When Howard thinks about the height of the pandemic, two things come to mind: a fog of anxiety and an escape into old computer games.
Instead of marathoning movies from the 1940s, which is his usual anxiety management strategy, he took a dive into classic Sierra games. He dipped into the King’s Quest series to revisit Daventry, Kolyma, and the land of Tamir. He muddled his way through the first Laura Bow game, spying on people through paintings.
And he returned to the first Quest for Glory game. The original with the EGA graphics that had once been called Hero’s Quest.
It surprised him how much of the game he remembered. Dancing with the fairies in the mushroom patch, getting squashed by a bouncy blue Antwerp, the wizard in the pink mansion with the gargoyle over the door. It was a game his older brother had introduced him to, an older brother he barely spoke to these days. Rediscovering it was a delight, but also left him feeling tender and bruised in his heart.
One part of the game came as a shock to him. He remembered it, but the memory didn’t prepare him for the effect it would have on him now, as an adult.
For the first time in years, he set foot in Erana’s Peace.
Erana’s Peace is a meadow in the northern part of the snowed-in valley where the game is set. It’s a place of safety. The forest monsters can’t follow you there. You can sleep at the foot of a tree that bears bejeweled fruits, and no wraith or monster will murder you. The fruits from the tree are healing. The meadow embraces you, calling you to rest. It’s a place of restoration and a haven where no harm can come to you, even when you’re wounded or sleeping.
But what makes this place truly special is the music. Music that speaks of sweetness, peace, and melancholy. Much can be restored in Erana’s Peace, but certain things can never come back. And yet, there are consolations.
The first time Howard re-encountered this melody, he felt a wave of emotion that closed his throat. When playing the game, he frequently brought his character back to the meadow, to linger without obvious purpose. Even in the middle of the day, even when he was strong enough to slay the most powerful of the forest monsters, he savored Erana’s Peace.
He remembered that as a child he had done the same thing. It wasn’t something you spoke about when you told people you were playing a computer game. You talked about tips for leveling up and getting a high score. You didn’t tell people that you had found a balm for your fear in a computer game from 1989.
He must have carried that meadow in his soul for years. It had remained secreted away, and now he found the path back to it.
Howard wonders if there can be a place like that in real life. Can he recreate it? He doesn’t know how to draw well, and he doesn’t know how to play any instruments. (One year of trumpet lessons at age 13 doesn’t count.) Can his apartment become a home to a small tree with glistening fruits that wink in and out of sight?
For the time being, Erana’s Peace remains in the game. Howard keeps returning to this game now. You can play it as a fighter, a mage, or a thief, so his excuse, if anyone asks (no one has) is that he’s just running through it as different character types. But the main perk for him is to hurry through a dangerous forest to the meadow and its melody.
Plus, if you use magic in the game, you can discover something under the large rock in Erana’s Peace. An extra bit of calm.