Going back to the Potato Room: the power of places

The Potato Room

I like to think of  myself as a casual gamer, more interested in stories than actual shoot-em-up action– which is why Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a big favorite of mine (even if I can’t fix the stupid elevator). While playing Amnesia’s shorter tangent, Justine, I wound up in what I fondly like to think of as the Potato Room. (Starts at 8:00)

(Note: works best when watched full-screen in a dark room).

Part of the gameplay of Amnesia is the utter helplessness of the main character. Trapped in a castle full of monsters, you have no hit points and no way to fight them. Your only hope is to run and pray they don’t catch up, or hide until they pass you by. Unless you’re in the Potato Room, apparently, where a monster circles endlessly through a room, and you have to sneak past it unnoticed.

I didn’t know this the first time I got to this area. So when I heard the monster coming, I hid in the corner, behind a bookshelf, and waited. My lights ran out, and my character quickly lost her sanity in the dark. The screen pulsed in and out of focus to the sound of her frantic heartbeat, and she repeatedly lost consciousness and fell sideways, in what I’m guessing is a fetal position on the floor. For (I kid you not) twenty minutes of real time, I sat and waited, straining my ears for snarls and growls, unable to look at the monster without my character passing out again.

Then I had a friend look up a walkthrough, and I felt rather silly for trying to wait out the monster instead of sneaking past.

Not too long after, my husband initiated a conversation he and I very much needed to have. I no longer remember what it was about, but it was one of those things that I very much needed to do, and very much didn’t want to. The cornered, desperate feeling started me on a slight anxiety attack. My heart was racing, my breath was shallow… and when I shut my eyes, I could see the Potato Room: the darkness, the shadows crawling in the distance, the pulsing screen, the sounds of the monster shuffling closer by the second. Since then, the Potato Room has essentially become the place my mind goes when I get anxious and frightened.

The power of Potatoes

This isn’t unique. Into The Free opens with Millie hiding under her porch and witnessing a mother dog killing and burying her litter of newborn pups– which is referenced again almost every time we see child abuse throughout the book (and dear lordy, there’s a lot of it). In Going Bovine, Cameron begins his story by retelling the day he almost died on a ride at Disney World– a bittersweet experience which he describes as the happiest day of his life.  But while the technique isn’t unique, it’s often unique to that book. The sorts of experiences strong enough to become a character’s Potato Room are often mundane (unlike, for example, a first date or first day of school, which are usually considered noteworthy), but they’re weighted with a particular emotion that makes the place leap out every time that emotion resurfaces. They’re a great way of really delving into the depths of a character and giving them a detail that is purely his or her own.

Do any of your characters have a place that holds particular emotional weight for them? Where is it, and what emotions are attached to it? Tell us about it in the comments!