July 10th, 2006

Home Is Where The Hearth Is

The World of Warcraft is a big place. There are two large continent-type islands that are broken up into smaller state-like areas, and it can take a long time to get from one area to another. While there are “flight paths” from some areas to other areas, you have to actually walk to that endpoint before you can then fly to it from previously-known flight paths. Even so, some hippogriff flights can take 10+ minutes. Of course, walking the same path might take hours, so it’s definitely an improvement.

Everyone in gameworld also starts the game with a hearthstone that allows for a quick transportation “home.” Some of the state-like areas are large enough that running back to the main town in that area can take 10-15 minutes, and that’s not even including the possibility of getting killed on the trip. As a player progresses through the game and gets to higher-level areas, the hearthstone can be set to these new areas – specifically, players can ask the innkeepers in a town to set their hearthstone to return them to that inn. Then, wherever the player is in the entire world, when they activate their hearthstone (this process is called “hearthing”), they will be transported to whatever inn is currently set as their “home.”

Out here “in real life,” the concept of “home” means different things to different people. The first thought people tend to have is the actual physical house or apartment they live in: “I’m headed home” from a party or from work or from anywhere else. This physical location changes as we grow up and move out of our parents’ house, out of our dorm rooms, out of our first cheap apartment, and so on. We refer to each new place as “home.”

“Home” is also a feeling, though. Feeling “at home” is different than being at home. “At home” is more about being comfortable, about fitting in. Think about the times you’ve felt “at home” when you were nowhere near where you lived – you felt like you “belonged,” didn’t you? Whether there was someone who was going out of their way to make you feel that way or it was just that you didn’t feel excluded or extra, there was something about the situation rather than the location.

Billy Joel said it this way in his song “You’re My Home”:

Whenever we’re together, that’s my home

Home can be the Pennsylvania Turnpike
Indiana’s early morning dew
High up in the hills of California
Home is just another word for you

Granted, he’s more specifically talking to someone he’s in love with, but the concepts are the same: we’re most at home with people we’re comfortable with. In World of Warcraft, if you’re in an inn, you become “rested,” and when you leave it, you’re a more effective warrior/hunter/whatever until your rested state has worn off. “Home” is like that out here, too: we get recharged enough at home to go out and do our jobs and whatever else it is that we need to do. If we don’t have that “home,” we wear out and everything gets harder to do.

You’ve heard the phrase “You can’t go home again”? Obviously you can return to the place where you grew up. I think the phrase is actually talking about the expectations and feelings associated with growing up. The main point of growing up is to get you where you can function on your own out in “the world.” The nurturing and correction are unique to the growing up experience, and they engender a specific set of feelings and memories. Once you’ve left that environment, you’ve also left those feelings. When you return home and visit your school or your church or friends from “back then,” you have memories that guide your expectations of how things will be, and they’re having the same sorts of thoughts – you’re still that kid who threw a banana peel out the bus window and had eraser fights in the church basement. You know that you’re not, but the memory baggage is too much. You can’t go home again, indeed, but I think we spend the rest of our lives looking for the adult equivalent.

When someone tells me to “make myself at home,” I’m rarely able to do so. I’m sure they mean “act as though you were in your own living space,” but I’ve got too much else attached to the concept of “home” to be able to relax enough to do it.

I leave you with a few quotes about home:

A man’s homeland is wherever he prospers. -Aristophanes

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.
-John Howard Payne

My home is not a place, it is people. -Lois McMaster Bujold

One Comment on “Home Is Where The Hearth Is”

  1. HorizonPurple says:

    I remember being sad as a child about a thought raised in "Homecoming" (the book). Four children are abandoned by their mother and because they don't know what else to do, they set off to walk to their Aunt's house. One night they sleep in a cemetary and one of them notices a gravestone that reads "Home is the hunter, home fromt he hunt. Home is the sailor, home from the sea". From this she decided that no where is home until you are dead.

    I am glad that this is not true.

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