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Years ago, on one of the online games I staffed, I decided to offer every player a room of their own. They could decorate it or not, do as they pleased with it, even reject it. To my delight, this decision turned out to be a very popular one. Ever since then, I’ve looked at player housing as an important way to help players connect with games.

That (new) eternal delight: showing off your room

Any time my family visited another family, I could count on the other family’s kids asking if I wanted to see their room. Always. And I always did. As I grew up, I noticed kids making this offer to adults, too, not only other kids. In my brief foray into babysitting, I knew I could make friends by asking a child if they wanted to show me their room. They always took this suggestion with delight.

We even saw the question show up in 1991, in the second Terminator movie. There, John Conner gets a younger child out of a scary(-er) situation by asking to see his room.

YouTube video
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). It’s at 1:35 in this clip, if it doesn’t timestamp correctly.

Despite how ubiquitous this offer is, psychologists don’t seem to address it much. One virtual-therapy site understands the value of the question, but only in the context of establishing trust with a child. Other child-psychology sites address the importance of allowing children to decorate their rooms as they wish. One psychologist even suggests that all children would benefit from having their own little playhouses. But these professionals say little about the clear joy children feel while setting up their rooms and then showing off their creativity.

The funny thing is, nobody, least of all children, got their own bedrooms until relatively recently in human history. One BBC writer tells us that personal bedrooms arose around the 17th century. That sounds about right. I’ve seen pictures of high-end Renaissance-era homes that include sleeping chambers, but these weren’t particularly private. Back then, homes were built like a shotgun house. Everyone else simply put their beds in their one and only room. Sometimes, that bed was the only piece of real furniture in a poor family’s home.

In many parts of the world, children still can’t always expect such a luxury. But when they get it, they seem to love it and all that it represents.

A revolution in MUD code

For years, I staffed and played text-only games called MUDs (Multi-User Dungeon/Domain). MUDs are like a text-only MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game, or MMO; World of Warcraft, or WoW, is one example of the type). MUDs are still around, though they’ve largely been supplanted by MMOs.

It was a very big deal in the MUD-o-sphere many years ago when coders figured out how to make persistent rooms that “remembered” everything picked up and taken away, then maintained that state through a reboot.

One of the first applications of this code was shop storerooms. Players could own shops in these games, then stock their storerooms with whatever they wanted to sell. It used to make me so happy to see people checking their storerooms, keeping up with inventory, and deciding what they wanted to stock.

But very quickly, game admins realized that they could use this code to give players their own digital homes on a MUD.

At first, most MUDs’ admins only wanted to give persistent rooms to the highest-level players and the biggest in-game guilds/clans/groups/families/etc. They were a royal hassle to set up, with keys and locks to code, guards to set up, and all that jazz. So everyone else had to pretend to have homes, or else just see themselves as lacking homes at all.

Player housing in a text-only world

I kept thinking about how much players with homes enjoyed them. One guy was collecting any player-written diaries and books he could find in the game, then stuffing them into his mansion’s library. (And one of my old characters’ diaries was there!) Another had this austere military-officer’s estate, but his bedroom was a luxurious, hedonistic swirl of silk and velvet. Every person who had a home in the game really liked having it and fixing it up in whatever way they wanted.

I thought it might be fun to give every player who wanted it their own room.

That sent me into a flurry of building. I set up about a dozen inn rooms with keys, then made some simple lower- and middle-class homes around the main town. And then, I charged almost nothing for their rent.

The result: anyone who wanted a basic inn room could easily get one. People who wanted actual houses could get one for not much more.

Interestingly, this decision also led to a huge rise in crafting and mercantile characters. I wrote thousands of crafts to allow people to make stuff, cook food, and live as realistically as possible in their homes.

At the same time, hunters began making bank escorting clients to faraway towns to get special furnishings and ingredients. People threw parties in their homes. They hired other people’s characters to be servants, chefs, artists, bodyguards, you name it. And they spent many hours getting every single thing in their homes just right.

There’s a lesson to be learned here for conservatives, no doubt.

Nothing has changed since then, either

Sylvanrain: imagine building a custom home where I can rest my weary head.

Beaupeep: No. You’ll be a murder hobo and you’ll like it.

Spotted at the official World of Warcraft forum, August 2021. WoW still doesn’t have player housing.

Eventually, text-only games gave way to the graphics extravaganza of MMORPGs, like World of Warcraft and Everquest.

For years, I didn’t touch MMOs. They reminded me too powerfully of the oldest MUDs—complete with all those earliest forerunners’ flaws. It had taken MUD coders many years to iron out those flaws, and MMOs seemed like they had resurrected all of them.

Nonetheless, a new generation of gamers flocked to these games.

And they discovered anew the sheer joy of player housing.

The evolution of player housing

Fifteen years ago, gaming sites were already discussing player housing as an important part of the growing MMO gaming market. In 2007, one site noted:

In today’s MMORPGs player housing is a very important aspect. There is no doubt that players enjoy having their own personal space and area to “live in” with their character. . .

Bottomline, player housing is fast becoming an important aspect of the MMORPG community. It is a way for you to customize your existence within that community. There is a reason why sites such as MySpace and Facebook are so popular, and one of those reasons is the ability to make your profile your own. A place you can call your virtual home. These things are not fads. . .

Lorehound

Meanwhile, last year a new MMO, New World, discussed why they’d decided to have player housing:

We wanted a place for players to call home. Somewhere they could personalise and have it seen by their friends and neighbours. It also had great gameplay synergy with other systems like crafting, fishing, and exploring. You can see someone’s tastes and their journey displayed in their house.

Mike Willette to PC Games

It’s true, too.

Whether it’s EverQuest (EQ), Conan: Exiles, or games that specifically focus on building homes and living in them, like the long-running Sims franchise, a lot of people just love to make homes and decorate them.

When the endgame is player housing

The MMO I like, Elder Scrolls Online (ESO), wisely gives players a free home of their own, and then makes additional small inn rooms very inexpensive to acquire. Larger homes cost more, of course. Their biggest, fanciest homes require loads of currency called crowns, which can purchased with real-world money. But most people are satisfied with the homes that don’t require real-money outlay.

When I began playing ESO, I often heard people chatting ingame about the endgame being all about player housing. In any game, the endgame is what happens as a player maxes out their character’s stats and skills, finishes all the quests, gets all the prettiest gear, and does all the things. At that point, they start tackling the highest-end challenges of the game.

(That 12-person trial I mentioned recently is one such challenge. And it has a hard mode that I haven’t even tried to do yet.)

So to hear that the endgame in ESO involved player housing made me incredibly happy.

And they were right.

Making a house into a home

In fact, I recently decorated a digital home.

We start, of course, with a sad and empty little inn room.

Sad! Empty! But not for long.

After getting a feel for the size of the room, I head off to one of my other houses, where I keep my crafting benches, to make furniture and decorations for it.

It’s always so hard to decide on exactly the right thing.

Thus fortified, our brave explorer ventures forth to make that house a home.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that…

The horn was surprisingly hard to get placed just right.

And a smidgen of some other stuff…

I’m just glad I don’t have to worry about all those open flames.

Of course, we need some knick-knacks. Get that space personalized! And finally, a nice area rug. I think it really ties the room together, don’t you?

Nobody better steal that rug.
I could have put a cat in here too, but my suspension of disbelief would have disintegrated upon noticing that the little ship on the bureau was still in one piece.

With that, I reckon we’re ready for company! Just not, like, a lot of company.

Very quickly, one hits the game’s limit on how much can be physically stuffed into one home. In this case, I think ESO caps you at 30 objects for these little bitty rooms. So decorators quickly learn to achieve the effects they want as frugally as they can. Even when the cap is much larger, I seem to slam up against it all too quickly.

If you think this kind of homebuilding is for you, here’s a list of MMOs that do housing well. They left out Conan: Exiles, which lets you do things that downright boggle the mind, but overall it’s a decent list.

By the way, while I was making my furniture, a friend of mine noticed where I was. He asked if he could drop by to see what I’d done with the place. And just like that, I found myself giving him a tour.

After all, what’s the point of making a nicely-decorated home if you’re the only one who’ll ever see it?

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...