Somewhat recently, I went on a cross-country road trip.

Starting from New England, I went across the top of the country, down the West Coast, skirted through the lower half of the country, before finally ending up in Florida, where I shot back up the coast to my home. It was an experience, one that I think will probably affect every part of my life going forward. One of those things that was affected was how I enjoy videogames.

I can safely say that in the past, the idea of a game having realistic depictions of locations didn’t matter very much to me. That was just window dressing for the rest of the game and another buzzword that could be thrown around to make the product seem more substantial. However, going through my trip, I couldn’t help but notice some things. I would look around at all these different places I was visiting and a videogame would end up popping into my head. I saw Breath of the Wild in the rolling, huge plains of Montana. I saw Red Dead Redemption in the arid deserts of Southern California. When I had these thoughts, it got me thinking how these locations had so much of an impact on me because I had already been experiencing them through my games. Once I got back, I had a new-found interest in games with real-life locations. I wanted to try and see some of these places once again. Maybe one day I will get back over to them. But for the time being, these will more than satisfy my wanderlust.

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Grand Theft Auto 5 - Los Angeles

I loved my time in California. The desert mixed in with all of the city life fascinated me. This is captured perfectly in GTA 5. Los Santos and the countryside all around it make for an incredibly compelling place to explore. The roads are perfectly placed, with lots of slopes to drive up and miles of interstates to speed down, yet with (thankfully) much less traffic than the real deal. Even walking down the sidewalk feels authentic with a decent variety of buildings and attractions lining your way. The big landmarks are present here, like the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Santa Monica beach. The details given to these locations is pretty wonderful, even remembering to put those little bike highways around the beach just like in real life. Los Angeles has been represented in many games before like Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland and Battlefield Hardline. But where those games took the iconic things about Los Angeles and blew them up, GTA 5 took its time focusing on the little details as well. It shows and it helps build a much more immersive world.

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Watch Dogs - Chicago

A lot of open-world games have great representations of real-life locations, it turns out. Despite the issues with the game overall, one thing that can not be taken away from it is the depiction of Chicago. Walking around Chicago in this game is spot-on down to the amount of graffiti and the placement of the foliage. The different apartments areas all having unique landscaping and different gates was accounted for as well. Chicago is so much more of an enclosed-urban environment than GTA5's Los Santos was and that gives Watch Dogs its own identity, at least as far as location is concerned. When I stayed in Chicago, I bunked at a hostel in the Park West area next to Diversey Harbor. Driving through the city and walking around that area to find some food left some impressions and those memories were definitely stirred when I revisited Chicago in-game. I’m glad that the traffic wasn’t recreated accurately though. Even though Atlanta, Georgia was the worst traffic I encountered, Chicago was a close second.

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Infamous: Second Son - Seattle

Washington in general was a beautiful place to visit. I spent the longest time I had in any state once I got there and I enjoyed myself immensely. But once I got to Seattle by the bay, I was very impressed with what I saw. The many parks strewn about, the tons of pedestrians (who oftentimes treated the crosswalks as more of a suggestion than anything), the S.L.U.T. zipping back and forth. This was one of my favorite places I visited on my trip and I really enjoyed going back through it again in Infamous. Infamous nails a lot of the feel of Seattle. The more intimate surroundings of Seattle, with buildings close together and coffee shops everywhere is here and accounted for. The modernist architecture and blocky design is recreated beautifully. And of course, there are trams are constantly going throughout the city.

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These are just a few of the locations I wanted to revisit through my games. I hear that Watch Dogs 2 is set in San Francisco and since that was my absolute favorite place I visited, it’s made that game a lot more appealing. Games can oftentimes be a way to escape our lives and pretend we’re somewhere else, doing something else, and happy with our lives. They can be a dangerous escape. But games can also be used in another way. They can be used as a goal. Discovering these places or ones that are similar through videogames, they can give us something to strive for. Why settle for the game? Why not go there yourself? Feeling that spark of inspiration when you see a truly beautiful location in a game, you can use that as drive to work and go and experience that for yourself. Life can be beautiful. And so can games. When the two of them can work together and benefit a person, that’s when they’re most effective.