The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’s Hearthfire DLC and Feeling Like Home
I moved a lot growing up–a new house every few years or so. That isn’t a lot by normal standards but I grew up in an area where it seemed like every family had their roots set. My parents never did. My dad is indecisive; they still move fairly often. It always made me feel weird. My friends would grow up fully in one home and they would build memories in said home. The memories of my youth are scattered across various neighborhoods and houses. It is fine, my parents were always pretty well off (well except for a few years after the economic crash of ‘08), but moving around a lot just made me feel unmoored. I was tied to my hometown through friendships and the school system and the local theaters and eateries I visited rather than through a specific house where I grew up. But I grew up and I moved past that. I’ve moved a lot since then—from apartment to apartment, lease to lease, and so on. Yet, I have never felt unmoored in the way that I did growing up. Maybe it is because I know I’ll probably be renting forever and because the realities of homeownership grow more and more unlikely every day. With that being said, that feeling of being torn up by my roots is back. And I know this feeling comes from a place of privilege—I can afford an apartment, my parents are fine and just rent because my dad is weird, but there is still a melancholy stirring within me regarding the fact that memories are often so tied up in the physical structures of homes and apartments.
I am in-between leases right now. One ended recently and the other does not start for a little while. It happens, but now everything I own is fractured between being in storage, being stored at my girlfriend’s parents’ house, and at my parents’ house. We are currently staying with our folks in this in-between time. My parents are still renting in the town I grew up in, so maybe that is why this feeling is back again. It feels weird to be living with them. Instead of returning to my childhood room in some hyper-nostalgic fashion, I am just in a guestroom in a house that is wholly unfamiliar to me. It is a weird feeling. Though I cannot find a sense of home or of roots in any physical structures, I can through familial bonds and, well, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
I’ve been playing Skyrim a bunch as of late (read why, here), as the definitive edition plus mods make for a great experience. And I finally took the dive into the Hearthfire DLC—this DLC is predicated around building a home on one of a few purchasable plots of land throughout Skyrim. My house is on the Lakeview Manor plot of land. Once the land is purchased, you can start building a house and customizing it as you see fit. It is not as freewheeling as, say, Minecraft but the customizability is enough to where the house itself starts to feel personal. And through that feeling, I’ve found what begins to feel like home, albeit in the digital sense. It is a respite I can always return to, it will always be there, and it will always be mine. I’ve never had that in real life so in a game it even feels special. After long bouts of questing, I can return there to sleep, to drop off gear, and to flip through in-game books before I place them on a new bookshelf I’ve built. The decor and feel of my Lakeview Manor feel like an extension of what I enjoy in western fantasy settings—grand dining tables, libraries, candle-lit hallways, and more. There is a comfort to it all. Sitting on one of the porches while the sun sets is an intimate, relaxing experience that you don’t often see in AAA games. Hearthfire gives players space and time to make something their own and to take in what is around their home. The forests and bodies of water around my Lakeview Manor have become as familiar as my daily jogging routes. The grounding nature of home extends beyond the windows and walls and doors of the house itself.
Hearthfire is a quaint little experience, but it feels grand. It hints at what planting one’s roots might feel like. Will I ever have that in reality? No, probably not. It is something I will always yearn for, in all honesty, as a home that is unchanging for long swathes of time sounds like something genuinely comfortable (and wholly unattainable) in comparison to the lease-after-lease experience that has been my homelife since I was born. My parents could own a house but they don’t. I cannot own a house and I probably never will. Skyrim’s Hearthfire DLC isn’t home but it sure feels like it.