The title is a word that I have adored since hearing it about eight years back. To cheat a little I am going to give you a quick copy and paste here of the definition since it normally isn’t a word that you would hear all that often.
Sonder n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
This gets me constantly in my day to day life. Maybe I am walking around and see a stranger and let the mind go off on a tangent on what they are living or doing. It could be with your own friends and family and trying to take a step back and imagine yourself to them in their lives. Also, fun, when you consider how many people in our lives, are generic NPC characters to us.
Every day to me is a video game in and out of life. I tend to feel things like this when I am deep into a title like The Last of Us, or finding a giant behemoth in a video game landscape and wanting to know where all of that came from. Sonder then jimping from the material to the digital and making me wonder what story there could have been there. Taking a moment to ignore that it is all just code and numbers and trying to think about what could be.
Some titles max out how well they do this by not giving you much to go on. The title Shadow of the Colossus managed to do this by giving you hints on where to go and what to do, without forcing too much down on you. You know you need to travel to these beasts and slay them to save someone you care about. Letting you fill in a lot of the gaps yourself until you do get little bits and pieces of the story. Changing how you feel about what your actions are every step of the way.
Giving you less story like the title mentioned or Journey from the PS3 is one way to go, but if you want to really feel a connection in a game it is the games that give you details and then stop. Games that are open world and you build relationships with characters leaving you to crave more interactions with them. I know people who were fully invested in games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age because of the stories they learned from their companions. The gameplay may have been solid, but it was how you felt for Morrigan and wanted to know what her complex story was that kept you going. A good friend purchased the thrid title just from a rumor she would be in it, he was pleased.
I know I am a greedy gamer, wanting more and more story from little bits and pieces I pick up. Wanting to know every single detail there is about the Dunwich buildings, for someone to truly flesh out a continuation to Majora’s Mask and let me know if it was all him dying? The what-ifs that they leave us with these characters and places can drive me mad. You google and search the wiki for what else there is on a character or a place and it leaves you with a small paragraph and your thoughts. Side note – We need to step up our game wikis people.
I think as we get into gaming being larger and larger mass appeal the developers will learn to bring us experiences we didn’t know we even wanted until we have them. Games surprising us like Outer Wilds, or a friend shouting, “Wait, what do you know about Danse!” I see deep character enrichment as a smart path to go down for developers, take the time and make us like who we are spending a hundred hours in a world with. Bring our favorite romances and underdogs back in a sequel and have them remember the actions you have taken.
Or make Flappy Bird, that sold well.
Rant aside, I think learning a new word here and there and really hitting it can teach you a lot. Taking a moment and indulging in the feeling that sonder is can give you plenty to think on. Then take the next step and actually asking those around us about their lives can show you even more. I’ve learned more about careers, life, and happiness from random strangers than you would believe.
After all, every life is as vivid and complex as your own.