As you get older, the scope of the world gets more and more vast, but when you're a kid, it's hard to imagine anywhere past your own neighborhood. When you're at the age when you're not allowed to cross the street without parental supervision, even a trip down the block to your friend's house is a treat. Our family didn't travel much, and we lived in a rural area, so we spent most of our time at home. With such limited space to work with, there was only one thing that I could turn to to broaden my tiny world: video games.
I was about four years old when our family got The Illusion of Gaia for the Super NES, and given the text-heavy nature of the game, I was usually relegated to fighting things and looking at pictures in the manual while my magnanimous sister helped me read the dialogue. This was back in the era when the manual to a video game was essentially a mini strategy guide, and The Illusion of Gaia delivered with the location of many of the game's rare Red Jewels and a fold-out map of the game world:
The protagonist, Will, starts his journey on the southwest continent in the town of South Cape. It was a standard first town by RPG standards: pastoral, peaceful, and generally nondescript. After a brief series of events, Will travels to a castle, the castle's dungeon, and a mysterious hidden village, all of which containing a certain charm but still not special to this game. After the village, though, it's just a quick jaunt over to the Inca Ruins.
... Wait, what?
The first major dungeon in the game is a place that actually exists in our own world, although I didn't know it at the time. It took my parents taking note of the places in the game for me to learn that these places actually existed, although they probably took a few creative liberties with the exact geography of the location. Will's world contained locations such as the Egyptian Pyramids,the fabled civilization of Mu, and even The Great Wall of China.
Will's father, who disappeared when Will was very young, was an explorer. Spurred by the legend of a giant comet wiping out all major civilizations every 800 years (such as the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Incas), he and a group of explorers set off to investigate the Tower of Babel, where everyone was wiped out except for Will himself. He starts his journey by following in his father's footsteps, allowing the player to join him on his journey around the world.
As a child, it excited me to no end to know that the places Will was exploring actually existed, could be seen and felt and explored for myself. I started asking questions, learning about these ancient civilizations and fleshing out my own world more and more. Did the Incas really have that much gold? Was the palace of Mu buried under the sea? Was the Great Wall of China really that big? And were ther archers there in the real world as annoying as the ones in the game?
But it wasn't just the fact that there were real world locations to explore in The Illusion of Gaia. They were also interspersed with broad, fantastic spaces that played with your imagination. One of the best of these places is Mt. Temple, a mountain composed entirely of vines, spores, and giant mushrooms.
I was pretty sure that a place like this didn't exist in the real world, but I couldn't help thinking about what it would be like to explore it for myself. If I could explore the giant stone temple in the desert or a tower that reaches to the heavens, who's to say a place like this doesn't exist somewhere in our world? Will was only a little older than I was, and if he could discover these new, fantastic spaces, why couldn't I? It was the juxtaposition of these fictional locales with the true landmarks that made the game truly memorable.
The Illusion of Gaia conforms to many role playing game tropes, but when the young protagonist and his friends explore the world, you also get a small sense of wonder when you realize that, in some small way, you're also exploring your own world. No matter how small your world may seem, there is always a way to reach outside, to learn, to discover, and to grow.