Fus Roh Dah - Remember that?

Image depicting memory (pixilated components of a head floating away)
Robert Way
Tue 19 Nov

You have woken up on the back of a horse drawn carriage, you are one of four people shackled. A man sitting across from you has his mouth gagged with fabric, while it seems dire, he appears to be quite stoic considering your possible fates.

Not long after an unbelievable escape you find yourself left by your self, with limited supplies, clothing and protection. You know there is a town not too far away called Riverwood - as good a place to start. A local blacksmith helps you get your bearings, shares with you some information on the political turmoil facing the country you are in and suggests you visit Whiterun.

As you approach the front gate, you are challenged by a guard before you enter.

Once you have answered his questions you make your way through the wooden gates and are confronted by a town that will ultimately become one of your main homes in life in Skyrim.

If you have made it this far, you are obviously a legend that has invested hundreds of hours in one of the earth's greatest video games ever. You will have spent a lot of time talking with the local blacksmith. You may have gone in and talked with the guards aswell. You may have headed up the street to buy and sell potions. And without a doubt you have stored a whole heap of stuff in your home, ‘The Breezehome’. 

I bet you could close your eyes and imagine walking through the streets of Whiterun, recall where the barrells are placed, how the rooms are laid out, the location of the stairs in your home, your bed, your arcane enchanter etc. And if you have spent as many hours in the game as I think you have, you can recall the layouts of Hjerim (Windhelm), Proudspire Manor (Solitude), Honeyside (Riften) and all the others.

SO WHAT?

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC) was a Roman statesman, orator, lawyer and philosopher. He served as consul in 63 BC and was considered one of Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylists.

One of the things that made him successful, was his ability to recall a lot of information while presenting to the Roman Senate. In his speeches his had the ability to recall population numbers, projects, issues, names and dates of all matters he was to discuss. He did all of this without notes, without tablets or lists to read from.

The technique he used has many names, such as the:

Regardless of the name, these simple mnemonic devices have similar principles, are easy to learn and have been working for over 2000 years.

Let’s use Cicero’s home office as an example. If he was to face the doorway into his office, on the left he would see a statue. On the right a plant. There would have been 6 pillars holding up the roof, 3 on the left and 3 on the right. At the back a very wide window. Slightly back from there, a table. In total, standing in his doorway he would see 11 very individual and unique items in his office. Each of which would never move, that would always be in that exact same place.

It is with these 11 items he could bind ideas, concepts, facts, details and figures in creative ways for easy recollection.

Take the doorway, the first thing he sees. Perhaps one of the critical issues for the city at the time was effective sewage. He might imagine walking towards the doorway and it have raw sewage flowing from it. 

The next issue he may want to discuss could relate to the vermin that the raw sewage is attracting to the city. So the statue is covered in rats climbing all over it.

The plant on the right is withered and dying, just like the crops on the outskirts of the city.

He would create this ‘Memory Hooks’ for each issue he wanted to address in a speech. Then, when presenting he merely had to recall his office and the things happening to each fixed item to remember what it is he wanted to talk about.

So to point out the obvious, you are already a master of the method of loci. You know your way around Skyrim. In the Witcher you have lived in Kaer Morhen, visited Skellige and the Nilfgaardian Empire

You have repeatedly died in the Irithyll of the Boreal Valley, Smouldering Lake and Road of Sacrifices. Seeking refuge in Firelink Shrine and taking the time to talk with Andre the blacksmith and Yuria of Londor.

Take a moment now, think of your favourite game, what locations do you remember from it. You now have a readymade memory palace, waiting for you to use as your Mnemonic device.

Walk the streets, the paths, the homes and place interesting pictures or scenes in each of the things you want to remember and you are set to go. 

If you are still looking for the list, the top tips, the quick and dirty way of applying this, here is the first roman room I ever created from the floorplan of my first apartment.

From the front door, moving around the room on the left, I had a total of 28 different fixed items that I could use to hook things too.

There was the:

  • Bathroom sink,
  • Shower, 
  • Laundry sink,
  • Washer,
  • Dryer,
  • Kitchen cupboard,
  • Kitchen sink,
  • Oven,
  • Cook top,
  • Kitchen bench,
  • Ensuite sink,
  • Shower,
  • Toilet,
  • Hallway wall,
  • Bedside table,
  • Bed,
  • Other bedside table,
  • Window,
  • Clothes closet,
  • Book shelves,
  • Second bedroom office desk,
  • Clothes cupboard,
  • Bed,
  • TV,
  • Deck,
  • Air Conditioning unit,
  • Outdoor table, and 
  • Couch.

With this list and always going from the left I can hook an idea to each fixed object.

For example, a shopping list.

  • Bathroom sink – A bottle of milk is sitting in the sink
  • Shower – Is a loaf of bread having a shower
  • Laundry sink – Are 3 cans of dog food
  • Washer – is a load of nappies being run
  • Dryer – is a can of baby formula tumbling around

Now when I am at the shop, I just have to walk through my apartment, always on the left (in order) and I have my list of items I need from the shops.

It is my hope that you can take advantage of your years of gaming, that you can start using your own Memory Palace.