Each time I play a new video game I find myself trying to capture that feeling I had playing them when I was younger. That feeling where you find yourself staring up at the screen and nothing else around you matters.
After years of trying to recapture that magic, I finally found it when I picked up Disney's Dreamlight Valley.
Growing up, I was an only child who lived with a single parent who worked full-time, this made me very familiar with feeling lonely. I often found myself looking to the media around me for some form of comfort and as it was the 1990s, that media had something to do with Disney. Disney was everywhere at the time, from the Saturday morning cartoons I watched, the clothes I’d wear, the film’s I’d go see in the cinema, and the video games I played.
Ringing on the Packard Bell
One of my earliest gaming memories is of playing Capcom’s Aladdin on the SNES. The film the game was adapted from was the first movie I ever saw in a cinema. I was obsessed, down to the Genie backpack I’d proudly take to school every day.
This obsession led to the video game becoming my favorite at the time alongside being my main source of comfort. I would spend hours upon hours hurling apples at foes and swinging from platform to platform as Aladdin while listening to the lovely 16-bit renditions of the film’s catchy musical numbers.
During the summer, while my school friends would visit Mickey Mouse and friends in person at Disneyland, I spent my holidays visiting my favorite characters through the video games I’d play.
I’d stay with my Grandparents every summer, and be fixated on my Grandad’s Packard Bell PC, playing games like Disney’s Magic Artist and Disney’s Storybook: 101 Dalmatians. Again, I could sit there for hours, staring up at the PC monitor, finding comfort with the characters I knew so well.
Disney and gaming are almost synonymous with each other
Eventually, I lost the ability to fully immerse myself in video games. I still played them, but the older I got, the more responsibilities and realities of the world around me would get in the way of how I experienced the media I once admired. I also began to notice that I was no longer the target demographic for a lot of Disney content.
Sometimes you just have to accept that Disney Princess: Enchanted Journey for the Nintendo Wii isn’t for you, and that’s okay. There were games like Kingdom Hearts, which I was, and still am adamantly a fan of, but the feeling I had interacting with my favorite characters wasn’t the same now that the realities of being an adult had begun to set in.
Then, years later, Disney’s Dreamlight Valley happened.
“..yearning for a pause from life’s responsibilities, you arrive at a familiar place”, the opening narrator states as you start a new game. It's almost like the developers at Gameloft knew exactly what gaming experience I was looking for.
Disney’s Dreamlight Valley is a mixture of a life and farming simulator, think that of Animal Crossing but with a Disney coat of paint. When you begin to play, you have your own little house, which you can decorate with Disney-themed items, allowing me to make a space that looks not too dissimilar to my own bedroom when I was younger.
The main objective is to help the Disney characters get their memories back, as they’ve been inflicted with a curse. The more I helped the characters remember, the more I remembered that wonderful feeling of playing Disney games on my Grandad’s PC. Although the PC I was now using was a lot more advanced, the feeling of staring up at the monitor was all too similar.
What sets Dreamlight Valley apart from the Disney games I played when I was younger, is that now I get to play as myself. Instead of playing as my favorite Disney hero or villain, I get to hang out with them, as myself. I can start up conversations with Mickey Mouse, take Goofy fishing, or just hang out with my favorite fellow Scot, Scrooge McDuck.
As I took control of the game's version of myself, the immersion I was missing came back with each step I took into the valley. Dreamlight Valley also allowed me to embrace my childhood in other ways. Since playing the game for the first time, I’ve begun to re-buy a lot of Disney toys I used to own when I was younger. From a Snow White bubble bath figure to Pride Rock playsets, down to the exact Aladdin backpack I took to primary school all those years ago. In my home office, there now sits a shelf where all my Disney memorabilia goes.
Where once I was afraid to still like the things I did when I was little, Dreamlight Valley has allowed me to embrace the things which make me happy. My relationship with Disney media has definitely still changed. Since becoming an adult, I’m more aware of their past, and as I like to consume media through a critical lens, I can’t consume their media with the ignorant bliss I had when I was younger.
However, playing Disney’s Dreamlight Valley has brought back a feeling that was missing from my life. That feeling where nothing else matters apart from you and the game you’re playing. Whenever I visit the Valley, I’m reminded of all the days spent staring up at my Grandad’s PC, and for those hours, I’m able to feel like a kid again.