Video games are meant to be an escape from the real world. Yet sometimes, escape be damned, they do such a good job of depicting real locations that the player can't help but want to pack their bags and go travelling.
Whether that be because a game is set in a painstakingly realistic simulation of an actual place or just nails the "vibe" of a city or country, it doesn't matter. The end result is the same: you kick back for an evening spent with a game and by the end of it you've got the itch to go and see it in the flesh.
Below I've included some of the more notable examples of a game that's given me the travel bug. Strangely enough, rather than convince me to set off and truly explore, they're all places I'd already been and suddenly wanted to return to, the games serving as a reminder of past travels and, I guess, the experiences that went with them.
If you've got more - and I'm positive you do - let us know in the comments below!
Tokyo (Jet Set Radio)
Sega's Dreamcast (and Xbox) classic, about a gang of roller-blading kids with a penchant for graffiti, is a love letter to Tokyo youth culture at the turn of the millennium. What it lacks in photo-realism it more than makes up for in serving as a caricature of the mega-city, somehow able to perfectly capture the vibrancy and colour of one of the largest cities in the world.
And those are exactly the reasons I love visiting Tokyo. The stores, the bars, the sense that as dull and boring as my hometown can get, Tokyo will always exist as the exact opposite.
An example: the first time I saw Shibuya in the flesh, I did not think "man, that's a big intersection", or "gee, this is a lot of people". I thought "hey, this is that bus terminal level from Jet Set Radio".
Florence (Assassin's Creed II)
One of the best things about Italy is that, like few other places on Earth, there is history all around you. Unlike other parts of Europe like, say, France or Germany, much of Northern Italy has remained untouched by the horrors of modern war, meaning the buildings that were there in the 15th century are, in many cases, still there.
This is especially true of Florence, whose landmark features - like the Palazzo Pitti and Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore - are as important (and in as good condition) today as they were in the time of Ezio Auditore. As you'll see in this clip below, courtesy of Gameon.
It's great, then, to run madly through the streets of 15th century Florence in Assassin's Creed II and know that, when you get off a plane and wander those same streets over 500 years later, little will have changed. Just don't go running across the rooftops. It's a little harder in real life.
Grand Theft Auto IV (New York City)
It may not be a picture-perfect recreation, and the names may have changed to avoid lawsuits, but make no mistake, Grand Theft Auto IV is as New York as video games get.
Anyone who has walked its crowded streets, bought an awful hot dog, been bumped by a rude stranger or wowed by the lights of Time Square will instantly feel that all come rushing back to them when they stroll (or, drive too fast) around Liberty City's grey, drab streets.
That's why GTAIV is such a good travel agent for New York. It doesn't try and "sell" the city, nor does it paint it as some present-day Gomorrah. It's just... a city, and even when it's raining and the people are mad, you don't care, because that's all part of New York's attraction.
What about you? Did Vice City make Miami look like a pleasant place to visit? Does Gran Turismo 5 get you interested in checking out Picadilly Circus?
[lead image: Getty]