Whether you're making a game, a film, a novel or a TV show, it's often a good idea to set your story in a fictional place. There's no need to tie yourself to geographical or cultural accuracy that way, and absolutely zero chance of being sued for defamation when you reveal that your setting is a secret haven for tentacle-worshipping apocalypse botherers.
But it doesn't always work out. Sometimes a creator thinks they've invented a place name, only to find out that a really real version exists in the real world. Not only does this make their setting mildly less fictional than first thought, but it means that the real location is then forever tainted with the aura of its (probably better-known) made-up twin. We've spent this week looking for video game examples of the phenomenon, and hit Google Maps' Street View for a few up-close-and-personal comparisons. Images may have been augmented slightly.
The game version is found: In Dead Island. Though it's officially called Banoi, which actually makes the real version slightly more authentic than the video game iteration.
The real version is found: In a large inland water-mass in Ontario, Canada. It's separated from the mainland by the imaginatively monickered Dead Island Channel, and is neighboured to the east by the invitingly named Lash Island and Pratt Island. If a real zombie apocalypse is going to break out anywhere, it's probably going to be around here.
The game version is found: Deadly Premonition. It’s a quirky, isolated, Pacific Northwest logging town, shamelessly and lovingly based upon Twin Peaks.
The real version is found: On the North Shore of Long Island, New York. It’s a hamlet with a population of only around one thousand. It has no documented history of axe-murders. Though until 1866 it was known as Cedar Swamp, which sounds very much like a stock horror film name, so who knows what’s gone on there?
The game version is found: In the Gears of War series. It’s the last bastion of safe-living for humanity, being a large plateau of solid rock too dense for the Locust to drill through. Inevitably, it gets wasted anyway, when humanity sinks it into the sea in Gears of War 2. A typically good job of saving the world there from the COG.
The real version is found: There are actually a few variants around the world, but the one we’re concentrating on is a small city in Harris County, southeast Texas. Starting as a home for shipyard workers and the staff of nearby steel mills in 1941, it became a city in its own right in 1947. We haven’t found anything else particularly interesting about it, though there was a quite unpleasant-sounding kidnapping/imprisonment/murder in 1998. Oh, and “Jacinto” is Spanish and Portuguese for “Hyacinth”.
The game version is found: In the Grand Theft Auto series. It’s GTA’s analogue for New York, and is really quite hilariously unpleasant.
The real version is found: In Florida. Liberty City is the local (and sometimes official) name for a Miami neighbourhood otherwise known as Model City. The neighbourhood was built in 1933, as the first housing project in the American South. Muhammad Ali used to live there, as did Mickey Rourke.
The game version is found: Repeatedly in the Monkey Island series of adventure games. It's a den of villainy and cartoon pirate silliness.
The real version is found: Near the village of Bray in Berkshire, England. Actually, there are quite a few dotted around the globe, but this is the most interesting one. It' s a tiny landmass in the middle of the Thames, large enough only to hold one hotel. You can get to it from the mainland via a small bridge. Home to an array of grotesquely painted monkey statues, the island's name originally derives from its initial title of Monks Island, imparted as a result of the nearby priory. The island was reinforced in the late 1660s using rubble brought back from the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire.
The game version is found: In the Crackdown games. It’s a crime-ridden, coastal metropolis patrolled by the super-powered agents of The Agency. Alas, The Agency are secretly a scumbag fascist bunch who are only subduing the local gangs so that they can take over themselves. Also, later on there are zombies.
The real version is found: On the coast of Oregon, about 100 kilometers west of Portland. It’s a small place, but it looks pretty nice, trees-and-rugged-stuff, Oregon kind of way.
The game version is found: In the Resident Evil series, most notably the second and third games. It’s (or was) a midwestern American city, best known for its rampant zombie infection and subsequent nuking into mist.
The real version is found: In Kentucky. It’s a small community, seeming to effectively consist of a road, a few houses, and a whole lot of trees. Okay, we might have stretched the definition of “Raccoon City” on this one. But we assure you that the next comparison will be much more accurate.*
*In that it’ll be much, much worse.
The game version is found: In the Silent Hill series, surprisingly. It’s a hideous, twisting nightmare-scape of a place, populated by broken-bodied creatures of malice, distorted by evil, and capable of reshaping itself to reflect the inner torment of any individual unfortunate enough to stumble into it. In essence, it’s much like any local supermarket during a hungover morning-after bacon run.
The real version is found: Okay, we’re really stretching this one. While we haven’t found a whole town called Silent Hill (we’d presume that any that did exist changed its name in the early-‘00s in order to avoid bad PR and hordes of cosplayers during the foggy season), we have found a Silent Hill Road in western Virginia. It’s basically just a tiny side-road in a tiny place called Vansant. Still, it’s probably quite spooky at night. If it’s foggy. And, you know, full of monsters. Which admittedly it probably rarely is.
Moving swiftly on…
The game version is found: In Sonic Adventure. It’s a vast, shimmering city, clean, sparkly and eternally blue-skied in that way that only Sega cities can be. A beacon of fun and modernity, it has its own casino, theme park, stretch of highway, and a population of 2.9 million.
The real version is found: In Berkshire again, weirdly. It’s just a street in the town of Bracknell. It’s not very exciting, but it is just around the back of the railway station, which is itself quite big and shiny, and probably looks a bit Sega on a sunny day.
So those are our findings, but have we missed any significant ones? If you're aware of any other game-named places in the real world, let us know. Doubly so if you actually live in one.
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