As video game worlds grew more open, more diverse, and more intricately woven throughout the years, my Level 1 tiny child self grew increasingly wistful to see his hometown represented in a game one day. It’s always so fascinating to see how developers do it. Which street corners do they bend, and which landmarks make the cut? Can I climb it? Can I climb it and jump off it? Can I climb it and jump off it and then try the whole thing again but without a parachute?But Dhaka, Bangladesh isn’t exactly a top priority choice for the next Assassin’s Creed title, and nor, quite frankly, should it be (at least just yet). But then I came to college, upwards of Level 18 with arguably improved exploration abilities. I found myself in Boston, a city that has popped up in gaming a fair number of times, and I found myself scouring those maps again and venturing out on the MBTA, trying to match the city I’d played to the city that I would soon call home. I wanted to know what gaming had had to say about Boston, and what Boston had to say about gaming.
Developers: Naughty Dog, Directed by Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley
The Last of Us remains my personal Game of the Year 2013 for a variety of reasons. Protagonists Joel and Ellie’s grueling journey through a post-apocalyptic America is a hauntingly beautiful one, and still feels like one of the most honest representations of character and growth I have ever seen in media. And so, while it hosts the smallest portion of Boston out of the three games I’ll be covering, it was also the one I looked most forward to recreating.
The financial district, a ruined wasteland in the game with a criminal-infested port, was far more mellow in real life (thank God). But a lot of its features were also heavily underrepresented: the real thing has more than its fair share of interesting buildings, with curious curios put up on display. Interestingly, while these shops are closed down or nowhere to be seen in-game, Joel can find more than his fair share of odd knickknacks lying around the financial district.
Next comes the city’s Federal Reserve building, which is mocked both in-game and out for being a pretty ugly thing. It’s pretty much built to scale in-game and looks just as huge and overpowering, but plot twist: it’s full of zombies!
Actually, maybe not a plot twist. I can’t imagine that’s all that different from what actually goes on in there.
We finish with the Massachusetts State House, one of Boston’s most iconic landmarks and a major turning point in the game’s story. The game’s recreation matches original architect Charles Bulfinch’s work to an alarming degree.
Fun fact: In-game, the Charles River (contrary to popular belief, not architected by Bulfinch) has flooded the front steps leading up to the main entrance. And washed away on the steps are several of Boston’s own iconic swan boats!
From the State House, Joel and Ellie run from a group of hunters straight down to a flooded, closed down Park Street station. Yup, that Park Street Station. We’ve all gone down there at some point, and while its layout is vastly differently in the game, Naughty Dog nailed down the designs of the walls, the floors, and general atmosphere pat. Bonus points for that one, you naughty… er. Dogs.
To be continued in Part Two.
Featured photo credit: Aaraf Afzal/Sifana Sohail.