the Brighton races I look forward to. Tearing down roads I travel on a weekly basis, but at speeds that would get me locked up if I attempted them in real life (TBH, I'm not sure my knackered old A3 could hack it, anyway).
If you're a resident of New York, Los Angeles, Paris, San Francisco - and I guess London, but we've not seen its 21st century guise for a while now (hello, Watch Dogs: Legion) - you're well served by games set in your home city. But it's great to see less-obvious urban areas (or even parts of the countryside) represented in video games.
Resistance: Fall of Man visited Manchester, Grimsby and Bristol across its campaign. Pokémon Sword and Shield's Circhester is, by all accounts, based on the Somerset city of Bath. Forza Horizon 4 took illegal street racing to Edinburgh. And I found Winchester's Royal Oak pub, the city's oldest boozer (dating back to 1002) and a place I've called into many times over the past 20 years, in the indie game Fragments of Him. When my character sat down at a table, I was right there in the moment, too. It was weird but wonderful, and immediately had me hankering for a pint.
It doesn't happen often, but seeing something of your own world, your own life, in a video game always gives me a little thrill. And what about you? Have you played a video game recently, or in the distant past of previous hardware generations, and 'seen yourself' in it? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
Featured Image Credit: Ubisoft