An organism like any other.

Sand Gardeners (@BrownieCove and @Zephyrraine) are quite the intriguing group; this will have been our second piece on their work, the first being Brownie Cove Cancelled, a lovely absurdist examination of the woes of travel. While you may not have heard of them, their body of work thus far is a deeply stimulating (and extensive) catalog of thought experiments.

While roughly a year old at this point, their LD41 entry Definition Of A Ghuest is no exception and easily worth a look. What exactly is a Ghuest? It’s more complicated than one may think.

No, you’re thinking of Ballard.

Anyone who has had to travel for anything knows how a hotel room feels simultaneously relieving yet somehow uninviting. It’s strange that a place whose name shares its etymology with “hospitality” can feel anything but welcoming. It’s one part reprieve, one part reminder that you don’t belong there and never can. Some may even think to themselves that, were they wealthy enough to afford a flight of fancy, they might forcefully flatten the space into feeling near home-like.

Not only this, the ghosts come back too, it is impossible for a ghuest to achieve mental comfort when they know that despite the illusion of safety and privacy, their room is haunted when they are not present. They are reminded by this everyday so that no matter the length of the stay, the transitory nature is a constant concern.

Gustav G

What is home, anyway? Many in our era find ourselves adrift, jumping from place to place in our careers or residences so frequently that it seems as though all spaces are suddenly subsumed into one massive liminal superstructure, a transitory, multi-purpose hub that shifts to accommodate our immediate needs. Accommodations – another word thrown around often in the hospitality space, one that makes you feel like a strange burden, an encumbered formality, a variable to be factored in on a giant cosmic spreadsheet. The factory-like assessment of human needs renders every one of us inhuman: accommodation gives way to commodification, comfort inverted into discomfort; this process gives birth to vestigial meta-organisms, byproducts of the unspoken feelings and unnameable emotions coursing daily through our minds.

When we enter these alienating spaces, we find ourselves slowly transformed by the unnatural buzzing of fluorescent lights; the unsettling tight bedsheets intended for our warmth come off instead as a deterrent, a hostile cocoon that beckons our metamorphoses from guest into ghuest. The hotel room provides no respite, preoccupied with constantly reminding that this will never feel like home, and in time no place will. Without regard for your chrysalis, you will be ejected into your new form come the morning with or without a courtesy call – a rude awakening.

Regardless of if you pack or unpack, whether or not you find yourself enjoying the tasteless perfume of the hotel soap, nothing in this space will ever feel like yours or anyone’s. The food will not be memorable, and you will find yourself transfixed upon occurrences outside of your temporary abode instead of within it; it is a place outside of meaning.

Even if you muster up the courage to peer outside the windows of a hotel, the landscape around you is equally artificial, a grim wet tarmac devoid of humanity, entrenched in pure utility with no consideration for aesthetic sensibility or cultural intent. The hotel merely provides the bare necessities for safe shelter, using cheap rent like a lure to pull you in and harvest the byproducts of your need for rest and relaxation. It is the world’s most mundane anglerfish, ever hungry for the traveller’s ennui.

If the human body is “home” to countless microorganisms that make up our whole, then it follows that so should our psyche, leaving a trail of metaphysical residue in the same way that we leave trace amounts of our microfauna wherever we go. Like orphaned bacteria now separate from us, our emotional imprint becomes estranged from its progenitor, a stark marker that intrudes upon the experiences of those who follow. It is up to housekeeping to perpetuate the cycle of sanitation, to exorcise the specter that haunts the pillows and the counter-tops, restoring sanctity and removing all remnants of the profane from an impossibly perfect place, ready for the next ghuest. Like you, they too will have a moment of sonder, the unshakable sensation that someone was just here, and will be here after they check out.

When will room service ever clean that footprint in the lobby?

If you don’t feel up to the task of deconstructing the hotel yourself or want an additionally thought provoking take, the lovely critical analysis channel Umbrella Terms, does a delightful deep dive on the game here:

Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice