There is a reason that Love Thy Nerd exists. Most of us come here, at least in part, because we have spent the majority of our lives feeling the ache of never fitting and searching for a place to belong. We know what it means to feel like aliens in our own homes. It is this sense of “other” that connects us.
I think of the different communities with which I identify—LatinX, teacher, musician, Christian, INFJ, Enneagram 1, Millennial, mental health fighter—and I realize that in each one we are drawn together by the common struggles of our uniqueness and the deep desire for belonging. Rose City’s The World Next Door got me thinking about this as well as asking an important question: How, as Christians who are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, no matter who they are, do we intentionally create a space of belonging for the aliens next door? The answer: You learn to value stories.You are given choices to control the direction of the conversations, but the one choice you are not given is to skip over them completely. The story is too important.
In The World Next Door you play as Jun, a masked teenager who earns a once in a lifetime chance to spend a day exploring Emrys, a world that has fascinated her for so long. Your Emryn friend, Liza, leads you to one last surprise before you return home and the portal between your worlds closes for the next year. You go through scene after scene of dialogue, meeting up with Liza’s friends, making small talk, asking questions. You are given choices to control the direction of the conversations, but the one choice you are not given is to skip over them completely. The story is too important. Getting to know the characters is too important.
Liza and her friends lead you down into the shrines to teach you to use magic. In this world, everyone has magic within them, even humans. Not surprisingly, as the protagonist you have a tremendous gift and learn quickly. For the most part this story is a familiar one. Monsters attack out of nowhere. You are separated from your friends and have to fight your way back to them alone. The battle system of the game is a fun match-three style puzzle. For a novice like me, the pace of the battles can be challenging, but the assist mode helped alleviate that.
You make it back to your friends, but the portal to your world has closed. No human has survived on Emrys for more than a day. You have to find a way home. You go to shrine after shrine until you can unlock the portal back, but these are not the only way forward. You have to talk to people. Only by talking to your friends and other Emryns are you able to progress through the game. You learn of missing Emryns, including Liza’s girlfriend. You learn of Liza’s betrayal and must decide whether or not to forgive her. You unlock all the shrines and you go home. The end. There is little to no resolution to the story, but there is one sidequest that changes everything.
In your adventure, you meet Cornell who has information for you. You have to hunt him down every day to unlock a choice before the final shrine—go to the final shrine with Cornell and hear what he has to tell you about who you are, or go on with Liza. If you go with Cornell you learn that the birthmark you work so hard to cover with your masks is actually an indicator of your Emryn heritage and that your father is one of the most influential Emryns on the planet. That is why magic came to you so easily and why you always felt like an alien on earth. Half of you has always belonged on Emrys.We find belonging and create belonging for others by sharing our stories.
The lack of closure in this game irked me. I felt like the story never finished. I was left with so many questions. Does Liza ever reunite with her girlfriend? Does Jun ever meet her father? Does she ever get to return to the place where she finally found belonging? Even as I write this, I feel the irritation rising up in me. This tells me something. The writers did their job and they did it well. I was drawn into the story. I invested in the characters. I wanted to know them and have a resolution for them.
So even though it left me with so many questions, The World Next Door helped me answer some too. We find belonging and create belonging for others by sharing our stories. Belonging happens in vulnerability, like being trapped in a foreign world. Belonging happens when we talk to people, ask questions and listen—learning who we are to each other. It happens when we risk betrayal and even forgive it. And even though it can be frustrating and takes work, belonging happens in the side quests, when we choose to make time for others. Belonging is worth it.