The Majestic Douglas Fir, the most underrated video game character of all time. For all the memes and jokes out there about how people who enjoy games don’t go outside, we seemingly fixate on them endlessly. The grand Pacific Northwest with all its ancient growth forests has anchored itself as the 21st century bespoke pastoral fantasy for the soothing and the weird.
Horror games? Mystery games? Relaxing games? Time and time again we revisit the green underbrush of the temperate rainforest locales native to the western states of America and Canada.
But why? Is it simply our fascination with holiday ornaments, or maybe something far more evergreen that keeps our mind’s gaze locked on these richly verdant year-long landscapes?
Humans like greenery, it’s been a part of our natural environment long before we came to love the warm shelter of the rather ‘recent’ development of the indoors, it’s no surprise that we would yearn deep within our biology for the reassuring bosom of the forest. There has been endless research conducted showing to various degrees the psychological and physical benefits of spending time beneath the canopies of vegetation, so it follows that we would recreate these environs in our synthetic worlds for reasons beyond the narrative or to add realism. We just like them with every fiber of our being.
It’s strange though, when was the last time you saw an open golden prairie or the snow capped peaks of mountains in media? There are certainly representations of these landscapes out there, Skyrim with its very climbable mountain comes to mind, but they strike players as often placeholdery, a space for action rather than one for the narrative to find itself focused upon. Why is it that we are so gripped by the notion of a lakeside cottage surrounded by Douglas Firs with a backdrop of glacier-sculpted fjords and volcanic basins? Even when they are represented, comparatively rarely do we speak of an open desert as if it were a character within a narrative outside of works like Dune.
It isn’t just the idea that we like trees alone that demonstrates their imaginative pull, but rather the types of trees that evoke so many concepts within them. With redwoods comes logging, comes trailer parks, comes scenic by-ways, camper vans, state parks, woodsy folk, mountain-side motels, even ski lodges. Whether it’s set in America or the icy Nordic countries, we attach a sort of universalized outdoorsing consumer culture to them. Remote idyllic landscapes are a seemingly perfect place to foment mysterious circumstances in an era of information technology that has rendered the world down to a 24/7 livestream, there is, after all, no better place for a cosmic force or eldritch terror to manifest than on the fringes of both the personal and global perception of ‘plugged-in’ society.
So the noble Douglas Fir, endemic to places like Oregon and Washington state, has become a sort of icon representative of this scenery and the implicit cultural associations that come with it. Whether you’re playing Firewatch, Alan Wake, or What Remains Of Edith Finch, familiar and friendly pines are no more than a few paces away, a subtle through-line taking us all the way back to the infamous television show Twin Peaks that came to define the neo-Americana of the past two decades.
We don’t simply crave the foggy lakeside evenings, nor the grandiose lumbering lodges on the horizon- our fascination with the Douglas Fir is an implicit thirst for vibrant folksy Millenial Adulthood. They evoke a sense of instagrammable moments of pour-over coffee on a rustic log table, second-hand denim shirts and bushy beards, vegan cafes and home-made pie, the revitalization of cottage industries with ‘authentic’ craftsman overtones, Bon Iver albums and a ukulele you barely know how to play, .
The mention of film-maker David Lynch summons forth Twin peaks, not Mulholland Drive set as it is in the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. We no longer crave Californian coastlines filled to the brim with surfers like so many barnacles on a ship’s hull, nor do we crave the lonely seafaring isles of New England or the Great Lakes. Our expression of longing to explore places like the Pacific Northwest is an instinctual reflection of how we internalize the marketing materials we’re exposed to in our youth and early adulthood. For Baby Boomers it was Tiki Bars, for us it’s brewpubs with spartan interiors and brunch with house waffles or oysters for $4 a pop.
So here’s to the Douglas Fir, the iconic pine tree that, for better or worse, has come to define and dominate a generation’s imagination and propagate itself far beyond the physical realm, immortalized as it is firmly within the digital.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io 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