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IKEA is my favorite live action game

Kris Naudus, @krisnaudus
03.25.16
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Last Friday I took my parents to IKEA for the first time. I've been wanting to drag them to the Brooklyn location ever since it opened in 2008, but we never managed to work out a schedule between the three of us. And they never went on their own, despite all my poking and prodding. It always made me sad they'd never been there, because IKEA is probably one of my favorite places in the world.

That's a pretty weird thing to say, I know. It's a furniture store. Albeit one with a great cafeteria and its own song, but still. It sells household goods at affordable prices. But it's not just the thrill of getting a good deal that fills me with glee. Just walking through the store makes me happy. I always feel accomplished when I leave, even if I barely buy anything. I never quite understood why I felt this way until I watched a video from PBS's Game/Show, which describes IKEA as having "good game design."


And it clicked for me, because I love video games. I love exploring video game worlds. So in a way, IKEA is a real-life video game, where the goal is to fully explore each level and obtain a particular list of things I need (or might need). And I've been there enough times that I know where the shortcuts are, and I don't even go to the showroom anymore because it has nothing to offer me.

When I traveled with my parents to IKEA, I wanted them to get the full IKEA experience. So I ended up replaying those early levels. We went to the restaurant and got Swedish meatballs. We walked through the showroom, exploring living rooms and bedrooms and kitchens and imagining different fantasy scenarios in each: What if I wanted to build my own wine cellar? What if I sold my house and bought a studio in Manhattan? Sure, no dragons are being slain, but they're still interesting mental challenges.

IKEA Markus desk chair

I located the one item I had traveled to IKEA to find: An office chair by the name of "Markus." I sat in Markus. I took a photo of Markus' tag. Then I continued on, for my princess was in another castle (in that I needed to pick up Markus in the warehouse).

We then hit level 2 downstairs. The marketplace, with its copious bins of housewares and random knick-knacks. The real challenge wasn't finding something to buy, but to avoid buying too much. Do I need new drinking glasses? How about this grill pan? (No to the glasses, yes to the grill pan.) My mother bought some empty bottles. My father picked up picture frames he needed.

IKEA
Then we hit the final level of the IKEA game: The warehouse. I still had that photo of Markus' tag, so now I merely needed to go to the indicated aisle and grab it off the shelf. I did, and then we were through to the end game and credits. By that I mean the registers, with a nice cut-scene of us loading the chair (and everything else we bought) into the car and driving away.

On the ride home my mother commented on what a lovely time she had, while my father complained about how IKEA made them walk everywhere in the store.

My mom didn't mind. "That's kind of the point," she says. My mother happens to play more video games than my father. She can appreciate good game design when she sees it.

Photo credit (top): Ken Ohyama (CC BY-SA 2.0) Middle: Mark Smith (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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