by NorseGamer, HSM Editor-in-Chief
At this point, PlayStation Home has been a major part of my life for three years. It is a testament to this virtual society that it still manages to hold such fascination for me after this much time; and, this being a Home-centric publication, it’s a fairly safe bet that if you’re reading this, Home means quite a lot to you as well. So this, then, isn’t really a traditional article; it’s a more personal reflection on why I’m thankful for Home.
I. The friendships.
You are 26 years old. You work for one of the largest, most prestigious hoteliers in the world. When you show up to work, you are responsible for two full-service resorts and a $72,000,000 budget. Your boss is brand new to the position, making you the de facto project director. You also have two brand-new managers to train. You also have half a dozen new sales executives, whom you have interviewed and hired, to train. You also have three-dozen sales executives to motivate every morning. You must negotiate and close multiple transactions per day, ensuring that all legal documentation is properly executed. Your region, comprised of four resorts (of which you control two), is responsible for one-third of your entire company’s net profit — you are under a microscope inside a pressure cooker, because corporate headquarters has just realized that it has a bloody kid calling the shots, and thus scrutinizes every daily report you file, every e-mail you send, every strategic decision you make. And thus, as the end of the month approaches and you prepare for your BUVAR (BUdget VARiance) meeting with the regional vice president, people can’t believe what they’re seeing–
–Because you have, with only six months of experience in your new position, cajoled and pushed and motivated and gotten your team to 116% of budget, at a full four percentage points under your budgeted cost.
Your team has crushed regional performance records that haven’t been touched since the heyday of the dot-com boom. And as the months go on, you and your team keep doing it, over and over again.
It is the high-water mark of your career.
But it comes at a price. After several years of continuous service, you are working six days per week, thirteen hours per day, in an industry where the burnout rate is so high that the average career length is only 18 months. The son of Depression-era parents, you’ve always been a workaholic — but you have a young wife at home, and you have no time for her. This will eventually cost you your marriage, just as your workaholic drive to have two college degrees by 21 (and no college debt) cost you your first engagement. You have every toy you’ve ever wanted, but you have utterly no time to enjoy them. You live on a beautiful tropical island, but you don’t enjoy the scenery. And as the economy implodes and your industry grinds to a standstill — your company taking a write-down of three-quarters of a billion dollars and spinning your division off into its own separate entity — all of your accomplishments are for naught, because “cost containment” eventually means that even you are laid off, long after all your friends who are further up the food chain have already been cut. Even though you land on your feet, it is an experience that you don’t forget.
Then people start dying. One of your top mentors dies. Another slips into a drug-induced implosion. Your grandmother, who was instrumental in raising you because your workaholic parents were rarely home, eventually dies. And finally your cat, whom you love like a daughter, who has given you nothing but love and only wants a little bit of your time (and you’ve never had time for her), dies in your arms, blind and wracked with seizures, after you have desperately spent thousands of dollars to keep her alive.
You wake up, surrounded by four walls and a thousand mementos to your relentless pursuit of what you’ve been programmed to believe is the American Dream — and you are completely alone. You worked in an industry that drained your soul, surrounded by people more than twice your age with whom you had nothing in common, because there is nothing so important as the almighty dollar.
And that’s when you realize: maybe there’s more to life than this.
This publication contends that you have to be “damaged” in some way to truly understand the appeal of Home. Certainly, in my case, Home gave me something I haven’t had since grammar school: the simple joy of spending time with friends. As my industry crumbled around me, one friend after another either getting laid off or simply quitting, Home provided a wonderful bit of escapism.
You might think, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to join a tennis club or a bowling league or just go to a bar or something?”
Right. Because that’s exactly what I want to do after spending more than half a day playing mental chess with clients, employees and vendors. And let’s not forget that I’m a Silicon Valley yuppie (and an inveterate video gamer); there aren’t that many people like me on an outer island in Polynesia, whom I would have sufficient common ground to share a conversation with. Meanwhile, in Home, I can chill in my living room and go in search of fun conversations without taking on another real-world obligation.
The beauty of Home is that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve been or what cross you bear; you can still experience the simple joy of socializing with other people.
I discovered Home at a time when my professional world was falling apart around me — as it was for a lot of people back then — and it gave me something I’d never had as an adult: a social life. Now that I’m in my thirties, I find I rather like having that in my life. I’m thankful to Home for giving this to me.
II. The creative expression.
Home got me writing again.
Look, we all have our passions. One of my degrees is in English, with a specialization in creative writing. But when you spend a decade in resort development, you’re not doing a whole lot of creative writing, unless you count PR copy and marketing e-blasts. Now, in one respect, this isn’t a bad thing; I’m one of sea of brown-haired suburban geeks with creative tendencies, and while they all swim in that sea of sameness, I can legitimately lay claim to a background in cold, hard business management that very few people my age can touch.
That said, though…it’s nice to write something other than a budget analysis or a behavioral economics report.
Aside from having a passion for video games, Home excites me because it’s a new form of entertainment: a virtual-reality environment allowing users to socially network and game together. Though I disagree with some of the strategic decisions Sony has made with it, there really isn’t any template for this sort of thing — and no, Second Life doesn’t count — which is why Sony deserves the benefit of the doubt for stretching Home far beyond what it was originally designed to do.
Any major endeavor attracts people who want to write about it — particularly in this internet blog era we live in. The opportunity that was obvious two years ago was that there was pent-up demand for mature and literate long-form literary journalism coverage of Home as a virtual society; and despite the headaches and work hours, and even the petty squabbles that occasionally take place in the somewhat incestuous Home media scene, there is something absolutely wonderful in the creative expression of writing about something fun like video gaming, and building a platform which allows other people to discover their creative voices. Now that we’re up to 15,000 unique visitors per month (and still climbing), it feels like it’s coming into its own.
One of HomeStation’s editors, BONZO, recently noted that he’d written more than one-hundred articles about Home since he started. In terms of word count, that’s a couple of novels’ worth of material. But when you’re writing about something you’re passionate about — something you’re emotionally engaged in — you don’t even notice it. And after a decade of writing nothing but business analysis (which is also fun, albeit in a different way), I’m thankful for Home because it kickstarted my own creative writing again.
III. The opportunities.
If you’re a suburban child of the ‘eighties — particularly if you grew up in the Bay Area, as I did — you more or less live and breathe video games. And who amongst us hasn’t idly fantasized about being a part of the process itself?
It has been, frankly, thrilling to privately interact with — and indeed meet — a lot of the developers involved with Home. You’ve probably read about the escapades Cubehouse and I went on during this year’s E3, and all I can say is that it was even more fun than what you saw and read. Hanging out and partying with SCEA, Lockwood, LOOT, Hellfire, Heavy Water, Game Mechanics, Urgent Fury…yeah. It’s legitimately fun. And then getting to help out Sony VASG at their offices to enhance a Home game? Frak yeah.
If you’re a Home fan, there’s very little that’s as gratifying as seeing something you privately suggested show up in Home itself, knowing that a whole lot of people are going to enjoy it.
Now, yes, the video game industry has its share of challenges, as any industry does. But if you’re a gaming enthusiast, you can’t help but be envious of the people who make a living at it. I’m grateful to Home — and HSM — for the opportunities I’ve had to work with some of these people.
IV. The love of my life.
I will be the first person to stand up and say that you should not go into Home — or any other virtual reality environment — looking for romance. It’s a bad idea. Online environments are littered with the horror stories of broken hearts, and Home is no exception to this. If you’re in Home because you’re looking for love, you are playing a dangerous game with your own emotional well-being, and I hate to see people go through that.
It’s a somewhat different matter, though, if you happen to discover someone in Home whom you develop feelings for. I know that may sound like splitting hairs, but it isn’t. It’s a matter of motive, and the few successful love stories I’ve seen come out of Home are ones which developed unintentionally.
My own story is no exception to this. I’ve been in online environments since the early ‘nineties, and thus the last thing on my mind was any sort of desire to find someone in Home. So you can imagine my surprise when I met someone who turned out to be the love of my life.
At this point, she and I have known each other for more than two years. Though we live nearly six-thousand miles apart, we’ve met each other in person more than once, and we are both quite certain that we have the sort of connection that poets write sonnets about and disillusioned people dismiss as a hopeless ideal.
Were it not for Home, she and I would never have met. And my life would be incalculably emptier.
For this alone, I am thankful for Home. And for all else Home has provided — opportunity, creative expression, and the joy of friends — I am thankful as well. Long after Home itself is gone, the echoes we left upon each other will continue to resonate. While conventional video games can be wonderful experiences, Home has the unique ability to serve as an environment in which entire lives are irrevocably changed. It is a remarkable experience to be a part of — an experience whose final chapter has yet to be written.
And for that as well, I am thankful.