With the launch of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 (MSFS) you can experience the planet like never before, but what does it say about humanity, that the first thing most people do is take-off and fly directly to their house?
I say most of us. Apparently our Social Media Manager, James, said the first thing he did was fly straight up and then smash the plane into the control tower at high speed. We’ve already signed him up for counseling.
James, pulling a "Launchpad McQuack" into his house.
The literal entire world is at your fingertips. Fly to the Eiffel Tower, The Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall… or fly to the one place you could see simply by stepping outside. Yes, I believe most players will fly to the major landmarks, but before we do so, almost every player will stop by their local abode. Why? What drives us to make such a ridiculous pit-stop?
Paris at night from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
I’ve been kicking this notion around in my head since the launch of MSFS. Looked at objectively, it’s a pretty weird thing to do. While I am not a psychologist, I am a game designer, and part of game design is understanding human behavior. Using this background I have 3 theories why most of us (excluding James) exhibit the behavior of home-seeking. I don’t rule out the possibility of other reasons, and I believe that it is some mix of these 3 and other smaller factors as opposed to a more black and white “This is why we do this.”
First, what I believe is the most positive attribute. Sense of place. In order to understand our place in the world we have to “start” somewhere. What better place than your own home? This starting point also gives us a sense of perspective from which we are about to see the world. I don’t know how big the pyramids are. I can look it up, sure, but I can’t visualize their size in comparison to my house; or at least, not without stopping by my house first and then flying to Egypt. Our home is our place in the world, against which all else will be measured and compared.
Pyramids & Sphinx left, my house right, which is more impressive?
Next, is about fear. Sense of scope. I can’t help but think of Voyager 1’s photo, The Pale Blue Dot. How do we connect ourselves to such an image? There I am, in that photo, and assuming you were born before 1990, you are in that photo too. If you think too hard about it, you really get a sense of how meaningless you are in the vastness of space. Flying in an aircraft, without realizing it, may evoke that same feeling. To see the world from that distance is psychologically unsettling. However, unlike a space probe 6 billion KM away, MSFS gives us a distance where we can still connect to something. From our home we can begin our journey to far away places while always being able to call upon the anchor point of where we began. We are not adrift in a vast landscape when we have a port to return to.
You Are Here.
Finally, a very human condition: Vanity. While John Donne may have said “No man is an island,” it was Rousseau who said, “I think therefore I am.” Or to put it another way: While we are connected to everything in this world, we are the center of our story. If we are the center of our universe, then of course the most important point of the universe is ourselves. In short, my house is more interesting to me than the Eiffel tower ever could be. All the other points of interest, be they neighbors or landmarks, are secondary to our own.
I believe these are the three primary reasons we stop by our own neighborhood before setting our sights on distant lands. As the great philosopher Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”